Headin’ up Country and the Big Disappointment

27 06 2011

solar panels at Njawara

Trip up country

Late last week we made our first trip to the north bank of the river to a village called Njawara. We went with a company called GAM-Solar to do a survey of the village’s power needs, as they are currently living without electricity. Crossing the river to get to the north bank was an adventure as we missed the ferry and had to take a small, dangerously overloaded boat across the choppy waters. From there, it was a 60km bumpy ride up near the border of Senegal to our destination. We arrived in the afternoon and got to work. Phase one of this project covers bringing power to the necessities of the village: school, clinic (check out what was in one of the rooms), Mosque, community center and street lights. We spent the rest of that day and the morning of the next with Alfusainey, the GAM-Solar technician, surveying the village and calculating the size and amount of solar panels the village would need to be completely solar reliant. We took the data back to the GAM-Solar office and with some final additions to the design and approval, construction will begin soon. It was pretty cool to see solar power actually being used on a large scale and it seems like a smart option for Africa… so maybe my skin won’t be the only thing the sun rains down on.

Crossing the River Gambia to Barra, the North Bank

The chicken chicken

The first thing I noticed when I moved in with the Bojang’s was that there are at least 30 chickens roaming around the compound all day. Knowing that I would be eating with the family, that meals here typical consist of either fish or chicken, and the fact that I’m a chicken guy… I thought I’d hit the jackpot. However, to my dismay, every single meal I have had here has been fish. Of all the questionable foods I pile into my mouth, fish is one I very rarely enjoy. To top it off, whatever fish they like to cook with here has at least 20 bones per square inch. Before I start hearing the “get over it John!” comments, I’ll let you know that living in an ocean bordering country which had a river running through the middle of it, I’ve quickly tossed my loathe for seafood out the window.

After getting up yesterday, I took my bucket back to the tap to grab some water for a shower when I saw the Bojang kids, Sona and Salifu, chasing the chickens around the compound. Excited at the thought of finally dipping into a poultry meal, I helped the kids chase the pack of chicken and narrow down the search to one massive rooster. It took four of us to corner it but eventually Sona caught the bird as it tried to squeak between his leg and the garden fence. My suspicions were confirmed when Sona shook it by its wings saying “Eh Lamin, good Lunch!”… Never has broken English sounded so good. Before leaving for work, I made sure to let the family know that I’d be back around 4pm for lunch. They assured me that a plate would await me… I could barely stand the excitement.

At work, we went with the GALDEP (Gambia Lowland Development Project) team to visit one of the sites they are currently working on. The Gambia consists of five regions (similar to provinces in Canada) and the GALDEP project is working on putting 20 village gardens throughout one of these regions, the West Coast Region. Each of these gardens will be 5 hectares in size and consist of 24 individual garden plots each with their own 5000L water fetching reservoir, one cooled storage room to preserve crops before they are taken to market, a borehole which pumps to a main 80,000L elevated reservoir and solar panels that will power both the pump and cold room. Geological studies and soil analysis were done at each site and upon completion the villages will be provided with crop suggestions to maximize yield. Our plan is to review the design of the project and hopefully propose ways to improve upon their design, as they hope to expand this project to the other 4 regions of the Gambia in 2013. We discussed the project in detail with Mawdo, one of the project leaders, and then wrapped it up for the day… just as I remembered what would be waiting for me back at the compound.

the garden GALDEP site in Lamin

As I returned, I barely had enough time to drop my bags in my room before I heard a knock at my door. Fatima, a 5 year old little girl living in the compound hands me the steaming bowl I have longed for. I almost passed out when I lifted the lid to see a mound of rice with my boney enemy resting on top. “mmmm fish!”… Apparently the chicken I had hoped for was the only hen left, so they need it to make more chicken. Chicken they plan on selling, not eating…They were just removing its wing feathers because it likes to hop the fence into the garden and eat the crops. Sona claims that he didn’t know about this and was not just playing a sick joke on me. Either way, it might be hard for that chicken to get away from attackers during the night without its wings…

Abaraka,

John…

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6 responses

27 06 2011
Kayla

This is amazing’ really enjoy reading this! Good for you!!!

27 06 2011
mom

OK, what does abaraka mean?? I love fish?

30 06 2011
John Iezzi

abaraka means thanks in Mandinka… and yes, i know you enjoy fish.

4 07 2011
mom

No, I thought maybe abaraka meant “I love fish”

8 07 2011
Aunt Nancy

Esama John

Just received the link for your blog and can’t express how impressed I am with your coping (and writing) skills. This will no doubt be a life changing experience — not bad for the cute, red headed, fair skinned, Leafs-loving kid from Canada!
Heading to the cottage for some R & R in cool Lake Huron (I bet it would feel like heaven to you!) and time on the beach. Will have some perch and rice in your honour and toast your good health with a drink or two.

Salaam aleikum,
hugs Aunt N, Uncle T and Jessica

20 07 2011
John Iezzi

Thanks guys,
The trip has been eye-opening thus far, to say the least.
I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the summer as well!

love,
John

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