Uncle Dudu

- New name!
- New survival skills
- New arrivals to the Gambia
- New Bacteria to the digestive track

January 20, 2009
11:27pm – to the sounds of Gambia Radio and Crickets

As there are now two Michaels on the compound the compound has assigned Gambian names. Mine has traditionally been Dudu (not by choice). Although a very noble name in Mandinka (great one), the name Dudu in Fulani means “un-hatched spoiled egg” (…and well you know what it means in English)

Never the less it stands - uncle Dudu (they might as well have a naming ceremony)

January 21, 2009
1:53pm – to the heat of the African Day

So a little bit of catch-up to do today…. :o)

As of Saturday we planned to start the garden on Monday. But this is Africa and well on Sunday at church a brief announcement about a naming ceremony to be held on Monday from 9-10am informed me we would be starting on Tuesday.

In Gambia and the majority of Abrabic influenced world babies are not given names until the 7th day (in keeping with Islamic tradition and for various other reasons). So when the name is announced it is also a big deal. Perhaps on the same scale as a simple wedding. Although the ceremony lasts for an hour, guest and dignitaries travel to stop by and present the couple with gifts and to enjoy good food.

As custom right after the naming a goat is slaughtered by the men, as a man this involved me. Although it took a half hour for my stomach to recover I definitely had a better appreciation for the meat when I did get around to eating.

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying Ataiya (super strong green tea), playing the dice game and listening to music turned-up a little too loud (I must be getting old).

January 24th – 5:36pm
On a cool overcast day.

With the arrival of good friends Jon and Mike from Canada on Tuesday came, fresh excitement, culturally understanding conversation, sicknesses, intimate living conditions and fun. It has been a joy to show them around and share in their new world adventures.

On Wednesday morning staying true to my Gambian name I went off in search of manure for the garden. My logic cows wander everywhere, particularly around the highway, so why go buy fertilizer. Being nobody else wanted this job and with my gimped arm I’m pretty useless in the garden this only added to my logic. So off through the streets I wandered with my wheel barrow and shovel.

The dropping were scarce, after 15 minutes I had little more than the interest of the locals who were new to the idea of a $%@ collecting toubab. But God will reward the faithful and on route to the highway an elderly man discovered my intentions and called me over. Unable to speak English he simply pointed at a compound. Unsure what to expect I marched into a cattle feed lot - jackpot. Greeting the owner’s son I soon left with a triumphant smile and a wheelbarrow brimming with crop producing nutrients.

On Thursday Mike and I ventured to the GIG farm to gather more insight into farming in the Gambia. Although not exactly what we expected we did gain some valuable insight while picking peppers and washing squash with Kelly the farm’s manager. On return we discovered Jon had received his first encounter with foreign bacteria on a trip to the Youth for Christ office with Alieu Bah and was passed out on the bed. Soon Michael was also there beside him and it was not long after I also began to feel my system deteriorate.

Although the sickness has failed to keep us from all adventure I’ve been in limbo ever since. Taking away much of my energy it has also made finding and appetite (particularly for the more foreign food a challenge.

This afternoon I’m taking some time off after having a morning jam session with a traditional Kora band the “Wuli Band” (Stand-up band). I met them on a taxi ride and took a chance that they were good and worth a listen. They are not only good they are also a lot of fun to jam with. I’m excited about some potential for some recording with them later on in the project.

Situka, Farming, Guitars and a Hot New Night Club

January 16, 2009
9:02pm – My new room in Sikuta

- Settled in to new room in Situka
- Started evening math tutoring
- 4 guitars in Africa?
- Farming, how hard can it be?
- Islamic – Christian scholars dialog
- And there is an outdoor night club just down block

Sikuta is alive – well at least outside my room. The constant bustle of activity parades in, out and by my door as I type. The days here are full of activity, curiosity and smiling faces. I have been well accepted and received a health balance of celebrity and outcast experiences.

I have begun teaching/tutoring (aka. lion taming) during the evenings. The students are eager to learn so far I have been focusing on Math which I have been informed is the weakness amongst most Gambian students. Based on the change I tend to receive when buying things it is easy to believe. It takes some unwind from a sessions worth of frustrations – there are only so many ways to teach that zero times anything is zero.

In the next weeks there are plans to add an English and eventually a guitar class. Since arriving I have had three broken guitars brought to my room all of which I’ve been able to repair to a playable condition. When I start teaching I’ll have 4 guitars to work with.

During the day most adults are working and the kids are in school so to fill my time I have drove head on into an agricultural project. The compound owns ~3 hectors of land most of which is growing wild. So there is a huge potential if I can inspire the community to take interest.

I immediately booked a few meetings with a few key players in the region and after two days of very productive meetings with NGOs (non government organizations), foreign business men and agricultural scholars my mind is exploding with ideas.

Gathering a fair amount of curiosity from the locals I wander around the compound collecting “junk”. Old tires, buckets, rice bags, cans, water sacs and old bug nets all potential tools and supplies. I have also starting some composting buckets in the kitchen or outdoor cooking areas.

Taking stock of the tool/s situation (nothing) I made my way to Kanifing and put some money down to buy the best tools I could find (not saying a lot). A student of Kodak’s 5 “S” program I immediately involved some of the interested in setting up a tool rack for their proper storage.

It is exciting to see the interest from many of the young men. On yesterday’s visit to the Gambia is Good (or GIG farm) run by Concern Universal I had 5 guys come along – one of which is Musa Fatty. Granted we will see how many show up to dig the 8’ x 8’ x 4’ composting pit on Monday.

I have received a tremendous amount of support from Pastor Modu and his wife Mariama. We have spent a number of meals and car rides discussing vision. They have had the desire to start something (shown in their foresight to buy land) but their timetable are typically well booked time and energy to invest in such projects are limited.
It has been fascinating sharing ideas, Modu is fast becoming a leader in the dialog between the Islamic and Christian faiths. Holding a weekly dialog with prominent Islamic scholars from the area, he is bridging the gaps and offering a olive branch to the surrounding community. I have much to learn in this area and it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes of global new to understand the relevance and important of these discussions. Self taught and no credentials to his name, his desk is littered with letters to inviting him to speak international conferences in Africa and Europe. I’m humbled to be in such close proximity.

Anyways, my legs have just gone to sleep from sitting here and I should really go grab a bite to eat before bed. It could be a long night the local dance hall has just started up for the night and one might think they just invested in a new high powered PA (apparently it sometimes goes to 5-6am).

Thanks for reading and all your prayers.

Changing Worlds


- life has been full meeting with old and new friends; lots of great possibilities

- Beginning to set out plans for the next month

- Learning Mandinka with the Fattys in Latracounda

- Toubab NGO party a culture shock

- A new type of church

- Looking ahead to the coming week of settling in to my new accommodations in Sikuta.

- Will sleep well tonight :o)

January 10, 2009

8:48am – CVM mission house

This morning’s entertainment included Tijan beating a 3 inch cockroach to death with a straw broom and Musa chasing the spider sitting on the wall between the two clocks which hang above where I’m sitting. One clock is for Gambia time, the other for Saskatchewan time… perhaps I’ll get around to installing one for Vancouver.

Yesterday was full of meetings; Toni and Rita (Brazilian missionaries with YWAM), Mariatu (my African mother), Habib and Alagie (members of the Holy Family Band – Islamic Senegambian Reggae I have done recordings with – www.reverbnation.com/gambiaproject), Paul and Sandi, (youth workers from New York) and Eric and Elly (long term missionaries living up country in Basse whom I am planning to visit). I spent most of my time listening, watching and scribbling in my book; repair projects, things to teach, technologies to explore and experiment with, there are so many great opportunities here to contribute if one is willing to seek them out. (doing them is another thing)

However, the meeting that excited me the most was with Pastor Modu Camara. A modest sized property in the suburbs of the Kombos, the community runs a store/restaraut/tea shop, a hair salon, welding shop and a tailor shop. Spending little time with accommodations, food and financial arrangements (knowing we could each be trusted to work things out) we instead explored possibilities and talked about the people of the community and their needs.

I woke up around 6am this morning my mind racing with possibilities and never did get back to sleep. The thoughts of inspiring and equipping creativity here in the Gambia would not let me return to sleep. I’ll explain more in the days to come but now it is time to help with the morning chores and tending the garden.

January 11, 2009

4:17pm – CVM mission house – finished post @ 9:01pm

It was a slow start to the day today. I had spend most of yesterday with Jo and his family after doing some gardening and cleaning up a massive unorganized pile of donations, tools and junk under the stairs.

I was quickly greeted by little (but now bigger Fatu) as she ran down the landway. Musa handed me a painting he had prepared for me and Issa soon brought out a feast of Jolfa rice and fish. I felt like royalty.

We sat under the mango tree and drank Attaiya (strong green tea laden with sugar). True to my plans to learn Mandinka, I began taking notes as we discussed some ideas for drying fruit as a supply of food and source of income for the family. Ebrima Jollow the elder of the family shared much wisdom in thought and language, including some deep Mandinka expressions that took a few minutes of deep concentration to wrap my mind around. Quite amazing really.

On the way home I ran across an American peace corp speaking Mandinka and soon was invited to a going away party. Wanting to make some connections I decided to go so after dinner and a quick jam session with Martin I left home for the adventurous evening trek across town.

Expecting a quaint gathering at a restaurant I arrived at a beautiful beach front residence packed with 60 odd inebriated westerners in full swing. Although it was nice to converse in some familiar cultural context, it was a little overwhelming to say the least. Since I had made the journey I decided to stick it out. It was interesting to see the view points of salaried relief workers and hear their stories and frustrations there are many good things going on – but it is a different mentality from the volunteer or faith based projects. I made a few friends and contacts but left glad I was leaving.

Jumping off the other end of the culture platform was the House of Wisdom Sunday morning church service. There are a number of differences from your average western church first it is held in a round hut with Islamic prayer mats scattered over the floor everyone sitting in a circle with the children in the center. Secondly, I have never seen so many breasts in church – babies get hungry and there is little need for modesty or a nursery; it is just part of life.

I will no doubt have my work cut out for me: learning names, creating understanding and developing trust. These things will take patience, humility and love. Although the people are very hospitable, there are expectations I will fail to be and preconceived notions I will need to clear both in my mind and theirs. Tomorrow I will be moving in your prayers are greatly appreciated.

To end the day Jo stopped by and went to play some soccer on the beach before enjoying a meal together. It was the perfect end to the day and I will sleep well tonight.

Chicken or an Egg?

January 9, 2009 :

9:27 Gambia Time..

CVM residence in Senegambia

I made it! … and almost as importantly so did my luggage. The only lost was my pack cover which never showed up in Madrid.

The trip to the Gambia has lost its special enchantment and seemed much more of a routine journey. That said there was fair share excitement, adventure and frustration. Madrid was more of a challenge than I would have anticipated. I had little time to research accommodations and staying in the airport alone for 16 hours seemed unappealing after already being on 3 planes.

I soon discovered how little Spanish I knew (even less than I thought) and I had never been so happy for my French later bailed me out of a few situations. Eventually I found a room for a reasonable rate and fell asleep later to wake up to explore the city for dinner.

I was blessed to have no trouble at the Gambian airport, due to my length of stay and the amount of electronics I was carrying with me I had anticipated trouble. Martin (CVM staff), Jo and Musa (Jo and Musa are friends I have been help Musa with his schooling over the last two years) were there to welcome me and give me a ride from the airport to a mission home in Senegambia (touristy part of town) where I will get my bearings straightened out.

There are new surprises and many things to relearn. New prices on everything and my language skills are as bad as I remembered them. While trying to get breakfast this morning I discovered there is an egg shortage due to some conflicts with street egg sandwich vendors and the government. (kind of like North American squeegee kids vs the government) After visiting 9 shacks (corner stores) I finally was able to buy 3 eggs but when I returned to make my sandwich I found one had already decided to become a chicken. So much for my appetite.

Fortunately, Martin and the two boys Musa and Tijan are here to help me navigate this all and help with teaching some Mandinka which will be a good project for the time I am here. Anyways, Martin is ready to go and the day is flying by and there is much to do and people to catch up with. More to come soon...

T minus 11hrs12min

The hallway upstairs is lined in mesh bags. One for pants, shirts, drugs (the medical ones), a guitar and a week's worth of underwear. I guess I'll find out what I forgot when I'm there - and of course realize what I could have left at home.

The final days have been mostly details although, not finding my good shoes after moving houses triggered an emergency shoe purchasing expedition 30mins before mall closing (quite possible every girl's dream situation). Admits the chaos were great moments of peace, encouragement and fun. Notables included Sunday's the snow shoveling team to scrape the ice off the driveway, time with my grandma and the streams of visits, emails and phone calls filled prayers and heart felt words which provided repose between errands. Thank you.

A huge thanks to Mark for taking up valuable holiday time to get the web site up and running on such short notice. As well I am so thankful for my parents who have been called up to pinch hit many times this week and being so understanding.

From here planes take me the Minneapolis, Amsterdam and Madrid before I'll touch down in Yundon International Airport (home of Africa's only NASA approved space shuttle landing strip) mid day on the 8th.

Anyways, enough typing asd the morning comes fast and those mesh bag will not pack themselves...