Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The first camp we went to was in Njawara. Getting there involved taking a ferry across the Gambia river. There are only a few ferries (four) and many people who want to take them (there are a few other ferries that will take you across, but the one that we took is the only one that reliably doesn't sink. Good idea to take that one, yes?) so we had to wake up early in the morning and pile in to the van with all of our stuff. This being the beginning of the trip- our stuff didn't amount to all that much. Yet.

The ferry was completely crammed with people and we almost didn't get on- but our ECCO guy who stayed with us the whole time: Habib, went to bat for us and between him and Mamadou (I'm sure I've spelled that wrong) they got us on the boat. Anyhow- after a long and bumpy journey we ended up in the camp. It was a bit of a lackluster welcome- everyone was sitting on foam mattresses propped up on cinder blocks, and for the most part they stayed there, but we were introduced to everyone and led to our huts.

The huts were made of concrete with thatch/straw roofs and tie dyed fabric for the door. The beds were foam and sunken in to the concrete. The huts were in a circle around a small planting area with a path that lead to the eating area and the class area.

We were eventually served food, which was good because I was *starving* and the night before we had had extra special chicken nuggets...we actually had chicken nuggets with some regularity while in Africa, much to our dismay. But I think that first afternoon in Njawara we had benechin. Here are some recipes for Gambian food: http://kidzbiz.100megsfree5.com/africa_cook.htm (I think bitter tomatoes are tasty, though I'm not sure you can get them in America?) After lunch we went and napped and eventually came back out to sit in the common area and ask the camp manager questions. His accent was such that I had difficulty understanding, so instead I stared up into the twilight and watched hundreds of bats fly back and forth overhead in and out of the mango trees.

That evening Mamadou played for us. He had a tiny little amp that was run off of batteries and while it *was* louder- it also horrifically distorted the sound. The Kora is an absolutely beautiful instrument when unamplified...ah well. In lessons he would sometimes not turn the amplifier on and I was always excited about that.

The first night we spent in Njawara was by far the loudest night we had anywhere. The bats (I assume it was the bats) were terrifically loud and beeped in a rhythmic, minor third pattern. Then there were all of the insects, the donkeys down the road freaking out, and the call to prayer at 4 or 5 in the morning. I vowed to record the nocturnal sounds the next night, but it was never again that loud nor interesting.

Mamadou taught us 5 Mandinka songs. (a little bit weird that we learned the Mandinka songs in the Wollof village and the Wollof songs in a Mandinka village...) He taught us in exactly the way that we have been taught to teach. He was always very supportive and positive, he broke the songs down in to small pieces and taught them by call and response, when any of us were lagging behind he didn't single us out but instead brought the entire group back a couple of steps to reinforce where we now were and each class time we reviewed what we had already learned.

We had the same class structure for the entire three weeks. We would wake up, have breakfast, and then the first set of classes for the day. When we later got into the tribes with more dancing we would do the dancing in the morning. I didn't have a watch so I was never really very clear what time it was, but I think the morning classes were three hours long from about 9:30 to 12:30. Then there would be a big break and we would wander the village, chat, work on our notebooks, review the songs we had learned that morning, play cards, nap, or just sweat a lot. We then had to wait until after the mid afternoon prayers to start class again which they normally would at about 5:30, I think. The evening classes were only about 2 hours long, I think. Then supper and sunset followed by the generators turning on and while we were in Njawara: vicious games of cards that frequently left people minorly injured.

One day we walked up to the local school and met some of the teachers and the vice principal there. All of the buildings were painted with Things To Remember such as "hard work before success" and a painted over "no vernacular" which intrigued me- why was that one painted over? I took lots of pictures of small children and then let them see. I had to be cool about them smearing mango-y fingers all over the camera screen because they were just so darn excited about seeing the pictures. Plus, they were cute.

Mamadou always left his Kora out in the eating area for us to play if we wanted to. We all muddled around on it a bit, and while I was playing it one afternoon he came over and started to teach me the beginning of the accompaniment for one of the songs that we were learning called "kyra" which means peace. I really like playing the Kora so I got fairly proficient at that little portion of music which was useful at the end of the trip when we picked the Koras up at Mamadou's house because there was a GMajor chord from it that people used to tune the instruments and I played it again to tell them which strings the chord involved.

The second day of classes he started teaching all of us to play the Kora in a sort of masterclass style with the person being taught in the center of the circle and everyone else listening and waiting for their turn. It worked well because the people at the beginning got more time and the people at the end knew what the phrase was supposed to sound like already.

The last day that we were in Njawara we decided to go on a boat trip. This ended up being slightly sketchier than we had realized and a couple of people backed out at the last moment, but that was okay because they got to take a cart ride back to the camp. I, in my gracefulness, managed to stick my foot/leg into some rather disgusting mud and almost lost my sandal. The boats were canoes made out of hollowed out trees, both of which had some significant leaks in them that required us to bail out water during the trip. That being said it was a nice trip and we saw lots of birds and oysters and one clawed crabs. At the end of the trip one of the young fishermen cleaned off my sandal (which was *very* nice of him) and we helped another man fill a canoe with giant bags of rice and flour and sugar and barrels of oil to take up the river to Senegal. It occurred to me that he was the West African version of a trucker.

So that is Njawara- pictures from the plane ride over, the beach the first day near Banjul, and from Njawara are now up on Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/10933141@N07/
enjoy- and stay tuned for the next entries which will be about Berefet and the classes we had there.

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