The University of the Gambia

My school does not have a set campus. Every building and class room is rented. Some only the UTG use most are shared by the YWCA, the YMCA and the Management Development..something with an I (known as MDI but I am having a brain fart as to what it stands for). If you look on the map on the post below, most of my classes are on the road that the U of the Bakau Kunku touches. It is about a two mile walk from the house which I will make one to three times daily (round trip). Not something you want to be doing in between 11-2 in the afternoon but not at all bad once you get used to it. From the university is less than a half mile to the main drag so we run a lot of errands in between or after classes.

When we left the U.S. we left so early because we were told by the university that registration for classes was the following Thursday. What weren't told was that their convocation (our graduation) was supposed to the Saturday after registration and that every University employee, faculty and staff, had been working on this for over a month. So come the Thursday we were supposed to register we were told no one had completed the time table (which is a joke***) and that it would probably be on the following Monday.
***I need to explain the time table I think for you to understand as to why once classes start it still takes a few weeks for them to Start. The timetable (I have a hard copy for people to admire when I return to the US) has every class that is going to be taught put into slots under what time they will be taught. For example slot A might have a physics class, chem, development all in different classrooms but all will be taught Monday at 6-7 and Thursday at 3.30-5. Makes sense right? ---Except that if you want two classes from one slot, rather than in the states where you choose one and do the other class at a later semester, you on the first day of classes go to one class see if the class time can be changed then leave run to the other class and do the same. There are some flaws in this plan as now classes are being changed, sometimes with out student consent, most always with out the registrar consent and the class, if the time and day does change, loses that room so they will probably steal another room. What really makes having waited for the time table is that some classes won't even start for another week or two after classes officially resume (even then a fair number of them will be missing some Gambian students for a month because even though they registered for classes they can't attend class until a 60 Dalasi (about 2.35 dollars) fee is paid).

Long story short I am attending five classes of which three have had a time table change. I am taking African Political Economy (in the original room and starting time but now we have class instead of twice a week for 1.5 hrs a time just 1 hr), Good Governance Theory and Practice (same room and time), Intro to the Science of Law (same room and time), Drama and Society (changed from twice a week for 1.5hrs a day to a once a week 3 hour class taught outside under a tree as we were screamed out of our room by a shovenist pig of a certain science department head who wouldn't have done it if our professor was a Gambian man) and Crime in Developing Nations (went from the normal two day 1.5 hr to a once a week one hour class and is taught in a computer lab because we can't get a room anywhere else).

The professors here are interesting because often teaching is not the end goal of working at the University (they are appointed by the government so good teachers will be taken to other government branches and some professors couldn't give a damn less if you learned as long as they showed face and can go back to their meetings--ways to get ahead and better themselves). Some professors are on point with their work and will leave those meetings to come teach and some just eh...I dropped their classes. What is culturally difficult for me is I have all my professors cell phone numbers and if I have questions or comments about class I can call and text them and they do it to me vice-versa (my Crime in Developing Nations professor forgets when and where the class got changed to some times).

Good news is because Friday is a holy day here most everything is a half day so my last class ends before 12 and we (the household) hits the beach.

My Daily Life on the Smiling Coast

Now that I have been here for almost two months rather than write about how the first three weeks were a mix between anxiety (about classes, read post below), boredom and exploration, I will discuss the average week.

I wake up on average at 740 every morning (yes I know, gasp that I can move before 12!), 820 if I sleep in and for five days a week our landlord/KSAC Director Mohammad who is also an amazing cooks gives myself, Brenda and a professor from JC who is teaching on a rotary scholarship, a "banging" breakfast, in the words of Sophia. Depending on the day, before class I either recopy notes, do assignments, play cards, or on Wednesday go to my internship (which is where I should be now but no one told me it was canceled today). When classes are over I come back and chill at the house, go to the gym for training (how Gambians describe working out), visit friends and then return around 730 from dinner (also only 5 days a week prepared by the most excellent chef Mohammad).

While I have left it out, we do eat lunch (usually between 1 and 3) but we tend to go to "fast food" shops or tiny nook restaurants that have one item per day or to small cafe type places.

Fridays (after class which all end by 12 at the latest) and Sundays we tend to go to the beach. Which if you look at the map two posts below (which the more I look at it the less accurate it is) is more than 60km long but we tend to hit a beach near the Fajara label.

The days we don't have a "meal plan" we (the household) go out for one night for dinner and the other Brenda and I tend to jointly cook for everyone or we scavenge/cook on our own. Myself and Reta and sometimes the others will go out to some of the local clubs. It is quite the experience because of bumsters and whatnot (I will write about later). I prefer the clubs Gambians frequent rather than the tourist because ironically I get harassed less and I think they figure if you can find the club and like the music you probably aren't so much of a tourist.

Unlike India the Gambia does have supermarkets. They resemble Super H or Lotte (Asian marts in the NoVA area that carry a little of everything). We can get a fair bit of western food and cooking supplies at these places. We tend to get fresh foods at the markets (open air). There is a local one just down my street but it closes around one when all the women close up shop to go home and cook lunch for their families (lunch is the big meal here). A large market (and I mean large it sells anything and everything) is Serrekunda Market and the fruit/veggie sellers are there most of the day. For stuff like oil and some spices and bread and little things you need Gambia has something like a 7-Eleven equivalent. The Jalow shops are found pretty much on any corner, or on my street three right next to each other then two on the other corner.

I know this is all just word vomit of my week but some stuff I want to explain in its own post and some I don't want to be too specific as this is my schedule and my blog is on the world wide web.


Banjul and Serrekunda

The largest populations in the Gambia are what I believe is called the Combos (kombos?). This is a name for the city of Banjul, the city of Serrekunda and I think the villages near by. After the cities one of the next largest populations is the town/village of Gunjuru (I think. It was awhile ago we were told this so I could very well be wrong). Anyways my point is that the Combos is kind of like saying the greater Washington D.C. area, or in this case the Greater Banjul area.

Banjul is the capital city of the Gambia and while is said to be on a peninsula jutting into the river towards the North Bank, it was originally an island right off of the South Bank (where I live and the city of Serrekunda is and the town of Gunjuru resides) that now has a bridge connecting it to the South Bank mainland. Banjul, the capital for British colonization of West Africa shows the few visible vestiges of British existence in the Gambia, so I think. Banjul has old British homes that now house Gambian government branches as well as the former British offices holding court systems and libraries and the like. Banjul is also one of the few places that I have experienced, that has sidewalks. Much of where people walk is off to the sides of the roads in the red dust or on the very edge of the road, which is dangerous.

Think how driving was in India but not as aggressive and that the size of the vehicle does not factor into the driving judgment equation. Many of the roads in Banjul and Serrekunda are better maintained than upcountry but districts (such as Bakau) that vote wrong in the election tend to have their road maintenance budget cut (not that they would necessarily have gotten the money anyways).

Serrekunda, the city where I live has a number of large neighborhoods in them (again think greater D.C. area with Arlington, Alexandria... except more compact). The neighborhoods I know well are Old Jeshwang (where I live) which is also I believe closest to the highway leading to Banjul, with Kanifing which shares the Old Jeshwang Border and reaches to the main drag. Then to their west is Bakau (a tourist/ex-pat bit of upscale neighborhood) which has Fajara border it to the main road. There are also other neighborhoods in Serrekunda and bordering it like New Jeswang and Sukuta and Senegambia (the tourist drag of hotels, bars and restaurants). See the map below (I live near the prison camp). It doesn't actually show Banjul just Serrekunda and their neighborhoods.

By the way, the picture slideshow of the fula village and dune trucking were taken near pink lake in Senegal.

Enter Gambia, Stage South

Well I have now been in the Gambia going on two and some months and have yet to write about the Gambia. For those unacquainted with my itty-bitty nation I will give a brief overview. If you look at the map of the African coastline where the title of this page lays, underneath it you see a large river heading inland, that is my nation, the land on either side of that river.

The Gambia is a former British colony and was colonized as the British did, which was making them a monoculture(?) economy but putting little cultural investment into their colonies, unlike the French. They, the British, taught the men of the Gambia to grow groundnuts (the European version of our peanuts, they are smaller and mostly used for oil--by the way if you are allergic to peanuts this country will probably kill you). Ironically this is pretty much the only crop the men grow, the women do all the other farming. The British thinking that farmers here followed their structures trained the wrong gender, but that is beside the point. In 1965 the Gambia finally gained their freedom after a long and relatively peaceful protest.

Gambia became a... republic which eventually expanded its main industries to groundnut exports and tourism. It is my understanding that the former President Jawara who assumed power at the time of independence kept his power until 1994 (I could be wrong about how long his term of office was). Jawara had done some improvements to the Gambian economy but the last 15 years have shown more improvement than the previous 30. President Yahya AJJ Jammeh assumed presidency in 1994 in a... peaceful and bloodless power transaction. President Jammeh has held elections (where competitors were running for office too) every four or five years in which he has been re-elected, every-time. I have seen President Jammeh, once, up close. He is the Chancellor of the University of the Gambia (UTG) and so during their convocation, graduation, he was present and made a very interesting and long speech which I can tell you about later if you are so interested.

The University of the Gambia was originally initiated by the St.Mary's University of Halifax, Canada. It has since left their administration, because it was seen as a type of neo-colonialism or some such, and is interesting. The University here operates like no American (or UK?) university, at least not yet though I get the feeling it is the one day goal. The UTG has only been in operation for about 10 years and is the highest institution in the country and one day hopes to rival the South African and Nigerian universities in prestige.


Baobab Trees

I think I am going to take a quick break from my discussion of my trip to the Gambia and instead talk about Baobab trees which I think are culturally interesting. (And I do have a whole picture album dedicated to them which I am trying to upload with everything else) Anyways Baobab trees (as an overarching statement though not necessarily true to everyone) are to West African culture as the Pepul trees are to North Indian culture.

These trees are giants that live and grow for hundreds of years. They are rather hard to describe but it looks like the branches are the roots of the tree, see the pictures. As they get older their insides hollow out and during the wet season water is stored inside. In the past Griots (Mandinka oral historians) used to be buried in them. Many animals make their homes in the younger trees as they are starting to hollow out. The fruit that comes from them is usually called Monkeybread (they like to be eaten by monkeys) or miracle fruit.

The fruit is, when ripe, about as long as your forearm and 6-8 inches in diameter. The husk is hard, wood-like, and covered with a green fur. This fur if it touches your skin will cause it to itch. the inside fruit is dry. I can't explain the consistency other than it melts in your mouth from its dry dusty state to a sour sweet softness around a small hard brown seed. They make a drink of it here if you don't want to eat the fruit raw, which is good too. Your pour hot water over it and all the flesh immediately comes off the seed. You soak this with sugar and fruit usually both banana and apple then strain it and you get this amazing drink.

The reason this fruit is called miracle fruit is because it is believed to have properties that will heal. It is used by some local healers for stomach bugs and upsets as well as fevers. I will say on my third day in the Gambia in the house I got a very upset stomach and nauseous and I decided to feel better, since I had a bag of the fruit around, to just try that. About twenty minutes and 15 seeds later my stomach was fine no issues regarding anything. With one exception every time I have gotten any stomach issue the baobab fruit has fixed it.

Anyways there is a local story to why the tree looks like it does when I can hear it again I will record it and add it here.

Safari in Kaolack

This time heading south, closer to the Senegambia border, we were traveling to Kaolack for the night. (Please understand the roads are not all of US quality, many of the highways become dirt and mud after the rains, even if they were paved before and aren't repaired immediately. Also the trip from Dakar, Senegal to Serrekunda, Gambia should take about 6 or so hours straight but we were seeing the sites and traveling a bit around Senegal so obviously it took us longer)Apparently on previous trips sponsored by the KSAC consortium there was some dissent as to whether Safari's were good to take the students on, because they may provide misconceptions about Africa as a continent. Well we were privileged enough to go on a safari where we actually had a lot of fun.

The safari starts with us crammed (and I do mean crammed as we had an extra person than we were supposed to) into a jeep with special stadium seating and our guide Musa. As we drive into the bush (the forest/jungle/plains whatever you would like to call the wild) we see a number of giraffes, warthogs, gazelle, monkeys, birds, horsedeer, and ostriches (Which by the way one tried to attack the car, right in front of me, no lie. Those suckers have some giant dinosaur claws too). There were some Rhino in the reserve, that we were hoping to see, but unfortunately when we were doing our tour it was too close to midday so not many animals were risking the heat. (The African sun is truly intense, more so than the sun we saw in New Delhi, India. Between 11-3 if you are of 100% Irish descent and are wearing spf 50 expect its protection to last shorter than 35 minutes if the temperature is above 85*. There is a belief here though that the African sun also melts fat. Perhaps that is true or that everyone here walks and sweats and thus gets great exercise). Lions and I believe elephants no longer live in the area due to high poaching rates.

After the safari we went to the Reserve's restaurant which overlooks their crocodile pond and some gigantic tortoises. We had Yassa (an amazing onion "sauce" or curry that is a little sweet and spicy and generally served with chicken or fish over rice) and Tapalapa (a local cheap bread that is the combination of sandwich bread and a bagel but is shaped like a baguette). Thankfully our landlord, who is the local KSAC director, and father-esq figure to us who lives on premises with us cooks wonderful food and is willing to teach, so hopefully I can reconstruct some of these dishes for you all.

After the safari we stayed at another nice hotel in Kaolack before moving across the border the next day.

Pink Lake

Pink Lake is located in Senegal a few hours from the capital Dakar, by bus. Pink Lake is the saltiest body of water in the world. It was recently proven (in the past ten years) to be saltier than the Black Sea. Pink Lake is used by the local communities as both a tourist attraction and a source of income. Men will go out on boats and drop what looks like snowshoes to the bottom of the lake and the harvest the salt. They will never go in the water because if any of this water should get into you eyes the high salt content will make you go blind. Pink Lake received its name because of the color of the water when the sun hits it. In the evening the lake becomes a deep purple. I am trying to put a slide show of pictures up but I am unsure as to the success of that endeavor at this point. The nearest village also has tourists come through pretty regularly. The village is Fula (a traditionally nomadic people originating near Nigeria?). Just a piece of cultural interest, it is not rude to ask someone what tribe they are from, actually it is a matter of pride especially given some of the extensive and impressive histories of empires past.

While we stayed in Pink Lake at the Chez Salim hotel we had the opportunity to go Dune Trucking, Dune Bugging and Camel Rides. We also were about 100m from the Atlantic ocean. I only partook in Dune Trucking and in the original construction of this site. I am also trying to upload pictures of Dune Trucking and possibly the hotel because we were staying in some pretty amazing mud and straw huts. While they sound a bit sketch without staying in them, they were very nice (3 star hotel quality) and regulated temperature very well which explains the continued construction of them in the region. We ended up staying here for about a day and a half.


Goree Island and the Slave House

Goree Island is situated off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. It was the traditional slave port. In our visit there we saw what used to be a slave house as well as a church where the Christians who felt bad about the process, absolved themselves and “purified?” the slaves. When we were being lectured in the church there was more depth to the meaning but this is the final message I have from that more than a week later.

Goree Island is also unique because it is a part of Senegal but monitored and controlled by the UN. This is a big I think. I remember hearing Malang say that when that after colonization the island was being fought over for control or some such and I guess the UN stepped in and created a memorial for the tragedy of families torn by slavery. On the highest point of the Island there is a giant stone structure which is carved to look like a slave boat. About 100meters from this there are giant German made guns which the French used to defend both their port and a fair bit of the Western coastline.

Anyways Goree Island is currently a giant market for Senegalese artists. During the time the French colonized western Africa (Dakar was their capital for the entire west), they made investments in educating/ training locals including in the arts. That tradition has lived on so there is a large artist community Dakar, with the culmination in Goree Island.

The hawkers in Goree Island are like nothing I have experienced. In India, Thailand and a number of other South/Southeast Asian countries the hawkers not only yell and grab you and are incredibly aggressive they are almost intimidating. In Senegal and in the Gambia the hawkers are loud but only once did anyone grab my hand and lead me anywhere. While neither of these countries is pickpocket free vendors are more likely to tell you to zip your bag up because it is open than take advantage of you (not meaning that they won’t try and sell you an item for 200% of its value but that they would rather that you give them your money in a fair trade rather than they steal it or take it).

Anyways on the side column I have pictures of Goree Island and a small album of the slave house. I didn’t really take pictures of the slave house (with the exception of the door of no return) and some views from the balcony because it is not pleasant and a place I necessarily want to see again


The Voyage to the Gambia

The trip this year is different from the previous JC study abroad trips here as for the first time W&J is joining us for the semester. So as a part of their pilot group we, rather than landing in Dakar and the next day driving to Serrekunda, Gambia, we toured around Senegal for four(?) days. This announcement was greeted with some complaining on my part (I like to get where I am moving to unpack then explore not delay the move in). However since day two of exploring I have been incredibly pleased that we were required to tour around.

Senegal was simply amazing. For a bit of background Senegal was colonized by the French. Dakar became the capital of french west africa. The local languages there are Wolof, Jolla/Fula, and French. However for those of us who don't speak French a very large portion of the population also speaks English and I found a large number speaks Spanish too. (However my non-existent French did rapidly improve). My first experience getting off the plane was that Senegal felt like home. Not that "hey this is where I need to be not the Gambia' type way but the smells started out like India (lacking the copious amounts of Human piss and cow crap) until a breeze off the ocean hit me. The sounds are like india with the loud people the hawkers looking for rides in their Taxi and the honking. I think the temperature that night was 70* and not at all humid, it was very nice version of India. (For those who haven't been to New Delhi I apologize but all of my references, or at least alot of them, are based as a comparison off of my life in India)

The first night we went to the Hotel Fauna (email me if you want pictures) which had wifi for us poor american kids who had been wifi starved for 24 hours, and where we met Emily our Assistant Director. After a short meal of Yassa (an amazing onion sauce), rice and in the words of Sophia some "bangin' Chicken" we quickly breifed and went to bed. The next couple of days included a trip to Goree Island, a two night stay at Pink Lake (and Hotel Chez Saliaam which was oh so nice), dune trucking, camel rides then a night at Kaolack and a safari and here we are in the Gambia!

Anyways I was so happy we had to do that experience rather than go straight there. I think it allowed for greater bonding in the group especially between schools. Not saying we were all bitchy xenophobes but we, at first, kind of segregated ourselves off from each other, I think because we just didn't know these other people we were going to live with. Anyways my next posts will be more detail about the activities we did.


Meet the Characters

So I realize I said I would email everyone weekly but I thought I would just post this blog and then post weekly and you all can check in at your convience in addition to seeing my pictures! I figure there are some major players in what I will be writing about now and possibly over the next 6 months. Right now I would like to introduce my current major players:

Dr. Buba Misawa, a Nigerian native, from the Fula tribe which is traditionally nomadic, who is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Washington and Jefferson. Currently he is traveling with us to the Gambia and will be living there for the entire semester we are (in his own house). He will be teaching two courses at the University of the Gambia (UtG) of which we will be required to be in one so that he will see us daily and know we are alive.

Malang (pronounced Muhlong), is our tour guide hired by the KSAC Consortium (the collaboration of schools which supposedly send students to the Gambia, so far it is only JC and W&J). He is Senegalese from the Mandinka tribe (and a self pronounced Mandinka Warrior from a line of Kings) near Casamance. Casamance is in Southern Sengal which is underneath the Gambia.

Mohammad, is the Local director of the KSAC Consortium (which is the partnership of schools that brought us to the Gambia). He is also the landlord of the house we rent and an excellent cook. He looks after us, gets us situated in Serrekunda (the city we live in) and is our go to person if we need anything (like him making sure wireless was set up asap). He is as of yet unphotographed.

Emily, is a '06 Juniata PACs (peace and conflict studies) grad. She is our assistant director for the semester. She helps around the Gambia as well as how we are to adjust and if she can help us if we need anything. Emily speaks Mandinka fluently. This isn't particularly easy. Mandinka or Mandingo is an oral language so everything is spelled phonetically depending on the person. Often other Mandinkas will approach her with the saying "ewon(?) mandinka?" or "you are Mandinka?". Rather than actually identifying her as Mandinka it is more of identifying that she can speak the local tongue...anyways.

Reta, one of the two girls from JC who is doing the semester study abroad with me. She will be one of my housemates. Brenda, is the other of the two girls who is doing the semester abroad with me. She will be one of my housemates.The are both playing cards.

Nell, one of the two girls from W&J who is a housemate. Amanda, the other girl from W& J who is a housemate. Kevin, the male housemate from W&J. (Also unphotographed at this point)