On her six-month birthday, Fatoumata Jessica was cooing on my doorstep! My host sister from training village, Sainabou, delivered a healthy baby girl who was named after me and her grandmother (my namesake) in November. I told them they were welcome to visit any time and Sainabou’s husband promised he’d send them when the baby was a bit older. There are no little babies in my compound, let alone a little baby with my name, so I was ecstatic for her to visit.
As we dressed for the cultural show, my mother draped strings of beads around my neck and across my chest in a traditional Jola fashion. She stood back, looked at me and sucked her teeth. “Ahaaaaa,” she said. “Nice, nice! My toma will be first.”
Here’s my tally of random happenings that sum up my Peace Corps Pre-Service Training.
As a last hurrah in training, we walked a half marathon through The Gambia: around rice fields, near cashew orchards, in waist-deep boiling mud, across dry plains and through knee-deep grass. The “Marathon March” served as a perfect metaphor for our service.
The following is a profile on my host mother and Gambian namesake who cared for me during my two months of Peace Corps training. She not only welcomed me to her home, but folded me into her family — worrying and fussing over me as if I really was her daughter. She is quite the character and an inspiration for my service.
Every time I cook with my sisters, they ask: “Do you eat this in America?” Time after time, I stare into the pot: fish heads bobbing in a red sauce, green curd-like paste made from leaves off our tree, spaghetti with mayonnaise, rice with palm oil. “No,” I shake my head. One day, my sister Sainabou finally exclaimed, somewhat perplexed: “Well, what do you eat in The Gambia?” I promised to show them one day.
Since Day One, my sisters have been offering to arrange my marriage to a Gambian husband. With each new person I meet, it’s more of the same — a flood of questions about why I lack a husband and child. In a culture where family life plays such an integral role and people are expected to get married and have babies, Gambians don’t understand how a 25-year-old woman could not only be single, but also say she doesn’t want a husband. I’ve tried various tactics to deflect the interrogations and marriage proposals, many of which have been less than successful.