The First Rain
After 2 months without seeing a drop of rain – it comes as a bit of a surprise to see rain again particularly this early (the season is a month or so away). Many where caught without a roof, including some of my friends as they are scrambling to make repairs to their homes.
Rain brings change to the region, dry dusty land gives life bringing a season growth and new life. Such a season brings the challenges of disintegrating homes (mud block homes melt like sugar if water gets in), the labour in the hot humid fields, illnesses born in insects and the dewindling food supply as families wait to harvest.
In any case, my woes are far less, a state of constant sweat, a small field in a village to farm and the need to check the sky before i wander too far from home on my bicycle.
Si Allah Jabi
Without doubt at some point in time during a conversation “Si Allah Jabi” (or another language's equivalent) will find its way into the conversation. The words “If God Wills” may seem benign however it soon becomes the scape clause of responsibility for every commitment, decision or accident – it really permeates the mentality of the culture and becomes a major hindrance to moving forward as it is expected all is up to Allah's whim or any other spirit who happens to pass through the physical world that day.
For example if a wheel falls off a car – it wasn't because you didn't tighten the lugs rather it was God's will. For this reason most injuries are taken first to spiritual healers and the physical is secondary. I some light it is nice to see their holistic (physical and spiritual) approach however, it is somehow misguided. The need to be freed from the mentality that human are a simply pawns subject to the whim, judgement and wrath of God. Although by no means unique to the region or the prevailing religion, I honestly believe a change in this thought pattern would result in a transformation of the development of the nation / continent.
I had the opportunity to share in this morning's service and attempted to share what I believe is a healthier (and more scriptural) perspective on the will of God. One which understands the love and purpose of God as the conductor who invites us rather as participants to share in the opportunities to align our lives to see it fulfilled on earth as in heaven.
Whether partnering or just plain God's will – it is my hope and prayer the people here and around the world would come to an understanding of the life and resources they have been entrusted with and the beauty that comes through faith, hope and love.
Life on the Road
Full of surprises travel here is never mundane. Each vehicle have their own character – the colourful graphics, the music, the smells, the collection of religious leaders plastered across the windshield and the outrageous the seat covers that are soaked in someone else's sweat. You learn to play the odds with the door handles and the 50/50 split whether the door handle on the outside will work or if you will need to reach inside of the car to get in (or vise-versa).
Safety and comfort are a typically not a priority this said a car will at least have one strap for the front seat belt (to avoid a fine) and typically will have 3 of 4 wheels in reasonable alignment. If it is to hot, cold, raining or dusty there is typically one window winder that is passed around to adjust the windows accordingly (if not you can usually borrow one from another car). Sliding door become hinged doors and the occasional sliding door falling off is a good incentive to take the less comfortable middle seats in the vans.
Long distance travel opens the door to an entirely new set adventures. From simple flat tires to the youth who decided your motorbike fuel was best used in village generator for the party the last night, you can typically expect an hour to a half day delay on most adventures out of the city.
If your journey is taking you across the river Ferry travel brings an entirely new set of possibilities. The on slot vendors and thieves in the waiting area are the prelude to the loading procedure. I was recently loaded onto a ferry and then 20 mins later loaded off the boat so we could wait for the next one as someone decided there were not enough cars to use one than one ferry that day Enough cars usually means more than can reasonably fit. Case in point a friend of mine was on the boat a few years back when they pushed a gravel truck off the ferry as the boat had begun to take on water during its crossing.
However, it would be unfair to paint only half the picture of travel here. Not all surprises of travel are woes. Often you meet wonderful people, see the beautiful sights of the country and even have the chance to come home with a few gifts from the journey. A friend of mine recently came home with 3 chickens as gifts. Although not quite the same I inherited a backpack full of perfectly ripe mangoes – while it may have made the pack heavy but they were wonderfully sweet in a year where the mangoes have been slow to arrive.
All said, I am looking forward to my next trip.
The Becoming of a Generation
One thing that is demographically clear is that Gambia is full of children and youth. The town is full of kids, teens, and young adults loitering around town. From birth each one fights and suffers for attention, resources and opportunities. Eaten form a common bowl no one will force you eat your vegetables, meat or rice – there will simply be none left and given the fact dessert is never served you won't get that before you go to bed. This is a stark contrast to the baby poor western culture where much is invested in one of two children.
There is also an ever present hierarchy. 3 year olds will supervise babies who are in turn supervised by 8 years olds who are supervised by an 11 year old and so on. If something dare reach the elders level (which can happen) someone will typically need to bare the burden of scapegoat. In addition to this with so many children around communities can easily get to the point where they view child as another suborn pest (pretty much anything that gets broken is blamed on the children) particularly the bright eyed curious ones.
All said, this makes it tremendously encouraging to find parents who are there behind their children and makes it incredibly rewarding for those who choose to invest in the lives the coming generation. (you could see this particularly with my mom's visit here earlier this trip) During my stay I have had the privilege to be involved in the lives of many of the youth and young adults whether simply helping teach English, reading or just offering advise. (reading blog you may get the impression the quality of help may be lacking – I can only challenge you to come help and offer some of yours)
It is important to recognize the community structure and social investments of the average local here far exceeds that of western culture. I have come to understand it as a natural instinct to cope with poverty this is an area as whole where they are experts and have a lot to teach us. This community structure creates a social net that performs the role equivalent role of western welfare programs (costing billions of dollar) with astounding effectiveness. A man or woman with good relationship can survive months without buying a single meal or material possession.
However, in many of these communities relationship become toxic. Major betrayals, over money, actions or a simple misunderstanding of words corrode the supports. People take advantage of a system design to ensure no one ever goes hungry.
For this reason of all the things I can hope to teach or inspire in a sense of unity and love between one another. Really this is the hope of the region – people here live dangerously close to the edge each day. In friends and community you have the support and encouragement to hang on and keep yourself from the pitfalls of poverty. I am a strong believer openness, respect and forgiveness are critical to maintaining the health of such a community.
I am privileged to be involved in a group of youth who are in the process of pursuing just that. I ask you to pray to the youth of the region and those who continue to build into their lives.