Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Secret...This Aint No Vacation

Okay, I admit it, I have something that I really need to get off my chest.
Alright, here it goes: I'm going to be taking a little trip.
Fine it's more than just a trip, I'll be changing lifestyles.
No longer will I taste the chill of the icy Wisconsin air, it' time to sweat.
It's time to get my hands dirty, you know, experience life on the ground, the way I like it.

I've done enough theoretical rambling in the past, now I need to see first hand how the world really works. That is why I'm embarking on a mental and physical excursion known by many as the Peace Corps.

I depart in just about one week for a country called The Gambia, located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. The Gambia is a small thin strip of land (as far as countries go) that penetrates into mainland West Africa. Running the length of the country is a river of the same name. It's safe to say that when you're within the borders of The Gambia you're never too far from the river, and thus life.

There are a number of ethnic groups living in The Gambia, the largest of which are the Mandinka, Wolof and Fula tribes each with their own distinctive tongue. Though the colonial language is English (in a region surrounded by French speaking countries), most people - especially those living in rural areas - primarily speak the tribal languages, which vary depending on the district. I wont know which language I'll learn until I get there.

The Gambia is generally a stable country of nearly 1.7 million people. Most are united by their faith in Islam, which accounts for roughly 90% of the population. I've heard of very little animosity between Muslims and the other faiths, which includes Christianity and indigenous beliefs. Word on the street is that it's pretty common to be woken up by the daily call to prayer and I've been advised to bring ear plugs. Personally, in the past I've found calls to prayer quite melodic and far from irritating, but it may have something to do with the proximity I am from the mosque. We'll see.

For my position I have been assigned the role of health and community development volunteer. First, I will undergo ten weeks of intensive language, cross-cultural and skills training, then I will settle down at a permanent site for the following two years. Once I become adequately integrated into my new community I will assess the health needs of the surrounding area. I may partner with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) or assume the project of a previous volunteer. This often entails educating community members about hygiene, sanitation, nutrition the prevention of maladies like HIV/AIDS and malaria. I hope to employ teaching techniques that are familiar to me as well as other methods that are more traditional to the region like the use of folk drama. I could also end up working in a health clinic, organizing information technology (IT) trainings for youth or promoting strategies for local entrepreneurial success and income generation. My tasks may include any combination of those activities and others I've probably neglected to mention.

What it comes down to is that I will have to wait and see what the situation is when I get there. I don't pretend to know it all already and I can only hope that the facts and figures I've provided above are somewhere close to accurate. This will be a stimulating yet chaotic experience for me, but I believe I'll abide.

My eyes will be wide open.

(I will follow this post by addressing a few questions I've been confronted with since applying to serve a Peace Corps volunteer over a year ago. If you have any questions that you would like me to answer please comment on this post or send an email to


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