Adama and Dot Inc.

Normally my posts are not gender targeted and neither is this one despite initial appearances. (men, a friendly reminder that you may have an anniversary or know of a upcoming birthday). 

My neighbour Adama and her daughter Aligail make stylish jewelry - I am willing to provide her with your order - Just send me an email to let me know what you would like (colours etc) Michael(dot)J(dot)Friesen@gmail(dot)com

Custom requests welcome! Samples and prices below. 

Bracelets $3 each

  Necklaces $5 each

Necklace and Earing Sets for $7

Adama looks forward to taking your order! 

In the Shade of the Mangoes

The shade of the compound mangoes trees is a familiar place, particularly as the evening sun prepares to tuck itself behind the horizon. However, what was unfamiliar was the silent crowd of around 50 - 60 who had gathered in the shade with me.  The crowd representing 5-6 different tribes and two or more faiths were the likes of whom that would typically would not gather together. 

I am sure when exactly when or how it dawned on me, perhaps it was the unfamiliar cultural silence or the reality that we were now sending children to neighbouring compounds to find more chairs the the but I realized these people had come because of something I was doing and to hear what I was going to say. To complicated the matter I felt I had no idea what I was doing or what I was going to say. 

Abandonning any hope of being culturally appropriate to arriving guest, I thought it would be a good idea to start making a few notes. 

After a brief introduction and an spirited argument to select a common enough language for translation, I began telling the story which brought us all to were we are today. 

During my past trips to The Gambia, I came to understand the decision most families make in The Gambia; food in the bowl or their child in school. In 2010 I became to assist a few famillies which eventually grew into a program administered by local volunteers able to properly prioritize and oversea any funds. 
As of this current academic year over 75 students representing all academic levels who are actively receiving support to help with their school. This has occurred with minimal infighting and attempts of corruption. A reality I can only attribute to God's work in my life and those who have partnered in the vision both volunteers and participants. 

My message was simple - let's pray and work together so we can continue to sustain and further develop the program. The goal being not simply to provide education but furthermore use this education to develop good leaders who are willing to invest the knowledge and skills back into The Gambia for Faith, Hope and Love.

We talked through program logistics, some new rules preventing parents from taking advantage of the system and the importance of family and community involvement in students pursuits. In all the meeting lasted 3 hours - I was not always sure what was going on or how things would end up but, as we concluded there was a spirit of unity and sense that we we're on the right path and God is doing great things. 

Belief and Truth in the Dance-a-thon of Life

Belief and truth can at times be awkward dance partners in the dance-a-thon of life. 

Truth is experienced and wise. Her steps are firm, unyielding and certain. Yet she seems to find a way of being elusive changing shape as you move around the great big dance floor of life. When you are tripped up you are not sure if she has moved or it was just your imagination. Judges and critics sum her up her up with numbers, fans take pictures and while haters try to make her out to be a liar and a cheat. Yet she doesn't seem to pay much attention to critics, she remains true to form. 

Belief is young and free, trotting around the dance floor to his heart's desire. Until of course, truth gets in the way. Most of the time belief does its best to be in step with his partner but, often he gets distracted caught up in his own fancy footwork. At times he will take exception and will argue with Truth. If he persists long enough truth may just seem to move to accomadate the new rhythm and open to a new movement. However more often than not it is Belief that must learn to yield to the wise and experienced Truth and really should be respectful and diligent to do so.

But don't think truth can steal the show alone, Truth's is nothing without him - Belief sets the tone, can bring pain and suffering, bore her to death or put love and joy to her step.

New Money!

Gambia is soon getting new money with a familiar face!

Gone will be the days of soiled damp and taped together dalasis which scream 'Where is the hand sanitizer?' after every purchase. 

Note newish current bill vs a typical bill to help get an appreciation that it is time for some real change (cheesy literary device fully intended!)

The new series is similar to the recently minted Canadian bills and features tear and moisture (sweat) resistance allowing it to endure the heavy wear of a cash society enabling it to be able to stay in circulation seemingly forever. 

A D20 bill replaces the odd yet sought after D25 bill. As well a new D200 bill will be added to reduce the number of suitcases of money it takes to sell a D250,000 cashew crop or buy a big chunk of land from an Alkalo (village chief) who doesn't have a bank account. 

While the landscapes on the back remain unchanged the front removes the traditional African faces and replaces it with their current leader, demonstrating to all the country's development progress and stability of the democratic political situation which the Gambia enjoys. 

Please join me in congratulating the central bank on their new Dalasis! 

The Hot Topic?!?

Upon arrival I expected to find Ebola as a hot topic of conversation. It Certainly was a hot topic in Canada. In its peak the fears over the spread of the deadly virus in western nations was taken serous with public out cries over the lack of preparedness in our already over crowded hospitals. Being Ebola is actually in the region, figured people would want to talk about it.

When we are talking about the spread of this virus. One needs to understand where society is at in regards to health. I have put together a few concerning factoids to help put things in perspective. 
 - 90% of the west African population eat out of the same bowl as 4-6 people 2-3 times a day. 

- Maybe a third will wash with water only before eating.
- during my last visit to the national hospital there was no running water or soap to wash my hand in the room with 16 beds and 40 visitor 
- i did find a sink was plugged intentionally so you could rinse with the water that was sitting there. At the time I decided I liked the germs already on my hands. 

Even with all of this people don't seem to concerned about this topic. It doesn't seem to be a big deal. 

Over the past three days I have been sharing living space with a friend who travelled from the heart of the Ebola epicentre. The thought of Ebola hadn't crossed my mind until the yesterday. No one here in the compound seems to concerned about it either as we eat together around the bowl. 

For people here life goes on. 

I'm sure ignorance plays a role here and there would be benefit and I have no doubt some improved basic hygiene and germ theory would go a long way. 

Of course this is in constrast to the ignorance of some westerners who would chastise anyone for even travelling to the continent. This show a lack of knowledge of the kind of scale or the difficulty and limited travel with-in the Africa context. 

Perhaps the greater influence in the lack of ebola-phobia is the simple statement from the human condition which says "what else are we supposed to do". 

An estimated 1.3 million people die in car accidents every year - yet few hesitate to get in their car and drive to work everyday. Why? What else are you supposed to do? 

Risks are a reality of life it just so happens the odds are worst and stakes are higher.

Africans are so adapt at 'risk apathy' that many get voluntarily in migration to Europe. There is one word spoken frequently here. Its powerful enough to empty communities of its young men... Lampaduza, the Italian island. If you haven't read any report on the migrant criss do take time to read this one. 

The stories of men getting thrown overboard are chilling (particularly knowing Africans can't swim) - however the same man from Ebola land staying with me also attempted the trip to Europe "the back way" in 2006 and said he saw 7 men be thrown overboard for complaining. (He never made it - he spent time in a camp in Morroco

Now I know 8 or more young men from my small circles of contact who have left and another half dozen or so who have at least tried. These are people who are pursuing this treacherous journey as I write. One boy I personally sponsored to finish his grade 12. (Kind of disappointed)

This is hardly a new thing but now the rate of departure is incredible. Many of these people are not coming from woefully oppressive or poor situations. And it is important to understand it is not just the individuals, parents and families members are putting resources together and are selling land to send their boys. It is to the point that you can sense and see the difference just by walking the streets.

 It is to the point girls are complaining there are not enough boys to go around. 

Young men are equipped with funds (minimum cost to get to Libya have been reported around $1000 and then another similar amount to get on the boat), given information on contacts and instructions for the route and even taught how to out smart the systems in the western migrant camps. (Destroy your documents, Claim you are under age, lie about your originating country, inflict injuries upon yourself)

It is a madness fuled by the western entertainment/media industry and catalyzed by Lybia's organized crime networks.  Currently, I fear things will be worse before they get better.

I have much more to write about this 'hot topic'. I hope to cover more in an upcoming post. 

A brief message to the insects in my room

Mr spider you are welcome to stay providing you help deal with the mosquito and fly that are keeping me awake. 

Mosquito and fly consider yourselves warned. 

Learning from Village Life

I spent the past 4 days in in a small village on the On the northern side of The Gambia river. 

In addition to picking up what I suspect is my first parasite of the trip. I spent the days coping with the inland +40oC temperatures, chasing goats out of my hut and trying to be social with a vocabulary of 150 odd words and the grammar of a stereotypical cave man. I will not deny there are momments I wonder what benefit is found in it all - in theory there is a quite a bit. 

First, there is a massive significance of visiting and development of relationship in this culture. This time spent develops trust and respect which provide the foundations for any future partnerships. Secondly, understanding how people live and feeling their struggles provides insight to better help with resolving community needs and development. (This 2nd technique is commonly referred to as going to Gemba in efficiency improvements in lean manufacturing circles) 

All said, as with any theory, it is not until you see the results that one fully appreciates its value. 

I had one such momment sitting in my room hearing a young Fula man pour out his heart about his struggles support his aging parents, frustrations not being able to develop his language the way he wants to, his fatalism in the lack of opportunity to work or start a business and continual dependence for life's basic needs despite his best efforts. 

As I sat listening, my mind drifted back to my recent experience in the village struggling to live in a system I didn't know, unable to communicate, not understanding what is going on or why things are this way and seeing so many things that need to change and not really knowing what to do about any of it. 

Then I thought to myself, I may not be able to help with all of his problems but at least I have an idea about what he may be feeling. 


Weather Or Not You'll Sleep

Life in a Gambian suburb is mostly lived outside. Days inside doing computer work (like today) feel strange and out of place. My dad once described the experience of living hear like camping in concret tents. 

Living outside you develop a real connection to the weather. When it is hot, you are hot, when it is cold you are cold. This may seem obvious but it is not appreciated fully until you realize that with no sheets at 19oC you need to put on a hoodie so you can sleep or with no wind and an outside temp holding at 25oC your room at 30oC from the day. it will not cool down enough so for you to sleep any time soon. This leave a very narrow temperature window of comfort. It helps me understand how decoupled our lives are from the climate. 

Time to put on a hoodie and go to bed. 

Good Friday

In Gambia and currently with out a formal schedule it is easy to loose track of what day it is. For this reason (and the fact Gambia is 90%+ Islamic) I am not too ashamed of not realizing today was Good Friday - it went pretty much unnoticed until mid afternoon.  

This said today was quite a good Friday. (Some productive meetings around scholarships, speghitti for lunch, successful Market shopping using only Fula and some beach time) 

This got me thinking about Good Friday. What makes it good and how does my personal 'good Friday' relate (if it is at all related) to the Good Friday celebrated today. 

My thoughts gravitated to my definition of 'The Gospel' or 'good news' and how my understanding of it has developed over the past 15 years of my life. 

For those who choose to live from a faith perspective at some point we decide how and why does the somewhat routine grusom murder (and a soon there after resurrection) of a Jewish man who identified himself as the son of God (crazy talk?) constitute 'good news' for all the people of the world in all momments of time.

I will make an attempt at describing my progression without writing a theology textbook. 

The Gospel I used to understand and put my faith in had a narrow and yet blurred focus: 

Good News! 'all people have the opportunity to beleive in Jesus so they can get past God's judgement and go to heaven' 

In this type of Gospel my Good Friday time spent playing frisbee on a sandy beach with a few Wolof teens has little value, nor would meeting around children going to school or even enjoying a good cup of tea. It was the apparent devaluation of these things that prompted a re-evaluation of what I believed to be the Gospel. 

Over the years I have come to know the Gospel in a far wider sense now believing God is up to a far greater saving work. 

Good news!
"Jesus is king has come to show that evil and death can and will be one day completed defeated. Heaven is joining with the earth and will restore all that is has been broken through faith, hope and love. Come and be part of it!"

I believe that from this perspective of this gospel much that transpired this Friday was important and valuable - indeed making it a good Friday. 

Kontong, Kontong & Kontong

When you learn a language there are always quirks and inexplicables. For us who have grown-up speaking English we know to get in a car and on a bus rather than getting on a car and in a bus. Some one once explained this was most likely an artifact of the original open top cars. No longer a reality it is now a frustrating quirk for those who learn to speak the English language. Then of course there is live and live or there and their or two, too and to all of which I see little logic in. 

With the Mandinka language there is the word Kontong which can mean the action of greeting people, eating lunch or the noun referring to your last name. Beyond being very confusing, once you understand their culture perhaps there is something deeper going on. 

On my own logic your last name is your identity (more so than just your name). You are identified as having certain characteristics (similar to how we associate an Irish name or perhaps Dutch or german). 

From here it is easy to arrive at the meaning for greeting particularly as it is most often used as a "say hi to the people in your place". 

Now as for lunch, here you begin to understand the importance of eating together. In Gambian culture it is almost as if you have not visited someone until you have eaten from their bowl.

As I have returned and begin to visit my many friends from over the years I have become accustom to the need to eat meals in all those places - this cultural act shows I feel confortable and at home. Naturally it also ensures I am also well fed. 

Speaking of which a plate of nyan ka tan has just arrived. I should get to visiting. Here is a photo.