As Ramadan and Mango season have ended, we’ve moved into rainy season here in The Gambia. It was actually the day of the final Ramadan celebration that brought the first rains. Up until now, the weather here has been pretty monotonous: sunny skies and a pretty dry heat, which is great for all of the solar panels around the country and in my village. But rainy season brings something new everyday. Some days you’re running through pouring down rain at 10 am that doesn’t let up all day and other days you’re sweating through the muggy heat so badly that you look to the sky for any sign of a cloud. But, it makes everything so much more green.
I have mixed feelings about rainy season. Some of the best afternoons are spent on my porch/veranda (just the concrete slab outside my door that’s covered by my thatch roof) watching the rain and playing card games with my host family. But the rains also bring bugs, and lots of them. It’s no surprise that the end of rainy season (October) brings the highest incidence of malaria cases all year.
The rainy season is imperative to the livelihood of most Gambian citizens because of the agricultural aspect. The rainy season is the time to plant all field crops, with harvest time after rainy season bringing in a lot of income for most people. Almost everyone is out at the farm now that the school year has ended, right now planting.
Gerte – groundnuts (peanuts)
Dugup – koos
Nebbe – beans
Mbokoa – maize
With climate change and desertification encroaching every year, the rainy season has gradually been diminishing. To combat this, one of Peace Corps main agricultural goals is planting trees to stop desertification and bring more rains. Because of the uncertainty, people work very hard from the first rain until harvest time.
And I’ve been joining them! At first it was the running joke around the village that I wanted to go to the fields with people, but as people see me using a “daba” (traditional tool to clear the land and weed in between crops) they call me over to their field or invite me over the next day. I was hopping from field to field, learning how to farm, learning Wolof, sharing what I know about farming in the States (little to none) and meeting new people until my host mother made me take a day off when she saw a callus forming on my hand.
“Ali! Joxma sa loxo, ma hol” – “Ali! Give me your hand, let me see.”
“Hey! Ali, tey demulo tol. Demal lopitan ak nopaleku. Ci kanam dimbalema fi.” – “Ali, today you are not going to the farm. Go to the clinic and work there. Later you will help me farm here instead.”
So we’ve been working on a small farm in our backyard! It’s a great way to get some exercise, learn some more language and learn more about people. And it gives them a kick to see me sweating so much. Oh, and it’s the only way that I’ll have something in my food bowl come October. The rice we farm near the river and the other crops in the fields will keep us stocked for the rest of the year. After rainy season, it’s back to the vegetable gardens with manual watering.
The only real problem I have with rainy/farming season is the small overlap between it and school time. School just closed last week, but the rains started 3 weeks ago. Some parents pull their kids out of school to work at the fields, missing the end of term exams and important time in school. This doesn’t happen as often in my village as in others, and hopefully with education rising as a priority nationwide, this practice will continue to decline.