Salaamaalekum

After our final language test, saying goodbye to our training villages, and a week of swear-in festivities in Kombo (the urban center), The Gambia officially has 31 new Health & Agriculture Peace Corps volunteers. That puts our total number of volunteers over 100 in country, which is really cool for a country of this size.

try-to-leave-this-world

Throughout PST, we each learned one of five languages: Wolof (mine), Mandinka, Jola, Puular, or Serahule. In order to swear in as a volunteer, we had to be tested in our local language and perform at an Intermediate High level. The test was in the format of a 15 minute conversation only in the language, and was actually easier than expected after only 8 weeks of training. In addition, we had to complete all of our technical skills in both Health and Agriculture in our training villages.

certificate

The Swear-In ceremony was absolutely awesome. We had picked out matching fabric (called “asobi”) and all had them personally tailored. Our Language and Cultural Facilitators also got asobi for the day. The ceremony involved Peace Corps staff, the Country Director, the US Ambassador, as well as UN representatives. It was held at the Ambassador’s house that overlooks the ocean, which we jumped into after.

jumping

While we’ve only known each other for a few months, it feels like so much longer. I think I imagined Peace Corps being pretty solitary, in a village all by myself struggling with language and projects. It’s so, so much different than that. We’ve been so intertwined during training, and our experiences will continue to grow off of each others’ in the coming years. The network and togetherness of the Peace Corps volunteers in this country has been breathtaking, and I can’t wait to work with all 100 other volunteers in the future.

group-photo

And then last Saturday, we parted ways and were disseminated to our permanent sites! I went with 5 other volunteers on a ferry across the River Gambia to be placed on the North Bank, and will be sharing more about my site in the future. But now, it’s time for this blog to make a transition. For the past few months, it’s really been a “me, me, me” autobiography of my time here. “I’m doing this, eating that, going there,” and while I’m sure you’re all DYING to hear more stories about my pit latrine, I haven’t been sharing enough about the Gambian people: these awesome, eccentric, inspiring citizens who have welcomed Peace Corps volunteers into their communities for almost 50 years now.

host-family

Every blog from now on, I’m going to start by sharing some local language. And for that, we must begin with greetings. Here in The Gambia, I probably use the Arabic greeting “Salaamaleekum” upwards of 100 times each day.

“Salaamaalekum” – Peace be upon you

“Maalekum Salaam” – Peace return to you

Anytime you’re entering a compound, a conversation, or a group of people, you have to greet them first. People take this VERY seriously here. Even if you’re walking by someone’s compound, you greet along the way. I love it, not only because I love the sound of my own voice, but also because it’s been great for meeting new people during my first week in village.

well

I hope to post a blog at least once every 10 days. After some local language, I’ll delve into a topic and intertwine some of my work and experiences into the topic:

1. Health – how does health care work here? I’m placed in a village with a Minor Health Center, working alongside a Community Health Nurse among several others. I’ll include Peace Corps’ health framework and ongoing projects in the area, as well as an overview of the national health care system.

2. Agriculture – what do they grow here? Who farms? Who gardens? Why do people garden? I’ll also loop in the Peace Corps Agriculture framework and ongoing projects. I live right next to an Agricultural Training Center and have a Peace Corps/USAID Master Farmer in the village 1K away, so you’ll be hearing a lot about food.

3. Education – what does the education system look like? There is a school in my village that goes from ECD (Early Childhood Development) all the way up to 12th grade. I’m hoping to work with the Peace Corps Education framework as well as the computer lab (using the word “lab” loosely) and the school garden.

4. Technology – one of the main questions I got when I would tell people I was joining the Peace Corps was, “how will you live without Instagram?” Well if you follow me (@kevinpcrooks), you’ve seen that my Instagram has never been better. People here usually have more than one phone, love browsing Facebook, and are constantly talking on the phone.

5. Culture – broad category for language, family structure, a breakdown of village leadership, and another opportunity for me to talk about food.

Have a topic you want me to cover? You can either contact my US Communications Liaison, Lizzy Maholic, at maholic.e@gmail.com or message me on Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts (kevinpcrooks@gmail.com).

looking-at-pix

This was my first day at my permanent site on the North Bank. This collage was the first thing I unpacked, and my host brothers and sisters love looking at it and asking about everyone. I love and miss all of you everyday!

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