My new normal
My life of fro-yo, high-speed Internet and a trendy wardrobe is nothing but a distant memory. Everything in Gambia is different, including me. And somewhere along the line, dare I say, it all started feeling normal. The human race is an adaptable species, my friends.
Here’s my top 10 list of my new normal:
When I first arrived, I was disgusted and annoyed by how sweaty I’d get just by sitting still. After a run, I couldn’t even cool down enough to stop sweating before a bath, so I’d still be perspiring after pouring a bucket of cold water on my head. Although I never used to consider myself an excessive sweater, I apparently am now. I survived 20 + summers in Vegas and can honestly say hot doesn’t even begin to describe Gambia weather. I don’t think I’ll ever acclimate to this heat, but the sweat doesn’t really bother me anymore. It’s become normal. I sweat through my clothes on a daily basis. And, I hardly notice. After cooking dinner, beads of sweat sometimes drip into my food while I eat. And guess what, I don’t care! Mas.
The cold has always hurt my teeth. I used to keep all my fruit on the counter so they would be room temperature when I wanted a snack. When I went out to eat pre-Africa, I ordered my water – “no ice.” I even once preferred to skip dessert than to bite into an ice cream bar, and that’s saying something considering my love for the creamy, savory treat. Although my sweet teeth are still intact, Gambia has seemingly cured my sensitive ones. With little other relief from the heat, I now crave cold drinks and go far lengths to find them. My village is lucky enough to have power, and although my family doesn’t have a fridge, many others do and they freeze water or juice and sell it much to the delight of my newfound craving for anything, anything cold.
Sleeping on the floor
On hot afternoons, I often take naps on the concrete floor of my hut, or better yet, the tile floor of my family’s abode. It’s cold!
I am having poor English
My once perfect grammar is gone. I have gracefully glided into full Gambian speak, where the simple present tense doesn’t exist and the present continuous (ing form) is used for everything. “Are you having a pencil?” I might say to a student. “What about a rubber?” Rubber, pronounced “rub-uh” is not what you think. Here, it’s an “eraser,” thank you very much. Speaking improperly really used to kill me but now I am having no problem to say: “Can you borrow me your pen?” if it means that someone will actually understand me.
Sometimes the rice has a crunch – and not because it wasn’t cooked properly. I’ve learned to chew carefully because otherwise mealtime could leave you with a chipped tooth. Some little things make it into the food bowl despite the cooks’ best efforts to hand pick out rocks, ants and other creepy crawlies (which are less important than throwing out the rocks because the bugs simmer to the top when the water boils). If you’re not biting down on a rock in the rice, then it’s a fishbone in the sauce, so it’s not uncommon to have to spit bits out into your hand and toss them onto the floor in the middle of lunch.
I now kill spiders for sport. Last week, I went 4 for 5 in less than a minute. The sight of the eight-legged crawlers don’t bother me in the slightest. However, it still creeps me out when I stumble into their transparent, intricate webs that they have a habit of weaving across the walkway to my “bathroom.”
A bathroom under the stars
Before moving to The Gambia, I was worried about my outdoor bathroom and the logistics under the evening sky or in a rainstorm. What irrational fears! I love doing my business outside at night because it’s peaceful and I can gaze up at the starry sky through the branches of my mango tree. A bath during a rainstorm is even better … it’s a shower!
Ninety percent of Gambians are Muslims, and culturally knees are seen as scandalous and extremely sexual. Even the men take great care to keep them covered. I hadn’t realized how accustomed to this I’d become until I saw a group of tourists in shorts and found myself gasping and silently judging their “inappropriate” clothing that really wasn’t inappropriate by American standards at all.
Although knees are a no-no, boobs are fair game. And they are everywhere. I first found it hard to carry on a conversation with a topless woman, unsure where I should focus my eyes. Now, it doesn’t bother me at all. Breasts are seen as functional, not sexual. It’s hot, so the shirts are off if you’re in your own yard! Mothers also whip out their boobs from under fancy dresses to breastfeed no matter the location – smushed together on public transit or teaching an elementary school class – baby’s gotta eat!
Rice bags and raves
My ceiling is made of rice bags and when lizards, birds and rats scurry to and fro across it – all. night. long – it makes a racket. In my first nights here, I barely slept, so nervous that something would finally succeed in scratching a hole through one of the bags and climb down into my hut. I haven’t yet seen a rat in my living quarters, and so I’ve convinced myself that’s it’s never going to happen. I’ve also convinced myself that the occasional really loud jumping noise is a cat up there killing the rats. Still, when the critters are being particularly loud, I just crazily wave my flashlight at the ceiling like I’m at a rave in hopes of scaring them off. It doesn’t really work but I pretend it does and then put my headphones in, partially so I can ignore whatever is up there to sleep and partially just to add to the rave effect. Totally normal.