Thursday, July 22, 2010

Women of the Gambia

        Here in Gambia women work harder than any other women I know. Every day is spent either in their gardens in the hot sun, cooking for their family along with others that happen to be there, pounding different items such as rice, cous, millet, fish, etc, washing laundry and taking care of their children among other things.
        One example in particular that comes to mind is one of our youth. Her name is Miriama and she lives in Pirang at the house where we do our weekly Bible study. Each week we arrive and Miriama is busy at work until the rest of the youth come and then she sits down for our study and as soon as it is over she is back to work. Some days we arrive and she is busy hauling water from the school that is some distance away from the house. Other days she is pounding, washing clothing or doing some other work in the house or outside with others that live in the compound. While Miriama is a prime example of a hard worker, she is by far not alone in the heavy workload that women face.

Miriama pounding rice

carrying water, even the smallest children start carrying things on their heads

        Another example is the compound that we hold studies at in Kiti. Any day of the week that we come to Kiti the women are going about their various work. The only time that I have seen them rest is Sunday afternoon where they take time to braid each other's hair.
         This isn't to say that men don't work here, and there are some very hard male workers here in Gambia, but while it is a fairly common sight to see men sitting under a tree in the afternoon drinking tea, the women are usually busy at work. This is an example of the oppression that women still face here in Gambia. While it may not be as extreme as in other cultures, men are still viewed more highly than women as a general rule. Women however, are beginning to stand up for their rights a bit as they become more exposed to western culture and see how other women live. This can be seen in areas such as clothing and marriage. While skirts are still the most common form of clothing for women, more and more women are choosing to wear pants or jeans, especially for special occasions. Women are also stepping out and saying that they want to be their husband's only wife rather than being one of 3 or 4 which is also still quite normal.
        Unfortunately this heavy workload has not come without consequence. Many of the women here suffer from back pain  and hip or leg pain from carrying water, bending over their gardens for hours at a time, washing clothes by hand, hours of pounding and pregnancies/childbirth. Each day I am thankful that I don't have to garden in the sun on days that are 110 degrees or more for a living. As I watch the women, I know that I could not physically do the work that they do and I continue to develop a whole new respect for them. I am also reminded how tremendously blessed I am to have been granted the life that I have. We wouldn't consider ourselves patriotic people, but I will admit that I am continually made more aware of how different my life would be if I had been born and raised somewhere else.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


         Recently we were blessed to welcome Elias' parents and sister into a little bit of our life here in Gambia. We picked them up from the airport early on the morning of the 23rd of June and said a bitter sweet goodbye on the July 4th. During their time here we were blessed to have some peaceful days of rest along with showing them a little bit of our daily routine. We took two days at a hotel, called Hibiscus House, that Elias and I had been wanting to go to ourselves and enjoyed sun, a pool and each other's company. We returned from Hibiscus house and the following day headed out to Kiti so that they could meet the youth that we meet with their and some dear friends that we have made by going out there. While we were there, we again encountered true Gambian hospitality by receiving cashew apples and a typical Balanta dish that they cook in this compound made with rice, fish, mango and palm oil. The compound was also in the middle of the process of preparing palm oil that would be put into large jugs and then sold at the market. From this process they are also able to make their own soap, so I explained to some of the youth that in the United States many people are trying to live more naturally and make their own things where as here in Gambia they have no choice, it is just second nature. The palm oil making process would seem quite primitive for us, for lack of a better would. No fancy machinery just fire and big metal oil oil drums with hoses connecting the ones that need oil transfered from one drum to another.
         Also while in Kiti, we showed Elias' family the nearly finished pig house project that Tiu Jon has been working on throughout our time here. When I say nearly finished I mean the outside is finished but the flooring still needs to put in. After lunch and time conversing, we had our lesson with the youth, took a few pictures and headed on our way, having to refuse the gift of a liter of palm oil that would be difficult for the Zehr's to take home, but choosing some homemade soap instead.
        Monday we borrowed the car to go grocery shopping since the five of us filled up the car without any room for the rest of the team. We make a stop at the Brikama craft market to pick up some hand carved items then headed off to the pool that is next to the ocean so that the family could experience both  at once. We then picked up our groceries and headed home, returning the car to Pirang for the rest of the team to do their shopping the next day.
        The rest of the week was spent bird watching, taking trips to the Brikama market where we get some of our veggies, when their are available, fish, chicken and almost anything else you can think of other than most American foods. Joe and Malinda (Elias' parents) along with Elias all purchased Gambian clothing that they now have to remember their time by. We were also able to make it for a morning of My Sister's Company, which EMM will soon be handing over to the local women, and purchase a few fair trade items that the women make there.
         Friday, Gary and Denise offered to let us use the car, so we took a trip down to Gunjur Beach so they could meet the compound we work with down there along with being able to see the local fishing boats. Unfortunately now that we are in the rainy season the car couldn't make it whole way so we had a bit of a walk down to the see the boats, with a quick stop at the compound where we do studies. We then walked down the beach, stopped to check out rooms at a hotel for future reference for Elias and I, then headed the long, hot trek back. By the time we reached the car we were hot, sweaty and tired and bordering on arriving late for our Bible study in Pirang.
         Saturday was our last day with the Zehr's, and since it was "clean up the nation day" otherwise known as Set Settle, we did not return to Gunjur Beach for our morning Bible study, instead, the Zehr's packed and then we spent quality time together.
        While we couldn't show them everything we do, it was a blessed time of allowing family to have a glimpse of our time here from cold showers, to hand-washing clothing, to local food thanks to our wonderful cook Agnus. We will admit, going from five down to two was a bit lonely the next day, but the blessing of family being here with us outweighed the loneliness by far.
        I wrote earlier that the goodbye was bitter sweet because their coming was amazing, but it also marked a huge mile marker for us and our time left here. We are now down to less than five months which can feel long, but when we break it down and think about all we have left to do, it is actually relatively short. Also, we only have a little more than a month before we have another blessing of family as my parents will be coming to visit in August!
        It's easy to get used to not having family around, but it doesn't take long to be reminded of what a God given gift family truly is. Here are some pictures of our time with the Zehr's:
Pool time at Hibiscus house

at Hibiscus house with the famous Journal and Republican

spending time in Kiti

palm oil process 


ready for the market

with some of the Kiti crew and the journal once again

bird watching in Pirang with our friend Armstrong

standing in the roots of the big tree in Pirang (and it is really big!) 

our last day in our Gambian clothing