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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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Solitude Revisted

August 8, 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
  1. There is solitude present in the inter-volunteer relationships, both at parties/large workshops, and during more intimate stays at village.
  2. There is solitude in being away from home soil.
Let me also add
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


Another month has gone by since I've posted to this blog.  Time passes everywhere and my recent days in the Gambia have left me better acquainted with Solitude.  

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.

Critical thinking
Live Jazz
Good Beer
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.