Saturday, December 10, 2011

Missing Rwanda

I cannot believe almost a whole week has gone by since I was with my boys in Rwanda.  It really is crazy how time flies.  I miss Rwanda more than I thought I would. I really did find a home there.  Morocco is more like Europe than anything, but I still find the pieces of the Africa I love here, I cling to them---the moms with babies on their backs and the piles of clothes in the market with dozens of women shuffling through them.

I wanted to share my co-worker, Elena's blog so that you can still follow life in Rwanda if you so choose, she will be there until April. I am SO jealous! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Made it to Morocco

After 23 hours of traveling, I arrived in Morocco on Monday.  Pretty ridiculous, it takes just as long to get across Africa as it does to get to Colorado.  Morocco is so different than Rwanda!! I've had anxiety pretty much since I stepped off the plane and was hit by a wall of cold.  With two pairs of pants and flip-flops I am definitely not prepared for the climate and with trains and trams I am totally out of my element.  I am slowly adjusting, until I come across the Rolex stores and McDonalds, which cause a moment of sheer panic.  I miss Rwanda and my boys more than I could have imagined and I'm busy dreaming of ways to get back quickly!  But with Rwanda and my boys in my heart I am happy to be with Alex again and the French pastries are a nice perk!

Friday, December 2, 2011

We All Scream for Ice Cream

A wise person once said, "You can't buy happiness but you can buy ice cream and that's pretty much the same thing."  Ice cream is one thing that I can count on to always make me happy. 

When I was little ice cream was the reason I would eat dinner.  In Gambia, I would splurge on ice cream, it helped me get through the stress of having all my plans fall through and was a good way to bribe my host

When we were traveling through Butare a month back we came across Inzozi Nziza, the first ice cream parlor in Rwanda.  A women's cooperative that has brought jobs, ice cream and most importantly happiness to the community.  With free ice cream once a month for the children of Butare, Inzozi Nziza is spreading joy.  They advertise as coffee, ice cream and dreams.  Simple and perfect! And so began my obsession of giving my boys the ice cream experience.

With today being my last official day at the center (I will go tomorrow for final goodbyes) I thought that instead of being sad about my departure why not spread some joy with a sweet treat.  Elena and I packed in the truck, headed to town and spent $97!  The best money I have ever spent.  4.5 gallons of ice cream, 150 plastic spoons, a mash of tin plates and plastic cups, and 130 boys- it was wonderful!!!!  Smiles, licking plates, ice cream on faces--it was sheer perfection.  Today I fulfilled a dream and got my boys ice cream, it doesn't get much better than that! 


woah ice cream!

My boys! Forever in my heart.
I leave Rwanda on Sunday (with a very heavy heart) to join Alex in Morocco.  I do not know if I will really have an opportunity to blog.  Thank you so much for joining me on this journey, I cannot believe it is coming to an end...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Week

Today marks one week until I leave Rwanda.  Saying goodbye to this amazing country and to my wonderful boys is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Knowing that I will never see some of the faces that have become a part of my life, ever again is really unfathomable.  I want to share the story of one little boy who has changed my life.  He has taught me what it really means to love unconditionally.  I have changed his name to Spiderman (not to be confused with the comic book character, though both are super heroes) to protect his identity. 

There are people in this world who shine so bright that their presence can be blinding and impossible to ignore.  Spiderman is one of those light. He is changed me in ways I cannot explain and forever left his footprint on my heart.  
He caught my eye the first time I saw him.  A huge toothy grin, and scars on his face, a wisdom in his eyes.  There was just something about him.  The first thing I learned about his case was that everyone was on his case, the toughest in the center.  In his first few days he ran away several times and his little body has a hard time dealing with withdrawals.  He told Rafiki his father's occupation was to beat him and many days he sat alone, away from the other boys.  He struggles in school and cannot retain information very well, a possible side effect of his early drug use.  Some days are quite hard on Spiderman.  I am no doctor but I believe he suffers from PTSD.  Joseanne told us his whole story one day after she spent hours comforting him.  It goes like this:
One day Spiderman returned home to find his father's dead body.  He had been murdered.  He sat and cried and cried for help but no one came.  He worries the same people will come back for his mother.  He told Joseanne that he would rather they take him instead- he loves his mother so much.  He loves his mother so much because she loves him so much.  She would tell Spiderman to behave so that his father would not beat him.  Spiderman remembers his mother telling him that when his father beat him it was like she was taking the blows because he is her heart.
Spiderman has suffered so much in his short life.  He has seen things his young eyes never should have seen and he bares the scar.  He has days where he can clearly not handle it all.  Tears well in his eyes and he cannot form a smile.  These days kill me because his light should never be dimmed.  But then there are the days when he takes me by the hands, his big eyes gleaming, and says, "I love you."
A lover and a fighter my Spiderman is.  I wish for him to know his greatness everyday of his life.  His face is imprinted forever in my mind, his hand will never leave mine, and his heart is now part of my soul.  He is a being unlike any other and a little boy who makes living in this crazy world bearable.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Live 2 Break

Happiness. Joy. Hope.  Those are the words I would use to sum up the last 10 days at Les Enfants de Dieu. 

If there is one thing my boys love more than anything else in the world it is to dance.  Sun up to sun down they will dance.  As soon as they get the chance the boom box is rocking and they are grouped together in synchronized routines.  Many an afternoon, I have spent twirling in circles, shuffling from side to side, and getting down with the boys in our dining room as the music cracked in and out on the sketchy stereo.  So much joy has come to the center through dance, a language and an understanding that needs no words.

So of course if they had one wish it would be to have real dance teachers, not just the pirated music videos they watch to perfect their skills.  Thank god for Catalyst Rwanda and the Live 2 Break Crew who came and spent the last ten days teaching the boys to pop, lock and drop it.

As I watched the boys transform into break dancers this last week I felt so happy.   Their smiles never faded and their eyes lit up every time Pervez (the break master) tied his bandanna on and showed them a new move.  Each time Kate or Bret (the rest of the crew) slowed down to help a boy until he got it, I saw that glint of pride radiate from his soul.  This week the boys saw that they mattered.  The Live 2 Break crew had come all the way from London just for them because they are just as important as any other child.  They will never forget those ten days, they will treasure them forever-- just as I will cherish the moments I got to sit and watch them smile as they spun in circles and hopped back in forth.

There are not enough thank yous in the world but it's all I have; so thank you Pervez, Kate, Bret and Nicola for making my boys know how special they really are!

The Live 2 Break Crew

Elena and I "breaking it"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heads or Tails.

Driving through the hills this weekend in our rented Rav4 on the way to Nyungwe National Park (one of the only rain forests to survive the last ice age) I couldn't stop thinking about how I was sitting in the front of a car while all around me hundreds of people were climbing up hills in bare feet on their way to market or their terraced tea plantains. What made it so that I was the one sitting in the car not the one out in the elements?  And I realized so clearly, maybe really for the first time, that life is determined by one thing, that one thing is chance.  It really is left to a coin toss it seems.  Because I was born in America, in a hospital to a white middle class family, I am able to drive my Rav4 through the hills of Rwanda but the people we passed on the road were born in homes in southern Rwanda and so they spend much of their lives living and working  and walking the land of their birthplace. It is all rather funny to me that the conditions in which we enter this world can be so different and based on nothing at all.  I am feeling quite conflicted about it, what right do I have to receive a university education and live a privileged life--while my brothers and sisters here spend their days in the fields and fighting to afford an education? What makes me different? I am no different than my Rwandan countrymen but I have been born into a life where I have more opportunity and choice and complain when I do not get what I want, but why???

It was hammered home ever more today at work when I sat with one of my boys and listened to his concerns and hopes and fears.  He is in secondary school and time is coming for him to return home but he is worried because there are problems at home. His father is very poor and unable to work and all this boy wants to do is to help (because family is everything here) while continuing his education.  He is brilliant and he must continue to study (which the center will pay for) but there may not be food at home and his father has no means to support him.  This boy could very well be in the United States or the upper-class of Rwanda where these problems do not exist but chance has landed him here; with hopes and dreams but a seemingly impossible road to reach them.  He told me he wants to be a doctor.  He is smart and hardworking, more than students I've encounter in the states.  He is determined and strong-willed, more than anyone I know.  But I couldn't help but think that this dream could very well not be possible, with the demands of his home and with very little to make this a reality.  It broke me.  In the US a child wants to be a doctor and so he becomes a doctor, but because the randomness of human existence put my boy here, where life is layers of complexities and circumstances, he may not become a doctor.  Even with my tinge of doubts, I turned to him and told him he would become a doctor.  He will be a doctor.  I have to believe this because if I don't have hope how can I except anyone else to and hope is what keeps us alive. 

Our world is complex and diverse and random and I'm just trying to make sense of it all.  Ha! Who am I kidding, I suppose man has been trying to do that since the beginning.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Anecdotes

Anecdote #1:

My wonderful co-worker Josieanne shared a beautiful story with me today at lunch that I wanted to pass along.

Josieanne, like so many, was orphaned by the genocide here in Rwanda.  Shortly after it ended she met an old man who was able to keep her parents legacy alive but sharing this story with her...
He asked her name.  She told him her given name, the name her father bestowed upon her at birth as is customary for the father to name the child.  The old man told her her name meant "best wife, good mother."  He asked her siblings names.  The eldest's name "to be beautiful" and the middle "to always be clear."  He explained that a father names his children to honor the mother, to express to his wife how he feels. The old man told Josieanne that her father wanted her mother to know how much he cared for her.  He saw her as a beautiful and clear woman who made the best wife. Seventeen years later, Josieanne carries the legacy of her mother and the love of her father.

Anecdote #2: 
Sharing is caring....Today I gave the boys lollipops (courtesy of my mom).  Eric was going on a home visit in the afternoon so he saved his lollipop and gave it to his baby sister, who then shared it with her friend :)


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Give a man a fish...

About a month ago a young mother walked through the gate at work with her five day old baby girl.  My co-workers knew her well, months before she had stood at our gate in tears.  Her husband left her when she was 7 months pregnant, without resources and with their two other children.  Josieanne and Charles consoled her and did what they could to help her; paying her rent and health insurance to make sure that her baby would be healthy. 

On this day she was returning to show us her new girl and was looking for more support.  Her rent was due and with a new baby, working was not an options.  I offered to take care of her $2 rent for the month because a mother of three needs to have a roof over her head.  Over the last few weeks I have returned to visit her and her children, bringing clothes and offering my hand as a friend.  But this has presented an all too familiar dilemma, how do you give a hand up without giving a hand out? I am troubled by this as I face poverty daily in Rwanda. 

The proverb, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime," rings in my head quite regularly.  I have a strict personal policy of not giving beggars money or handing over cash to individuals because I see this as merely temporary bandaid, tomorrow they will need more.  I believe this perpetuates poverty and creates great dependency.  But I am afraid I have created this dependency with the woman I was only trying to befriend and support.  She now expects things and after my most recent visit is  even willing to ask.  I want to pay for her eldest child to begin school because I see this as a solution to poverty but how do I pay for school fees with the understanding that she needs to work to afford them on her own? 

I am struggling with this conundrum.  The one thing I do know is that collectively we need to work on solutions not temporary quick fixes. But how exactly do we do this when there is so much need?

Monday, October 24, 2011

8 people, a baby and a compact car...Uganda

I have just returned home from a wonderful trip to Uganda.  I originally planned this trip in order to extend my 90 day Rwandan visa.  We traveled from Kigali to Lake Bunyonyi in the south of the country where we stayed on an island for the weekend.  

Although the border in theory is only about an hour and a half outside of Kigali, our journey ended up taking about 8 hours, 5 different vehicles and 4 modes of transportation.  We began in mini-bus that took around 2 hours to fill and leave.  We then walked across the border, picked up a small shared taxi in which we jammed 8 adults and a baby.  After arriving in the town of Kabale, we transferred to motorbike which took us up a long bumpy road though stone quarries and hills.  And finally we paddled in dug-out canoe to our island.  It was well worth the trek and hey, TIA [this is Africa]!

Cow by the lake

lake shore market

Catching crayfish, I later ate them and they were delicious!

the market, everyone arrives by boat

the dug-out canoe to the island

canoe school bus

our geodome where we stayed

national bird of Uganda, the grey crowned crane

dug-out canoes

The town of Kabale

Uganda is a lovely country with beautiful and kind people! I would love to return one day to spend more time.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Day 2 in the field

Danelle is an orphan.  His grandmother raised him.  He has been at the center since March and after visiting his home I cannot really understand why he left; maybe a curious young boy in search of adventure in the big city.

We waited outside Danelle's home surrounded by goats and banana trees and curious neighbors while someone from the village went to fetch his grandmother from a neighbor's home.  A little old lady hunched from years of working the land hurried up the road towards us.  She took one look at Danelle and tears welled in her eyes. 

She told us she had worried about him every second of the last months.  She had sent people to look for him and went to his school to try to find him.  She even called prisons to see if they had picked him up.  Finally she assumed he was gone forever, maybe even dead.  But now, she was just so happy to see her grandson!

She took us inside her little mud house and told Danelle to gather his things.  She had saved it all for him hoping one day he might return.  She told us she dreamed of him most nights.  At this point leaning against the door frame, tears began to roll down her weathered cheeks.  She had her grandson back, she knew he was ok, and for that moment all was good in the world.

As we prepared to leave, after promises were made for more visits, she scrambled through her purse looking for a pen she could give him for his studies.  I am pretty sure she would have given him the world if she could of.  It's an amazing thing to see- the power of love. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gorilla Trekking

Trekking the famous mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park.  Thanks mom for footing the bill!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 1 in the Field

Preface: In addition to teaching English to the boys at Les Enfants de Dieu (EDD), part of my time is spent with the social workers as the ultimate goal of the project is to support and foster family structure in Rwanda.  The aim is to eventually place boys back with family, if there is family, and nurture healthy relationships.  I spend time in the field where we try and start the rebuilding process. Here is one story...

Alex is 17 years old and has never met his father.  He is a quiet boy who has a calm demeanor.  I am unsure what exactly prompted him to leave home and take refuge on the streets but he made his way to EDD 4 years ago and now the time had come to find Alex's father. 

In the States when someone decides to reunite with an estranged sister or biological parent, many turn to private investigators who scour public records and spend hours making phone calls.  Here, when the journey for a lost relative begins you go knocking on doors, on drives around towns and villages, and talk to countless strangers.  For Alex, we began at his sister's home, down a bumpy dirt road built into the hillside, asking if she knew where to look.  All she could tell us was that her mother should know.  So, with the help of a neighbor we made our way to Rwanda Coffee where she worked.

Rwanda Coffee is an operation unlike anything I've ever seen.  A hill of buildings and warehouses and semi-trucks.  Women wander the property as they take breaks from sorting beans.  The warehouse, where we eventually located Alex's mom, was astounding! Hundreds of women line the floor sitting in front of piles two feet high of coffee beans.  One hundred kilo bag of coffee make barriers between the groups of women.  I felt sort of sick as I stood and watched the women sift through millions of beans.  On one hand they are employed and making some sort of income but I could not imagine sitting day after day on a concrete floor picking through small bits of caffeine. 

Alex's mom took us to town where she thought the father might be; an area of small shops, random hardware stores and people sitting around socializing.  We began asking if anyone knew him.  Door to door we went, every time the answer was no, with the one exception of the local drunk who knew a boxer by that name.  We were told maybe we should find a phone number. Hmmm, we hadn't though of that one! I just felt really discouraged and every time I looked at Alex I just felt sad.  Seventeen years and he has never know half of who he is. 

The only other thing his mother could think of was a motor bike driver who knew where he lived.  But when a motorbike driver can be anywhere in a fifteen mile radius, and this particular one is phone-less, finding him is about as easy as finding the needle in the haystack.  Maybe it goes without saying that at the end of it all, Alex would spend another day without his father. 

He turned to me as we drove away, not much closer than we were hours before, and said, "It's very hard."  I hastily replied, "I know.  Trying to find your father is not going to be easy, it is very difficult."  But what I think he really meant was that having spent 17 years not knowing his father was very hard.  I could see it in his eyes. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Little Slice of Kid Heaven- Les Enfants de Dieu

At the age of 8, when asked what his father's occupation is, Kaka responds, "to beat me."  In the 8 short years of his life this child, too small to defend himself, knows his father only by the beatings he has received.  It is written all over his face, scars mark his left eye and cheek.  Though the scars may never fade from his small face, there is now something else that will not fade either. 

Les Enfants de Dieu (EDD) is a rehabilitation center for 126 street boys, all brought from the streets where they were left to fend for themselves.  These boys as young as 7 have spent their days and nights searching for food, money and shelter with no help from anyone on the streets of Kigali.  They leave home in hopes of finding money growing on trees in the big city, some are orphans, many have been abused but one thing they all are is children.  They all deserve a life free from struggle and pain.

Many boys come to the center with broken spirits, lots struggle with addiction problems. Les Enfants de Dieu becomes a home, a family, and a second chance at childhood.  Going from living a life of free-will on the streets and coming to the center where there are rules can be a rough transition for some.  Kaka I was told tried to run away many times, there are others who have gone and never come back, but for those who stay the impact is obvious. 

All day long at the center you hear laughing and screaming; constant chatter where there is hardly a moment of calm, that is how it should be.  These 126 boys no longer have to worry where their next meal is coming from, they can focus on school and more importantly who won last night's football match.  They run and jump and play, sometimes they fight, but what brothers don't?  They perfect their football skills and dance to all the latest hits.  Some write raps about life on the streets, as they can never forget where they've come from, but now at least they can share it with their 125 brothers and go to bed knowing they're safe.  They can just be kids.

And Kaka is now working hard on reading and writing, his letters are starting to take shape.  He rarely stops to stand still, always in motion with a big toothy grin pasted on his face.  EDD has given Kaka back his childhood, and though his scars will remain his smile outshines them all!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

From Toubab to Muzungu

If I have learned anything the last two months, it's that making plans is rather arbitrary, especially in Africa.  I can no longer count how many times my plans have changed, and each time for a multitude of reasons.  But I found a scene of freedom in not having plans to follow.  I think that we schedule and organize every second of our day in order to make some sense of the chaos that is life.  But I am beginning (and I say beginning because it is hard to completely surrender from color-coordinated day planners) to see the beauty in enjoying life as it unfolds.

If you asked me two months ago where I would be today, I would probably tell you that I would be relaxing at a cafe in Freetown, catching up on emails and recovering from a busy week of work.  If you ask me today where I am today, I will tell you that I am in fact across the African continent in Kigali, Rwanda sitting outside listening to someone playing a harmonica.  This was definitely not the plan.

I have now been a Muzungu (foreigner in Kinyarwanda) for the last few days after being a Toubab (foreigner in Wolof) for the last two months.  Neither of these titles were part of my itinerary when I left the states but they have woven their way into my life and I am happy they have.  Unexpected but perfect and exactly as it is supposed to be.

In Gambia, without plans and disappointed, I struggled to except that life is not actually about the plans.  But being a Toubab has been a real gift.  I spent two months living with an incredible family, sweating from morning to night, fasting for Ramadan (well not really), seeing chimpanzees and working with wonderful youth.  I spent two solid months with Alex, which doesn't happen often.  Two months that I will never ever forget. 

I am now a Mugunzu, in the heart of Africa.  I had plans to be somewhere else but I have quickly found that there was not where life wanted me. So, forget the plans, Rwanda is right where I need to be.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Age of Technology

I know three-year-olds who can surf the web and download games off the internet.  I now also know 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who have never clicked a mouse.  I have had computers at school and in my home for as long as I can remember.  I spent hours in elementary school searching for the missing gold coins in Jumpstart 2nd Grade as I used my computer to improve my math skills.  I rely on Google to answer just about everything and Wikipedia is my best friend.  I haven't turned in a hand written paper since the 5th grade and coming to Africa without my pink laptop was completely out of the question.  But what I have quickly learned as I've spent the last few weeks teaching these 16, 17, and 18 year old high school students how  open a word documents or right click a mouse, is that I am so privileged to be part of the technological world.

I wasn't too keen on sitting at a computer everyday and explaining over and over how to open a folder or make a capital letter.  But each time I see a student's face light up when they discover their document is inside the folder with their name on it or their excitement when a click of a button turns the text from black to blue, every second has been worth it.  It's something I never thought about as I powered on my laptop, so many people in this world grow up using pen and paper to write their term papers. It's not just my parents or grandparents generation; here children younger than me have never had the opportunity to type their name.  My eyes have been opened to what I will call the age of the technology-less.  How in a world where we can start cars with the touch of a button are these children just learning how to turn on an out-dated computer?  How does the developed world expect the rest of the world to "catch up" when everything is now on a screen that they don't get to look at.  Its just another way we leave the "third world" in the dark. 

My hope is that by showing these students how to copy and paste and open a document they will be able open doors to new opportunities, to a whole new world that was kept hidden from them, from those who didn't have the chance to spend their early years banging on a keyboard.  These students are brillant and talented, but in this age of technology your options are very limited when you are computer illiterate.  I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to spend a few hours each day with these kids sharing something that, for me, was second nature, and hopefully I have left them with a little wider veiw of this great big world that they have in turn opened my eyes to.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

River Gambia National Park

Alex and I spent our weekend upcountry at River Gambia National Park enjoying the calm and quiet of rural life.  I think I speak for us both in saying it was one of the most amazing weekends of our lives.  Surrounded by bird chips and chimpanzee howls things slowed down and we really got to breath in life.  I don't think words can adequately describe our experience so hopefully these pictures will provide some idea...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Crocodile Pool

A short drive from home brought Alex and I (accompanied by Mustapha and Muhammed) to Kachikally Crocodile Pool.  Kachikally is home to 80 Nile crocodiles that have taken up residence in the middle of the small community of Bakau.  The wild crocs have become so accustomed to visitors that you can go right up and pet the scaly skin and according to the guides no one has even been hurt. I, however, still kept my distance.

Journeying to the pool with Muhammed and Alex.

Alex thought it was so funny when I discovered I was standing on biting ants.

Alex was the only one who willing went close to the giant reptiles

Muhammed was not a fan and clung to me the whole time.  He preferred observing the pool from afar (as did I).
Mustapha did not help ease Muhammed's anxiety, he was ready to run and hide.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Voice of the Young

When children speak, we should all listen.  Gambia's Child Protection Alliance (CPA) believes this.  So much so that they created a youth group called The Voice of the Young.  A group that strives to empower  young people to use their own voice.  CPA's mantra is that children make the best advocates for themselves because they are the ones experiencing the hardships that face them. It is not adults but children who understand what is really like to get hit at school for acting out (corporal punishment is not illegal here), and it is children that really know what the problems are.  This mantra has become the cornerstone of CPA's Voice of the Young where young people advocate on their own behalf and on the behalf of the children of The Gambia to improve the conditions they face. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a monthly Voice meeting, and I was  blown away by the passion and dedication of the members.  These are the kind of kids that could be told "no" time and time again but would never stop.  Kids who will change the world.   I was awestruck by the organization of their meeting, run entirely by the youth themselves with officer reports from the governing body.  I felt more like I was sitting in my sorority chapter meeting with 80 twenty-somethings rather than in an outdoor tent with 40 Gambian children.  And whats more, Voice's projects and activities and campaigns are astounding!

Every week Voice sends a panel to the local radio station for their own radio show allowing all of the nation to hear, loud and clear, what they have to say.  They discuss the real problems they face everyday as children growing up here.  Issues of abuse and sexual exploitation and trafficking, issues of violence, things that I know very few of my friends had to worry about at their age.  And these children, who are clearly victims in a world that should protect them from such evils, face them head on ready to combat them and pave the way to a better tomorrow for their own children. 

Voice works to make changes on the issues that are important to them.  Their plan for the next year consists of the following: secure free airtime for Voice broadcasts on the radio, review the child act in the constitution and ensure that it is being fulfilled, and campaign for a Ministry of the Child.  They hope to spend the next year meeting with government branches, all the way up to the president, to ensure that the protection of children is a priority.  They hope to push the president to establish an independent Children's Ministry whose sole focus is the rights of the child.  They are real movers and shakers who, I have no doubt, will accomplish all they set out to do.  Children are powerful.  We should all stop and listen for a second and really hear what they are saying. 

For more information of The Voice of the Young and CPA:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Big Fat Gambian Wedding

I was only made aware three days ago that cousin Binta was engaged to be married,  who knew? I didn't even know she had a boyfriend, let alone a fiance.  But if you know anything about me, you know that I love weddings, absolutely everything about them! So it couldn't be more perfect!

Of course I began asking Bintou everything I could about it.  What would Binta be wearing? Where would it be held?  How many layers was the cake?  But, what I quickly discovered was that a traditional Gambian wedding was not your typical Cinderella fairytale complete with horse and carriage (although here, getting a horse drawn carriage of sorts could be done just by walking to the main road).  A traditional African wedding didn't even come with a white dress (good thing I guess since Kleinfelds hasn't made it here yet) and whats more, this traditional African wedding wouldn't even have a groom!  Binta's finace is off in the UK but the wedding would go on without him.   Apparently it's pretty common here for weddings to happen while the husband-to-be is over seas.

The morning of the wedding, I woke to a house packed with people.  The bride was off at the salon getting her hair done and her countless female relatives were busy preparing 15 crates of chicken for dinner.  Alex and I were rather clueless as to how the day would unfold.  Before I could even begin to speculate a stampede of people entered the house with megaphones, drums, songs and a film crew.  They had come to take the bride to a friends house where she would spend the day.

A short ride away, Binta's friends house was in full swing.  Children crowded around the courtyard and the whole house smelled like roasted meat.  Binta was the center of attention, the camera crews light shining on her face as she sat and met with friends.  Outside the street was blocked by rows of plastic chairs and children and women sat and listened to traditional drumming, occasionally someone would break into dance.

When we returned home the number of guests sitting around had tripled, fifty people had quickly become a hundred or more.  The ceremony would take place in the evening down the street but everyone had begun to congregate in anticipation. 

The bride, Binta, and her loyal bridesmaids
 The ceremony was a sight to see.  Hundreds of people dressed to the nines gather to witness a marriage.  There was lots of loud singing.  At certain points the bride would stand, followed by her gaggle of bridesmaids and would be engulfed by eager women.  Money would be passed from hand to hand, taken and then redistributed.  Words were spoken.  And as soon as it all began it seemed to end.  Food was passed out and people began to leave.  Alex and I sat confused.  There were no vows.  There was no first dance.  There was no aisle to walk down.  But it sure was a celebration, loud and colorful and joyous, as all weddings should be.
Alex and I with Binta

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My sunshine

I promise I will update my blog more regularly, I planned on posting more today but it is late here and I have been gone all day but instead I will leave the world with this.  The most precious child! Mohammed, who lives next door and brightens my day as soon as I see him.  He is my sunshine!