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.