Films

This week has been very interesting. Of course, mangoes still needed to be processed, but aside from that, we also had a few new arrivals to the farm. One was the CEO of Africa StartUp (which is the umbrella name for the organization MyFarm is a part of). With her, she brought a Dutch filmmaker. Their goal for the week was to turn MyFarm’s newspaper, How To Make Money, into a short film.

There were quite a lot of shots to be filmed, and the majority of them took place on the farm. To make the shots go a bit smoother there was also a group of Gambian actors in our midst. It was pretty fun watching how the shots were set up among all of the crops and equipment around the farm. The most fun, however, came when our volunteer from the UK, Martin, and I were asked to be the token Toubabs (the Gambian term for white people) in one scene. Both of us will of course have signed head shots upon our return to our home countries. Martin was then asked to be in another scene acting as a customer of the farm’s products, at which point he determined that he was a star and those of us who wanted to eat lunch with him would now have to pay a fee, as the seats were in high demand. I told him to put it on my tab.

Filming kept going until the minute the CEO had to leave for her flight on Friday. It sounds like all the shots were completed, which is good news for those involved. The filmmaker estimates that it will be done in a month or two, when it will then be released online.

I also got a chance this week to visit Starfish International, a Gambian non-profit which strives to empower young girls in the Gambia by paying for their school fees and offering classes outside of school to improve the confidence they have in themselves. While there, I helped one of the mentors plan out how she and the girls will make the outside of their buildings greener by planting flowers, herbs, and local vegetables. I brought them a few plants donated by MyFarm to help them get started, including mint, lemongrass, and flower seeds. Hopefully they will be able to finish a few things before the rainy season is underway!

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Some of the Starfish girls doing large group icebreakers before class.

I also got the chance to sit it on one of the classes being taught by volunteers from Santa Clara University. Being the film star that I am, I of course chose the drama class. The volunteer, Maura, had us do breathing exercises, stretches, and tongue twisters to warm up. Then we went outside to do a trust exercise where one partner had to close their eyes, while the other partner guided them around. When it was time for me to return to the farm, each student gave me a big hug as if we had known each other forever instead of a few hours. It was so amazing getting to spend time with these students. Their passion for their education and Starfish is clear, and it is hard to keep a smile off your face while in their company.

Back at the farm, my boss’ two kids are almost done with their school for the summer. They are already asking about film night, which usually occurs on a Friday, but I assume will happen again some evening this week. I’m perfectly fine with that; the next film might be Night at the Museum. We set up a small projector on the ground floor of the school building (the second floor being where my bed is), bring out chairs, and share some snacks. It’s a good way to spend an evening as a group. Here’s to hoping I get one more before leaving next Saturday!

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Birthdays

Shortly after our arrival in the Gambia was President Jammeh’s birthday. He likes to celebrate with a tour of the country, lasting several weeks, and ending with a big celebration in the capital city of Banjul. This doesn’t include the other celebrations held in villages in his home area where he often stops by for the party.

I, on the other hand, prefer something a bit less flashy. This past Thursday was my 21st birthday, and rather than tour the country, I decided that a bit more mango processing was in order. We are now in full production mode, spending our mornings peeling/slicing and our afternoons over the fire cooking jams/chutney. Many hands make light work, however, and with all of the trainees and students around, there are plenty of people to help move things along and provide good conversation.

Thursday was also the start of Ramadan. The majority of the workers on the farm are Muslim, and as such, will be fasting for the next month. Energy tends to be pretty low by mid afternoon, and many of them still must go home to cook for when the fast breaks at sundown, so all of the labor intensive work (watering the crops, organizing the solar ovens, preparing the mangoes, etc.) needs to be done in the morning. That leaves tasks like labeling and packaging the processed goods for later in the day. Its a nice break from standing over the heat of the fire making jam.

I did manage to spare a few moments on Thursday to properly celebrate my birthday without mangoes. My boss, Kelly, and her two sons sang me Happy Birthday, and I shared a bottle of wine with her and Martin, another volunteer on the farm. Maybe I didn’t celebrate as intensely as President Jammeh does, but I’ll take a simple evening with new friends over a several week long party any day.

Mangoes

This week has been filled with lots of sun and gardening, but mostly it’s been filled with mangoes. It’s the peak of their season here, which means the farm is in full production mode.

I have been placed in charge of drying the mangoes. Every day I collect a few kilos of mangoes, peel and slice them, and place them in the solar dryers.

The solar dryers are a really great way to utilize the sun with little cost or energy expenditure. Each dryer is equipped with 2-3 racks for the mangoes to dry on, made of mesh stretched over wooden bars. The lid of the dryer is clear plastic for the sun to shine through, and there is a small fan powered by a solar panel which allows the air to flow inside the dryer when the lid is closed and regulate the temperature so the mangoes have enough time to dry.

One of the two solar dryers on site.

One of the two solar dryers on site.

Three racks filled with fresh sliced mango. They will dry during the day and be ready the next morning.

Three racks filled with fresh sliced mango. They will dry during the day and be ready the next morning.


With two of these dryers on site, there is enough space to dry about two kilos of fresh sliced mango everyday, which will yield between ten and fifteen 25 gram packets of dried mangoes.

While this isn’t difficult, it is time consuming. The majority of my morning is spent cleaning the dryers and slicing mangoes, and the afternoon is spent packaging the mangoes that were removed from the dryer in the morning.

At this rate, I’m bound to be totally sick of mangoes by the time I head home. But I’m not quite tired of them yet, thank goodness, because next week starts an even more intense period of mango processing. We will be making jams, chutney, and juice concentrate, which means a whole lot of peeling and slicing mangoes. There are plenty of other tasks to be done as well, so I am sure I’ll get a break from the mangoes at some point!

New Beginnings

As of 7:45pm Saturday night, the rest of my class was beginning their flight back home to the US. I, on the other hand, was being dropped off at my internship site for the next four weeks of my time in The Gambia.

It was bittersweet watching the bus full of my friends head to the airport as I drove down the dirt road toward MyFarm, but with each goodbye comes a new beginning, and I’m pretty excited about this one.

Today was my first official day and it was busy. There’s an endless amount of work to do, from feeding the animals, to watering all the beds, to processing foods in order to sell them. It was a lot to take in, but I can already tell that this experience will leave me more knowledgeable. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Markets

Over the weekend, our class split up to stay in the homes of the Gambians who are working with us during our trip. My group went to a village called Jabang and stayed with the family whose grandparents founded the village. They have a huge grove of mango and cashew trees that some of them sell.

Every morning, we would wake up and go to the small village market up the road to gather the supplies for the day with our host sister. Then we would come back to the compound to prepare the afternoon meal over the fire. Meanwhile, the male in our group would sit under a tree and drink tea, but that’s a different story.

It’s so strange to only buy what we need for the day and not for a week or two. It seems like a much better practice because it reduces waste and allows everything to be as fresh as possible. Plus, goods are purchased from local families and not a massive chain store. Everyone knows each other and it feels like the whole community is a family. The only time we even step foot in the equivalent of a market is maybe during the summer for fresh fruit.

It would be amazing to have a local market to buy from all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. So for the time being I’ll just be content going to the markets here and eating as much fresh food as possible. Besides, I will never be able to eat mangoes as amazing as the ones here, so I might as well enjoy it while I can!

Goodbyes

Today is the day I begin my travels to The Gambia! It’s crazy to think that my countdowns are now at zero, and I am on my way to living and working in West Africa for seven weeks.

Seven weeks is a long time to be an ocean away from home. Technology is an always useful tool to keep in touch while gone, but often I find myself too absorbed in maintaining contact with those at home rather than living in the moment with people around me. As such, I’ve determined that I will be living technology-limited this summer, only coming online to update the blog and reassure my family that I am alive and well. My hope is that I will learn to fully appreciate the culture and gain as much knowledge as I can during my brief stay.

This has made saying goodbye to friends and family a bit harder. Luckily, I have some pretty great people in my life to remind me that this trip will be the experience of a lifetime.

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True friendship?

Remix to Ignition is a one of my favorite songs.

Definitely a good omen for the trip.

These are just a few of the farewell texts I’ve received. I’m lucky to be able to come back home in a few weeks to see these wonderful people. But for now, I’m off to The Gambia!

Countdowns

12 Days; until the last day of my sophomore year of college.

14 Days; until all my finals are finished and I can return home for a week of relaxation.

26 Days; until I begin my journey to spend the majority of my summer in The Gambia.

It’s unbelievable that these countdowns have reached the point where they are mere weeks away rather than months.

I am traveling to The Gambia with a group of 20 other students from Juniata College, along with one of our professors and our school’s provost. For three weeks, we will explore the country to immerse ourselves in the culture and community. Then, on June 6th, everyone will return to the states. Except for me, that is. For the following four weeks after the rest of my group leaves, I will stay in The Gambia to work with MyFarm, an organization that helps educate citizens of the country about sustainable agriculture and business techniques.

This internship wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing alumni of Juniata College who donate funds¬†to the Super Internship program. This program aims to assist students with the financial aspect of their summer internship, which could otherwise make them unable to work where they hope to. I was lucky enough to be chosen to receive one of these Super Internships in order to work and live in The Gambia¬†without financial stress, for which I am extremely grateful.

Check back over the summer, once my countdowns have reached zero, to see how my internship is progressing and learn more about agriculture in The Gambia!