Good afternoon,

As many of you may know my niece is in Gambia, West Africa doing a 2 year post with the peace core. Her latest essay I found to be profound and ironic. What we westerners seek, the Gambia people have already found, and it is a great lesson in who is teaching who.  Please read on….

September Essay from The Gambia

Author: Ashely Garrison

Sweat is pouring off my face. It seems to splash on the damp earth at
my feet. My arms ache and my right hand seems to be permanently molded
to the handle of my hoe. My back screams at me and my legs complain at
every step. I look over at Fatou, and  though she is sweating,
she doesn’t seems to notice. She is even humming a tune, keeping up a
steady pace. We are in the peanut field, weeding. I ignore the sweat
and try to keep up with Fatou, who is already doing three times more
work than I am.
I use the blade of my short handled hoe to scrape the earth around and
between each peanut plant, and then pull every weed from the row. I
put my mind to the repetition of the motions, and ignore everything
else. Every now and then, I raise my head to see how much farther I
have to go, but it’s a losing game; it hurts to lower my head, and I’m
never as far as I think I should be!
The peanut field is about 2/3 hectare, or almost the size of a
football field, just rows and rows of peanut plants. In the last week
Fatou has been coming everyday for three to four hours to weed. The
field is about half done, but I’m convinced it’s the big half… When we
are finally finished for the day the sun is setting and the rain
clouds are rolling in. We barely make it back before the rain starts
to fall.
At first I thought I would be in the Gambia to teach, to serve, to
impart my knowledge and experience to those with none. Now I find
myself barefoot in a field, using tools and methods that haven’t
changed since the Iron Age. Extensive education and training does not
make up for a lifetime of tradition and practice. Fatou farms the way
she does everything else, with all her attention and effort, and
without the slightest indication that she would rather be doing
something else.
And I ruefully look at myself, tired and cranky. Knowing that I could
go back to my hut whenever I want. Knowing that I have no
responsibility to finish weeding. Knowing that in all likelihood, I
am actually slowing Fatou down; that she could be going much faster
without me. It is a humbling experience. So, to make up for my
inexperience I resolve to work harder, not complain and be open to the
lessons Fatou can teach me. I put my head down, ignore the blisters on
my hand, and ask Fatou to teach me a mandinka work song.
I like to think that I am doing the ‘development’ work I thought I
would at the beginning of my service, but eight months later I see in
many ways I am very mistaken. I am the one learning, being taught and
served. My afternoons in the fields bring me closer to my community;
give me some small experience doing their work. I can tell Fatou is
proud to have me work in her field by the way she brags to the other
women that I know how to weed. They ask me to come to their fields
and I just grin.
The earth is warm beneath my bare feet and I feel completely part of
my world. I may not be teaching my village how to be ‘developed’ but
I am learning how to be a part of their community. The development
work will come later.

Much peace and Love ~R