Everything is “xonne xonne”… Except for the Driving 

Disclaimer: I am writing this on my iPhone so try not to judge how sloppy and potentially ratchet my grammar and sentence structure may be.

So, here I am. Approaching my third week in training village. I can hardly comprehend that I am actually in Africa. It still hasn’t completely registered. I hope that this blog post can answer some burning questions and is worth your time, because I just biked an hour and a half to post this bad boy and attend to other business. Literally, this one is made of sweat and tears. As my PC friend quoted, “a bedong full of tears” (the buckets we carry water in).
First thing is first. What am I doing? No, I am not single handedly saving the planet, fighting off lions or living an episode of Survivor. What I AM doing is Pre Service Training (PST). To give the quick version low down, I spent 3-4 days (I honestly can’t remember) in Philly, jumped on a plane, traveled a total of 36 hours to the capital of The Gambia, stayed there for about a week training at the PC head office, got in a jeep and proceeded to be dropped off at a little Sarahule village compound with my new family until December’s swear in day. God willing. Whew. So here I am, living in a compound of 11 people who speak a language that I heard for the first time the day I was dropped off. Good news everyone. Two weeks in and I am doing just fine.
PST is the beginning of essentially everything. There is a lot to it, but I’ll keep it simple by giving you an idea of a normal day in Sarahule land.

5:00- either a donkey, rooster, or the mosque’s call to prayer wakes me up.

6:00-8: wake up, work out, take bucket bath, greet EVERYONE, morning chores, walk to Aja’s compound (my language teacher)

8-10: language

10:30-11:30ish breakfast

11:30- 1:30 language and applied language

1:30-2:30 lunch

2:30-5 Go home, practice with family, decompress, fetch more water, take another bath, chill for a sec, chores

5-8:30 either do a practice project (build a garden, tippy tap, or who knows what) or take some personal time

8:30ish dinner

9:00ish study, tutor the girls, or (hopefully) be getting ready to sleep
So yes. Language, culture, language, culture, language, culture, and more language and culture. It’s all fantastic and definitely one of the most challenging things I have ever done.

(Above pictures are “tippy tap” hand washing stations we created for our families)

Next order of business. What is “xonne xonne”? This is a Sarahule term for “slowly slowly” and indeed, this is the root of the Gambian culture. Everything gets done, just very, very slowly, and no one is ever in a rush. This is a drastic change from Stephanie Carey life, but it is refreshing and encouraging because my language is definitely developing xonne, xonne. The driving on the other hand? Well it makes up for Gambians stigma for being late all the time.
Out of 34 people, my counterpart Camille and I were chosen for the Sarahule language and so it is just us two in our village. Never have I ever experienced such patience, acceptance, and encouragement in the capacity that I am experiencing here.
Last week, Camille and I participated in our village’s naming ceremony. Like Mulan, I was dressed and Gambiafied by the women of my family from my head to my toes. This was interesting. I received my new name in front of the village, Isatue Kuhuballe (after my paaba’s late grandmother), and our village alkalo (mayor figure) officially made the announcement of our being a member of the community. Indeed, they really do treat us as such.

There have been some adjustments. Some big and some not so huge. These include, but are not limited to:

-Living in a mud hut with a thatched roof and a family bigger than 4 people… not to mention all of their extended relatives. My home is adorable and cleaner than I could have ever imagined.

-Sweeping my home 3-4 times a day to keep it “bug free” (ha), less dusty and food particle free.

-Taking 3-4 bucket baths a day for cleanliness and general heat relief.

-Yes, I do pee in a hole in the ground. My squats are coming into good use here.

-Carrying/fetching water from the near by well. You are allowed to imagine Stephanie carrying large jugs of water on her head because that is an entirely accurate picture. I am no good at it and getting it on my head is a challenge every time, but TRUST ME, it is much easier than trying to carry the jug.

-The night time bugs, bugs and more bugs. They are in my food, in my bed, in my ears, in my nose, in my eyes, and in my dreams. Last night a cockroach ran over my foot ( not in my house) so yeah…my phobia of bugs has been psychologically flooded out of me.

-Women’s roles. Maybe I’ll post a separate blog post about that sometime.

-My change in diet. I am now on an all carb diet essentially. Every day is carb surprise. This is another topic for another post.

-THE HEAT. Holy hotness.
Really, I could go on and on, because everything is different, but not in a bad way at all. My perspective is molding, altering, and changing every day. Relationships, culture, and essentially every day survival is inspiring and challenging.
My village mate, Camille, recently commented on reading John 4 and about the story of the women at the well. She quoted, ” I have a whole new understanding of the everlasting water that Jesus provides”. Fetching water day after day here is challenging and physically impossible to do on your own. Being in a place where water is so precious and my thirst here is never quenched really has given me a new perspective on “everlasting water”. Without Him, I would really be forever thirsty, searching on my own, my spiritual water always contaminated, and never being able to get that darn bucket onto my head. I’ve heard this story and analogy countless times and yet, The Gambia has provided me with a new perspective that I never imagined having. My faith has never felt so precious and pure water has never had such meaning.
Well, I should be done rambling, because I could honestly go on forever. My mind is exploding with stories and observations. Until my next ramble, I will finish with this.
I dearly, dearly miss my family, my love Aron, and my friends. If you ever want to call me, contact my mom or aron for the deets if you know these wonderful souls. Lastly, if you are in the situation, PLEASE be thankful today that you have a food choice and the option for proper nutrition. Dear reader, please, eat a salad for me.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Marilyn says:

    Wow! I’m looking at the collage of school photos from kindergarten to 12th grade wondering where the time went. You are such a beautiful person, my dear! Thank you, Lord, for letting Stephen and me raise your daughter, Stephanie!


  2. margaret minkin says:

    You look like a princess in your naming ceremony and your hut is so cute! You must have a wonderful host family. The tippy tap is great, such a simple design but so useful. You may not be “saving the planet” but sanitation definitely saves lives! Thanks for biking in that heat to share! Miss you! -Margaret


  3. Margaret Minkin says:

    Your family must be really kind and thoughtful! You looked like a princess during your naming celebration and your hut is so cute! The tippy tap you built is such a simple design but so useful. You may not be “saving the planet” but you are definitely helping to save lives with this sanitation device. One day you’ll have to build me one when we go camping! Miss you! Love, Margaret


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