I and fellow members of Lend A Hand Society were headed for the town of Farafenni in the North Bank Region. We were to spend the weekend sensitizing people on HIV/AIDS, focusing on four main areas: Basic Information on HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women in relation to HIV/AIDS, Stigma and Discrimination of People Living with HIV/AIDS and Skill Building. Farafenni MRC was to be our residence and activities were to be carried out in Farafenni and the villages of Ngayen Sanjal and Yalal Ba. The trip was part of Lend A Hand’s activities within the framework of the PAF project funded by UNAIDS. The entire team was divided into four sub-groups. I was head of the Stigma and Discrimination team (the only female too). Well, journey was awesome, contrary to what I expected. Discussions ranged from Politics, issues at the University of The Gambia (I read a novel at this point), the state of the Gambian media (now my novel has to go down). Then we turned to singing and dancing with BB taking the lead. Now this felt like the perfect road trip. We got to Farafenni tired and hungry, but still excited about the next day’s events. Despite our fatigue, we had a team sent over to Paradise FM Farafenni for a one-hour show while the rest of mankind went to meet the Peace Corps volunteers we were supposed to work with. Then it was AFRA TIME! The Moulay Babous and the Sidi Mahmouds. You know how they say the tiniest and most untidy afra spot delivers the best meat. They don’t lie!
Saturday came and it took all the strength I could gather to get me out of bed at 7 am. Yes, we had to set out early if we wanted to finish up early. Yalal Ba village was our first stop, and we got there after a tough time with our vehicle. It felt good having the guys push the van from behind, causing it to glide through the coos fields on the road. Village experience at its best! Yalal Ba was amazing though’. The presentations were great and I would say the ‘Violence against Women’ team stole the show with their superb drama piece. We had an interactive session with the villagers. The Alkalo sat through all the presentations and even threw in some jokes at intervals. He is such a nice guy. Satang and I made a friend too. Oumie is one beautiful Fula girl (here I’ll confess I was staring so hard at the villagers. You know what they say about Fulas and beauty. You wouldn’t blame me, would you?). Sorry for digressing; back to Oumie. She would be going to Grade 12 when school starts and she wants to study Law at the University of The Gambia. Now our friend here did not believe in the existence of HIV/AIDS simply because she had ‘never seen a Person living with HIV/AIDS’. We got her to sit through all the presentations and at the end, while walking to her home, she told us we were able to convince her that HIV/AIDS does exist. Gold star for us? Yes! Yes, I’m pinning that on my shirt. We also got her to be one of our ‘Soldiers against Stigma’. These ‘soldiers’ were expected to continue sensitization on HIV/AIDS in their villages, with support from Lend A Hand. Mission accomplished in Yalal Ba, we thanked the villagers and set out for destination #2: Ngayen Sanjal.
Ngayen was the bomb for me. I love dancing even though I need help in perfecting my steps. Ngayen welcomed us with lunch and sabarr (traditional Wolof dancing). Notes were thrown at the guewel (traditional praise singer) and for a moment, we forgot we had come on a mission. Oh well, who says we can’t inject some fun into it. So they drummed and sang; we clapped, danced and gave out a few notes.BB stole the show again. You are right if you are already thinking he was the ‘horom’ in the group. BB is just out of this world. Yours truly, not wanting to embarrass herself with her nothing-near-perfect dance skills, got busy with the camera. Did it work? You bet it didn’t. When the music got really hot, the feet just had to give in to the temptation. It felt awesome (now how many times have I used this word today?). A few of us visited the Alkalo to hand over kola nuts as a sign of appreciation for having us in his village. I was the only female in this group too, but this time it did not really work in my favour. We got to the Alkalo’s compound and he shook hands with the guys. When it got to my turn, he shook my hand briefly, took a look at my jean pants and said ‘dorm del hordu’ (give that a Fana-fana accent). The old man thought I’d look more of a female if I ditched my jean pants and got into a wrapper. At first I just stared at him. He left and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. I looked around and noticed that all the females in his home were clad in wrappers. You can imagine what was running through my mind. At the end of our visit, he noticed I wasn’t very pleased with his remark and he shook my hand again and said I was his wife. Aha, then I felt comfortable in my jeans. What this man doesn’t know is that 99% of the time, I’m clad in pants. There’s just something about them that, that….okay I’ll save that for another post. We did our work and then left Ngayen for the Farafenni Youth Centre.
Et voila, Sunday is here and we are all set and ready to head home. I run off to the radio with another set for our show. I have to say, I’ve had so much radio practice during this holiday. I just hope it helps when school starts. One hour at Paradise FM and yours truly moderated the show. Guiding the team, picking calls, switching between Wolof and English etc. I could only picture myself in three years inchallah, doing even better. This is not the last you will hear about this, so you’d better start getting used to it. J The journey back was a lot faster and the ambiance was up a notch higher. Pa Lie made a sketch of me while I tried to finish my novel. We got to Barra and had to wait for hours before we could cross over to Banjul. We didn’t waste this time though. We had the best discussion ever and it lasted all those hours of waiting and more. Everyone (I’m exaggerating here deh) on the ferry was attracted to our discussion. It was the most refreshing one I have had in years. We were able to speak out our minds and tried to come up with ways to ensure our dear Lend A Hand does not suffer a break ever again. Little Miss Emotional got all caught up with everything and I realized just how much these people meant to me. I am going to miss them so bad, it’s not even funny. Pictures are on the Lend a Hand Facebook page. Search for ‘Lend a Hand Society’, join the group and be a part of our family.
Yesterday, we had a team building exercise at the beach and it was my last meeting with them. The rain saved me from the awkward goodbyes and I was so grateful. I leave on Friday, with a very heavy heart; wishing I could take all the special people I have here with me. It’d be easier if I stayed here with them, but, umm, let’s go get that degree then pack and rush home. I’m off to Banjul to get a few things. Last days in Gambia for this year. You would know how that feels if you’ve been in this position before. Until I come back on (that might be in Coos coos land) I say, Keep Smiling (borrowed from le grand). Cheers!