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Letter from the Gambia

Sarah Collard '95 currently serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia. Here are some excerpts from her letters home, as published in her hometown newspaper in Youngstown, N.Y.

"What do I eat? Well, I receive a food bowl twice a day, lunch and dinner. . . . The main component of any meal will be either rice or coos. On top of that you might have a spicy peanut sauce (dommadah), fried fish (whole fish heads are a delicacy) with an oil and onion sauce (chew), a porridge-type of meal that is like rice pudding with peanut flavoring (pap), a green slimy sauce made of pounded sorrel leaves that is mixed with smoked fish (kuchaa), cooked beans in a spicy oil sauce (soso), and, finally, the all-time favorite: tomato-flavored rice that has pumpkin, onion, meat (don't ask what kind), and fish all mixed together. This is benachen. We all love benachen. . . .

"The food is served to the family in large bowls where everyone squats around and uses their right hand (never the left) to scoop it up and form it into balls. . . . Everyone gets a spot in front of them and reaching is considered very rude.

"I like communal food bowls a lot. It is a very social thing and, frankly, a lot of fun."

In another letter, she describes the people she lives among. "Gambians are, in general, very friendly and willing to help. This is a tourist -based economy, so anyone foreign is going to be catered to. The only problem is having them differentiate between those who are visiting and those of us (Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations) who are here for a while. Dressing accordingly, not carrying a camera, and speaking the local language helps. . . .

"The basic life of a Peace Corps volunteer depends on where you live and the occupation that you hold. I have friends who are Agroforesters who live in a mud hut, squat with the best of them, talk Mandinka (or the local language) fluently, and never leave site. Others live in more urban areas and have cement houses with electricity and running water and speak English most of the time. . . ."

In closing her message, she urges friends and family, "I si kontong, or, greet the people for me."

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Copyright 1996, University of Rochester
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Last updated 9-9-1996      (jc)