Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 28

The weekend was uneventful. I have a modest list of tourist activities I want to do before I leave the country, but they generally require more planning or guarantees of better weather. I’ll have plenty of time for these things once the rainy season passes in a few weeks.

Saturday was my first exposure to “Cleaning Day”. One Saturday a month, citizens are not to leave their house until 1pm. The streets are cleaned that morning and people are supposed to clean their houses. Huh.

I spent Saturday afternoon walking down the beach and playing in the water for a few hours. I was constantly approached by bumsters and women selling nuts and fruit but, notwithstanding that, it was a lovely afternoon. Staring out into the ocean, I considered myself very lucky to be here. That evening, several coworkers went out for dinner on Kairaba Avenue. Chicken cordon bleu never tasted so good. We went back to the Aquarius nightclub afterwards. Around here, people don’t start showing up to clubs until 12 or 1 in the morning. They may go till 4 or 5. There is no such thing as “last call” and there doesn’t appear to be a drinking age. I’m told that it might have something to do with the large number of Muslims here and the fact that a lot of people don’t drink when they go out. My nocturnal nature has been turned on its head since I arrived, as I typically go to bed as early as 9:30 or 10. When it gets dark, and there’s not much to do, your clock shifts.

On Saturday, I also finished reading “My Life”, the autobiography of Bill Clinton. I haven’t consistently read recreationally in a long time. Wanting to remedy that, and anticipating lulls of activity on my trip, I headed to Chapters to buy a boatload of books to take with me. Unfortunately, the limiting factor for luggage ended up being the flight from Frankfurt, and I found myself taking out clothes and books, weighing and re-weighing my suitcases, as I packed in Edmonton late on August 4th. I loved the Clinton book. I enjoyed the stories of his time in college, his Oxford days, law school, the various campaigns, and Middle East negotiations. The book also served as an affirmation of my liberal views and of public service as a noble pursuit. I find myself ideologically reinvigorated and determined to forge my way in public life. My literary adventures now transport me several thousand kilometers to the land of the Thembu people and the start of Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”.

Today is Nomination Day in the Gambia. The Presidential election is on September 22nd, and a cursory glance at a local newspaper on the receptionist’s desk tells me that three people are challenging the incumbent. I watched on television as one of the contenders, with a crowd of supporters, marched down Kairaba Avenue to the election office, submitted his nomination papers, gave a speech on the need for fairness in the election process and an independent media, and spoke with reporters. At this point, I don’t know too much about how these elections work. Some excitement arose from the alley behind our office, and my television viewing was briefly interrupted to watch, at a safe distance, as some neighbourhood children beat down and killed a snake in the grass.

Monday, August 28, 2006

August 25

As usual, the power cut out again last night. It’s getting to be a regular occurrence, both at work and at home. My roommate and I ended up discussing money. She showed me an example of a Nigerian 500 naira bill, which seemed greenish and looked like normal money. She also showed me a Zimbabwean demand cheque she had for $10000 dollars. I think it was like a money order but with no identified purchaser. It was plain, on white paper, with only stains on the back. I showed her a Canadian five-spot, and some coins, including the tooney, complete with stories about the early days of that particular coin. We chatted about her attempts to draft an action plan for a Darfur event back home and her masters program. When she headed to bed, I sat in the dark for a while, accompanied only by my thoughts and the dancing shadows cast by a dwindling candle. I relaxed, listened to songs on my iPod, and thought about the simplicity of life when you have no electricity, no light, no responsibilities, no connection to the hectic world outside Gambia. I thought I might write some music while I’m here, something I haven’t done since high school. The rain started pouring outside, I felt content and serene, and watched the candle until it burned out.

A bright light suddenly blinded me as I tried to sleep a few hours later. Wha…? Oh. Power’s back. Note to self: remember to turn off my bedroom light before I go to bed. Only in Gambia would previously cut power resume during a storm.

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 23

I’ve been in Africa for just over two weeks now, which is a good time to take stock. Despite the various complaints and difficulties in adjustment, life is pretty good. I’ve largely gotten used to the heat and humidity to the point that, when I went running last night, the overcast sky and the wind felt cold (it still must have been about 25 degrees). I’ve gotten used to handling the taxi drivers and ignoring the bumsters in the tourist areas. I think people in and around my neighbourhood have gotten accustomed to seeing me around, walking to and from work, shopping and jogging, because they don’t really take notice of me anymore. I’m jogging three days a week and averaging about 2 liters of water a day. The main problem I’ve had, I think, is seeing that Gambia is an interesting place to visit, and in which to relax, as a tourist for about two weeks, but it’s more difficult for long-term living, especially if you’re by yourself. There’s not much to do and there doesn’t appear to really be a community life to integrate oneself into, no place to really hang out and nothing to really get involved in. For now, though, I still have books to read, beaches to enjoy, and touristy things to look forward to. Work will probably keep me bush in October and November. By December, I figure I’ll be bored and ready to go home, filled with a greater appreciation for the dynamism of western life.

A lot of locals seem to think that I’m British. A waiter, my Abuko guide, and others. It can’t just be an accent, because I also got a “Run, Englishman!” when I was jogging. Maybe I should create an alter-ego for myself while I’m here. I could be a Baron. It would be cool to be a Baron. Or maybe a Duke.

Africa is by no means homogeneous. Apparently, people in Morocco, Algeria and South Africa often don’t see themselves as being part of Africa. And apparently South Africans don’t really know much about their neighbours or geography or Africa outside their borders.

Morning tea at work has introduced me to pleasant beverage options. Having never been much of a tea drinker, I’ve started to enjoy the green tea popular here, with a bit of milk. I’ve also had the opportunity to try a drink from the roselle plant called wanjo in Gambia or jus du bissap in Senegal. It’s a sweet, red drink that tastes like a fruit punch. Another is called baobab, and is a creamy, white, lightly sweet drink similar to the Sobe energy drinks back home.

Things that have been in our house: spiders (including a jumping variety), termites, mosquitoes, these little flies that apparently come out after the rain and which some Gambians apparently fry and eat, something that I think was a grasshopper, normal ants, crazy massive ants, these big black bugs I haven’t identified, and a couple of geckos.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 21

Fun-filled weekend. Friday’s a short day, where we get out at 1pm, so I took the afternoon to hit up the market in Serrakundha, Gambia’s largest residential neighbourhood. I succeeded in making the shared taxi work to Senegambia, then, for the first time here, tried the bus to my final destination. “Bus” is perhaps too generous. What Gambia has is a number of sweltering beat-up vans, packed with a dozen or so people, which travel along generally prescribed routes, with a guy either hanging out the door or shouting out the window the van’s destination to those walking along the side of the road. As it travels along, it picks up and drops people off pretty much anywhere.



Serrakundha was a great place to visit. Blocks and blocks of bumpy dirt roads, endless stalls and people on the ground selling everything from fish to pirated CDs, hordes of people walking around, cars finding their way through the foot traffic, alleys displaying slum living conditions. It was a crowded and hectic market, the residential core of Gambians in this area. The conditions there were much poorer than Brusubi, but it was great to experience the hub of African life here. I also managed to pick up some souvenier crafts.

On my way home, again by bus, I decided to stop at Senegambia and chill by the beach for a bit. I was already outside, the weather was nice, and I had nothing else to do. Walking along the beach, I started chatting with a couple of drummers from a nearby beach bar. I stopped in to the bar and listened to the drummers pound out a few songs. I heard the University of Alberta West African Drum Ensemble play at President Samarasekera’s installation concert, loved them, and wanted to hear as much music as possible when I came here. I may yet take some drumming lessons.

Saturday I decided to hit up the Abuko Nature Reserve. The trip was pleasant, however, given that it’s the rainy season, two problems occurred: because the animals aren’t forced to come to the main pond for water, you see less of them; and it started pouring halfway through my tour. Nevertheless, it was nice to spend a few hours walking around in nature, away from civilization. It was like a tropical River Valley with monkeys. The reserve has free-roaming monkeys, snakes, birds, antelope, etc., and you just walk on this unprotected trail through the park. You’ll walk along, and there will be a bunch of monkeys a few feet away from you just doing their thing. Sadly, I didn’t see any antelope, snakes (maybe for the best, since they have the poisonous ones too) or crocodiles, so I’m thinking I may return in December. In the wild, I saw two kinds of monkeys. In the rather ghetto nursery, I saw caged monkeys, baboons, hyenas, parrots, and long-tailed sparrows. They apparently had lions at one point which ended up escaping for a time, which is kind of funny. I also was completely useless at spotting the birds my guide tried to point out to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m colour blind, incompetent with binoculars, or both.



Sunday night I went with my roommate to a beach further up from Senegambia. Apparently, every Sunday night, thousands of Gambias congregate on this beach to party. We walked along through the throngs. There were people playing in the water, dozens of soccer games going in the sand, music from various sources, a wrestling circle, and countless young people dressed to impress hanging out with their friends. It was a town square, a beach outing, a mall, a nightclub rolled into one. From the beach party and our subsequent taxi ride home, I’ve gained the impression that people here love raggae. We settled into a beach bar, had a few drinks, and chilled for a couple of hours. At this point, it had gotten dark and, a ways up, a DJ was playing music to a large crowd. We were going to finish up and check it out, but then the heavens opened up, as they’re want to do at this time of year, and we ended up staying under the thatched patio roof, admiring the lightning lighting up the Atlantic Ocean and the pouring rain, waiting for it to let up so we could get home.



Drivers in Gambia are crazy. As I’ve mentioned, there are something like four traffic lights in the entire country. People largely maneuver however they want, honking frequently to let other cars know that they’re there. On our cab ride to the beach, our driver almost sideswiped a car to our left who was trying to overtake us. This driver subsequently stopped his car, came to our cab, demanded to know whether the driver had a license and, when it was produced, took it and walked back to his car with it. The cab driver had to get out to get it back. With shades of Thai tuk-tuks, our cab ride home from the beach involved a driver leaning over the wheel trying to see through the rain and the dark, trying not to hit people walking along the side of the poorly lit road, occasionally wiping the fog off the front windshield. Not as busy as Bangkok, but just as crazy.

Didn’t sleep well last night. Homesick. Not looking forward to having the house to myself when my roommate returns to Nigeria.

Temperature these days: about 31, or 40 with the humidity. Apparently September and early October are the temperature peaks. After that, when the European tourists start flocking in, I’ll be enjoying a comfortable Edmonton summer, while everyone here will be freezing.

August 17

Aside from the tourist restaurants, daily eating is simple in the Gambia. I am limited by what I find in the neighbourhood grocery store and the stalls in the street. My diet is largely cereal, mangoes and bananas, rice, beans and some pasta, water and juice. An event I appreciate is our mid-morning tea at work, where we enjoy a breakfast of eggs, bread, noodles, and some sort of meat or fish. I’ve never been much for coffee or tea, but have grown to enjoy the green tea popular here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 16

I was severely aggravated on Monday night. After work, I wanted to go buy an alarm clock, so I decided to test out the “shared taxi” from the Turntable to Senegambia and from Senegambia to the Traffic Light. Rather than paying some 50 dalasi for a taxi, you share it with three other people and pay 5 dalasi. I went to the Turntable and asked around, but all the drivers said that there were no shared taxis. Finally, somebody pointed me to a group of people waiting for a taxi. I got in, and took the taxi. When we got to Senegambia, I gave the driver my 5 dalasis. He started berating me that it’s not a lot and, as a tourist, I should be paying more. I got a bit angry and said that that’s what everyone else pays. I started to look for another shared taxi to the Traffic Light, but couldn’t find them so, frustrated, I started walking. Finally, I ended up just taking a taxi for 40 dalasis. When we got to the destination, he would only give me 50 change from 100. On the way home, I didn’t even bother looking for a shared taxi, and just took one solo straight through. I was angry and frustrated when I got home, tired of the targeting. How am I supposed to live here normally for five months when I can’t get decent rates available to other people? How am I supposed to be able to go out and do stuff and see stuff and get around? It sucks to be in a foreign country and just wanting to stay at home, avoiding all the bastards who want to take advantage of you and won’t leave you alone.

Spent a quiet day yesterday. Read a lot, went for another run, watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. There's a store by our house that rents outdated videos, sells canned goods, liquor, appliances, and who knows what else. I've enjoyed watching a bunch of movies with my roommate. It's a welcome change from our television selection, which is one fuzzy black-and-white channel showing government programming in Wolof.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this, but the first time I went shopping for groceries, I noticed something interesting: booze is cheap in this country. A box of American cereal was more expensive than a liter of gin. If I hadn’t resolved to live a healthy lifestyle while here, I could have had some fun.

Just had a meeting with my supervisor to go over the work we’ll be doing over the next few months. The work descriptions sound very exciting; there will be some good experience to be had. Additionally, there will be a workshop and a Commission session while I’m here, which is excellent news. Sadly the workshop, originally potentially contemplated for Pretoria, South Africa, will be here in Gambia. Such is life.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 14

Our house has termites. It looks like a giant vein of fuzz running down the side of our bathroom door. Yesterday, I declared war on the ants in our house. They’re gone for now, but I’m sure they’ll return soon enough. Oddly enough, I’ve only seen two mosquitoes since I’ve been here.

I was awoken in the middle of the night by a giant thunderstorm. Rain was pounding down like a monsoon. It’s still raining as I type away here at work. On the plus side, it’s a lot cooler. On the down side, there’s not much to do around here when the weather is like this.

The weekend was decent. True to the Gambian lifestyle, our ride for the wedding on Friday didn’t show up until after 9, so we caught the tail-end of the celebrations. In a side street not too far from the intern house was the afterparty. Chairs were set up everywhere, a variation of African and dance music was blaring, people were sitting and mingling. It was a mixture between a wedding reception and a street party, pretty low key. The men were generally dressed fairly casually. The women wore amazingly beautiful African garb, very nice. I was the only white person there, and was approached for money several times. This is not unusual at the wedding celebrations (they give you a scarf, and you’re supposed to hand it back with money), but I seemed to be targeted. After the celebrations, we went to two bars in Senegambia. The first was a typical touristy type place, with a band playing island music and people sitting around having drinks or dancing. I enjoyed the bar, but hadn’t been feeling well during the day. I was also finding it hard to shift into the mindset of a carefree tourist, when my mind kept cynically drifting to what the rest of Gambia is really like. The second bar was a typical nightclub, playing R&B music. I enjoyed it a lot, danced a bit, felt like I was back home. There were also a lot of really young looking girls there. I’m not sure if they were just out having fun, or if there is an element of child exploitation in this country.

As I've mentioned, living in Gambia can best be described through a couple of comparisons. It’s like Bangkok, in that you’re targeted if you’re white, mainly by people who want to be your friend or wanting to take you somewhere, but it’s a lot less hectic, dangerous and interesting. Also, in Bangkok people typically want to sell you something, whereas in Gambia they want to establish a relationship. It’s also like being in a tourist country like Cuba, Jamaica or the Bahamas, but living amongst the people outside of the resort bubble. You can go and enjoy yourself in the tourist area, but you see both worlds. Driving around, you can see that there are clearly some very nice houses and people who have done very well for themselves, but that’s tempered by a lot of very poor, run-down looking houses, buildings and businesses.

Saturday I went for my first jog. It was overcast and lightly raining, which I thought to be perfect. I went running from Brusubi all the way down to Brufut by the ocean and a new hotel. Access to the beach was fenced off for the benefit of hotel patrons. The jog was nice because the road was rather quiet and fewer people disturbed me as long as I kept moving. I did run into a group marching and collecting funds for something or other. By the time I got back to the house, I was exhausted and couldn’t get up from a chair for about half an hour. All I could do was sit there, despite several false attempts to get up and have a shower, and guzzle water. Despite the overcast conditions and the rain, which made for a pleasant run, the heat and humidity still got to me. It took me a few hours to get back to normal. Lesson learned: don’t overdo it when jogging for the first time in a new climate. I can’t imagine what it would be like to run on a clear day. I’ll save my jogs for similar weather and, when dry season comes, it should be cooler.

Sunday was a great day. The weather was clear, the sun was out, and we headed to the beach. We had lunch in a resort at Cape Point. Unlike Friday, this time I resolved to start enjoying such excursions and not feeling guilty about it. If people who live in Gambia can go out and relax and live well, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to enjoy my time here as much as possible. We walked down the beach, from the nice area by the hotel, with beach chairs and such, further down, which found us in a poorer, more local area of the beach, where Gambians were playing soccer, fishing boats were moored, and a shabby-looking restaurant stood a ways away. It’s nice to be able to see both sides to get the full Gambian experience. We then went to the beach by the Senegambia hotel, which was nicer. I went and played in the water for a bit, my first time in the ocean since the Florida trip last August. It was so nice and refreshing to cool off in the ocean, to swim, to float, and to compensate for the modest shower back at the house. There is something about the ocean. I think when you live in a land-locked area like Alberta, there is a closed-in feel. The ocean brings a sense of freedom, a release from the bounds of land, a limitless opportunity. It is similar to the sense of majesty one gets from the mountains.

Washing all my clothes by hand really sucks. It is practically difficult and, now that I’ve done it, all my clothes seem to smell. It’s frustrating.

I’ve gained interesting insights into African countries so far. Nigeria is apparently a rougher and busier country. It is also the big brother in Africa, involved in other people’s business, with Nigerians found all across the continent. Cameroon doesn’t suffer from internal strife, although it has an interesting colonial history. Ethiopia sounds more advanced than I expected. It has a developed system of hydroelectricity (which Gambia could use, frankly, given that we have a big river and a lot of blackouts). Apparently, corruption is not much of a problem because it is seen as a disgrace on character, and police officers also have incentive, through promotion, to be ethical. By all accounts, their weather is like a good Edmonton summer. Judges in a lot of countries, surprisingly, seem to be hired for short terms.

Monday, August 21, 2006

August 11

Last night, in the middle of watching “Cape Fear”, I experienced my first Gambian blackout, when the electricity went out for the remainder of the night. My roommate and I chatted by candlelight, and I learned more about Nigeria and Africa, before I headed to bed. Sleeping under the mosquito tent without a fan wasn’t as horrific as I had expected. Perhaps I’m starting to get used to the weather here.

I’ve just read a judgment from the Commission based on the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s. This took me to the debate law students often have over the nature of international law, whether it is truly “law” given that it can’t really be enforced. Similarly, in the Clinton book that I’m currently reading, he discusses military intervention in areas like Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda. These two issues might lead one to believe that, because it can’t always be enforced and because it falls under the realm of politics and military might, international law doesn’t exist. What good, after all, comes from having the African Commission wag their finger at Rwanda, holding them liable of provision violations? I have to disagree. First, a document such as the African Charter is an expression of the collective beliefs and aspirations of the African people. Although difficulties always exist given the nature of some African governments, knowledge of the Charter has increased over the course of the last twenty years, leading to better judgments, better access to the Commission for complainants, and better responses from the governments. The judgments go to all the African governments and can be a source of pressure and embarrassments for perpetrators. Secondly, for western countries to stand for the rule of law in their domestic systems, it is hypocritical for them to disregard agreements they reach in an international context. Thirdly, the communications and judgments drafted are a great collection of facts and can bring issues to a public light. Fourthly, it allows a jurisprudence to be built up. Lastly, when a body like the Commission investigates the Rwanda massacres, in the framework of a pan-African agreement, from a legal perspective, with precedent and evidence, it gives a sense of legitimacy to the opinions reached and frames the violations as being grounded not just on humanitarian but also on legal grounds, that they are based on law and a proper process and not merely on the opinions and political whims of what western nations deem to be justifiable humanitarian causes. I have a lot of respect for the people with whom I work and the difficulties they often face.

I've had some conversations about malaria, and bouts that people have experienced as children. While I can’t be certain, I think this gives some insight into the AIDS crisis. Because people around here are exposed to so many things, it becomes easier to just accept them and not really think about them too much. When I think about my malaria pills, my hot mosquito tent, my avoidance of tap water, and so forth, it’s easy to understand why people would want to just forget about all that and simply lead a normal life without worrying about it all.

It’s Friday. Tonight I’m going to a Muslim Gambian wedding. Apparently, next Tuesday is a public holiday for the Feast of the Assumption. Ironically enough, I had to come to a Muslim country to have a Christian holiday celebrated as a public holiday.

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 10

I have been in Gambia for two days now. I flew in on the 8th. Our flight was 3.5 hours delayed leaving Frankfurt. I was sitting next to what appeared to be a dour German but who ended up being a pleasant Swiss man going to visit his partner’s family. The plane was also carrying a Gambian youth soccer team, and guy who got drunk on the plane with his friends and proceeded to entertain everyone on the plane. He was like Rahool when he arrives at Worlds. When we landed, we couldn’t leave the plane because there were NASA nets set up on the runway and the plane couldn’t turn around. We then waited in the terminal for about 1.5 hours waiting for our luggage. First impressions leaving the plane: hot even for the late hour, muggy, a giant runway surround by an empty field with tones of army and airport types out to greet us. Having been to Thailand, and having been briefed by Andrew on the laid-back nature of Gambia, I took all the delays with a grain of salt, mainly just worried that my ride from the Institute wouldn’t be there and I would have to sleep on someone’s lawn. Most of the passengers seemed pretty tense, including a stereotypical middle-aged white male tourist with the fanny pack, traveling with his family, who was agitated over, I think, the airport landing tax. The terminal was small, and barren, with the luggage carousel leading straight to the outdoors. Thankfully, my ride was still there, as I took my weary addled body and brain past the hordes of Gambians offering to take my luggage. By now, it was about midnight. We drove down a paved road past fields, palm trees, trees that looked like the Joshua Tree album cover, and poor-looking houses. I got taken to the intern house where, after waking up the security guard, I got let in and settled into my room. The house is rather large, rather bare, but clean. I set up the mosquito tent, which is like camping and feels like you’re in a giant jelly fish, and went to sleep.

Our house and work is in a “village” called Brusubi. It is apparently something of a dead-end when it comes to the main road. In one direction is just the airport. In the other direction is Senegambia, the area around the Stoplight, then on to Banjul. The main road seems to be the source of the most activity in this part of town.

I spent my first day sleeping in and went to the office in the afternoon. The walk to the office was my first exposure to Gambian people in this neighbourhood. My surroundings are very poor. A lot of Gambians are walking around by the road, or hanging around by the stores and buildings. We are next to the Turntable, which is a major point on the main road where people wait for taxis and such. I walked down the road to get to the office, wary of my surroundings, the people who would take glances at me and call out to me. After a bit of time in the office, I was taken for a drive down to the Stoplight, Gambia’s first and only, and showed me some of the stores in the area. We went to the police compound, a dusty and dilapidated area which also had a mosque inside playing a loud Muslim “mass”, I think. We then backtracked down the main road towards Senegambia, the tourist area. Senegambia has a military checkpoint to keep out unauthorized cars and bumsters. There are restaurants and night clubs, and a lot of white people on patios. When you walk down the strip, restauranteers and others call out to you and try to get you to try their restaurant, or take you on a Gambian tour, or what have you. It is also an expensive area for catching a cab, being a white male, although that’s really the case everywhere here. When I grabbed a bite, a local started berating a British man at the patio who was calmly drinking a Julbrew, over what I don’t know. But I heard him say something about “not to a white man”. I was tired and hot and went back to the house, and tried to read but couldn’t because it was too hot, then slept on the couch, then watched a movie with my roommate, then went to bed early. I’m feeling crappy because of the heat, and worries over whether I would be able to cash my traveler’s cheques, I’m hungry because I haven’t eaten much, and the lack of respite at home; given the heat everywhere, there is nowhere I can go to get comfortable and escape it all. I don’t think there’s too much excitement around either; Gambia thus far is like a less-interesting Bangkok.

I still don’t have an alarm clock. I woke up early this morning to the sunlight, the sounds of a donkey and rooster. I spent the day at work, which was nice, because it’s air-conditioned. I may just live here for the next five months.I also got introduced to the tea break, where we all gather outside under a thatched gazebo, and chat and have some prepared breakfast food. Our backyard is quite nice, with grass and various trees. I felt really crappy this afternoon, hungry, tired of the heat and the smell, worried about my traveller’s cheques, thinking about the length of time I’ll be here. I’m also tired, after only two days, of trying to get around being white and not having any peace. I don’t really want to go back to Senegambia for that reason, but I also don’t want to just sit at home for four months.

This evening, things took a turn for the better. I went back to Senegambia and was able to exchange my traveler’s cheques, which was a relief, although I didn’t feel comfortable leaving with the big wad of cash. I decided to have supper at a restaurant, and broke my no-alcohol pledge by having a couple of Julbrews, Gambia’s home-brewed beer. It was a decent beer, no particularly distinctive taste. Maybe it was the food, or the beer, or success at the bank, but I looked around at the tourists, and realized that I don’t have to be miserable here. I had really been struggling with the fact that I’m in a gorgeous climate but living in difficult conditions, that I should be enjoying the weather and wanting to explore but instead hate the heat and want to avoid the Gambia population by staying at home. I can enjoy life here like any tourist, going out and seeing things. My house is clean and decent, and no worse than camping. The work is going to be enjoyable and, I can relax at home when I feel like it or enjoy the beach and the weather if I want to go out. I’m here for five months and don’t have to stress about doing everything right away or every day. I’m still thinking that five months is too long and I’d rather go home in December, but it’ll be good.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 8

I’m writing this from a gate waiting area in the Frankfurt airport. My flight to Banjul has been delayed for 3 hours, extending my wait here to 8 hours. Although these delays suck, I love being in Europe and I love the busyness, enormity and interconnectivity of the European train and plane system. It’s great to look at the board and see flights to Hong Kong, Canada, all over Europe, Asia. You look outside and see airplanes for Air India, Lufthansa, Ukraine, etc. It’s also interesting how prevalent English is in the airports (both here and in Amsterdam), the hotel I stayed in in Amsterdam, and the more touristy areas. Europeans have the right idea in knowing various languages. Travelling in Europe is remarkably easy: although the languages are different, the alphabets are the same and one can fairly quickly get the hang of what’s going on. The cultures in the western world really aren’t that different. The only place where things were vastly different was on our trip to Thailand. Other than that, Europe is easy to get into, and I suspect something like Australia wouldn’t be much more difficult. It reinforces my thought that people the world over are inherently the same, and basic human rights should be a universal concept.

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My trans-Atlantic flight was disappointing. I usually love flying to Europe, being in a giant plane, watching movies, drinking wine. Unfortunately, I was jammed in a window seat by a fat American. I watched “She’s the Man” in Dutch for a few minutes before calling it quits and going back to my Clinton book, with which I’ve been enthralled. I enjoyed Amsterdam very much, although it was filled with tourists like me. When I flew in on the 6th, I spent the day sleeping, and only went to the hotel bar for a beer (Grolsh, which I enjoyed). Staying at a hostel would have been fun, but I was so happy to be able to drop my luggage and sleep the day away in a comfortable hotel room. I spent the 7th just walking around downtown Amsterdam, once I figured out how to get there from the train station. Amsterdam is picturesque and charming, filled with canals and typical European architecture. I went to one of the museums that was featuring Rembrandt and Anne Frank letters. Although the Rembrandt exhibit was rather small, it featured a bunch of amazing etchings he had done, as well as the medical painting for which he’s famous. The Anne Frank exhibit was less interesting. I decided to go to the VanGogh museum late in the day, and am glad I went. Going through the exhibit was the most enthralled I’ve been in a museum in a long time. It traced his life and development. Although I didn’t think too much of his artistic talents (he seemed a bit of a hack; his early pointillism was childish at best), it was fascinating to go through his life and periods in pictures. On my way home, I went through the Red Light District, which was rather uncomfortable. I was expecting laid-back prostitution, and it was filled with creepy stores and obnoxious tourists. I’m really curious what the Dutch think of the District, whether it’s a part of normal life, or whether they think it’s an embarrassment, or whether they don’t necessarily accept it but want to live and let live. I also popped by two coffee houses. I left quickly because they were too smoky.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

So it begins...

I have been in Africa for just over a week, and am alive and well. Although it is the rainy season here for another couple of months, it is very hot and humid. My first few days here were moderately miserable, as I didn't have much to eat, couldn't sleep due to the heat, didn't have money available, and wasn't used to the culture. But I'm more settled now. I've started work with the Institute (see africaninstitute.org, if you're interested), which will be a rewarding experience. I've been keeping a travel diary since I left Edmonton, and will be posting updates on my blog, as well as some pictures. The two best comparisons I can give for my life here is that, being a white male, it's a lot like Bangkok, only far less hectic and interesting. And because Gambia is a European tourist destination for its beach resorts, it's a lot like going to a place like Cuba or the Bahamas but living with the locals outside the tourist bubble.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Here's to the night

After months of errands and planning, I leave in 12 hours. I had a blast at my going-away party.

They say you should do one thing a day that scares you. Today that thing is "moving to Africa". I have two days in Amsterdam, and then on to Gambia. Giddyup.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thank God I've Graduated

First Scholar's closes, and now I find out that Keegan's has been closed. Aside from RATT, there's nothing left for me on this campus. My "pre-Harlow-3am-wake-up-call" routine is completely gone. Sigh.