Thursday, December 29, 2011


Written on December 29th, 2011

Last week, on Friday December 23rd, I got into a Peace Corps car and left Kerr Jarga Jobe for the last time. I left behind my family, friends and the happy life I had built there over the past two years and now I'm here, facing the future and (of course) reflecting.

Goodbyes are always difficult. Goodbyes in The Gambia (for me) are made much more difficult by the fact that people very very rarely cry here. I on the other hand have crying as my default setting in most emotionally overwhelming situations so I knew that this fact alone would make the goodbyes here even more challenging. But really, in the weeks leading up to my departure I had very little idea of what to expect and this made the whole time very challenging and overwhelming.

Peace Corps talked to us a lot about planning our goodbyes. So I of course had a list of people to call, a list of people to visit, a list of compounds where I wanted to go and drink attaya one last time and a list of final lunch spots in Kerr Jarga to visit. But of course, when the time came my lists were only nominally helpful, because I found for me that the best course of action was to wake up every morning and ask myself, "What can I do today to find closure?" So I walked around a lot, spent hours lying on my toma's bed, played with the kids, and helped my host moms cook lunch. Some days I didn't feel like I wasn't doing anything or I would worry that I wasn't doing enough to say goodbye and have closure, that I would have regrets about the way I left Kerr Jarga; but I realized that I couldn't let doubts and "what ifs" paralyze my last days in village so I needed to just live in the moment and focus on the present.

My perfectly planned and orchestrated goodbye was completely destroyed (in an amazing way) on the morning of Friday, December 16th. It was like any other morning really, I was puttering around my house, making my bed, drinking tea, listening to the BBC, when suddenly my host fathers face appears in my window.

Baay Waly: "Ramatoulie, Ramatoulie, Ramatoulie" (urgently)
Me: "What?!!? What's going on?"
BW: "Yaay Sarjo (my second host mom who I have known is pregnant since August) had a baby."
Me: "WHAT?!?!? When?"
BW: "Just now."
BW: "Girl."
BW: "Ok, may Allah grant her long life."

I busted out of my house only to be met by my first host mom, Yaay Amie, with a mischievous grin on her face. "Ramatoulie, Yaay Sarjo had a baby....its a boy." To which I replied, "Yaay Amie do you not know the difference between men and women?"
To explain my level of excitement and my families level of teasing when I found out Yaay Sarjo was pregnant I really wanted her to have a girl so I could finally have a toma (namesake). I joked with her about eating good food and staying healthy for my toma and in my last weeks in village had been telling her to hurry up and have the baby before I left village. So she had done it, right down to the wire, but she gave birth to my toma exactly a week before I was to leave Kerr Jarga. This was incredibly convenient timing because here the tradition is to wait a week after the child's birth before you give them a name. Meaning that my toma, Ramatoulie, would be given her name on the day that I left Kerr Jarga for good.

I couldn't think of a more beautiful way to end things here, by leaving behind a Ramatoulie Joof to continue to be a part of the family and community. What perfect symmetry, to leave behind the ultimate reminder of my love for this family and village; I hope as Ramatoulie grows up she feels the same love and support that I have felt in my compound and community. Of course the coming of my toma made saying goodbye all the more difficult. What an honor that my host father and mothers love and respect me enough to give one of their children my name. And, as I made the joke often, now the compound will never be missing Ramatoulie because even when I'm gone my toma will always be there.

My last few days in village were a whirlwind. Many programs and meetings held in my honor to thank me. Many gifts given, many of which will not make it back to America because of their sheer ugliness. Many tears (on my part), prayers and thank yous. On my last night I spent one final time lying out on a mat under the stars, looking up at the sky and contemplating the beauty of a world where I can be Lindsey Green and Ramatoulie Joof at the same time and feel completely comfortable, loved and accepted as both people. I couldn't bear the thought of being away from my family for even a minute so my two teenage host sisters, Menghe and Mberry, slept over in my house on the final night. We slept in a sweaty pile of sisterly love.

Friday morning brought the naming ceremony. The men of the village came to sit in our compound and pray while one man shaved the hair off the babies head, prayed for the baby and gave it a name. Her name, of course, was Ramatoulie. The whole compound had the same mood, equally ecstatic and sad because as we celebrated my toma's entrance into the world we all kept listening for the sound of the Peace Corps car pulling up. I did pretty well as far as crying in front of everyone was concerned but there were many quick trips to my back yard pit latrine to shed a few tears in private. Yet, when the car finally came, it was like a whirlwind, people stormed into my house, grabbed all my stuff, and within five minutes the car was packed and I was standing, staring at the dirt wondering how I got to this place and how I could possibly get in the car. Of course, the Lindsey reaction to this moment of decision was to start balling. My host father looked at me, looked at my host moms and siblings who at this point were all crying and yelled, "STOP CRYING." Which just made me and everyone else cry more. But it was time to just take that leap and leave, so I did the very un-Gambian thing of hugging my moms. Squeezing my little buddy Alieu. And then I remembered my cultural sensitivity so I said goodbye to Mam Goor, my two year old who I've known basically since he was born, by picking him up, licking his right palm and blowing in his right eye. (All strategies told to me by old ladies to prevent his grief over my leaving from making him sick). So even at my most intense and emotional there is always some weird cultural experience to be had.

And that was it, I was in the car and I was gone. It was incredibly strange but I felt liberated and ready to move on to the next thing. I feel sad when I remember saying goodbye but ultimately I feel complete satisfaction with my time in Kerr Jarga and I know I will take those people and memories with me no matter where my next steps take me. Hopefully my time spent in Kerr Jarga has made me more honest, compassionate, thoughtful and connected to the world and my place in it and I only hope I can make all of them proud. Especially my namesake, "small" Ramatoulie.

A Thoughtful Tobaski

Written on November 7th, 2011

Another year and another Tobaski in the Gambia. Since it's the last I ultimately find myself thinking back to the first Tobaski in Sare Samba (my training village). Then I wasn't even one month in the Gambia and I'm fairly certain I had absolutely no idea what to expect from my time here, I didn't even know the name "Kerr Jarga" and it certainly wasn't a part of me as it is now.

I recently reread a letter my dad sent me on the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I was struck by how he described all of the energy put into Islamaphobia and fear since 9/11 as a "horrible waste." This is made crystal clear to me on a day like today. Just as we gather to feast and count our blessings on Thanksgiving, my Muslim friends and family pause today to give thanks, ask for forgiveness and pray that the coming year will bring as many blessings as the last--if not more. How selfish of us as Americans, how heartless for us to demonize a religion that holds so many of the same values as us. How self-centered and self righteous are we to believe that an entire group of people devote their lives to hating us and wishing for our destruction when it really couldn't be any farther from the truth. The people I have met--not just met--the people I know here in my heart and soul spend their days just like everyone else; thinking about their families, putting food on the table (actually, in the food bowl) and working hard to find a little security. Just as we are reluctant to generalize Christians we should check ourselves and be reluctant to generalize Muslims. My Gambian friends and family only share one similarity with those we deem to be Muslim fundamentalists--they pray to the same God, Allah--but I think we all know that's where the similarity ends.

On this last Tobaski I am reminded of how much is lost when we generalize about anything, Islam, Africa, Peace Corps, Kerr Jarga Jobe. Every thing, person, day and moment is different and unique. If we can appreciate this and revel in it then we are able to find not only peace but much greater understanding. I still struggle with this but in my time here I've realized that when I start to generalize I close off not just my options but myself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Caught Up In It All

Written on November 3rd, 2011

I haven't written a blog in a very long time, more accurately I haven't written at all--few journals, no letters and only one poem--I would attribute it to a spectacular and unique case of writer's block. It's not that nothing has happened--in fact--everything has happened and as I go through it all I haven't felt the urge to sit down and write about it. Just as you don't blog about every successful meeting at work or funny Friday night out with friends, my level of comfort here is such that I don't necessarily feel like my daily activities are triumphs worthy of a written record. I feel in fact that my sense of normalcy in my life and work is a great sign of my success here as a Peace Corps volunteer. If you're going to be a great volunteer at some point you need to get so caught up in it all that nothing and everything is remarkable at the same time.
Our Country Director, Cornish, recently sent us this poem which is think is a very accurate reflection of this evolution.

It is a progression of connection…
at first, you are in your head and it’s
American, meets other.
Then you get more grounded, and
volunteer, meets villager or teacher, meets student.
And then, if you are lucky, the simplicity settles in, and it’s
human meets human,
heart to heart.
--Meleia Egger, RPCV Malawi 2008-2010

So though I've been floating around in my Gambian bubble I have in fact been busy.
Vacation in Guinea-Conakry
I escaped the end of a steamy Ramadan and found myself in the Fouta Djalon region of Guinea-Conakry breathing the mountain air and taking in the breathtaking views, blue mountain sky and swimming in crystal waterfalls. I went with six other volunteers, including my good friends Brian and Erica. We hiked for six days, squeezed into tiny cars, ate new and different street food, swung in hammocks, played charades, told life stories, discovered markets, met a missionary, went on a picnic with her, danced at a night club with middle schoolers and bumped along the worst road ever. It was a joyous adventure in a place I probably would never have seen otherwise. It got me ready to go home to the Gambia but also got me excited for travelling after Peace Corps.
A group of female PCVs worked together to organize and run a week long environmental awareness and leadership camp for 30 middle school girls and five teachers. I chaperoned two girls from my school, Hawa and Saffie, and co-taught a couple great lessons. Most notable was a lesson to explain population growth where we counted popcorn kernels into a jar to represent the worlds population growth over time to today's figure of 7 billion. It was inspiring to see the girls making the connection between the global community and the implications of population growth for themselves and their families in the Gambia.
The week was long and tiring but it was very special to be able to give the girls an opportunity to sing, dance, laugh, play and be kids without all the adult responsibilities they usually have at home.
The Fatou Show
This year is the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps globally and the 45th anniversary of Peace Corps in The Gambia. PCTG has decided to bombard the Gambian population with media to remind them of our presence here and what the heck we are doing here. The first part of this media campaign was for Peace Corps to appear on the "Fatou Show," a Gambian version of Oprah. At the end of September many PCVs and staff went over to the studio for the live taping where we spoke in local language, danced and some PCVs admitted to having Gambian significant others. Of course the Gambian-ness of the show was not lost on us as the power went out halfway through the show and we waited in the dark for a few minutes until the generator was turned on.
COS Conference
We all know that the end is near so in the beginning of October my group had our COS conference which is a chance for PC to give us information about what we need to do to wrap things up before we leave and we get a chance to work on our resumes and start a job search. Eek!!I think though we came out of COS conference with good information and advice the economy and job market in America is just plain scary right now and it is going to be difficult. Aside from all the scary future planning stuff we organized many different fun social events, the finale of which was the Gambian Prom. We rented out a nice restaurant in Senegambia for the night--had a delicious Mexican buffet. Each person in our group toasted a different person in the group and it was very touching how everyone had such nice and genuine things to say about each other. The night ended with a group slow dance--really cheesy and beautiful! It is rare to be part of a group of people who show such mutual love and respect to each other and it has been such a treat to spend the last two years working with this group of people. It is so wonderful to say that not only have I come to love and respect my Gambian community members but I feel the same way about my PC colleagues. Coming back to America is going to be hard (don't even ask about my very poor grasp of how to speak proper English) but I feel very lucky knowing that I'm rejoining life in America with such a great support system of fellow returning volunteers.
Bike Trek
In my first year of service the HIV Bike Trek stands out as one of the best projects I did and the point at which I really hit my stride as a PCV. In July we all started talking about doing it all again, using our experience from 2010 to hopefully make the project more successful. So we expanded the Bike Trek from a one day to two day curriculum. Myself and Kelsey, another health volunteer, were selected to write a curriculum for Day 2 focusing on life skills and speaking out. We worked together for a few months drawing from our experiences teaching life skills here to write a lesson that we hoped would empower students to speak up and share what they've learned about HIV. If I do say so myself its a really strong lesson and we were very excited to see it taught on the bike trek. For the 2011 Bike Trek we had chosen to bike from Bansang to Basse and Suduwol to Basse in the CRR and URR, teaching at two schools on each leg of the trek for a total of four schools and about 700 students. always here.....the best laid plans are often not to be, and this was just another example because a week before the trek was supposed to start the President of the Gambia invited us to dinner smack in the middle of the Bike Trek (more on dinner with Jammeh later). So after a lot of shuffling we reworked the Bike Trek and taught four schools in two days. I was on team Badari in the URR and we spent four days and three nights sleeping in a classroom at Badari basic cycle school--fighting off bats and locking our door with pliers at night and working as a team during the day to educate about 120 students about HIV making sure to define sex, do a condom demonstration in front of thirteen year olds and generally being over the top. Due to the scheduling changes the Bike Trek didn't actually involve a lot of biking but it was still very powerful thinking about how many students we reached in two days and gave them information that they probably had never heard before. Just like the first time we did it, the Bike Trek for me serves as a great example of the power of PCVs working together, being creative and having a profound impact.
Because this year is the 50th Anniversary for Peace Corps many PC countries have been having celebrations to mark the anniversary. For PCTG our celebration was marked by a very special invitation by the President of the Gambia; His Excellency (H.E.) Chiekh Professor Dr. Alhagie Yaya AJJ Jammeh, to a celebration of Peace Corps held at his rural residence in the village of Kanilai. On Thursday October 27th we all piled into buses at the Peace Corps Office in Kombo and health by police escort the one and a half hour drive to Kanilai. There we were served a feast for lunch after which we went to the parade grounds where we sat in the bandstand under ceiling fans and awaited the arrival of H.E. He roared in driving his Range Rover and then enjoyed a three hour program highlighting PCVs and their work in the Gambia. He was very kind, greeting each of us personally and even giving all of us a gift of clothing. The program ended at around 11:30 pm and we then went off to enjoy a delicious buffet meal. It was a great honor to be invited to Kanilai and now I can check meeting the president of a country off of my bucket list.

So there you have it. The remarkable and subsequently ordinary life of Ramatoulie.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Re-Blogging About Baby Mamas

A fellow volunteer posted some pictures of my Baby Mama's closing ceremony.


Friday, August 12, 2011

The End Involved Many Pans

Written on August 11th, 2011

Two weeks ago, on July 29th, I held the closing ceremony for my Yow Yaay Yaay (You are the Mother) health competition, fondly referred to by me as Baby Mamas. Since then a perpetual feature of my To Do list has been writing a blog entry about it but for some reason I have met this task with reluctance. The end of this project met me with a mix of emotions--joy, pride, elation, sadness, completion, achievement and finality. It seems to me that since the beginning of my service I had been thinking about this project--this health competition--I really wanted to do it but I wasn't quite sure how to do it or if I would be able to pull it off. It took many months of thinking, planning, chatting in village and personal reflection for me to come up with a plan and project proposal. From there I had to hope that the money would come and that all my planning would pay off. I had constant moments of frustration and doubt, when things didn't go as expected or counterparts didn't do what we had agreed they were going to do I definitely wondered why I was doing all of this. Luckily though in those times of doubt I was able to remind myself that this was a project I really wanted to do, a project that I was capable of doing and that the hiccups encountered along the way were to be expected when trying to do a project like this in The Gambia.
Somehow though it all came together. On May 13th we had the opening ceremony and the ball started rolling from there. Over the next three months myself and my counterpart, Papa Sam, were able to teach six health lessons--each lesson taught twice--for a total of twelve sessions. The turnout was amazing, 120 women enrolled and an average of 85 women attending each class. I often felt I needed to pinch myself to remind myself that it was actually happening and the pieces were really falling into place. We finished our last lesson in the nick of time at the beginning of July as the first rains started to come (making it so the women spend every spare moment in the fields).
After that I engaged in a flurry of activity in order to get everything set for the closing ceremony which needed to be held before Ramadan started at the beginning of August. Preparations included going to Banjul and dropping over D 7,000 (a fortune here--about $300) on prizes and then figuring out how to get them all back across the river and up to Kerr Jarga, a definite exercise in Gambia skillz, good thing I had a strong Gambian women along for the ride. Another day found me buying 25 kgs of flour, 30 eggs and 11 kgs of sugar in Barra. Set rental and invitation letters, I felt like I was preparing for a very large Gambian wedding. The night before the big day I was so excited I had trouble going to sleep. I woke up in the morning and had so effectively delegated all the program tasks that I didn't really have much to do. I was given the task of bagging chapati (doughnut holes) which meant I basically ate myself into a chapati stomachache.
By the time 3:30 rolled around (the program was supposed to start at 4 pm) myself and the 8 PCVs that had come to support me/witness the festivities made our way to the skills center to find all of the women already assembled (THEY WERE EARLY!!!!!!!!) in their fanciest clothes. That's when I knew this was a big deal. Of course even though the women were early the set was 2 hours late so we didn't start until closer to 6. Despite the late start the program really was everything I had hoped for and imagined. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it was a celebration of the women's achievements and what they had learned in the lessons. Unlike many Gambian programs it stayed focused on the women and not on the guests who had come for the free food. 15 women presented some amazing dramas about the lesson topics and after the dramas they all received certificates and prizes (soap, attaya, OMO, mosquito coils, fabric, bowls, kettles, buckets and pans). They all accepted their prizes graciously and the fear I had that people would complain about not all getting big prizes was unfounded. And then all of a sudden it was dark and all the women went home to cook dinner and Baby Mamas was over.
The next day I woke up happy and relieved and proud of the effective and successful project I had done. I'm not usually one to heap praise upon myself but in this case I pretty much kicked ass. I set this project as a goal for myself in my service and I actually achieved it which is not something all volunteers can say they have done. I achieved this by involving the community and I empowered a lot of women in my village to make better decisions about their health and the health of their families.
Coupled with all this joy and feeling of accomplishment is the realization that this is the beginning of the end. With five months left I realize I still have a way to go but having been at this for 21 months so far 5 months just doesn't seem like a ton. Now that I've finished Baby Mamas I know I'll leave here with the feeling that I accomplished something and was able to help in a small way but that realization goes hand in hand with the fact that I'm leaving and that this experience is coming to a close. Knowing that I'll be leaving a family I love dearly, friends from whom I draw constant inspiration and a country that has taught me so much I can't help but feel a little mournful. But when I feel sad I just think about all those women with their shiny new pans, buckets and knowledge and I can't help but smile.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aaduna Si Dafa Rey

A Guest Blog by Ndeye Rohey Jassey (Courtney Sherman)
Written July 2011

It has been just over a month since I returned from The Gambia. Some days it feels like I was there just a few moments ago. There is no possible way to fully capture, with words, my experience because Gambia became a part of my soul on June 17th, 2011.
Without a doubt the best moment was seeing my dear friend's face. I will never forget the stir of emotions in the pit of my stomach as I raced through the immigration process, to be able to exit the confines of security, and run to my long lost sister. Despite some very sun bleached hair, slender figure, and tan skin, she was my same old Lindsey; the one that I laughed and cried with. The time we had lost together, since her departure to Africa, seemed to disappear in an instant as she opened her arms to me and the flood gates of our happy tears opened. There are few times in my life that I have felt complete happiness and this moment was one of them. As we embraced each other, I felt that great feeling of being at home, really at home, like the feeling you get when you plop yourself down into a chair that you have sat in your whole life and no other chair seems to feel as good or right.
I had finally made it this day, I still cannot believe that I went to Africa, but I did and now I feel like I can do anything, or at least try anything......once. Something about the smiling coast, as the Gambia is refereed to as, gets under your skin and conjures up a strength, or for me, a confidence, that I never knew I had, but now realize was just waiting for the opportunity to make its appearance.
Of course, Gambia is hot, very hot and when I was there, quite humid, but you realize rather quickly that your body can handle a lot more physical stress then you would have thought. Though my cloths throughout the trip were permanently in a state of moistness, I never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I felt very welcome in the Gambia. Strangers greeted me, and Peace Corps volunteers, especially those close to Lindsey felt like they had been life long friends. As I write this, a wolof phrase keeps coming to mind, Jamma rek, (Peace only.) I found my inner peace in Africa. The gentle and kind nature of the people was refreshing and the pace of the day suited me. There are many people that have absolutely nothing in the Gambia, but remain happy. The Gambian people seem to have an inner happiness that many Americans struggle to find. I think that it comes down to the idea, that they are all happy to be alive, to be given a chance to be a part of something on this planet, and realize that its a gift. The Gambians that I had the pleasure to meet and spend time with, left deep impressions on my heart.
I would not have had the opportunities to experience these relationships had it not been for the unwavering support of Lindsey Green. I have always known that Lindsey, (Ramatoulie) is an amazing woman, but seeing her in action, as a PCV member was incredible. She has become a part of her village, not just a volunteer, but a sister, a daughter, a friend to many. She has, as many said, become a Gambian! Her wolof is amazing to hear and allows her the ability to communicate in a way that I was quite jealous of. The wollof language is beautiful. Throughout my short eight days, I longed to be able to absorb all that was taught to me. I continue to learn new phrases and practice and hope to impress Ms. Green someday with an entire conversation in wollof. We shall see....What I love about this journey is that Lindsey and I will always have Africa; that no matter where we end up or how much time passes, I will never forget this time I have been so graciously been awarded.
When I sat down to write this piece, I contemplated describing the details of our travels, but really I would rather keep those memories close to my heart and with the others that experienced them with me. So, rather then write a synopsis of the events that occurred during my amazing journey, I hope that my love for the Gambia is conveyed and felt from all that have had a chance to read this.
All I can say, at this point, is that going to Gambia is like meeting your soul mate. You are left feeling.....complete. I thought that when I wrote this entry, I would go on for pages, but my heart and mind struggle to express the impact this journey has had on me. I recently learned a new phrase that in this moment, as I write this, seems to be fitting, so I will leave you with it:

Aaduna si dafa rey.....The world is very big.

Peace and love to all of you,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

(Good??) Grief

Written on June 29th, 2011

Today I went to my first funeral. Up until now I have avoided them because I don't like to go to funerals in America, let alone the Gambia, and Yaay Amie and Yaay Sarjo told me that it was ok that I don't go. Yesterday though when I heard that Bai Jassey(my counterpart and close friend)'s father had died I knew that I needed to overcome my fear/dislike and go to my first Gambian funeral. Usually they bury people here as soon as possible but since Baay Matar died in Kombo yesterday afternoon they had to transport the body back to Kerr Jarga so the funeral wasn't until this morning.

After breakfast Yaay Sarjo and I went over to the Jassey compound. The men were sitting outside the compound under the mango tree and all of the women were sitting inside the compound. Most of the guests from other villages were sitting outside in the middle of the compound while the women from my side of the village were all in one house/behind the house cooking. Like any Gambian program food was necessary so many women had been over in the compound since early in the morning cooking. Usually I am eager to be helpful but today since I really didn't know what to expect I just sat and observed. I spent a lot of time sitting in the house with the older women from my village just reflecting and observing. We were all waiting for the body to arrive so it was definitely a tense space with people making minimal small talk etc. When people did chat it was interesting that the main thing they talked about was who was crying, how they were crying and how much they were crying. Crying is very much frowned upon here especially for adults, when an adult crys in public they are chastised and yelled at/told to stop. In America I am a bit of a crier but here I don't cry at all, I've cried in front of my host dad once and he freaked out, told me to stop and forced me to drink water. He promptly told everyone that I had cried so this public declaration of who was grieving with tears wasn't totally surprising. I was most surprised by how many different ways they had in Wolof to describe crying and how each of the descriptions were so accurate of the type of crying that I knew exactly what they were talking about even though I had never heard the vocabulary before. All this crying talk also sobered me and helped me fight the urge to cry when it arose a couple times.

When the food was ready we all ate very soberly and not with any great relish. Just as we were starting on our bowl we heard a wave of screaming, crying and wailing so we knew that the body had arrived. We promptly all lost the urge to eat. As the group accompanying the body came into the compound many women were overcome with emotion and everyone withdrew into themselves (into different corners of the hut, sunk lower into their chairs) and wept silently. It was a very jarring experience for me to see all of the strong, older women in my village, who usually are very stoic, unless they are joking or mad, so sad and clearly contemplating so many things. If they were born in this village they probably have known this man since they were born and even if they came here through marriage he was a village elder, a prominent man in village so everyone knew him and had some connection to him. It was for me just another affirmation of how connected everyone is here. After everyone had settled down the men outside, led by the imam (religious leader for the village), started to pray and eulogize Baay Matar. I have never seen the women of my village so quiet before. Every so often someone would greet or say something to their neighbor but other than that there was no joking, no laughing, no nothing. I have never seen my village so stoic.

After about thirty to forty minutes of prayer the men formed a procession to take the coffin to the cemetary to be buried. They started wailing, "Laay laay e laay laay," and walked the coffin around the compound. Everyone stood up and the women/men who had previously been so stoic lost it--sobbing and wailing. My counterpart and friend Bai ran through the house and "cried like a woman" (quote from a nearby woman) in the backyard. Another friend was beside herself sobbing while two women yelled at her to stop crying because it was Gods will and God doesn't like it if you cry. Those two images brought me very close to tears because I felt like any comfort I would give either of them would not be able to bridge the cultural gap between us. Talk about feeling completly helpless. After the men had gone all of the women went outside to sit. We all sat in utter silence until the men came back. At that point all of the women gave a charity of 5 dalasi or more to the three widows and dispersed.

Strangely enough after all of the sadness the dispersement outside of the compound was like a social hour. Greeting people who I had not seen in months from other villages and really marveling at the sense of connectedness and community I feel for this small village, even in this moment of grief; I marveled at the sense of comfort I got from experiencing mourning with them.