Well. As always, so much has occurred in my life since my last post.
Yesterday made it officially 6 months that I have been living in The Gambia. Time has its way of moving so slowly here that you just forget about it. You look up and its December, but believe me when I say it still very much feels like July. I have gotten discouraged and regrouped and gotten discouraged and regrouped again. Such is life in The Gambia. I’ve kind of gotten the hang of cooking on a single gas burner in my thatched roof hut. Still, just a few days ago, in an attempt at make some French fries, I nearly started a grease fire and burned down the entire village. Balance. Kanye West is in the hospital. Finally. Something bit me last week that left my ankle with a burning itch for days. This is Africa. Apparently, I have asthma and allergies now. I pop the off-brand Claritin but thankfully, I haven’t needed the inhaler. I’ve dropped nearly 50lbs on the its-hot-as-hell-I-walk-everywhere-and-eat-rice-once-a-day-diet. Oh and did I mention that I'm seeing someone seriously for the first time in 4 years? No? Well I am and…let’s just say strangers have been telling me I’m glowing. He’s amazing. It’s taken some time, but I’m surely attracting my tribe. Loud, vivacious people with big hearts: girls that love to laugh and eat and guys that bark louder than they bite. Then, my uncle transitioned shortly after Thanksgiving Day. I can hear his voice and see his face in clear memory. It continues to be a surreal feeling. I spent last Thanksgiving with him and my aunt. I wanted to see them and one of my sisters before I moved abroad. So, I booked a flight to Chicago and made it happen. Educated white women and black pastors voted for Donald Duck to be their president and in the most epic political move in decades, seven parties merged to support a single candidate, Adama Barrow, to successfully seized the presidency of the Gambia after 22 years of dictatorship.
And here we are.
Y’all know I love writing out my goals. I have a pretty extensive list for 2017 broken down into categories! Awful I know. But seriously. All I want, is to be successful. I don’t leave it up to chance even though I do look at like gambling. I’m putting in the work and I know I’m gonna hit big soon.
More importantly, I am happy. So so happy! It is a feeling I have earned. Self-care is a full-time job. I worked hard to get to the place of acknowledging and properly managing my emotions, honoring my spirit, and making decisions based solely on what I want and need. I am a woman growing in wisdom and Spirit. It feels good and I’m so thankful for those of you who continue to shower me with love and support.
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A few weekends ago, I had the privilege to attend Gambia's first International Bird Watching Festival. Every year birdwatchers from all over the world travel to the Gambia, as it is considered a prime location to spot some of the world’s most beautiful birds. Gambia is home to nearly 570 species of birds comprised of native and migratory species; a pure delight for bird enthusiasts.
The first two days of the festival were held at Tendaba Camp, Gambia’s premier up-country lodge. I really enjoyed my stay at Tendaba Camp. The camp has an amazing view of the River Gambia giving way to tranquil scenery. Also, it was just really nice to take a break from my daily bucket baths and take an actual shower! The highlight of the festival for me was a boat ride down the River Gambia. Lined with beautiful mangroves, the River Gambia is a thriving ecosystem full of wildlife. Here I met Ed Hutchings, journalist and avid bird watcher of the UK. Ed is quite hilarious and it was an amazing feeling watching him and the other experts get excited about their sightings and quickly identify the species and calls of birds. I was extremely impressed with the Gambian bird guides for their professionalism and expert knowledge. Throughout the tour they demonstrated calls and identified birds that we spotted along the river. They were also extremely patient with novice birdwatchers like me and by the end of the trip that “pretty blue bird” became the Abyssinian Roller.
To say that two days of bird watching had a profound impact on me would be an understatement. Once I returned back to my village I found that I had an increased awareness and curiosity about the birds in my environment. I was even able to identify the Northern Red Bishop and the Long Tailed Glossy Starling, two birds I had noticed prior to the festival due to their beautiful plumage. I would very much like to start a bird watching club at my school in the next few months.
Special thanks the the Gambia Tourism Board for granting me with the opportunity to see more of the Gambia and learn a little bit more about why they call it The Smiling Coast of Africa!
There are times when I find myself extremely frustrated with language and cultural immersion. In Gambia, English is the official language, only it's not taught by native speakers. What is taught, is British English and the result is some of the strangest English I've ever heard besides what they speak in Jamaica. This week, I was attempting to build rapport with one of the teachers I will be coaching this school year, and after about five minutes of talking he simply said, "I don't understand what you are saying." I felt deflated, exasperated, and extremely frustrated.
But then things changed. I had arranged my first meeting with my village to discuss their needs and how I could best serve them. I honestly thought there would be no more than 5 people at the meeting. To my surprise 21 people showed up! Among them were my Alkalo (chief), the Head Master of my school (Principal), representatives from the Mother's Club, and several other stakeholders. I regret not taking a picture but imagine lil ol me sitting at the foot of a mango tree talking about community development in a rural African village. I felt God's presence and was reminded that at the end of it all no matter how frustrated I may get, I have a job to do. This job is less about me and more about her. My efforts are for her family, her education, her health care, and the prosperity of her village.
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*Disclaimer: This post contains profanity. Not that I need a disclaimer on my own damn blog but I'm feeling somewhat courteous today. If curse words offend you try yoga or listen to some music. It helps.
After living closely with farm animals these last few months, I've concluded that the decision for humans to eat meat must have come about out of pure desperation. Like, a chicken is a filthy, disgusting animal. Roosters fight other constantly and rape hens daily. They pick up the baby chicks and throw them around or step on them. A chicks biggest threats are roosters and hawks. Chickens also eat anything that will fit into their disgusting beaks. This includes cooked eggs, eggshells and...chicken. Broiled, baked, or fried. And they shit everywhere. (Sorry Mama but it's true). God. I can't imagine anyone ever looking at a chicken and pleasantly thinking, "Oh I'll just chop it's neck off, pluck the feathers, and roast this strange creature over an open flame!" I image the self-talk went a bit more like this, " I haven't eaten in 10 days and this fuckin, god-awful bird keeps looking at me. Maybe if I kill it first it won't kill me. Maybe once it's dead I could like, eat it or something and maybe then I won't die. "
I've been looking for a reason to stop eating chicken or at least lower my intake for a while now. Thanks to The Gambia I've never been more motivated to eat lettuce.
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So Mickey Mouse and his friends decided that I was lonely and decided to give me company last night. Sometimes I leave my bath water inside so that it's not freezing cold in the morning. Well about 12:30 am what do I hear...SPLISH! Apparently Mickey decided to go for a swim! Oh much to my terror, he splished and he splashed and splished and splashed. My God. You've never heard a more terrifying sound. So. Of course I have to pee (why does my body always betray me in times of crisis!?) and my bath bucket (Mickey's swimming pool) is blocking the door to the Spa. I check the time. It's 1am. I make the executive decision to hold it as long as I can and to tuck my mosquito net in extra tight. Mickey is unpredictable, every few minutes splishing and splashing and I can't run the chance of him bouncing out of his pool (he can have the damn bucket) and on to my feet. I check the time again. 1:07am. Jesus be a bladder made of steel. I jump up. I need a plan. I hear one of Mickey's friends in the front. Why Lawd?! They say they come in threes but why? Why Lawd Why!?!
Ok. Game Plan: run to the front and get the bag Mickey's friend might be in and put it on the front porch. Then run to the Spa and pee then somehow (Lord give me strength) put the bucket outside.
I sit on the bed with a flash light moving it around the room for the next ten minutes.
You can do this Kanika. I put the plan in motion. Once I make it outside, terror sets in again. I have to cross Mickey's swimming pool to get back in but I really need to get the bucket out. Lordt. I find a really big stick and use it to drag the bucket out back. Mickey is surprisingly calm. Or dead. I run back inside and lock the door. I'm in bed all of five minutes and what do I hear, Mickey outside still getting his swim on. I thank the Lord that he's on the other side of the door and pray he dies by the time I wake up.
Morning comes. I go outside to find my "Big Father" ( I'll explain later). I do a crazy mix of sign language and broken Pulaar and tell him to come save me. He thinks I'm crazy. Finally he understands. He grabs the bucket. Mickey is still alive. He grabs the big stick and pins him in the bucket. I scream. Ammadou rolls his eyes. He takes Mickey out to the front yard and beats him with the stick. He had it coming. Trespassing is a crime!
So there you have it friends. And the moral of this real life tale of terror is: Apparently a bucket with 5 inches of water in it is an effective mouse trap.
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This is a good week. I'm generally happy. Ain't cursed nobody out. Ain't had to live vicariously through Boosie. I've had a little variety in my diet and I'm excited about the task ahead of me. Been talking to God pretty heavy. I can't say that things are looking up because that would imply that they were down. Things are good. I'm good. God is good and that is alright with me.
I have been in The Gambia, West Africa for 31 days
I've endured diarrhea, rock hard stool and constipation
Flaming Insect bites
Hunger pains and vomit on my shoes
(thankfully it was mines)
Crash landing into a new language
A million vaccinations and the malaria meds from hell
Inefficient communication through email, Whatsapp, and text messages
And rice and bread
And rice and more bread
And the occasional treat of beans
Ramadan and break-fast and dinners that begin at 10pm
Sweaty nights, bucket baths, sweaty mornings, and sweatier days
Growling cows, rowdy chickens, disrespectful sheep
And goats that stop traffic to nurse their kids in the middle of the road
The most amazing part of it all has been
Hearing my name shouted as I walk through the village
Inheriting an entire family
And my baby sister shouting, "Jo-ko aarrii!" when I come home from class then running to hug me
The slim silhouette of my host father in the field with his cows
And then there's my host mothers back
Onyx and smooth
Absorbing the moon's light as she starts her nightly chores
Cooking over an open flame with charcoal that was made in our village
All of this
With a child wrapped to her back or seeking nourishment from her breasts
People have asked me,
"What is it like?"
"What do you like most?"
I can't really answer
This experience is not a straight line
It is the Call to Prayer broadcasted throughout the village
Five times a day from the speakers of the mosque
It is attonement and fasting
It is dedication and preparation
A culmination of small events that make an everlasting memory
This experience is my new reality.
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Kanika: Poet. Lover of Words. One who tells the stories of the mundane and inanimate. Bearer of Light, Water, and Sky.