Monday, August 24, 2009

A very sudden death and a "meeting" with the President

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In the last four months I have experienced both the joys and sorrows of the Gambian people. However, even though I’ve seen two funerals since I’ve been here, I saw one of the hardest funerals I’ve ever seen on friday. On Monday at around noon I walked into Sr. Odile’s office and she had a little shrine with a lit candle and pictures of Jesus and Blessed Mother Rivier set up at a small table in the corner of her office. I had just gone in to ask her a small question and she mentioned to me that she was praying for her 22 year old nephew, James who was having stomach surgery that day. I guess he had been sick over the last while and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with his stomach so they were doing surgery. From what I gathered, the surgery was supposed to be very minor and that there shouldn’t have been any complications. I said to sister that I hoped things went well and that I would pray that surgery went well. I went to my classroom and at around 1:00pm Sister came into my classroom to tell me that she was leaving because James was up and out of surgery and he had been asking for her. She had a big smile on her face and I was happy that things went well. Later on in the day Sister Cecile and Sister Susan had first communion so I dropped them off at the church and I went to the internet. When I got back, Sister Cecile told me the news. I guess right after I left, Sister Catherine came straight to the church to tell the sisters that in the afternoon something went wrong and James had died. Everyone was shocked. The sisters quickly cancelled the rest of class and we all went home to get ready to leave to visit the family. Nina and Saba came along too, since I think they knew him very well. I remember James coming to the house once or twice and even though I didn’t know him well, everyone in the house and the compound said that he was such a nice person and that everyone liked him. The truck ride was a very quiet one and when we got to the compound it was already dark out. In Canada, when we hear someone has passed away we don’t normally go and sit with the family to console them, at least not like this. The compound was full of chairs wrapping around the house and the entire compound. There was a big tent set up for people to sit under and many people were just sitting there saying nothing. I think the idea is just to be with the family as support. It’ s not that you should say anything, just to have the presence is enough. I just assume that’s how it is. When we arrived we went straight into the house to see the family and Sr. Odile. We met the father outside and even though he was not crying, he seemed very sad. The mother was sitting inside on a couch with many ladies sitting around her saying nothing. The room was very quiet and each of us greeted her and gave our sympathies and we all just sat down on the chairs in the room. All the other sisters from Banjul, Serrekunda, and Fajara were all there and that was who mostly sat in the room with the family. I felt blessed to be a part of the crowd. The rest of the family was in the next room and it was very quiet. We all just sat there as many people came in to greet the family. Like I’ve said in previous writings that when there is a funeral many people cry and weep and even though it was pretty quite there were moments when family members would come into the house and start crying very loudly. Some days you wonder whether its an act to show the family how much you care. For the most part we really just sat and prayed with the family. It was an experience I was so grateful to see because it’s not like that at home. The ride home was even more quiet than when we were going and as we said good bye to the family tears began to form in my eyes. It was hard for me to see such a close family lose such a young man. It was hard not to cry realizing how sacred life is and how my family members could pass away just like that too. And I think that the Gambian people here really see what a gift life is. We got home and everyone went to bed.
The rest of the school week was pretty mixed up since Wednesday was a holiday for all the school kids in the Gambia. I’m not sure if I’ve explained this before but once every year the President does a “meet the people” tour where he goes around the whole country trying to meet the people. What the kids from each school do is dress up in their school uniform (washed and ironed) and they stand by the side of the road. Along with meeting the people the president throws cookies (or biscuits as everyone calls them) to the kids. I wish I could say that we actually “met” the president but what we witnessed was far more hilarious than I thought it was going to be. Because the kids had the day off and because Anne Marie Rivier School (AMR) is about a 5 minute drive south of Brikama the teachers thought that it would be a great if we actually went to the roadside by the school instead of just going in town with the rest of the kids. The other kids don’t necessarily stand by their school since it might not be on the road where the President is passing. So some places get quite packed with people and we thought we’d have the best chance to get him to stop if we were the only school visible there. So at around noon that day we picked all the kids up in the bus and brought them to the school where we waited and waited for the President to pass. The kids had a few things to eat but definetly not a lunch meal and as we waited the kids sang songs and waved tree branches until most of them were tired. The sun was blazing and most of us adults had to try to find some shade to sit under while we waited what was supposed to be maybe an hour to two hours for the president to arrive. Sr. Catherine was sure that he would stop since he has the utmost respect for Catholic sisters. He was educated by the Presentation sisters and they say that whenever he sees a religious sister in a habit he stops to say hello. So Sr. Catherine was amongst the crowd of children as we waited. Like I said, I wish that we could’ve met the president but at around 5pm the Army and the President blew past us at Mac speed throwing boxes of biscuits to the kids! It took about….oh….30 seconds for it all to happen and I think I would be lying if I said that both the teachers and students weren’t disappointed. I barely got to take a video of him never mind catch a cookie flying at me. So the day had been long. We had waited for a 30 second glimpse of the President for almost 5 hours. What I will say is that the kids were excited for the biscuits and we shared them amongst all of them. The kids got back on the bus and we all headed home for the day.
The next day we were heading home from school in the afternoon and it turns out that the President was passing in the other direction which – fortunate for us – was right past the sisters house! We drove into the yard and everyone went to wait by the side of the road. The president didn’t end up showing up for a few more hours but what I can say when he did pass is that it felt like I got caught in the middle of crowd in a Bull Race. I was with the hostel girls and when the president was coming all we heard were sirens and people screaming. I all of a sudden we got a glimpse of the Black Hummer and the President had a huge box of biscuits over his head to throw. We were standing trying to take video when an enormous wave of people hit us. Good thing there were quite a few of us or else we would’ve gotten trampled. It was kind of scary but it was really cool. All this for a stupid biscuit. We didn’t end up getting any but we ran with the back of the crowd for a little bit until we hit the craft market(around a 5 minute walk from the house). Echen was standing on the side of the road watching all of this so I went to stand with them to look at the aftermath of it all. All we saw when we looked at the streets was broken tree branches and boxes that had biscuits in them. I was in complete shock that all of this was happening all at once but I can assure you I had a smile on my face the entire time. It was an incredibly cool thing to witness.
Thursday evening was the prayers for James and when we arrived at the church it was packed full with people and that is not a small church. Both the prayers and the funeral were held at St. Teresa’s church in Kanifing (which is right near Serrekunda) since James had been very active in the parish there. It was so sad but yet we were praying for James soul that he would go to heaven and I think many people we still sad but knew that he was in a better place.
Friday was the day of the funeral for James and since we had school until noon, the sisters decided to close the school early so that everyone could have lunch, get ready and go to the funeral. There were even some of the young kids from school that came to show their support for Sr. Odile. The church was packed again. Fr. Tony celebrated the mass and many friends went up to say how much James had blessed their lives. There was one particular young gentleman who went up to share about James. He was James’ best friend and they were talking about how excited they were for his (the best friend) upcoming birthday. They had made big plans as to how they were going to celebrate the big day. James was having surgery just before his birthday and he was hoping that things would go ok. He just kept talking about how excited they were about celebrating his birthday and when James ended up dying he said, “what I didn’t realize was that instead of celebrating my birthday today, I’m burying my best friend.” It was so shocking to everyone and I felt so bad for this young guy since he could barely get the story out since he was crying so much. Like I said, I didn’t know James very well, I had only met him once but what I heard from the many people that were at his funeral, was that he was an incredibly generous, talented and fun person. It seemed as though he was very active in his parish and he had many friends. The family was very sad. When mass was finished and we headed out to go to the cemetery for the burial, the traffic to get out of the church parking lot was so hectic. Once we finally got out guess what stopped us…the President passing us right next to the church.  Everyone was so frustrated. No we didn’t get to “meet” the President but we waited for him so much over the past week that we felt like we knew him almost personally. We ended up sitting waiting for a good half hour and by the time we reached the cemetery the burial had just finished. Sister Cecile and I tried to see if we could catch the end of it but we only reached half way when we saw people turning back to go toward their cars. There were so many people, I honestly couldn’t believe it. This young man was definitely very loved. So we walked back to the car and went back to the family compound where the tent was still up and the chairs were full of people. We don’t do this at home but the traditional custom at funerals here is to console the family. The entire family. So I found myself following behind the sisters shaking the hands of about 50 family members. I guess it’s a big thing to just show your sympathy to the family. And, I’m sure that part of it is to show that you came so that if you or your family members die that they would show up at your funeral too. That’s a very big thing, Gambians have the thought that if you have a lot of people show up for your funeral that you were a very loved person. It’s very supportive but interesting at the same time. After we went through the line of family members we received a bag full of food. This is another custom…giving charity. The family members of a deceased person are to give charity or alms on the day of the funeral, 10 days, 40 days and one year after the funeral. I’m not exactly sure why they do this but I assume that it’s just to give back to the community.
While we were going through the line of family members I ended up seeing my friend John. John was the guy who came to Dakar with us. I only had the chance to say a quick hello to him since he was video taping the funeral and gathering. We left Serrekunda and headed back to Brikama for the evening. When we got home I went to sit with the girls. Everyone seemed to be pretty sad about the whole thing. They had known James pretty well since he had come by the house to visit Sr. Odile often. We sat and talked for a bit and then I went to bed.
Yesterday the sisters and I were all invited by Father Gabisi to his mother’s 80th birthday party in Serrekunda. I really didn’t know much about it until that morning but we went for around noon where the party started out with mass. When we walked into the compound, there was a big sign saying, “Happy Birthday Rebecca!” and tons of balloons all around the yard. There was a big tent set up with plastic chairs underneath it and we sat in plastic chairs underneath a mango tree. It was really nice. Mass was beautiful. There were so many people that I knew or at least recognized I actually surprised myself. The Bishop was there as well as many priests, the choir from our parish in Brikama was there as well as many people from Brikama. And one person who I was surprised to see was John. John and Father are very close so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him although seeing him twice in such a short period of time was kind of neat. For the rest of the afternoon, everyone sat around eating good food and drinks and talking with one another. I met one of Father’s brothers and I spent some time talking with some of the people from Brikama until John came to give me trouble. Haha. John and I have trouble each other since we got to know each other on the trip from Dakar. It’s common to see us arguing and laughing when we see each other. He is in the St. Teresa’s choir and he invited me to their upcoming concert. We spent the majority of the time laughing and having fun and I promised that I would make it out to the concert. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch. The last person I met as we were leaving was Mrs. Gabisi. From what I’ve heard from the Brikama Parish as well as Father Gabisi, Rebecca Gabisi is extremely funny. Everyone says that’s where Father gets his humor and we know that when you spend time with Father GAbisi, you’re sure for a good laugh. Even though it was a brief meeting it was very nice to have met her.
This week has definitely been one long week and as much as I wish I could say the next week is going to slow down I know its not going to. My friend Joshua Thorn from Milwaukee, Wisconsin is coming on Monday for a 3 month stay and it’ll be a week full of teaching him the ropes around here. I know I really haven’t said much about him, but I’m sure you’ll hear a lot about him in the coming months.
I met Josh at a friends wedding and one day we got on the topic of what career plans were for the future and I had mentioned to him that I was on my way to The Gambia, Africa to work with the Presentation Sisters and the instant that I told him he said that he was in. It was a long process to just see if he could come since he’s in the US Army and you can’t just take 6 months off when ever you want. I also wasn’t just inviting him without having the permission from sister so the factors really didn’t pan out until around the middle of April. Things have worked out now and Josh is on his way out here to work for the sisters in the Poultry and I’m sure a bit in the school. We’ll see how everything works out! I’m glad to have an American friend on board. So the next you hear from me will probably include an introduction of Josh and how his first experience is of this place. I’m anxious to see it.

Much Love In Jesus and Mary,


Home at last....

Yes...Hello! I'm sure it's been a while since you last looked at this page and said, "geez, Jen's not very good at this blog stuff. She hasn't put up a new post for a long time." Well if you're not saying that, Thank you but for those of you who are, I definitly don't blame you. Things got incredibly busy when I left the Gambia and funny enough I even forgot things there. :) It was such a mad rush to just get on the plane! So I've been home for about a month now and the craziness hasn't stopped so I haven't had much time to catch up on my blog. So my idea was that since I had a few blogs that just needed touching up and some still to do I figured that the best way to go about this is to just touch up the ones that need it and then give you the stories of what I remember from the last weeks I was there. And you know me...I can talk forever :)
For those of you wondering, I'm glad to be home and even though home is usually the same, I'd have to admit that I look at home in a different light now. As I guess I look at most things, now. Many people have asked me if I would ever want to go back and what I say is, "If things were in place today I would leave tomorrow." I can't wait to one day go back...hopefully it's sooner than later...

Tslk to all of you soon!

Monday, July 6, 2009

definetly on the downhill....almost in the parking lot.

Well....can you believe it's been over 6 months since I've been here? I sure can't. I honestly feel like I just got here. Should'nt it still be February? I'm on my preparations to come home and I honestly cry about it every time I go to pack something away. It's hard to think I will be gone in less than two weeks. Life sure has changed for me and as excited as I am to see my family and friends, my heart wonders when the next time I will see these people again.
I'm beginning my packing and I'm hoping that I bring everything I need back. If there is anyone who needs or wants anything that I would be able to bring back please just let me know. But remember...I only have limited space. Please continue to pray for me. You have no idea what you're prayers have already done for's overwhelming. Please pray that I get home safely with no problems.
I will be uploading my last few blog entries before I leave so please stay tuned. It's been crazy the last while and the last place I find myself is sitting in front of my computer writing. So please bare with me.
Talk to you all soon!

Much Love...In Jesus and Mary,


Monday, June 22, 2009

My trip to Dakar....who would've known a Canadian couldn't speak French?!

May 13, 2009

Why hello all. Or maybe I should say, “Bonjour!” I just got back from Senegal and there is one thing (well I’m going to tell you many things) but there is one thing for sure that I will say about my trip to the French country….I’ve never felt more handicapped not knowing enough French to get around. Wow. I didn’t realize what it would be like and for the first time in my life, I realized how handicapped I have made myself by forgetting my French since High School.
The week leading up to our departure (which was Friday, May 8, 2009) I had remembered that Father was planning a trip to Dakar, Senegal for a Anniversary of a few priests that he knows. He had mentioned it to me a few weeks back and asked that if I had time to go that I should go and see Senegal. The week was busy and I wasn’t sure if the time would allow me to go so I didn’t really say much to the sisters. I just said, “Lord, if there’s a good reason for me to go, then help me to see it so I can go.” The sisters have been saying that I should go when I have some time, just to look around and see Senegal since the Gambia and Senegal have a lot of history together. I wasn’t sure if I should go since I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t sure that Father would have the time to show me around either. There’s nothing like being in a foreign country, not being able to speak the language and not knowing how to do anything or where anything is. So this was my thought. On Wednesday Sister Odile mentioned to the sisters that she was going to go and visit one of the sisters who has been very sick and is in the hospital in Dakar. Since Father was going, it was a good excuse to hop in the car and go. Later in the day, Sr. Odile called me into her office to see if I liked the idea of maybe tagging along and seeing Dakar, and I of course said, “sure I would love to!” I in some small way knew that the Lord had set it up since I had been praying for the opportunity to go, if it was meant to be. So on Friday after mass in the morning, Father came to pick us up at the house and we were off on our way to Dakar. I stopped in Dakar on my way to the Gambia but I only saw the airport and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I really had missed not going outside the airport doors. If you look on the map, you see that Dakar is only a hop, skip and a jump from Banjul (which is only a 30-40 minute drive from Brikama) but honestly what looks like it will take you 2 hours to get to, takes a good 6 – 7 hour drive depending on the traffic. Seriously, I’ve never seen more African country than I wanted to before but I sure got my fill on this trip. Haha… The thing that makes the trip so long is number 1: the winding road, you think you’re going all the way to Egypt before you turn back and hit the west coast again. Number 2: the bad roads. I thought I saw bad roads in the Gambia…..hahah…this road was absolutely ridiculous. It was like driving on highway 11 but having to drive about 30 kph because you have to swerve and hit potholes. It’s not just one here and there, it’s continuous for about a good 20 miles. And number 3: the traffic when you get close to Dakar. It’s bumper to bumper when you hit the wrong time. I’ll explain later, back to the beginning of our journey….
When we left the house, I sat in the back of father’s little jeep and Sister sat in the front since I knew that I would probably sleep or read. We traveled to Serrekunda where we stopped at GPI (Gambia Pastoral Institute), which is the place where all the Christian organizations broadcast their programs on tv or radio, through newsletters, etc. I hadn’t been to see the GPI grounds since I’ve been here and I had always heard about it since the sisters deliver eggs there once in a while. So when we stopped, I thought that Father just had to pick something up but what I didn’t realized was that we were actually picking someone else up to come with us to Dakar. As we were waiting, Father showed me around the grounds. When we first got to GPI, we went into the main office where they have a little gift shop where you can buy things like bibles and books, etc and then across the yard from there is the studio. I’ve been reading Mother Angelica’s book and hearing about here little studio in the convent reminded me of this little studio. It sure looks bigger on tv, but it’s actually quite small. We first went in to the sound room where there were some people doing some work on editing some film. One of the guys’ was John, whom I later realized was the guy coming along with us to Dakar. We went into the studio room which had a small little set and a table with microphones where the radio shows are taped. Father showed me a few offices and I met a few of the priests and sisters that I hadn’t yet met. In the corner of the compound there a two really big apartment looking buildings and Father described them as places for missionaries, or volunteers to stay when they come to work with Catholic mission, or GPI. When we went in to look at them one block was “new” and the other was “old”. The rooms were all different because I guess how it works, is that it’s like a hotel system. You stay but there is a maid who cleans and takes care of the place. Some rooms are single with bathrooms and sinks, others are double beds for maybe a married couple with their own bathroom and sitting area and others are single rooms without a bathroom since there is a common one just down the hallway. The rooms are all very nice and I would imagine since it can be kind of pricey if you stay for a long period of time. Father said that it’s mainly rented out by people who have retreats or groups since there is a conference hall that is available. The last thing we looked at was the chapel which was very similar to the one at Shalom, minus the lighthouse tabernacle and it was a bit bigger. Once Father was done with the tour we waited a bit more for John to finish what he was doing and then we were off.
Our next stop was Banjul at the ferry. We drove through the winding streets and eventually came to a very busy area of Banjul. I was confused as to where we were. One thing to know about Banjul is that it is a business city. There are not many people who actually live in Banjul, since for the most part all the buildings are for businesses. It’s really interesting to see but it makes sense because most people live outside of the city and travel every day. We pulled up to this line of gates and there were tons of cars and people and a very stern looking security guard looking straight back at us. Father was speaking in a native language so I didn’t understand what was going on until after but all of a sudden a gentleman in a vehicle pulled up and we were let through the gate. It all turns out that when we got to the gate, Father (since he is VERY well known usually gets pushed to the front of the line) but since he didn’t know the stern guard there was no way we were going to get through before anyone else. Since Friday was a Muslim prayer evening there were many many people waiting to get on the ferry so the line up was extremely long. Father said that we would’ve had to wait for a good 5 hours if not more. But just as we were backing the car up a gentleman came up beside us (like an Angel from heaven….honestly. Even Father said that) and since Father knew him very well we got pushed through to the front of the line and we didn’t have to wait the 5 or so hours to get on the ferry. How amazing is that?! Thank the Lord. When we got through the gate we parked and honestly I’ve never seen such a mass amount of people. I thought the market was busy. We got out to go and buy our tickets and then sister and I sat back in the car. As we were sitting in the car I just watched people and I can say that I’ve gotten quite used to “people watching” as well as being the one watched. There were people selling anything you can think of. It’s cashew season so there were tons of cashews being sold. I guess there is a place where all the people who didn’t drive cars are supposed to go so that when they let the cars on, it’s not hectic trying to weave around people. So when we got on the ferry, they had already let the gate for the people open and it was like mass ciaos. We parked on the ferry and all of a sudden Sr. Odile and I felt this bump on the car. John was standing outside of the car and Father was standing a far ways away watching as someone stalled right into the back of Father’s vehicle. Nothing serious happened which was good. There were people everywhere and since the cars were so tightly packed, most people had to climb on vehicles if they wanted to move around. I’m not normally claustrophobic but I could’ve developed it if that ride was all the way to Dakar. Father stood outside against the railing since I think he’s not fond of boats and water, John stood outside of the car getting fresh air and Sr. Odile and I sat inside making sandwiches for everyone to eat. Sr. Odile reminds me of my mom in that way. My mom and dad always make a lunch if we are travelling so that we don’t have to stop. So when we reached the other side of the river and started moving we all ate in the car. When you hit the other side of the river, the town or village is called Barra. We took some back roads since there was construction going on and as we were driving I looked out to see a huge slew with tons of garbage in it as well as many pigs bathing in the filth. It was hilarious. We didn’t drive much farther and then we reached the border. There were so many people there and I was kind of overwhelmed since I didn’t know how things worked. We ended up taking out passports to a few offices and I was actually brought to the back since I’m not a Gambian or Senegalese. I was glad that Father or sister came with me since it was a really interesting scene. What I would compare it to would be some sort of Mexican customs office. It was an uncomfortable situation and I was glad that we didn’t stay long. When we left the offices, Father and John had to get temporary licenses to drive in Senegal and as we were waiting for them to come out of the buildings. Sr. and I went back into the vehicle. When we were sitting there waiting, I’ve never experienced something like this before….children begging. Our car was surrounded by little children begging for money. The kids looked almost homeless and they clothes were dirty and not kept nicely. Sr Odile explained to me that parents will send their children to a “marabou” (which is a teacher of the Koran) to just learn the Koran and instead of actually teaching them, the Marabou sends them out to beg for money. The money that they get is given to the Marabou and I don’t think the kids get any of it. I was wondering why I hadn’t really seen it in the Gambia but Sr. told me that the President has banned any children from begging in the streets. Honestly, that is a sight I hope to forget. It’s honestly horrible seeing these children begging for money and you know they won’t have much of a life afterward since they are getting NO education. I guess Senegal doesn’t ban children from begging, so I saw a lot of it on this trip. It was definitely worse at the border though.
We were then back on our way, John driving, Sr. Odile in the front, and Father and I in the back. It was so hot and I was glad we were getting a bit of a breeze from having the windows open. We all shared a good couple laughs and I found the trip long but enjoyable. Father is always hilarious so you know that you’re always going to have a good time with him. I slept for a few minutes in the back (which I know is rare for me, since I usually don’t seen the end of the parking lot) but there was so much to see that I couldn’t fall asleep. We drove, like I said, on the worst road I’ve ever seen and we were glad to see the end of it when it came. After the bad road, we hit kind of a desert –y area where we drove through the middle of a huge sand field. I honestly felt like I was in the desert for a little bit. The people who own that land collect salt from the land and as we drove on farther we saw mounds of sand piles. Our next stop was a village called, “Kaolack”. And as sister warned me before we left, “it’s the dirtiest place you’ve ever seen.” I completely agree. I think Father laughed at me the entire time since I think I had my mouth open for the entire trip through the village. Honestly, I don’t know how people live there! It was like people found a garbage dump and started making shops, and houses and businesses. I remember going by a place where a man was grilling something on a grill. There was garbage flying all around and I’m sure the flies were having a hay day too. I don’t think I could eat anything bought from there. Seriously….the dirtiest place I’ve ever been. I think for the most part that was the end of the real adventure until we got closer to Dakar. The towns and villages that we passed were something that you could see in a National Graphic magazine. The huts and the fences were all made with grass and it was like going through a picture. It was really neat. I have some video of it so hopefully one day I’ll show all of you.
When we arrived closer to Dakar, the traffic got heavier and so did the vendors on the streets. When we were in the traffic stopped behind cars, many people would come up trying to sell their goods to us. I was glad I was in the back since I think John and Sister had to tell people “no thanks” so many times. Either that or you just ignore them. I would’ve ignored them. Ah, it’s frustrating when you say, no thanks and people just stare back at you thinking that you’re going to change your mind. When we got into Dakar I was amazed at the development that I saw in the city. The roads reminded me of the interstate in Minneapolis and in one second I felt like I had seen a taste of home. It was dark when we finally got to the sister’s place so I didn’t see much until the following day. When we got to the house, I was greeted by all the sisters, who mostly only spoke French. Some spoke a little bit of English but I had the sense that I was going to be having a silent weekend with all that was going on. Father and John left Sr. and I and we ate a bit of supper, visited a bit and then we went to our rooms. The convent in Dakar is huge and I don’ think I even saw the whole thing! My room was on the second floor. It had two single beds, a closet and a sink of it’s own, as well as a nice breeze coming through the windows. I was glad, since it has been so hot in Brikama over the past few weeks. What I was most excited about was that Sr. Odile said that the sisters have hot water. Honestly, at that point I was so excited knowing that I hadn’t had a hot shower in so long. I just kept saying, “Lord, thank you! Thank you! This is the best gift ever.” Haha…what a stupid thing to get so excited about but it was a rewarding experience in itself. I went to bed after reading a bit of Mother Angelica’s book and I woke up at around 8:30 for breakfast. Everyone was gone and I only met with one sister who got me some breakfast. The sisters are so hospitable and I wished I could’ve spoken more French to get to know each of them a bit better. When I finished breakfast I went and got ready for the day. Sr. Odile was planning on going to spend the day at the hospital seeing the sister who was sick and my plan for the day was to try to get to “ilse Gorre” Since everyone was busy that day I was going alone and I was bit afraid knowing that I didn’t know enough French to get around. The sisters had their shopkeeper escort me to the ferry which was just down the street from the convent. Thank the Lord since I knew it would be easy to find when I got back. Pierre was his name and I was grateful since they had closed the shop just so he could bring me to the ferry and make sure I got a ticket. Both of us had a few good laughs since I spoke hardly any French and he spoke only a bit of English. He was better at it than me though. We got a ticket and he sat inside the waiting area with me. We just sat and talked and I learnt a little bit more about him. Turns out he’s from the southern part of Senegal and he’s come to Dakar for work. He seems to enjoy what he does working in the sisters little shop. He left me when people started getting on the ferry and as I was waiting in line to get through the doors a woman came up to me and started trying to be my best friend. I knew something was up and so I just kept my distance. She seemed to be very friendly and as I talked with her I found out that she has a tourist shop on the Island and she was wanting me to come and visit it when I was finished touring the Island. I think many of the shop owners do that and they you really feel obligated to either stay far away from the shops or buy something at their little place. I didn’t really like her approach and it seemed really forced – like she was trying to be my best friend so I would come shop at her place. It was uncomfortable and I’ll just say that the situation with her got worse from there. I got on the ferry and went right to the top so that I could see everything on the ride over and I was amazed looking at such an interesting piece of historical culture. I’m not sure if any of you have heard about Isle Gorre but it’s the place where the French would take the slaves and keep them before they would ship them off to America. They have made a historical museum out of the entire Island and it was interesting to see everything. I got off and bought a ticket to enter to museums and then the lady ended up finding me again saying that when I was finished that I should come to her shop. I honestly had full intentions of not showing up (haha…I know it sounds mean, but the situation seemed to be kind of weird). I walked around for a bit and came to the church. As I went in I saw a lady who was sitting in a pew praying and as I walked around I realized that there was a priest with a few little kids sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament. After I looked around for a bit I knelt down on the marble floor behind them. The church reminded me of something I had seen in Italy and as I spent some time adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, for some reason I just really began to miss home. I think I realized then what this experience has been to me, and the biggest factor is that I’ve done it on my own. Being in Senegal, on a strange Island not knowing a single soul or enough French, I felt very small in this huge world.
After I left the church I walked out and I met the door man who said in broken English and hand gestures that a lady was looking for me. I didn’t talk long with him before she came around the corner looking for me. I was not pleased to see her, knowing that I didn’t want to buy anything from her shop nor did I exchange enough money to be buying anything overly priced. When I left Brikama, I had only exchanged 10,000 CFA (which is the money in Senegal) and I thought it would be enough for the weekend. But when I got to Senegal and had no place to exchange anymore money I realized that things are very expensive in Dakar and that I definitely didn’t exchange enough money. Well, instead of fret over it, I just enjoyed the time I had with the small amount of money that I had with me. What I should’ve realized was that people there would take American or Canadian money before they would take a dallasis. So as the lady caught up with me I found myself being escorted to her shop to go and look at her merchandise. She had some really nice things, although it seemed a lot like the things you would buy in the Gambia or any other tourist market. I promised her I would buy something small but that I didn’t have much CFA with me. I had only brought about 300 dallasis with me and I didn’t want to spend much of my CFA seeing that I had a whole weekend still to spend in Dakar. So when she told me what I would be paying for the earrings, bracelet and small jewelry box I was going to buy I quickly converted it from CFA to Dallasis to Dollars and realized I was going to be taken for more than these things are worth. I was just honest with her and I said that I hadn’t exchanged much CFA and that I didn’t want to buy anything if I wasn’t going to be able to do anything afterwards. She ended up letting me pay with Dallasis and the price I ended up getting was well beyond half of what she was first asking. I walked away from there relived that I didn’t have to go back. I’m sure she was trying to be nice but I didn’t get a great feeling from her.
I walked back down the hill to what is called the “Slave House” where all the slaves were kept just before they were boarded onto the ship to go to America. When I walked in, I of course couldn’t understand anything, I didn’t even know where to buy the ticket to get in and the guy just ended up letting me in after both of us trying to talk to one another. As I walked in, I saw a big group that was being talked to buy a French tour guide and since they didn’t have any programs in English I couldn’t understand anything that was going on. I honestly felt like some little kid. There was this elderly gentleman who asked me if I only spoke English and before I realized it this gentleman had made himself my personal tour guide. I got a little bit of what the tour was supposed to be but I don’t think I got all of the explanation of what the Slave house actually was. It was a rushed tour since the house was closing for the lunch break and I didn’t realize that since I couldn’t understand French. I looked around and tried to get a bit of the history that has made this place so popular. Throughout the day I honestly didn’t get much out of the whole looking around because everything was in French and even though I can read more French than understand, I could only get the basic concept of what was being said since I didn’t know the big words. I’ve realized how handicapped I’ve made myself by not keeping up with my French. After leaving the Slave house I was just walking around and I ended up seeing a back pack with a Canadian flag on it. I went right up to the girl and asked her if she was a Canadian and it turns out that she was and that she was teaching in Senegal. She had a few other friends, but I don’t think they were Canadian, maybe European or something. I wanted to talk with her more since I hadn’t had a decent conversation all day but she was busy on her way touring around the place with her friends. So I found myself wandering around until I went up to the top of a lookout where you can see the entire beach, restaurants, some of the history buildings and the ocean. It was beautiful. I spent sometime up there just watching everything going on. I walked a bit further and then I realized that people actually live on this Island. I’m not sure what privilege they have to live on such a historical piece of land. I walked through the small streets that reminded me more of Italy with the bougainvillea over the top of the fences and the colored window shutters. I walked past a few ladies washing clothes and behind them there was clothes drying on clothes lines. I guess it would be the perfect place to dry clothes since the breeze is so strong. I would just be worried about loosing my clothes to the breeze in the ocean. After I walked through the streets I came to the museum where all the information and the articles of history were held. I bought a ticket and went in and even though I walked through at my own leisure, It still didn’t give me enough time to learn French and know the basics of what the history was telling me. Seriously, I made a vow then and there that I was going to go home and learn French. After going through the museum I went around the opposite side of the Island and just sat on the edge of a wall looking at the ocean and the kids jumping off of the dock to swim back to the rocky shore. There was one strange Rasta looking gentleman who was fishing with just a fishing line. He didn’t have a pole, just the line. I didn’t notice him catch anything while I was there but he looked like he knew what he was doing. I actually ended up leaving after sitting there for a bit because it was close to 4 pm and I didn’t know when the next ferry was going to leave. And honestly, I didn’t want to run into the tourist shop lady. So I walked back to the dock where people were lining up to go back to Dakar and as I was waiting in line, I heard a few familiar accents. I turned around to see three American speaking and looking gentlemen and when I said, “are you guys American” they said, “yes, we are.” After asking them each where they were from I found out that they were from Ohio, Texas, and Minnesota. When I realized that he said Minnesota I got really excited knowing that he was from the Midwest. I stood there and had a really good conversation with him. He had come with the Army to learn French. He was from Duluth so I could relate since there was a school that was in our Conference in College that came from Duluth. We had a good conversation and we both said that it was refreshing to talk to someone that we could have an intelligent conversation with. He’s been staying with a family who only speaks French and I’ve been by myself for the entire weekend not being able to talk with anyone. I was glad to have met him.
I got off the ferry and headed back to the sisters convent and it wasn’t hard to find at all. I actually took a bit of a stroll after that since I didn’t have anything else to do. I ended up going down some of the streets near the convent and I was amazed at the development that I saw compared to the Gambia. If you take a look at a map of Africa, and closer now to Senegal and the Gambia you notice that the Gambia follows the river from the ocean and Senegal surrounds the Gambia. Senegal was a colony of the French and the Gambia was a colony of the English and what you hear from Gambian’s is that when the English settled in the Gambia all they wanted was access to the ocean to import and export things. So they didn’t develop the land or the villages at all. When the French came and settled in Senegal, they developed the country to look like France, with structured buildings and roads. There is a SIGNIFICANT difference between the neighboring countries. Being in Dakar for the weekend made me think I was in Europe. But being in the Gambia, my eyes are opened to a bigger issue of poverty and how slow the development is. I walked around for a bit and then headed back to the convent where I took a bit of a nap and read more of Mother Angelica’s book. She’s seriously so funny and the book is really interesting, I couldn’t put it down. After my nap and reading I went down for supper. At supper, I spent a little bit of time trying to talk to one of the young sisters. She’s really funny and I wish I could remember her name. She can speak French and Spanish but her English is only small but what I liked most about her was that she made an effort to try to talk to me. Even though we didn’t understand each other most of the time, we laughed like we knew what each other was saying.
For the most part, after supper was finished and we did the dishes, everyone headed their own ways to go to bed and I was looking forward to one thing. A hot shower.  I went to bed and slept well until around 8:30am. I went down for breakfast and I had spoken to the funny Spanish/French sister and she said that she was going to mass at 10:30. So I decided to go with her. She sings in the choir there and when we arrived at the church, she apparently invited me to come and sing in the choir and all I said was. “ yes that’s fine,” and walked to a pew. We both laughed at it afterwards when one of the sisters translated saying that she had invited me to sing and I didn’t understand her and just went to sit in the pew. Mass was nice, and of course all in French.
When we got home, we got ready for lunch and then I went out for a bit of a stroll on the town. I knew that I wasn’t going to go far since I know that it’s not necessarily safe for a white woman to walk around alone in the evening. So my goal was to not stay out too late. It was the afternoon so I knew I had plenty of time. I walked up past some of the streets that I had walked the previous day and one of the sisters had told me that there is a big square called “independence Square” (I think). The president lives near it and there are tons of little shops around there. I just started looking around and I saw many people just walking and relaxing. I went down one street where I found a shop that sold Ice Cream, so I went in a bought it. The price for a tiny small scoop was 800 CFA. What a large number for a small amount! That’s what I thought at least. I walked back and crossed the street to go and sit on a fountain that was in the middle of the square. For the first time I saw people selling coffee on the sidewalk. They had a little cart with a thermos and cups. Of course, just like the Gambia, it was instant coffee, but I still have yet to see a coffee shop or someone selling coffee in the streets in the Gambia. So that shocked me a bit. I can assure you…I’m looking forward to a good cup of Tim Horton’s coffee when I return home….something that is NOT instant.
I walked around the square for a bit and then I went to sit on the steps of this huge building. It was nice to just sit and watch everything go by. After sitting for some time and talking with the gentleman who came and sat beside me talking, I began to walk a bit further down the street. I was walking when I heard my name called from the gentleman who had just walked past me. I turned around and realized that it was a gentleman from Brikama who had spent the past few days in Dakar because his wife was having their first child. He was so excited to see me as was I since I didn’t know anyone. He mentioned to me that what he was doing was going to give charity to someone since God blessed him with a baby girl. In his tribes’ culture, the father is supposed to give something to charity and what he was giving was a piece of gold that had a loop on it for a necklace. When he saw me all he kept saying was that this meeting was set up by God, since both of us were in Dakar at the same time. He was insistent that he give me the piece of gold and all he asked was that I would never give it away because it meant so much to his family. I was in shock. The naming ceremony was supposed to be the following day and that is the day where the father reveals the name he will give the baby. I gave him some money so that he could buy a bag of sugar for the party they were going to have and we went our separate ways both smiling, I’m sure. These are experiences where you are so grateful for becoming a part of people’s lives. Realizing that he picked me out on the street and felt that it was that important to come talk with me makes me realized how great the Gambian people are.
As I kept walking my mission was to find the cathedral and I knew about where it was but not for sure. I walked past many buildings and in through some small side streets and eventually made it to the church. But, unfortunately the place was locked. I just stared at the big building and turned back around to go back toward home. On my way home, I met some really interesting people who’s stories are probably better left unsaid. I got back to the house and just relaxed a bit, and I actually finished my Mother Angelica’s book. If any of you have a chance to read it, it’s a great book and a great story of hope for the little people.
I ate a bit of supper later in the evening and then went to bed early. I knew that we would have a long day driving back so I wanted to get some sleep. It seems that I’ve gotten more sleep than I normally get, since I didn’t know many people or places. It was a really relaxing weekend and I’m glad that I got to experience Senegal. I hope to one day go back, after I’ve learnt more French. 
When I got up the next morning I wasn’t exactly sure when Father and John were coming to pick me up so I just got up early and hung around the house. I went down to the sisters little shop to see if Pierre was working and to thank him for being my escort to the ferry. I was glad to see him again. The sisters sell a lot of things in their little shop. They make cookies and goodies, jams, and they sell lotions and soaps made from a particular plant.(I think) I actually can’t remember exact what it is but Pierre was trying to explain all of them for me. We had a good chat, speaking half French and English and I left to see if Father had arrived. He hadn’t yet so I went back up to my room and I met up with the French/Spanish speaking sister whose room turned out to be right next to mine. She was getting ready for her classes and so she taught me a bit of French. She conjugated some verbs for me, and that’s one thing I’m very familiar with since we did a lot of it in school. It’s just putting it into verbal practice is what is difficult for me. Father and John arrived shortly after and we packed the car, said our good byes and we were on our way. I was really glad to have met the sisters there and honestly, like I said, I wish I knew more French so I could’ve gotten to know each of them better. I hope to one day see them again.
Our drive home was similar to our drive there, although I had the back seat to myself (besides some of the boxes on the seat next to me) and at times I took a bit of a cat nap. We stopped on our way through Kaolack and when father asked me if I wanted to buy anything, I just thought, “I don’t think I could eat anything from here.” I just said that I wouldn’t mind buying some oranges or apples. We didn’t stop much other than at the border and then when we got back to Barra. We were unlucky to not know anyone so it took us from 5:00pm to around 9:00pm to get on the ferry. Father doesn’t like sitting in the car so John and I were left in the car talking, expecting to get on the ferry any second. Like I said, any second turned into hours. I honestly didn’t mind since John was overly quiet on the way there and until we got back to Barra so I hadn’t had the chance to actually talk with him. We had fun with some of the young kids selling cashews and fruits. Once we finally got on the ferry and landed on the other side in Banjul we made our way to Serrekunda where John lives and we dropped him off. Father and I didn’t get back to Brikama until past 11:00pm and I think we were all tired from the long day. I’m sure Father and John were very tired since they both had busy weekends and I spent most of my time relaxing.
Yesterday and today I was back at school and back in the classroom. We had another addition to our staff at AMR, a new Art teacher. His name is Echen John or Mr. John to the students. Most of you French people would recognize the name Etienne, and he was named after a French man but because most people around here couldn’t pronounce the name correctly he changed the spelling so people now call him Echen. Echen is actually a part of our parish community at Resurrection Parish and although I’ve heard his name several times, I never actually had the chance to meet him. He and his friend Martin own a little tourist shop at the tourist market and they sell their Arts and Crafts there. I had been to the market the day that Echen was gone so that’s why I hadn’t met him yet. Many of the kids already know him well so I’m sure he’ll be a great addition to the AMR family.

Well wow…I hope you all enjoy our adventure to Dakar, I sure had fun but like I said, I need to learn more French before I ever go back.
I hope everyone at home is doing well and enjoying the warmer weather. Time is flying by and I still think that you guys have snow there!

Much Love, In Jesus and Mary,


"...You know Miss Jennifa is just trying to help us?!"

Saturday May 2, 2009

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is still celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord! Alleluia!
Today I experienced something very different….the funeral of a young girl. Last night when we got home, I went to spend some time with the girls and I noticed that Betty was gone. (There were only a few girls in the hostel since the last week in every month the girls all go home to visit their families. Some girls don’t have any so they stay.) Betty is from the village called SumaKunda. Last year the sisters had a young girl named Barbra who stayed in the hostel and she was also from Sumakunda. She finished her grade 12 year and graduated just on time since she had been sick the entire year. She had been in and out of the hospital and I don’t think they ever found out what she really was sick with. Many of the girls knew her well, since they all stay together in such close quarters. So when Barbra was sick the girls would go to visit her in the hospital. Apparently she got really sick a little while ago and we found out yesterday that she had gone to Dakar, Senegal to receive treatment and she died there. I think she was only 18 years old. Betty had gone to SumaKunda right away when she found out the news. Since the weather has been so hot and it’s very expensive to take a deceased body to the morgue, they buried her today (from what I know…1 day after she died). They brought her directly from Dakar this morning and had the funeral at 4:00 pm today. We were wondering when the funeral would be since many of the sisters wanted to go and many of the girls wanted to go because they all knew her so well. When we found out it was at 4:00pm today we all changed plans and got ready to go. I have been to one other funeral here (I’m not sure I mentioned that one.) and what I will say is that today’s and the previous one I’ve been to are very very different. The last one I went to was the funeral of an elderly lady. She was the sister of a priest in the diocese, so all the religious and priests went to the funeral mass and burial. But since she was an elderly person and had lived what she could of her life, it was a celebration realizing that she was on her way to heaven, hopefully. Since today was the funeral of a young girl, who had just started life, there was crying and weeping like I’ve never seen in real life before. When we arrived in Sumakunda, I remember passing a young woman who looked like she was completely lost and didn’t know what to do with herself. She was walking extremely fast and she had tears rolling down her face. We parked the truck right near the church and all of a sudden I saw this young woman as she pasted the church. She began to weep, and scream and run to a compound that we all assumed was the family’s compound. As she started many other women began to weep. I was walking toward the church with the sisters and I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. The death of someone young is very difficult to anyone, I’m sure but the outward expression of the women here in Africa is something that I would only have witnessed in a movie. We entered the church and it was packed inside as well as many people standing outside listening. Mass was beautiful and it was said by Father Gabisi. After mass ended, some of the men got up and carried the casket (which was probably the plainest casket I’ve ever seen) outside toward the graveyard. Everyone filed out of the church and we walked for a while in silence following the casket. I was trying to take everything in because, even though things are the same as a funeral at home, the environment and customs are VERY different. We passed the family’s compound and then started walking down a little road that led to a narrower road in a bush. We were walking through what looked to me like something we would recognize as a wheat field. There was a wooden fence that we followed along and at one point we had to walk one by one through the small path. We walked past and under a few cashew trees. Once we got to the spot where they were going to burry her we realized that she was the first person being buried there. Now, whether there is another graveyard somewhere else in the village or not is unknown to us but it was definitely the first time they had buried someone there. Father did the burial and just before he finished, a young girl began screaming and ran as fast as she could wailing all the way back to the compound. As she began to run, all the women except for a few of us all ran weeping behind her. Just as they put the casket down I saw people throw a bag of something on top of the casket and what I later found out was that it is custom to package up the deceased’s clothing and burry them with them because they believe that when they get where they are going, they want them to be able to cloth themselves. Obviously, that is a tribal custom that has slowly began to change with the rise of educated people. But many people still do it. As Catholics, we know that we wont ever need to be buried with anything since when we enter into the Glory of our Heavenly Father, we will be clothed anew! Since in Africa, you have many tribes who have slowly – with education- realized that many of the customs and believes are mere myths, when you attend things like this you see what each tribe’s customs are,like. We stayed until they were getting ready to cover the hole up. When we got back to the compound the sisters wanted to give their sympathies to the mother and father, so we had a gentleman take us in to the compound (which was lined with people sitting around the yard and house) and we greeted the family. The mother was in a room and she was lying on the floor. She was weeping and gently throwing herself around the floor. When she saw the sisters she got up and as she was still weeping the sisters all shook her hand and said something in the local language. I wasn’t sure if it was my place to say anything or to even greet her but she stuck her hand out to me and that was when I began to feel tears in my eyes. What would it be like to be a mother who loses her child? I can’t imagine. There were many people in the room with her as well as the room where the father was. The father was taking things much better than the mother and it was calm going into his room to greet him. We left eh compound but we all just kind of stood around being silent. That’s what everyone was doing. You can really see how hard the death of someone in the community is. It takes it’s toll on everyone in the village. I’m not sure what happened after since we left after that but I imagine that the family will mourn for many days. Sr. Catherine said that tomorrow they will kill a cow as a custom to the Mangiagos (one of the Gambian tribes, which this girl was). Customarily, the family will grieve for 1 year giving charity on the 10 days, 1 month, and one year after the death. Some tribes will wear black for the entire year to show that they are in mourning. In things like this, I really see how the customs and traditions of small villages are like. I remember having a teacher in high school whose husband died, and since she was a native she cut her hair as an offering. That was as much as I saw for customs growing up – other than a pow wow or sweat. But here, you can see what the tribes are like and the customs that they have, and it’s honestly incredible to witness. On the way home, it was pretty silent in the truck. I feel like I just watched a movie and jumped into the screen. These are experiences that I am grateful that I’m not just a passing by tourist, I feel like a part of the Gambian Community.
The past week has been very busy because we have been trying to prepare for what was supposed to be a big fundraiser event today. Anne Marie Rivier (our school) has been trying to raise money for our bus and some of the building for the school. Since the sisters have a bus and we carry many students, they try to make the fare for the bus cheap. Many of the families can’t afford to either pay transport or an expensive bus fare. But since the fare isn’t very expensive ( up to maybe 6 dallasis for the longest ride) it can be difficult to pay the driver and pay for any repairs that may happen. So the school committee came up with the idea of a fundraiser to raise money to have in case there is a need for money for the bus. So, they hired a local musician, “Jaliba” to play. For the past week, the committee and teachers have been working on trying to get things organized for today’s show. We were going to have it held at the Presentation nursery school. Many people were invited and had been talking about it all week. It was announced on the radio and on tv, and there was going to be ton of really good food to buy. It was supposed to be a great day. But a few days ago, the sisters heard that he was out of the country recording some music so they were trying to get ahold of him to see if he would be back in time for the fundraiser. But no one could get ahold of him until this morning, when everything was supposed to start. I was even frustrated, knowing that if you have a commitment and something else comes up, then you should just inform the people with a bit of notice. But he didn’t let anyone know and we were all worried for the past days since there was so much planning that went into all of it. So the show was cancelled. We’re looking at trying to get things rescheduled since the school needs the money.
I have recently been reading a book that a friend gave me called, “Mother Angelica: the story of a nun, her nerve, and a network of miracles”. The book is the life story of Mother Angelica, the sister who began the EWTN network for Catholic television and radio. If anyone has ever read it, they can relate to what I’m going to say because one thing you will find out is that Mother Angelica is absolutely hilarious. In everything she does, there is an element of surprise and laughter. Many times while I’m reading the book, I realize that I’m laughing out loud all alone in my classroom. I’m amazed at her faithfulness to the Lord and her story is really incredible. Now, I’m one for a surprise, so I won’t say much about the book if any one wants to read it but what I will say is that her faith in our Lord has given me a new outlook on what my vocation is, why I’m here and why it is important to give my entire being to the Lord. Even though many times, Mother is stuck in a rut and all things seem impossible, she knows that the Lord will always provide for her. That has really helped me being here since the past month I’ve said to myself over and over, “why am I really here? What good am I actually doing? What is my purpose in being here.” But, over and over I hear and see the Lord show me reasons why I am here and why he has called me (of all people) into this position. I’ve thought so many times, “ah…I’m definetly not cut out to be a teacher, and I’m not sure how I got these kids.” And one day, I felt the Lord say to me, “Jen, I’ve given each of these 12 students to you for a specific reason. Don’t worry…” There are times I feel like I’m not making a difference, but I’m glad that it’s that way because those are the times I say, “Ok Lord, you’re in control. You’ve given me this situation, now you work through me to get to these kids”( which are ALL muslim…by the way  ). Every time I read Mother Angelica’s book, it gives me a little bit of strength to go on, since that’s how the Lord worked in her life. The Lord just gave her enough to move forward but not to have the entire picture. So, all in all…I thought at this point of my jouney being here I would’ve thought I would’ve had all the answers as to why the Lord has called me here, but I can honestly say that I don’t yet have a clear picture of why. But then again, what is true faith when we know what the next step is? Please continue to pray for me.
The kids are definetly improving and I’m pleased with what they’ve learnt. I know that my kids are doing well because I will go to the other classes and realized that some of the kids are still behind because my kids can sound out letters and read small words. It’s exciting for me to see it and I know that even though they complain sometimes, they KNOW that I’m here to help them. Alieu said one day when I was giving a few students a talking to that hadn’t finished their homework, “you guys, why don’t you finish your homework? You know that Miss Jennifa is just trying to help us?!” It was so cute. There are a few students who are still struggling but they have come a long way and I’m glad that there are a few key students who really help the kids move up since they are very intelligent when they do their work. I am learning to love each one of these students in their own way and each of their personalities is very different and unique. Alieu has become my side kick and he loves to help out in class. He is one of the smartest kids in the class and what I love most is that he “gets” the non classroom related things, like what it means to be a good person or that you should respect others.
Yesterday was May 1st and every year the priests and religious have a gathering at the beach to just relax and have fun. I was excited to go since I had been invited and I now I know many of the religious and priests. I enjoy spending time with all of them. I got up at around 7:30am to see what everyone was doing and I ran into Sr. Odile outside in the African kitchen making meat pies. So I asked her if she needed any help and soon after there were Sr. Catherine, Sr. Odile, Sr. Josaphine and I helping to try to get everything done so we could leave in time for mass at 10:30am. We made our way there and we thought we were going to be late for mass but we arrived just as mass was starting. Mass was held under a little hut area on the beach. The Bishop said mass and many of the preists and religious came. After mass two of the postulants, Harriet and Elizabeth and I walked down the beach together. The postulants have been separated since February due to their assignments at different places in the country so I think it gave them a good opportunity to catch up and talk. I spend most of my time walking trying to catch these tiny little crabs that would stick their heads out of the sand. It’s so funny to see how fast they move. When we got back to where the party was held everyone had started playing board games, or card games and was eating food. I visited with a few people for a bit and then Sr. Josaphine asked me if I wanted to go for a swim. Both her and I love to swim so we knew at one point we’d have a partner to go with. So we went in and the waves were really big. We didn’t go far since we didn’t want anything dangerous to happen but we had a good time getting slapped in the face with huge waves. For the most part I spent the day just relaxing, spending time with friends, and I spent some time by myself too just sitting on the beach reading. Just before supper everyone was summon closer to the gathering area to play some games and honestly, everyone had many laughs and a good time. At one point Fr. Bruno started lining people up for the 100 meter dash and that’s when the real laughing started. Everyone was lined up according to how they fit into the category of height or ability and seriously, I think EVERYONE had their chance to run, whether they wanted to or not. I fit in with the postulants and young sisters. We ate supper with was pork and chicken yassa and everyone left to go home shortly afterwards. I think everyone had a great day. It was nice to just get out and relax.

Much Love, In Jesus and Mary,


Saturday, May 23, 2009

A new Arrival!

I haven't gotten as far as I would like in updating my blog, BUT I wanted to inform everyone that we will have a new addition coming to us here in Brikama! My friend Josh Thorn from Milwaukee, WI is coming for a three month stay and he actually leaves tomorrow (Sunday, May 23, 2009) and will get here on Monday. I would ask that you would keep him in your prayers as he is travelling and for his stay here. The sisters are excited to have him as he will be helping out alot with the school as well as at poultry. When the Lord give, He gives abundantly. I'm excited to see him as well as have an American Companion. You will hear more about him in my blogs I'm sure. Things have been incredibly busy and I am hoping to be compltely updated soon! please keep me in your prayers, my heart is so content here, and if the Lord wants me to come back home and stay for good...I'm sure my heart will completely shatter. So please, if you have any room for extra prayers, please pray that the Lord's will would be done in my life, that if He calls me back here - there would be a way to get back OR if He is calling me to stay home in Canada - that my heart would slow detatch itself from here. Honestly, if I never thought I would love a place and the people so much.
I miss everyone!

In Jesus and Mary,


A new appreciation for the market, a relaxing view of the ocean, an engagement party and our Parish feast...what more could a girl ask for?

Sunday, April 25, 2009

Why hello all! I’ll continue with where I left off.
This week was Sr. Bernadette’s birthday and I think everyone loves it when there is a birthday in the house because we get to celebrate! And what better week to celebrate than during the week after Easter! We have a lot to be thankful for! Fried chicken and chips were on the menu and of course ice cream for desert. I think Sr. Bernadette was pretty happy that it was her birthday just as we all would be if it was ours.
I know that you might all be shocked to hear this news but….I have learnt to absolutely LOVE the market. HAHA….I even have to laugh at that statement because the view I had of the market before, I think I’ve done a complete 180. Those are the things that when I look back, I realize how out of my comfort zone I have come while being here. I think that it’s a great thing because I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. On the other hand, I’ve learnt to not really like the tourist markets. When you go to the market everyone is excited to meet you and they know that if they get you in their store that they can get a good price for things but they won’t harass you like a lot of the tourist market shops. They will just let you look, ask your name and where you come from and let you be on your way if you want but the tourist market, they keep you there until you buy something OR ELSE they keep you there trying to sell you something that you don’t want and you end up buying it just to get them off your back. Haha…sounds stupid I know but I guess if you do it enough it becomes a lifestyle. The Brikama craft market, I like. That is because I know people from there now and they are friendly. But other tourist markets, I have learnt to dislike them. Over the last few weeks I have slowly put my foot in the Brikama market and I am loving every opportunity I get to go. I think I was so afraid to go because I couldn’t understand people and I didn’t know the prices of anything. And another good reason is because I wasn’t used to being in such close proximity of so many people. But I enjoy going now, I enjoy the people and I enjoy bartering for prices for things. I started out by just asking around for the prices of things and I realized that once you get to know people first when you go into their shop, they realize that I’m not just a tourist and I always make sure they give me the “Gambian price” not the “toobob price”. I had one encounter with a gentleman who tried to sell me a pair of shoes for 80 dallasis and I knew the price for them was only 55 or 60 dallasis. When he said 80 dallasis, I looked at him and laughed and said, “haha…you think I just got here don’t you?” He smiled and said, “How long have you been here?” My reply was, “long enough to know that the price for those shoes is not 80 dallasis.” He laughed again and asked me how much I would pay for them. I ended up getting them for 60 dallasis. By the end of it there were many people around us wondering what the both of us were laughing at and they knew that he was trying to get a good price for the shoes but they also knew that I’m not new around here. The prices for things vary but there are many things that you just know the prices for and really only real toobob’s pay a different price for them. Every time I go to the market I allot myself at least an hour longer than what I think it will take me to get what I need because I always meet up with many people that I know and I always meet at least five new people who want to know who I am and where I come from. I realized this a long time ago, but what a smile does when it’s put on your face is like a title wave around here. I can’t even explain it. I think that when people see that you enjoy what you are doing and where you are they want to just say hello and they see the beauty of your soul through your smile. I won’t have anyone acknowledge me until I have a smile on my face and then I honestly can’t get out of the market without people stopping me to say hello. A smile can break so many barriers and it touches more people’s lives than only the one that you are smiling at.
Thursday the sisters went out to sell eggs and as much as I wanted to go, I knew that if I didn’t stay back to get my laundry done that it wouldn’t get done for another whole week. So I stayed back and did all my washing. I don’t want to toot my own horn, BUT….what was once a huge embarrassing task has become an item on my resume. No, I’m just kidding I’m not THAT good but it’s still a task that I have accomplished. Thank the Lord I’ve had every opportunity to wash my own clothes because otherwise I would never know how to properly wash clothes by hand. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to get made fun of and plenty of time to watch how the girls actually do it properly. At this point when I have the time, I enjoy doing it.
On Friday afternoon I took some time to make sure I got down town Brikama for around 2pm because that is the time that the Muslims have their prayers. I’m not sure if it’s like this everywhere but in the Gambia when it’s the Muslim’s prayer day, the streets close at least one hour before prayers and almost all of the shops close from 2-230. I knew that this happened but I hadn’t yet witnessed it so Friday afternoon I took a little walk and I saw how all of the men gather in and infront of the mosques, each with their own mat. And they’re all jammed together, right next to one another. It’s crazy to see. Women are not allowed to enter the mosque so there are no women around when it’s close to 2pm. I felt really out of place and as much as I would’ve liked to take a picture just to be able to show everyone at home…I would never because I would get ran after. Haha…and it’s rude. When I got home all the sisters and I left for Shalom, which is in Fajara for a meeting that they had with the rest of the communities. I’m sure I’ve explain what Shalom is but this weekend I’ve had a new outlook on the place because I had more time to look around. Like I said, we left in the afternoon and since everyone was going I was excited that I got to ride in the back of the truck the entire way there. I got to see all of what they call “Coastal Road” (the road along the coast where all the hotels are – we deliver eggs on this road) in a new light. I got to look around and see things I’ve never noticed before. When we arrived at Shalom we got to pick where we wanted to stay since no one was using the retreat center this weekend. There are a few different buildings that a person can stay and I stayed in the one that had individual rooms with individual bathrooms. What I learnt from Sister Susan was that Sr. Cecile was the one who started the entire retreat center. That was back in the 70’s though and the gradual changes to the place are honestly so beautiful! When you get to Shalom you go through the gate and right in front of you is a view of the sky, you would be able to see the ocean except that the grounds are kinda on the edge of a cliff. To your left is the convent where the sisters stay as well as the formation house. The formation house keeps the young postulants. There is a new building that was put up and I’m sure that it’s for retreats as well as any guests that come. This building overlooks the ocean and has a beautiful veranda to walk out on to enjoy the scenery. There is a part of the convent (I think it’s part of it) where Pope John Paul II stayed when he came to the Gambia. This also overlooks the ocean and has a huge screened in veranda. In my honest opinion, if I stayed out there, I would move my bed out there and sleep during the night since it’s nice and cool and there are few mosquitoes since it’s screened in. There is also a fireplace in the room. Going back to when you come into Shalom, on your right hand side is the retreat center where there is a huge conference/meeting room, there is a huge dining hall and this building also has dormitories that have their own bathroom. This is where I stayed. Many of the other sisters stayed here too. Just next to that dormitory/building there is another dormitory but this one is for two people and there is one common bathroom. As you go a bit farther on the path from the retreat center to the dorm rooms to the next door room building you see the chapel. The chapel also over looks the ocean and the tabernacle is in the shape of a lighthouse. The light is very visible during the night and it’s said that men in ships actually are directed by the light. It’s really neat and I wish I could see what it looked like from their angle. The landscaping in the yard is phenomenal. I said this the entire weekend, “I wish my mom and dad were here to see this! My mom would absolutely love the plants!” One thing about the flowers here in the Gambia is that you never have trouble growing the same color. There are so many different colors of flowers! Sr. Sarian is the designer and the gardener does all the planting and gardening but trust me, I felt like I was in a beautiful hotel resort this weekend. It’s gorgeous. The funny thing is that I’ve been there so many times to deliver eggs but I’ve never seen it in this way. When we got all settled into our rooms the sisters started their meeting and I decided to take a look around. As I was looking around my mom called so I talked to her for a bit and then I decided to go down to the beach. Just at the edge of the hill or sort of cliff there is a big fence that separates the land from the sisters and someone else. The someone else is trying to build a hotel right in front of Shalom, but there has been a halt in construction because they’re trying to stop him from building there since it will cut off the view from Shalom. It really would be sad if they built a big hotel right in front. The sisters have such a nice view and many people come there for retreats so it’s nice and peaceful. So I went through the gate and I had to walk around their construction to get down to the real drop off. To the left of Shalom is a compound with apartment buildings and right in between Shalom and the apartments is a long brick driveway that leads straight down to the drop off. When I walked down and realized that there was no way I could get down to the water I looked and looked and the only way down was to go into the compound with the apartment building and use their stairs. I was just wishing that I could’ve gotten down to see the water and stand on the big rocks but I couldn’t see a good way to actually get there. Just then the guard/watchman who was on shift opened the gate just to check everything out (not because he heard me because I was really quiet) and I asked him if there was any way down from here. He said, “ no but if you want you can come through here.” I was so glad! So I got to see the apartment yard as well as go down to the beach. When I got down to the water, there were huge rocks that were piled up and since it was evening the tide was coming back so the water was coming closer and closer to the rocks. I took a little bit of a walk down the beach but to do that I had to climb through some of the rocks. It was really really beautiful. I only stayed for a bit since we were about to have some supper so I thanked the watchman for letting me in and climbed back up the hill through the construction to go for supper. I knew that I was going to be coming back to the apartments on the next day because Sr. Cecile said that the sisters know the owner and she would let me use their pool, which I was very happy about. Supper was great and the sisters are always good company. I sat next to Sr. Rozine and she always makes me laugh. She usually has a serious face on her even when she is joking around, so when I laugh at her she tells me to stop laughing. Even though I don’t know if she really is joking about me stopping laughing at her, I still laugh because she’s really funny. In many ways she reminds me of my college volleyball coach, Raftyn. Her personality and fight is what reminds me most of Raftyn. After supper was done, the young sisters were to do a presentation on the life of Blessed Mother Rivier and St Paul. I was invited to sit in and watch and oh boy did we laugh. It was really informative and good, although the young sisters dressed up and even Sr. Bernadette tried to shrink down to make herself look like tiny little Mother Rivier. Oh we had a few good laughs. After that Sr. Sue and I walked around the yard for a bit to catch some of the breeze and then everyone headed for bed. Sr. Sue and I often will take a little stroll at the house in Brikama and we usually link arms and just talk. I enjoy spending time with her chatting. We always end up laughing at each other.
I woke up in the morning for mass and went straight to the chapel. Bishop Cleary was saying mass for us and we had morning prayers as well. Then we had breakfast and the sisters started their meetings again for the day. I went to the apartments with two of the postulants to ask if I could use their pool but the lady was out for a few hours. The postulants were leaving back for their assigned visits and so they said for the maid to remember me and made sure I went back to check with her. So what I did, since it was still early and there was a nice cool breeze coming in through my windows, I pulled my mosquitoe net back over my bed and went back to bed for a few hours.  When I woke up, I dressed and went back to the apartments to see if I could meet with the lady and the maid had already talked to her about it so I chatted with her for a bit and then she showed me the pool. It was gorgeous. The apartments were built for people who come and go. You pay per night and it is pretty expensive but the nice thing about it is that it’s like a hotel since you get a maid who cleans the apartment. Each room has a balcony that leads outside to where there is grass (!! Which you rarely see, so I was excited!) and then a tiled area where the pool is. When you are looking westward you see the pool and then the ocean right in front of you. When you walk a bit further, you go back onto some grass and then down a set of wooden steps that lead to the beach. This is how I got down to the beach the night before. What I did right away was sit down on a beach lounge chair on the side of the pool so I had a view of the pool and the ocean. I just sat there for a few moments enjoying that I was able to just hang out there for the day and then jumped into the pool. It was a really nice clean pool and what I liked about it was that it was deep so I could dive in. For the majority of the time I spent reading and just relaxing by the pool. I went down to the beach for a little bit but I didn’t stay long since it’s unsafe to stay around the beach area by yourself since there are not very many people except for the young men who lurk around waiting for tourists to harass. I was informed this by a nice gentleman, who I’ll actually call my “angel” for that day. I sat by the rocks for a bit and enjoyed the sand and then I went back up to sit by the pool. I’m such a beach bum…or maybe I should say water bum since I just love to sit by the water on a hot day. I think the temperature got to around 100 degrees but you don’t feel it by the ocean. I think people like to try to give me something to do for the day if they are busy but honestly, I’m most content just sitting in the sun reading and being alone. My sisters and I always do that at the beach when we go in the summer. I sat by the pool until around 230 since I knew that the sisters were having lunch and they told me to come back for it. So I went back and after lunch everyone else went for their siesta and I  went back to the pool to spend the rest of the afternoon there. It was awesome. When I got back, there was a gentleman sitting by the pool, the only other person there except for the security guard. His name was Roger, as I later found out, and he’s a business man who is from Lyberia. We got into a good discussion about the culture clashes, and to be honest the entire conversation was a clash of views. I’m always amazed at Muslim culture and I will never be able to grasp the ideology that it contains. Life is just very different and the gender differences are extremely different. When most men who come from countries like that meet American women they are appalled at the lack of “respect” that we would give them. And it’s not that I wouldn’t give him the respect that he deserves but for men in a Muslim society, women are treated very different and there are many expectations for them. As for American’s, I’m going to do my own thing and realize that we both come from differing cultures. I’m not someone who likes to back down when I know that no one except me can change my view about something (my family knows this very well) but there were many times we laughed because he knew I was stating my point of view and that he couldn’t change it. Anyway, it was a good conversation and everytime I talk to someone like that, I gain more knowledge about the culture differences in the world. What a small but HUGE world we live in.
I ended up going back to Shalom at around 6pm after having a good chat with the three security guards who were at the entrance of the apartment buildings. This was by far one of my favorite conversations’ here in the Gambia so far since even though one liked to joke around and ask me for money (since I’m a white) I’ve learnt a few tricks to defend myself. I think that many white people just automatically give people like that money and…I always make them work for it, since he has a good paying job. While he tried to get money from me, the other two laughed and laughed. Not at me…at him since they both knew I was holding my own and that he wasn’t getting anywhere. When he said, “why are you laughing?” They said, “Haha…because this lady isn’t a white, she’s a Gambian. She knows what she’s talking about.” HAHA…I just laughed when I heard him say that. The best part about it, was that even though we were all laughing he knew that I respected him but I also knew that he respected me and that we would both walk away from the conversation friends. Those are the types of converstations when people say, “you will never know what a culture is like until you sit with the people that live in that culture everyday” that I realize how alike we all are. The Lord has allowed me to see the beauty of this culture in the people of the Gambia. I’m more than grateful for this experience. My life will never be the same having gone through this. Thank you again for giving me this opportunity.
So I got back to Shalom and the sisters were still busy so I went and cleaned up a bit and relaxed in my room until supper. After supper everyone packed up and left for home. Sr. Josephine had left earlier in the day since her sister was getting engaged and they had the engagement ceremony at their home in Brikama. When we all packed in the truck and left for home Sr. Odile, Sr. Bernadette, and Sr. Catherine decided that when we got home we would go to the ceremony. When we pulled up to the house you could hear the music from a mile away. There were tons of people and we walked into the compound and found many people all over. Many were dancing to the music and there were several elderly people there. We went to find Sr. Josephine and she was in the house with her family. We greeted everyone (I’ve met her mother and father before) and then just sat down enjoying the music and talking. When some of the music was good Sr. Catherine (who loves to dance) and Sr. Bernadette (who seems to love to dance also) started dancing and of course, I did too. Although I was the student learning from the masters. I can dance but there are certain moves for the different types of tribes. So it seems. It’s really not difficult but it’s neat to witness. It was awesome. I went outside to watch some of the others dancing and what I like about Africa, it doesn’t matter whether you are an old ma or pa or a young kid, everyone dances! It’s great. And I don’t mean just dances, I mean really gets into it. Back home an elderly person would dance some of the old time dance stuff, like polkas or waltzs but here, they’ll dance to anything! It’s great to see. Dancing, music and loud noise it a huge part of this culture and I feel like when I go home I’m going to think everything is toned down and quiet. I really love the culture here. We met with Sr. Jos’s sister and greeted everyone again and then we went home. As we were walking out of the compound we saw some of the girls from the hostel. I haven’t seen them all for about a week so we were excited to see each other. When we past the church on our way home we decided to stop and see how the preparations for the Parish feast were going. Some of the men and women from the church were in Father’s back yard making all the food for the next day’s event. Everything was going smoothly and everyone was working really hard. I’m not sure what time they went to bed but we were on our way home going straight for out beds. Everyone was tired.
In the morning everyone got to sleep in since there was no schedule for outstations since preparations for the feast were going on. So we slept in a got ready for mass. Since the church is named, “The Resurrection Parish” they always celebrate their parish feast on the Sunday after Easter. It’s a huge event and it’s a big fundraiser too. Father Tony was the Celebrant for mass and he did a great job. Father Gabisis and Father Bruno were also celebrating. The church was packed and the music was exceptional. I was thinking the entire time, how much our parish at home would love to see this so because there was a gentleman taping the entire mass I asked him afterwards if I could get a copy to bring home. I’m so glad…so everyone will get to see what mass here in the Gambia is like! I’m excited to show all of you! Mass was beautiful.
After mass, lunch was served to all the priest and sisters and everyone stayed to enjoy the day. Everything was held in the church parking lot and we were all glad that the huge trees shaded us from the hot sun. All the sisters from the other communites came to spend the day as well as most priests from the diocese and a lot of Church members. I met many people as well as enjoyed a lot of good food, music and company. I always love watching the young kids play the drums, sing and dance and at one point there was a group in the back of the church playing. It was really awesome to witness. You can’t help by start dancing along with them. That day was beautiful and I know I’ve only been here for less than 4 months but the people in this parish as well as the community make me feel like I’ve been a member of the community for years. I appreciate it so much. I will never forget the hospitality of this community.
Monday began the third term of school at AMR and I have to admit that because the break was so busy I was more tired going into the week than I thought I would be after 10 days of break. We had a new addition to the AMR family, Nina the new cook. She and Saba are working together now to plan and make meals and she is so nice. Right away when I met her there was something that just attracted me to her and I didn’t know why I really liked her. I then realized how much she reminds me of my oldest sister, Eryn. Honestly, Eryn…if you’re reading this, you have a black twin. If I’ve ever seen someone who looks like you, talks like you, is a “motherly” person like you…it’s Nina. I just love that she reminds me of Eryn since it’s kind of like having a piece of home around here. Nina is awesome and I love that she’s so nice…and an amazing cook! She and Saba do a good job.
The week went good and Sr. Odile informed us that we should be handing in our teaching plans to her this week. I was exempt from it before since I was new but I assume she thinks its good for me to experience what a real teacher has to do. Its good for me to plan because it helps the kids be focused and I know what I’m doing week to week. So we’re back at it and I hope to see some good progress this term. The exams weren’t very good for my students since when you can’t read…how can you do a test? Haha…oh boy, I can see why Bill Cosby used to laugh hysterically on the show, “Kids say the darndest things”. I had some of the most creative answers on their tests. Oh well…I will never forget these kids and I sure hope they can remember me. I spend almost every day with them and some days I get upset with them but most days I have to turn my face to the blackboard and almost die laughing at something that one of them will say. I wish all of you could meet them, I feel like you already do and then I have to remember that only words could never ever explain the personalities or how each of these kids has touched my life.
I’ll leave you with a familiar but applicable quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get.” Never in my life would I have thought I would be teaching in Africa having 12 students who are so incredibly different from me as well as one another. But, it’s always good to look at life with the “glass half full” mentality.

I hope all is well with everyone!

In Jesus and Mary,