Friday is the Muslim holy day and a day off for the team. We slept in, enjoyed a cup of coffee and relaxed in the morning. While I was sitting outside by the river, I was again joined by the kids from the compound. Sadjo, the 12 year old, and I had developed a bond and she was following me everywhere like a shadow whenever she didn’t have chores or was sent on an errand. We had fun conversations, goofed around and I learned lots about life in the Gambia from this young girl.
In the afternoon, the four volunteers from Nova Scotia and Oumie were going to one of the schools to deliver the water program. Pa Modou, Kebba and I joined them, while Spider started cooking dinner. I had a chance to see firsthand the amazing work done by the Nova Scotia Gambia Association. The kids in the class were being trained to become peer health educators who will learn about water-borne disease and will then share their knowledge with other children at the school and in their community at large.
Clean water is a scarce resource, particularly in Africa, but it is a necessity to sustain life. We take for granted that we can turn on the tab to hydrate and clean our bodies, wash our dishes and our clothes as well as cook our meals. Yet in Africa, only half the population has access to clean water. Every 20 seconds, a child dies of water-borne illnesses, such as cholera, dysentery, Hepatitis A, typhoid fever or diarrhea. The volunteers teach the children about these diseases, their symptoms, what to do when symptomatic and most importantly, how to prevent these diseases. The students are eager to learn, ask many questions and contribute to the subjects discussed. The knowledge of these kids was impressive and I learned a thing or two from the volunteers and students. I frankly had no idea what exactly the small versus the large intestine does, but the kids readily volunteered the information when asked. The knowledge they receive and share through this program is empowering and puts them in charge of their health. The volunteers did an outstanding job engaging these kids who were tired from writing an exam in the morning and from helping with chores at home before coming to school. Your donation dollars go towards ensuring that the Nova Scotia Gambia Association can continue to deliver these life-saving programs in schools across the Gambia.
While at the school, we had lunch. One of the school’s staff had prepared a big pot of domodah and in typical Gambian fashion, we all ate out of the communal dish using only our right hand. So far, I had shared many meals in this way, but always had bread to scoop out the food. This time, we just mixed the sauce and rice with our fingers, picked some up and squeezed it in the palm of our hand to make a ball, so we can put it in our mouth. Easier said than done! Try this at home and see how you make out. I had rice squirting out of the side of my hand from applying too much pressure or the neat ball falling apart as soon as I opened my palm. I guess I am still in training.
As the afternoon wore on, my legs stiffened up from sitting most of the day and my lower legs and ankles were swollen. My blisters were also very painful and I could see an infection was beginning to spread, as there was redness and throbbing. I needed to take care of my feet to be able to resume running the next day. When we got back to our accommodation, this was priority number one. After washing my feet thoroughly, I took a syringe to drain the fluid that had built up again out of the blisters. This took some time and was carefully observed by my little friend Sadjo and a small crowd of people who all kept saying: “Oh, sorry, sorry!”. Once drained and disinfected, I applied some sterile gauze and then taped the toes. Next, I put on my Mizuno compression socks to reduce the swelling in my legs and to keep my feet clean.
The NSGA volunteers and I had been told there would be a surprise for us in the evening. Late in the afternoon, Oumie came to see us and brought all of us traditional African clothing and head dress. Sadjo helped me get dressed and tied the fabric around my head. Then all the boys and men commented how beautiful we were. We later went to relax in our rooms waiting for dinner when we heard drumming and singing from the courtyard outside. Upon investigating, we found a group of people from the nearby villages and the entire Fatty family. This evening was going to be our naming ceremony where we were to be given Gambian names. This involved a lot of spirited dancing and singing, as well as drumming and blowing a whistle. It is incredible what beautiful music an old, empty plastic gas canister and a couple of sticks can make when combined with lovely African voices! We danced in the middle of the circle and watched the African women bust their moves. Laughter and music rang out into the night sky as lightning gave the promise of more rain over night.
Fatty then asked the four volunteers and me to sit on a mat for the naming. He spoke in Mandinka and let us know how welcome we were at their home and how much he and his family appreciated the respect we had extended to him and his people. Pa Modou translated his word and I am sure I speak for all five of us when I say we were moved. As I had been the first one to arrive at the house, I was called upon first to receive my Gambian name. Fatty honoured me by giving me the same name as his wife, Bintou, a warm, caring, worldly and generous woman who is a mean cook to boot and who I had come to respect a great deal during my stay in Bansang. Bintou came over to hug me and to tell me how pleased she was with this choice. I was almost moved to tears. Pam, Katie, Lauren and Stephanie then also received their Gambian names, all named after close relatives and dear friends of the Fatty family. Then the dancing and singing continued. Sadjo was by my side and we danced together. It was an absolutely magical night. Spider, Kebba, Pa Modou, Lamin and Oumie were also dancing the night away, but Spider clearly stole the show and had the many kids erupt in fits of giggles when shaking and grinding his hips and stomping his feet.
It was getting late and I was exhausted and hot from dancing. My thoughts began to turn to morning when I would have to rise early to run another 30 kilometers. My blisters were hurting and as much as I wanted to enjoy every moment of this night, I knew I had to go to bed. The ceremony wound up around 11:00 p.m. and we settled on the porch for a late dinner. I didn’t eat much, as I was too exhausted at this point, but made sure I got some food in. Then I began making the rounds to say my good-byes as we would leave early. Fatty once again expressed his appreciation and told me I was part of his family and welcome back any time. He kissed my cheeks and then planted a fatherly kiss on my forehead. Bintou hugged me repeatedly and told me I would never be forgotten. Sadjo was also there and I know I will miss her.
At around midnight, I collapsed into bed. 6:00 a.m. would be here before I know it and the road will be waiting.