Trip to Kaur

The Starfish volunteers and mentors went on a trip upcountry to a village called Kaur. We got out of the Starfish environment for a couple of days and just experienced a little more of the Gambia. We went to the house where one of the Starfish friends grew up. He took us home to a beautiful village and family that welcomed us immediately. This house felt like home right away as all the volunteers laid across the floor and the couches tired from the 7-hour bus/ferry ride. We had lunch before we headed out to go by the river. Walking through village we saw goats and chickens and fields and little ponds. Then we finally got to the river, which took my breath away. You can hear the river flowing silently as you watch the trees in the background, undisturbed by buildings or telephone lines. Some of us sat on the deck as we wrote in our journals and laid a mat across the floor while the others took a nap. I love the connection I feel with nature here. I often find that in America the decks would have fences and railings to protect people from falling in — all in good measure — but I liked the freedom sit freely along the side of the deck and have my feet dangling off. Sure there’s a lack of safety measures, but there aren’t as many barriers between the water and me.

After a couple of hours of journaling we headed back to the house to get dinner. The electricity was out by the time we got back from the river visit. We all sat with our hand fans and thought that we all worked together to fan, we could create a pseudo-fan with enough circulation for a little bit until the electricity came back. This actually worked a little bit because I didn’t have a hand fan but definitely felt a constant breeze. However, the electricity was out for hours so we couldn’t keep up with the heat. We laid across the floor refusing to even remotely touch each other until we got dinner. After we ate we set up the mattresses and laid across the floors and couches once again hoping the electricity would surprise us in the middle. It did tease us for a minute by coming back and going away immediately but before it came back for good, most of us had fallen asleep and couldn’t enjoy the couple minutes of hot air blowing around the room.

We woke up the next morning ready to do our chores that we were assigned the night before. My chores were to help cook breakfast and wash dishes with Awa and May. By the time I took a shower and got dressed they were already working — what’s new? The mentors are always on top of their game. As we were waiting for the water to boil to make the porridge for breakfast, we washed the dishes from dinner the night before. May is such a rock star. I don’t know how she can be bending over and washing dishes for so long. I would look at the large pile of dishes and be mildly overwhelmed (not too overwhelmed but maybe just the right amount), but she is unphased by work — definitely a lesson I need to learn from the mentors. Finally it was time to have breakfast in the usual fashion-a large plate filled with porridge and a cup of milk to pour over it. It’s pretty darn delicious. After breakfast, we went to visit the local school in Kaur. The mentors visited the school last year so the staff remembers them from the year before. I love how Starfish strengthens connections by giving people the time of day. I see the hosts’ faces light up when we walk in unannounced. I realized how people just want to be shown love and sometimes we stop ourselves from doing that even though it is mutually beneficial to show love and to receive it.

Later in the day we went on a hike up a hill to look over the village and then to a boat ride. The boat ride was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I sat at the front with the guides or the drivers. One of them spoke French but not English and my minimal French skills failed me and we couldn’t talk for long without me sounding like a kindergartener. The second guide was much quieter and tried to translate for me when I couldn’t understand the French but then soon the two of us started talking. He asked me how I have liked the Gambia so far. I told him that it reminded me of being in India so much. I told him that as I grow up and become a doctor I wanted to move back and serve in India. He was saying that his dream was to move to America. His family would be happy and he would be able to support them better if he moved abroad. I asked him if he would miss home, and he looked out at the trees on the sides of the river — which in my mind have become the staple image of the Gambia — and told me that of course he would miss home, but sometimes you have to sacrifice to be able to provide for family. At that point I thought of all the people that have the luxury of staying at home and still being able to make money. Some people have the luxury to stay where they are comfortable, where they are part of the majority and they won’t be discriminated against. While it is hard enough for foreigners to find their way to get abroad, they have to face endless challenges once they get to countries with greater opportunity. I thought about my boat driver and how he would fit into American society. He would miss the greetings on the street. He would miss driving his boat down his river and looking at the stars as the wind blows away any remnants of the sweat from the day’s hard work. Talking to him made me realize the sacrifices that are a part of everyone’s lives