- I hope I'm the right Scott Jorgensen that you are looking for. The professions and identities of some of my more illustrious namesakes include Scott Jorgensen the flyweight UFC fighter, Scott Jorgensen the podiatrist, and, more locally, there are two other Scott Jorgensen individuals in the Greater San Francisco Bay Aea, according to LinkedIN.Well, if you read that whole paragraph, I bet that you know by now whether or not I am the Scott Jorgensen that you are looking for.
About the Gambia (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Republic of The Gambia, commonly known as The Gambia, or Gambia, is a country in Western Africa. The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, with a small coast on the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
Its borders roughly correspond to the path of the Gambia River, the nation's namesake, which flows through the country's centre and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its size is almost 10,500 km² with an estimated population of 1,700,000.
On 18 February 1965, The Gambia was granted independence from the United Kingdom and joined The Commonwealth. Banjul is The Gambia's capital, but the largest conurbation is Serekunda.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other west African nations in the slave trade, which was key to the maintenance of a colony on the Gambia river, first by the Portuguese and later by the British. Since gaining independence in 1965, the Gambia has enjoyed relative stability, with the exception of a brief period of military rule in 1994.
An agriculturally rich country, its economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. About a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day
Monday, April 15, 2013
I had always put off the final blog post for Kola Nuts since coming back to America on January 8th because I was waiting for some profound revelation to strike me after having had time to digest my Peace Corps experience and also ample time with readjusting to America.
A revelation that I can put into words never came to me with the enough clarity to wordsmith it out, and to make the latter story short, readjustment into America has been tremendously easy and also satisfying. For my lifestyle, the biggest adaptation to 2013 is that I now am constantly connected with a smartphone. It' a high tech ball-and-chain with a GPS device.
For people who still wish to follow what I write how I'm trying to create a profession, please visit my new blog at www.herculesbees.blogspot.com ! It is here that I will be documenting the nascent livestock operation that is bee-herding in California.
All you Gambia peeps, add this new blog of mine because I do enjoy reading the posts of yours!
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
In this last week I traveled to Dakar, Senegal with about 30 Gambia volunteers to compete in the yearly West African International Softball Tournament (WAIST). PC Gambia had two teams competing in the Social League and i played on the B team. In this tournament were teams from local high schools, a number of teams from Peace Corps Senegal, a marines team, university staff teams and U.S. Embassy staff teams. There were 20 teams in our social league.
I took time to enjoy my vacation. It was the first time that I had ever been outside of the Gambia since coming here a year ago. I strolled around the shoreline, a mall, took lots of cabs, ate as much ice cream as I could at a legendary spot called N'Ice Cream, drank sometimes in excess, and played softball. This was a vacation after all. It was very nice to have the anonymity of a city person again. I felt like a strange tourist because I was also a peace corps volunteer and could almost comprehend enough to have conversations with people in Wollof. I met a few Fula cab drivers of food sellers, but the majority of people spoke French and Wollof. It was nice to have that anonymity, that ability to garble out where i wanted to go in a cab, settle on a price, and then enjoy the ride in silence. In upcountry Gambia where i spend most of my time, I don't have that option.
What I liked about this trip is that it feels good to come back to Gambia. This familiar ground along a river feels like home. I haven't yet set foot in my hut (I will travel back tomorrow) but I like to think that this enjoyment and appreciation for coming home will last for a little while.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Sorry about it.
I've been keeping busy here in The Gambia. The days go long but the months are quick here. I've been working a bit in the gardens to build up bee populations and transplant Agave sisalana plants to form hedges for garden protection (those pesky goats...). I've been relaxing a bit, reading many a book and drinking a few bottles of Julbrew, the national beer brand. I've been official a bit, meeting President Jammeh as a representative of Peace Corps during the organization's 50th birthday.
The rainy season has ended and now we only have the odd thunderstorm to make things wet. Today do feels like some rainy season mugginess so it is hard to predict what will happen. The coming cold season is coming (COLD!) and i look forward to being warmed by that morning cup of tea or coffee. There are many things going on right now it is kind of hard to group them all. So this message can be shorter and sweeter.
The Gambia is working diligently to be ready for the Tabaski holiday. This Muslim holiday will be a three day celebration in the village and I am very excited to be in attendance with my host family. Right now, Farafenni is bleating and humming with activity as everybody strives to have a ram to sacrifice for the tradtional religious celebration. This demand spikes up the price of rams, of course, so that some heated bartering goes on and the sheep are overpayed for in general. Bush taxis loaded with watermelons go rumbling down the street, but soon the watermelon will be out of season.
I have a lot of time to sit and think about the passing colors and rhythm of flower blooming that passes as the weather changes for wet to dry and cool. People in my area of the country have already harvested their millet crops, while in the more coastal areas, the millet is still flowering. Groundnuts will soon be ready for harvest.
Recently, my village underwent a quiet revolution: we have piped water now. Our piping was finally connected to the watertank and solar pump of the next village over, so in the evening times we are able to draw water from a tap. This really opens up some work opportunities for me, some things that just weren't possible before in village because of the work required to get and transport water. Now we can have gardens within the compound. Now growing those live fences will be so much easier. I want to enlist the help of my 11 year old brother to fetch water and water things. Before i didn't ask because he wasn't big enough to wrestle the pump by himself. Now, water is here. Let the birds sing. OH THE POSSIBILITIES. : D
I'm a selfish person. I want to see the wonders of the natural world before they go away completely. I think that the best of the last will be gone within the next thirty years, so i am going to be selfish a bit with my life. When i first came to Gambia i was excited to see a tropical ecosystem, but a bit let down about the degraded state of this environment. Still though, it's much close to the equator and there is a wealth of plant species here. The elephants and the lions are gone, but the insect community of the Gambia is astounding. Sitting in the grass i realize that there are multiple species of insect as big as my hand all buzzing around me. It was just nice to realize that every place has a wealth, you just got to get down to the right perspective to see it.
keep on growing.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Since the beginning of August I have been contemplating my involvement with solitude and how it affects my life during my Peace Corps Service. If the writing of the the previous post reflects a scattered and disillusioned person, I don't deny that those periods happen. As coincidence dictates, I later recieved two packages from the homeland, care of a PC vehicle that was traveling upcountry. Retrieving the hand written notes, familiar fitting clothes, and good candy from the two boxes completely reversed my day. In this job there are poor hours and there are good hours.
In the nighttime I now sit to write, welcoming solitude to help me concentrate my thoughts to attempt to reveal a truth, however small. I am not currently in a monastic aloneness for I am kept company by a dozing, snoring cat and the musics of the bands that drift through my mp3 player. Tonight a drizzling rain is strong enough to drive people and animals under cover. I sit in a freshly dusted and swept house with a full belly and a clean skin that hasn't yet been spoiled by nighttime sweating. The achings and complaints of the body are satisfied enough to let me mull over the state of the universe. This kind of detachedness from living is a familiar kind. I've spent most of my past life able to withdraw into this body-comfortable separateness, whether for recreation or school work.
..........with the first edit I cut out everything else I wrote that night. The universe is a complex place and truths are hard to find.
August 13, 2011
Three days ago I traveled to the Basse area to visit volunteers here, explore the eastern end of this country, and take a vacation from my own site. I have already spent two nights at the home of my friend, Remy Long. We two and also Remy's counterpart, Alajie, have worked hard to build nine beehives from three sheets of 8' x 4' plywood (as an aside, I love how plywood uses imperial measurements. It is the only thing that I have found in country that still does). The first day we sawed the boards by hand and on the second we glued and nailed the boxes together. It felt like woodshop. When Remy goes home, Alajie will be the owner of these beehives, so we are training him from the beginning--right down to how to properly use a saw to cut a straight line. The cuts were straight and well made boxes followed. Remy and I were in disbelief that we accomplished an American standard of quality (not American owned and fabricated overseas) in this country. I am satisfied with this project, and so far, with bee keeping in general. Building, cooking, exercising, and discussing with Remy continues building a friendship.
I am of roughly 100 PCVs in the Gambia who have come from many different states and arrived in different batches. Quite bluntly, these people do not know me, or I, them. It's all ok though, that is just the situation over here. I find volunteers friendly and have no reason to be exclusive of some within our community. In fact I need my fellow country men and women to help me affirm my nationality from time to time. As Remy stated during this visit, "I find myself a lot less selective about the types of people [among volunteers] that I am friends with here." For my own part, I agree with him. Openness and the relinquishing of control is required to survive here, relationships included. If I were at home, both the ability and the incentive to seek out and befriend my own kind is possible.
So I've written a long winded passage when I could have easily wrote some bullet points. oops
- There is solitude present in the inter-volunteer relationships, both at parties/large workshops, and during more intimate stays at village.
- There is solitude in being away from home soil.
3. There is solitude as being instantly VISUALLY recognized as The Outsider. Peoples faces show varied emotions when they see me, from anger to welcome, happiness to a desire to harass.
4. The two way solitude as the only American (and Westerner) in my village.
5. The solitude of being apart from the vast majority of Gambians on an intellectual level.
So what do these mean to me? What work do they do for me? Before I answer let me unpack numbers 4 and 5.
Gambians and Americans are hugely differentiated by their access to information, including information about the outside world and of different peoples. For children, parents, and grandparents, I am often the first non African that they have had interactions with. They don't know my customs and preferences (which is totally fine and understandable), but the lack of exposure makes them unaware as to how and why I may be offended at their personal and cultural behaviors towards me. Examples include condescending questions about my lack of marraige, excessive pushing to be at the front of a bank teller's line, assumed deference of women to men and of younger to the old, and lack of the idea of privacy, especially with regard to a person's desire of privacy (Imagine walking down the street and 20 random people shout the word 'Toubab' as either a statement or a greeting. This word means "light skinned foreigner". It can be said both with curiousity and anger. At least my village knows to say Bubacarr, but the same thing happens there too.).
This is true also, but to a lesser extent among Gambians who can speak more than broken English. I have become exasperated trying to explain that I wear a tengade, a large circular woven hat ( like a sombrero) because it is a good idea for white bread like me and not because I am going to herd cattle. In fact (their eyes now show disbelief) I don't even want to herd cattle.
So what do the solitudes do for me?
Whether they make me withdrawn, or more or less neurotic, they do give me a lot of time to think about what I'd like to do with my time in this body here on Earth. Hah, that's not really groundbreaking at all.
Since aloneness is the opposite of connection, solitudes are humbling me. I'm still in a young, fit, body at 23, but gosh do I think differently than I did at 19. Having only experienced poverty in the USA through writing, I now witness it daily in the extended bellies of my host family's children. At 19 I was absorbed in myself and with ideas. Ideas were more interesting than other people. So were endorphins. Now, drawing faces on my younger siblings' hands and talking in funny puppet voices teaches a different-but-equally-valid lesson than reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Endorphins are still important but I can get them also now from relaxing after a hard day of making beehives, weeding, or other work with my hands. My family's hospitality during Ramadan has amazed me. Despite being famished from a hard day's work without food or water, my host brother Salifu will never accept the first piece of bread and cup of tea to be passed during the evening breakfast. He tells me to have it. Many of my fellow volunteers are writing excellent blogs about cross cultural experiences. I encourage any readers I have to check them out. They've written extensively about Ramadan and Toubabs and they capture the living of this place. Through constant reinvention, I know who I am enough to admit what I am not or not yet. I now know what I want when I get back to the States. The how-to-get-it is yet to be decided.
Monday, August 8, 2011
I feel the oneness and the aloneness of solitude every day as an single outsider to a foreign culture and as a emigrant from my original place. I think it is important here to state that my feelings about solitude are positive, negative, clear, and muddied all at once. It is an unavoidable consequence of coming here.
Language and understanding are the strongest walls that keep me single. I will say with pride that I am quickly learning Pulaar and can survive for days in my village without speaking english. I get compliments on some pronunciations and grimaces on others. The amalgamation of languages spoken in Wallalan (Pulaar, Wollof, Mandinka, English, French) and the larger Gambia (also Jola, Serrer, Serehule and more) mean that while there are common words borrowed from each language and known to all language groups, sometimes the dialects within the same language (Pulaar, for example) are entirely incomprehensible to native speakers, much less a novice like myself. My ability to talk better and with greater critical thinking than a native toddler is tempered by my lack of familiarity as to when a single word has finer distinctions based on the others around it. That was garbled, but it secludes me. This is not my mother tongue. I feel at times more alone for getting "it" halfway than not at all.
"Garbled" is a perfect counter example. No Gambian nonnative english speaker without a college education would understand what garbled means. And even if I tried to explain with literal examples, the flavor of the word is lost in translation. Or garbled in translation. As well as not using my mother tongue, I can't speak fully with it mother tongue either.
And the really good, multipurpose words that have been adopted here are abused by their overuse. But I digress.
This is a very poor year for rain and we are now in another heat wave. Apart from a prickly heat rash that has spread over most of my back, I have had tolerable skin infections and never had a peeling sunburn. I am the only person in my village capable of having a peeling sunburn. People here don't understand the concept that the sun cooks me and I'm not exactly willing to show them.
Solitude happens in the presence of fellow volunteers. Whether the setting is a group conference or gathering, or a more intimate visit with one or two volunteers, we all take some time to ourselves, and withdraw back into our heads for a moments respite. It is no scandal to say that chain smoking of shitty cigarettes happens when volunteers meet together. From quick mental counts at gatherings and from what i know about my fellow volunteers, over 60% of us smoke, probably in part to deal with the pressures of constant solitude.
It is Ramadan now, the Muslim month of fasting to teach discipline against earthly temptations and to better the individual's relationship with God. With the communal spirit of self betterment I am not smoking or drinking alcohol for this month, though I will not take part in withholding from food and water from sunup to sunset. People's incredulous stares that I am eating, that I am not fasting, and that I am not a Muslim again set me apart. On some days I take enjoyment out of explaining that there are many different kinds of people and beliefs in the world, on other days I am depressed by the level of social rigidity that people here enforce on each other, and to a lesser extent, me.
My camera has succumbed to the dust long ago and now that the countryside is green I have definitely missed the opportunity to share photos with you all! I am sorry because there have been colors, situations, and landscapes that have reduced me to sniffling and I cannot capture the marching of time with still images right now. I see myself as an apparition that floats through the photo albums and blogs of my fellow volunteers.
This is garbled. Let me tell you of some of what I've been doing.
Agave sisalana is a spiky, spiky plant that is larger than a meter cubed when mature. And when it gets big, it is impenetrable. Bomb proof. I have been transplanting many of the small runners that come off of big plants into lines with the intention to grow a live fence.
I've lashed together 2 more stick frames for beehives with binding wire. I've played host to traveling PCVs and visitors. I've weeded a few times.
My attempts to grow cashew seedlings and even a garden with my host family have been repeatedly thwarted by goats and a lack of rain.
I'm working to bring universal nut shellers to my village to start small business enterprises.
I feel alone in my work ethic. I think that a large part of this difference is caused by the fact that even if the crops/plants that I sow all die, I will still be able to eat for the next year. It's just that not only are meeting times hard to coordinate for work, people largely don't seem to want to try new methods here. I am alone in thinking that toubobs shouldn't simply give out money.
Awhile back, Remy Long and I exchanged brief text messages of things that we miss. Here is some of the list.
Literacy in my fellow citizens
Humane treatment of animals
I've learned to just admire the thunderheads and lightning shows that build up over the South Bank and stop expecting rain. I'm in a drought.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
I am now closing my sixth month in the
So, I guess, this is a typical and even expectable feeling from one within the window of 5-7 months away. The biggest influences of this time dilation, i think, is my learning and using of the local languages here and just realizing that things take more time. Regarding the former, I know Pulaar well enough now to have my language skills complemented by the people of my village. I understand more jokes, and able to hold my own and tell a few back (although the simple ones). When i have a good language day, i feel comfortable in my current home. When the language days are hard, I feel like it has been forever since I've spoken eloquently with someone the American way (we don't speak the King's English, but Americans get the job done). I feel disconnected (along a range ) from all people back in America because of the difficulty in communicating over such a large distance. But this is supposed to be the communication age...well I will handle this topic in another post.
And now for the time.
Let me start by saying that things just take more time. All things. Especially living in a largely illiterate country and within a small community of farmers.
For example, this post was a long time coming. Some days I bike 13K to come to the internet bar where I am now writing, only to find that electricity was turned off for the day. Other days electricity would be here, but the computers would be so slow that blogspot was unable to load. Sometimes i would come and realize that this just wasn't a day where I could write. I try to keep this blog positive, but also separate from my personal journal. Right now, we are running the generator, and I will keep praying that the current holds up. So I come and put this blogging task first on my priorities at the internet bar, because although my last post feels like a week ago and 2-3 months ago at the same time, if i check my email first then i will lose momentum.
That's where my head's at. Let's go to the playground.
This garden is where i have spent and will spend a lot of time. I find myself coming here a lot sometimes just to be out of the village. It's quieter in all the trees.
It is owned by my village counterpart, Buba Jawo (of whom I am lacking a picture and will post one soon). Buba Jawo and I are finally starting to become friends as well as coworkers, and he also speaks good english. He describes himself with pride as "an agriculturist" and I believe him. He owns a garden and cashew orchard in a lot off of the main drag of the village and farms as well. Buba and I are starting a beekeeping venture together, and when this is established we will also involve more community members in their own ventures.
Last night I could not fall asleep, I think that my body's muscle pains and also my brain kept running. One fruit of the sleepless night was that I have decided to start the Wallalan Forestry Beenifit club. I will hold meetings within the village once a week to talk about gardening and forestry topics as well as beekeeping. I will strive not to claim ownership of the club though, so that it will hopefully continue when i leave. Wooops, sorry, we kind of left the playground, let's go back.
These are our first beehives in Jawo's garden.
We've had one big rainstorm after which i had to repair the apiary, but our bees will soon be transferred back to the stick and mud hive. Right now our bees are hanging out in a catcher box in a neighboring tree where it is safe and dry.
Last monday I planted my fence. HAH. I still laugh to myself when my village asks me what I plan to farm this year. Today is the fourth day after the rainstorm and the fields are a toil with people sowing their millet fields. Everybody is out in the fields by early morning. It is a nice change to wake up, walk down the street to buy the morning bread, and see and greet about 30 less people on the street. Anywhom, people don't seem to understand that i am not farming millet this year. Or corn. What about groundnuts? You aren't farming and cassava? You are farming bees? Whaat? You want to germinate some fences? Huh? Huhhh? And then i walk away smiling. Oh lord, though. come the close of rainy season, I better have put my efforts where my mouth had been talking.
My fence is an experiment. It is going to be a 100% Moringa oleifera fence, with plantings spaced at 10cm. The idea is that the trunks will grow next to each other and form a solid wall, especially with the help of pruning and the weaving of support branches. This 5m x 5m area i planted a perimeter for will house an agroforestry tree nursury. This garden is an ideal spot to experiment because it already has a chicken wire fence around the larger orchard. Goats sometimes get through, so we patch the holes with thorny branches, but cows do not enter. Goats have been my bane of existence and comic relief at the same time. I love the fact that they will soon be tied up during the rains, unable to forage the fields and eat all the seedlings that i plant. When they scream at me, I yell back that they look nice and plump and ready for Tobaski. Oh, I'll get the goat. But the goats work to get you back, even in death. For example, a goat fell down the open well in Buba Jawo's garden and died. And goat smell is a very strong smell, anyone who works with goats will tell you. And you know, even a drowned, bloated, semi-rotted goat carcass extracted from a well smells like goat. And....so does the water until we draw enough out. O daa luuba. That really stinks.
Another thing, first the dust of the dry season, and next the wet of the rainy season are slowly grinding down my electronics. The camera is the hardest hit so far. When i first came here, I lost the ability to take macro photographs. The buttons have deadened, one by one. Now I cannot look at pictures that I have taken, no macro, no light adjustment, no zooming, and my flash is permenantly set to off. BUT, the camera does still take normal pictures and it does interface with a computer so it is not all bad. My laptop though......well i leave it in misery at the Transit House in Kombo. The CPU is fried. running windows explorer crashes the thing. If i have the patience and the time, i can manage to rip a few cds or write a word document but that's about it. So I am surviving on a data stick diet.
Well...as of right now the computers are not agreeing with my loading of pictures. I hate to write but not deliver photographs. I make a trip to kombo for a celebration of american values on the fourth. Volunteers will gather there, rent a boat, and float around the river while drinking beer. God Bless. I promise to deliver photographs while i stay at the transit house.
Spend the day in Peace
I have arrived to the Kombos. I am sitting luxuriously at the PC office computers in an air conditioned room! It’s really nice after a travel day of cramped gele’s and a river crossing in the sun. I have started a pattern which has developed into a tradition to buy a coconut on my way to Kombo. So, my coconut keeps me company while I finish this post.
Walking into the Peace Corps office I just saw the new volunteer trainees that arrived a couple of days ago. This brings it home to me that I have been here awhile. Although I am still “newer” to the
AHA! I found a picture of Buba, he is the shaved head closest to the camera. Here we are at the village pump.
It rained last night. The clouds finally opened above wallalan at 3 am after a fantastic lightning show starting at sunset. The village is happy, and as I walked out towards the highway, I passed many fellow Wallalandians sowing their peanut crops. These peanut crops are the cash crop of the area, but farming 'groundnut' as it is called here, is increasingly hard because of unstable prices, unreliable weather, and environmental degredation. Part of what PC The Gambia's Environment sector is pushing is the education and spread of cashew trees as the next big cash crop. The statistic that i am told is that the sale of cashew seeds from 10 mature cashew is comparable with an entire field of groundnuts. So with the July rains I hope to plant a hundred or so cashew trees with motivated farmers.
Haa yeeso (till later).