Tabaski

ALERT-Graphic Animal Slaughter Material to Follow. Turn back if Squeamish!!! Follow this link to see the less graphic photos

Tabaski or Eid al-Adha  (“Festival of the Sacrifice”), also called the “Sacrifice Feast”, is the second of two Muslim holidays celebrated worldwide each year, and considered the holier of the two. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to God‘s command, before God then intervened sending his angel Jibra’il (Gabriel) to inform him that his sacrifice had already been accepted. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.

-Thanks Wikipedia

Now that that lengthy explanation is out of the way I can tell you how I spent my Tabaski.

I was invited by counterpart and friend Foday Drammeh to spend Tabaski with him and his family.  the best (or worst depending on who you’re talking to) part of Tabaski is the slaughter of the ram. Not only it is religiously significant in the Muslim faith it also mean that there ‘s meat. You see most days there isn’t any meat and very little protein available for the whole family so this holiday is nutritionally significant as well as religiously important here in The Gambia. Oh and we get to slaughter a ram.

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I named him Tabaski
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Facing east for the slaughter
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I didnt know this little guy was going down too or else I wouldnt have let him watch his sheep friend go down

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Brother/cousin bonding. Only men slaughter the ram
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Foday is looking at the Camera.

Tatai is the one bending over pretending to help. He just wanted to be in the picture. He said he wasnt dress for slaughter.

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Had to move from the sun

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Off to the leather man

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Fin

Meet My Counter Parts- Abdoulie Manneh

So as every volunteer knows, good counterparts are hard to come by. You have to find someone that isn’t hindered by familial responsibilities and is willing to listen to you. They  have to be willing to try something new without immediate beneficial results and often with the rest of the surrounding discouraging them and telling them that whatever they are trying is hopeless.  That why I’m so fortunate to have two dedicated individuals who are willing to stand out and even be mocked just to improve their lives and hopefully the community.

This is my friend and counterpart Abdoulie Manneh. He is married with 2 sons and a baby of unknown sex on the way (no ultrasounds in the bush).

 

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At the Gender & Development training. His first time with a fork & knife btw
He works with a community based organization (CBO) called the Tumana Association for Development as a community out reach worker. His primary roles and responsibilities are liaison between the local bank and the villages in the district. He creates their accounts with the bank, manages their savings and deposits, and helps procure loans. The amazing things is that that he does this by hand without out the work of computers and most of the clients are illiterate so all forms and monetary records for over onehundred villagers are kept up by him. He also goes village village meeting primarily with women to educate them on health issues, like breast feeding and healthy food choices. A few months ago I took him to the Gender & Development training where we learned about gender issues in the Gambia: contraception myths, birth spacing, gender inequality in The Gambia, child development, etc.

 

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That’s the U.S. ambassador to The Gambia

 

Braids of The Gambia-Tabaski Edition

Before I came to The Gambia one of the things I was most curious about the different hairstyles that people do here. You see the usual corn rows and ponytails but some the styles I’ve seen here I’ve never seen in the states. I’m only 26 and I haven’t seen everything but still…why haven’t I seen these styles in the states yet? These girls are gorgeous and rockin their hair and new outfits for Tabaski.

So weave aside, except for a few pics, here are some completely natural hairstyles.

Sorry about the quality but these ladies are camera shy. Stuff about cameras taking your soul if you look directly into them…tobaski-hair-17tobaski-hair-16tobaski-hair-3tobaski-hair-2tobaski-hair-14tobaski-hair-13tobaski-hair-12tobaski-hair-11tobaski-hair-10tobaski-hair-9tobaski-hair-8tobaski-hair-6tobaski-hair-4

Meet My little Sister Umi

Umi is 14 years old, the oldest girl out of my host mom Fatoumata’s 6 children, and my first little sister ever. She’s sweet and kind and like any teenager she disappears to who-knows-where with the cool kids after her chores are done.

 

First let me give props to all the big sisters out there who have no choice but to have their little sister follow them around at the most inconvenient time, tell them things them don’t care about, and just generally bother them when they aren’t in the mood. I feel your pain now.

Big sister woes aside, Umi is one of the few children in  my village who wants to go to school and want to learn to read an write. She practices a few hours a day with whatever pens or pencil nubs she can find and paper I’ve usually supplied her to practice her alphabet because she’s still at kindergarten level. The sad thing is that someone so dedicated and smart is not allowed to go to school because my host father doesn’t like the Western schools here and mostly because she’s  girl. Most people like my father don’t see the point of educating a girl child because you don’t need to be smart to cook, clean, and pop out a baby every year. The only thing being smart and educated does is give you the tools analyze your world and yourself. But we cant have that because then women will start thinking and making decisions, and then what will their husbands do?

Yeah, school is compulsory here and education is free but that doesn’t mean the rules are enforced or that parents care. Don’t get me wrong, parents here love their children like any half-way decent parent should but most don’t see the value of education. This is the part of early foreign aid requiring conversions to Christianity for children to attend school and the push for Western values over Islamic values in a culturally insensitive way over the years. This has lead to a distrust of schools in general, Western schools in particular,  that keeps children in the fields and out of school because parents want to raise their children their own values that they feel aren’t at these Western schools.

 

There are success stories and there are exceptions where girl children persevere and go to school. I know because I’ve me these amazing women but the sad reality is that no matter how much I help her its not the same as school. Her chances at an education a near non-existent and she’ll probably be married in the next two years and be the property of her husband.

Umi will not be a success story or an exception to the rule

Men’s Work: Fatherhood, childcare, and wage slavery…if they can find work

Men in the Gambia WORK. while they may not have the monotanous daily chores that women do they certainly do their fair share (some of the time). Before I exemplify how culture gets in the way let me start out by telling you about the back-breaking work that the men of The Gambia do.

Men in The Gambia work primarily on their farms doing all the work that 21st century industrial machinery does but with poor quality tools, hunched over, their backs to the hot African sun.

When they are not farming most men have little choice but to become day-laborers for very little pay. For example, and I’ll do this in USD so its more relatable.

Say a bag 25lb bag of rice cost $1000. That bag of rice will feed your wife and 3 children for a month.

You go to work (if there is work that day). You work from sunrise to sunset and you only make $30-$35 per day. That’s barely enough for  a bag of rice.

Now add clothes, shoes, tools for your farm, medical bills, and anything else that might come up.

What if you become sick and you cannot work and your wife’s garden is failing?

You must buy extra food and medicine. Where does that leave you? No where and with nothing. That is reality of many of the men here and this is IF they can find work. There are so many men and their families depend solely on the food that they grow so sustain themselves and its never enough.

(I know that similar things are happening in the U.S. and many of you will be able to empathize).

In my previous post about women I mentioned that there is a culture of money separation between husbands and wives despite the cultural/Islamic decree that husbands should take care of their wives. It leads to a culture where men do not want to spend any money on their families beyond a bag of rice because “women are responsible for their children” and wives don’t want to contribute because “he should be providing for me”. It a vicious cycle that is so deeply ingrained in the culture that I only bring it up because its there and its a problem. I don’t have any suggestions for culturally appropriate solutions beyond education.

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Men and childcare is  a dicey subject here in The Gambia. Fathers here love their children but are often limited by culture in their expression of it. In America some take it for granted that it is becoming more normal to see fathers with diaper bags and strollers, at Parent/Teacher conferences, in the E.R. with their sick children. All of these things in the Gambia are seen as taboo. If a man were to take his children to the hospital he would be seen as unmanly and as having a wife who “does not care”. He will be reprimanded and gossiped about the whole community and in other villages. His reputation may be damaged, in a place there community is stressed over the individual, this could be devastating to him and his family.

In the compound of my host family my host dad, Musa Dampha, is fairly engaged with his children, more so than many fathers that I’ve seen in The Gambia. I won’t say it is because they don’t care but most likely because they been reared in a culture where it is considered unmasculine and strange to be overly involved with your children. If a father puts his children to bed at night or even bathes them it is seen as strange.

It’s not just men either. Women are responsible as well. If a man were to take his children to the hospital his wife would be pressured by the women in the community. She will be called a bad mother and cowed into submission by the women of the village into reprimanding her husband for his actions. Its a system, as cultural systems tend to be, where no one can win.

Women’s Work: Motherhood, child care, and domestic slavery…

Around the world women WORK. They are often totally responsible for the domestic duties of the house hold as well as any duties pertaining to the children.  I don’t know about anywhere else in the world (except the U.S.A. of course) but that constitutes a lot here.

Here’s the schedule for my host mom that’s reflective of most of the women in The Gambia. Keep in mind that whenever she fetches water she is carrying 5-10 (40-70lbs) on her head, usually with a 2 yr old strapped to her back, and she is walking a quarter mile from the hand pump back to  our compound. It takes her 3-4 trips to supply the compound with water and she occasionally has to go back for refills. Don’t forget that she cooks over an open fire and it takes 1-2 hours to cook anything and everything is done by hand. All with a 2 and 4 year old in tow (most women have more).

7am-8:30- making breakfast (that was prepped the night before)

8:30-11ish- water fetching. Remember 40-70lbs on her head with a baby on her back

11ish-2pm- Lunch preparation and sweeping the entire compound by hand.                                            (wrangling toddlers)

2-6pm- She goes to her garden to wash laundry (by hand) and water her plants.                              She  gets her water from one of the wells throughout the garden. They are                          shallow, maybe 3-5 yards deep, and she gets her water with a rope and a                            bucket.

6-7:30- Making dinner, fetch more water if she has to, wrangle toddlers.

Dinner is between 8-8:30.

8:30 until…- wrangle toddlers, prep breakfast, go to sleep and prepare to do it all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against motherhood, I just have an issue when motherhood is stressed as the thing women can and should be doing.  Unfortunately, that is a hard reality here in The Gambia. Most women here have zero aspirations or even hope beyond motherhood. The culture is against them working outside of the home because of the “need” to separate men and women and the belief that women should not work outside of the home because it may take time away from their domestic duties. This leads to barriers from men and women who dont want a business-minded woman to succeed and lets not even get started on the familial begging culture that exists here that can make it difficult for anyone to succeed. That is a post all on its own.

Let me first explain the thinking behind this rationale even though most of us are probably familiar with it. In an ideal sense the women in Islam, as practiced in the Gambia, are supposed to stay home, tend their garden, and their children. They aren’t supposed to NEED to go anywhere to do anything else. Sound familiar? Their husbands are supposed to provide everything they need for their wife/wives.

Now lets talk about the reality of living in the Gambia. For most families there is no option other than for many of the women to supplement the family income engaging in some kind of income generating activity. Some women sell small food items on the street or sell the produce from their gardens.If their husbands work, it is usually unsteady and does not pay enough monthly to provide food let alone clothes, shoes, and the other costs associated with raising a family. Its up to all of the adults, if possible, to provide for the family despite what cultural ideals dictate.

As  consequence for the need for women to work despite cultural disapproval, system has evolved, or maybe it was always so, where most of the time women and men do not share the money they earn. Many times their husbands cannot provide totally for them and the children or they are simply irresponsible and it s not even in a women’s best interest to share her income if she wants her children to even have shoes. Even more unfortunate is that the fact that the money they earn often pales in comparison to the paltry sum that their husbands make.

This system has degenerated into one where there is very little fiscal co-operation between men and women where there should be considering the levels of poverty. Men think women shouldn’t be making money but their money is theirs but they don’t spend it on their husbands so they are selfish. Women think that men are selfish because they only spend their on them unless they beg. Keep in mind that I’m just describing general attitudes and not the entire populations. Its a crazy system here.

Stay tuned  for the next Article. “Men’s Work: Fatherhood, childcare, and wage slavery…if they can find work”

Germ Theory: And Why We Should Be Grateful For It.

 

Theory  scientific definition-  a coherent group of tested general propositions,commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for class of phenomena:

Einstein’s theory of relativity.

often confused with

Hypothesis (scientific)- 1.a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.

2.a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument.
3.the antecedent of a conditional proposition.
Theory & Hypothesis in common usage– a mere assumption or guess. <——————————–Not a scientific Theory
(Thanks Dictionary.com)

 Germ Theory-in medicine, the theory that certain diseases are caused by the invasion of the body by microorganisms, organisms too small to be seen except through a microscope. The French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, the English surgeon Joseph Lister, and the German physician Robert Koch are given much of the credit for development and acceptance of the theory.

(Thanks Encyclopedia Britannica)

Germ Theory– In technical or scientific use, Theory, principle, and law represent established, evidence-based explanations accounting for currently known facts or phenomena or for historically verified experience: the theory of relativity, the germ theory of disease, the law of supply

(Thanks Dictionary.com)

So for those of you that read the above definitions germs are a theory and will continue to be so. Hey maybe in 2134 well discover that little martians inside micro organisms cause illness but until then its the best we got.

Any way, as to why we should be grateful for our knowledge of Germ Theory let me tell you. Its the reason that even the most uneducated person in America could tell you why washing your hands before you eat is a good thing (even if they don’t so it themselves).

People here have no concept of germs and how to mitigate the transmission of germs. Many people here still believe there are witches that make you sick or that illness just happens. They don’t understands that vectors that spread disease. In the real world this translates into gaping wounds being left uncovered to fester and rot, preventable diarrhea, and other infections that would never happen with a little soap with water and a clean rag.

So far I’ve seen children with 3rd degree burns just walking around with charcoaled skin, festering sores, and minor cuts turn into big infections. Just from a lack of basic first aid knowledge like.

These things may be small but they translate into bigger problems like Pink-Eye outbreaks…

In training village about 1/3 of everyone (around 2000 people) got pink-eye because they would shake hands with infected people and then NOT WASH their hands and then wonder why they have pink-eye.

cleaning a wound with soap (or some kind of disinfectant)

keep the wound covered until it heals…

Basic stuff.

So be glad you live in a place where if you slice your hand open you don’t just leaving it uncovered and then go pet the dog.

That people don’t sneeze in your face or wipe their nose on a rag and then clean and apple with it…

Yes, be very grateful that you live in a place where the local doctor washes their hands between patients.

Get down on your knees and give thanks to Louis Pasteur andJoseph Lister for modern attitudes towards cleanliness.

Culture & Family in The Gambia P2: Child’s Play

This is my continuation of observations about culture and family (C & F) in The Gambia.

When we think of children playing  most of us picture children playing in the streets or in a field with balls and bats.  Or inside with video games, dolls, or figurines. With the exception of the layer of dirt that all children seem to acquire when playing, that is a very Western image of children and what children’s activities should look like.

There are are stuffed animals and plastic toys in The Gambia and I do see children with them but not often. Mostly I see them playing imaginary games with sticks and odd bits of junk lying around (sometimes its cardboard other times its rusted pieces of metal…)

The primary issue here with children and the things they choose to play with is that it is often with dangerous junk like old leaking batteries or razor blades…(I cant tell you how many children I’ve seen under the age of 2 walking around with razor blades in their mouths)

They also play with trash a lot because there is no sanitation job here. No trash men/women, weekly trash pick up from the curb. There is no system in place here for that so people pick random (and usually inconvenient and dangerous) places to dump their trash.

Now before you jump to conclusions and start blaming their parents remember that this is how they grew up as well. People here LITERALLY do not know any better. Remember that post I did about change….