Packo, Petrol and Piccadilly

In the Lounge Watching Packo
March 20th, 11:06pm GMT

It is hard to go anywhere in the Gambia without hearing about Packo. Saturday night at 10:30 the country stops for an hour to watch a cheesy B-grade Italian soap opera with poor English dubs. The 5 minute commercials offer some relief. It is almost as intriguing as Gambia’s obsession with Celine Dion. It is amazing what unexpected things people will latch-on to. Maybe I'm just missing something...

March 22nd, 11:36pm GMT

For those who enjoy a good day of bureaucratic process, last Friday I traveled to the Banjul police station. 3 hours, 10 officials and 100 Dalais ($5) later I had obtained a license to drive motorbikes in Gambia.

It is a scary thought to me (and likely my mom) knowing I have very limited riding experience and the undeniable reality of how things work on the roads here. Yet, it has become a practical necessity for traveling between rural properties and dropping visitors at transport hubs.

On today’s journey I learned an important lesson about checking the fuel tank. In my defense there wasn’t even enough to get to the gas station as I've discovered the locals aren’t in the habit of leaving much in the tank for the next rider.

Earlier on Saturday I was in Piccadilly, a poor suburb of Banjul, visiting with long time friends. Here money is hard to come by and conditions are rough. Spending time exploring new Mandinka vocab, drinking ataiya and getting a shave with a straight razor hardly seem like a day’s work, however, they are always precursor’s to deeper more intimate conversations about family betrayal, witchcraft and dark secrets from the minds of the poor and their oppressors.

There are times when the situations seem so dire, it is easy to be overwhelmed. From a distance it is easy to shrug shoulders and wash your hands problem and it is for this reason I travel. Though I don’t know the best way forward, by grace my heart left in peace and a spark of belief that there are great things to come.

In other news…

Josh has arrived safely and has been quick to adjust to African life thought there are always plenty things to learn.

Tomorrow I travel to a garden in Bwiam with many from the compound and a few friends. I hope to inspire people as to what is possible.

Miss you all and thanks for your support.

Nyow Naa… (I’m Here)

From My Room Sukuta, The Gambia
March 16, 6:47pm GMT

Arriving 3am local time to the Banjul Airport, I was warmly greeted by Pastor as he explained that the others had been held outside the airport at a military check point for failing to bring their documentation.

Greetings and orientations to my new room left little time for sleep on the first night before the morning call to prayer wakes the roosters who summon the donkeys.

My first walk of the compound in the morning light confirmed many fears about what had happened to many of the things established last trip.

In contrast people soon began to appear out of their homes I was joyfully greeted by familiar faces and introduced to many new ones. My favourite was Dilha, the compound’s only grandma, 40 yard dash to greet me repeating most of her English vocabulary inserting my name and Fula phrases that I don’t understand. It was comforting and a good reminder I am in a culture that expresses love and appreciation thought time spent and relationships not things accomplished.

After a full and pleasant church service, I pounded back a couple rounds of taiya (the sugary, tea based, expresso of Western Africa) listening in on mixed-Fula conversation and taking in the warm breeze which graced the shade under the mango tree.

Lunch served around 3pm was a compound favourite – potato leaves, hot pepper, pounded fish and oil on rice. It was a firm introduction to my stomach which didn’t necessarily sign up for the trip by choice.

Later, I had been invited out to meet this year’s SMILE team (group of young volunteer teachers from the UK) and have a chance to swim in the ocean a much needed refreshment after my travels.

Monday was spend at the market buying a table, spoons and other essentials for life. I met up my with my friend Musa who provided company and some protection from inflated pricing. The dusty streets, chaotic banter, herds of cattle and door falling off the transport van were all familiar slights and sounds welcoming my return.

Last night I visited my African mother Mariatu and dropped off some mail from other “children”. She was in great spirits and aside from being unable to stand up she was her usual self. I played some guitar for her and she gave me a good talk about how she can't depend on her own strength only God's.

Over following week I will be busy in informal meetings, observing and solving mysteries, in hopes to map out what the path forward will look like over the next 6 months.

With love from the Gambia.

It is real...

Gate D64 - YVR
8:37pm PST

Well time has arrived this is real.

Trips like this generally start as an idea, most end shortly there after. The survivors slowly articulate themselves in conversations, research and . Taking root in shots, passports and tickets you begin to anticipate the connection. The week before sparks begin to ignite the reality: last day at work, moving out, saying goodbye to friends and family and enjoying your last . But still it never feels until you are passed the security point.

It feels the same for me almost everytime.

My first flight is delay which may cause some problems for the next two (you can pray for me). Anyway here is my boarding call. Tears, joy, and laughter await. God Speed.

To do...

:: A quick administrative insert before the post ::

I had a number of requests asking about how they can be involved financially with theses projects in the Gambia. Here is the skinny...

As these are volunteer projects and my living expenses are already budgeted for, all donations (less 5% admin fee) now go directly to empowering locals through grassroots projects and are tax deductible.

Checks can be written to Northwest Mennonite Conference with a note attached separately to direct the money to CVM - HOW Project Gambia

Mail to:
Christian Volunteer Movement
47 Queen's Park Crescent East,
Toronto, ON, M5S 2C3

For Visa and Mastercard donations you may donate through Canada Helps Account 15 Mike Friesen CVM - in comments direct it to HOW Project Gambia
Please note there is additional admin fee 2-3%


****Back to the original Post****

For the past 6 months I've kept a list of things to do in my I-phone. The majority of these item had deadlines associated with my departure next week some others were inserted as a practical joke by my sister. Some are essential, many are beneficial and there is a boat load of "nice to do" (can you ever run out of good stuff to do?).

It is often hard to set priorities in life particularly when you are feeling a time crunch. At times I tend to gravitate more to thinking about what I should be doing instead of just doing something on the list. This just leads to more analyzing. Fortunately the analyzing pays out well in epiphanies. The most recent was a new addition to the essentials list. "Be Centered"

In all the chaos, it is easy to loose balance. Becoming focused on the wrong things or even the right things the wrong way can quickly undo things thought done. And somehow, the proper focus in itself somehow gets the right things done at the right time.

Matthew 6:25-34