Sandy's Online Journal

Are we the dining dead?

Monday, December 22

My Trip to Africa!

Thought you might like to see some of my journal entries. Check for pictures and more online information!

Saturday, December 6

I want to make sure to document everything so I can remember it—this is the trip of a lifetime!

My thoughts right now aren’t clear. I don’t think I realize I am actually going. To Africa. I kept walking through malls in the past few weeks seeing all the holiday decorations. It seemed so silly compared to going to Africa. So much materialism. I feel so grown-up—the biggest trip of mine so far! I really hope I don’t get sick.

Monday, December 8

10:55 AM
My list from the ride from Dakar to Banjul: beautiful waterfront with large pillars, many, many Coca Cola ads, Shell and Mobil stations, Western Union, wagons being pulled by horses or donkeys, terrible traffic, Nescafe ads, large buses full of people, goats, street vendors, many Renault and Peugeot cars, Marlboro and cigarette ads, Michelin, pharmacies with green cross, raw meat in the open air, beat-up taxi cabs.

There are large buses everywhere and seemingly very few traffic rules. I am most impressed by the amount of color. Everything is so vibrant, yet here we are in our tan and olive green khakis. Many of the buildings seem abandoned but they are still being used. We stopped to buy several cases of soap at a Shell station—very random.

We had lunch at the Hotel Relias in Kaolack and had to pay with Euros because we don’t have any Senegalese money. It was very nice and I had my first Coke in Africa!

We are traveling with Pa Amat Jagne who is the Volunteer Management Officer for the Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS). He is very nice and has been a wonderful host.

8:40 PM
We waited for the ferry at Barra and it grew dark. I met several of the kids hanging out there and made quite a few new pen pals. When I said I was from California, one person said “Ohh, Arnold� and another said “Ohh, Tupac! California love!� It was funny and we ended up talking about hip-hop for a little while. Aubin and I applied lots and lots of bug spray because we are scared of the mosquitoes, especially at dusk.

There were so many police stops along the way but everyone was nice because they respect the Red Cross. Every time we stop kids come up to our car and try to sell us things. It’s so hard to say no because the money we have means so little in relation to how much they need it.

I have never listened to so much Bob Marley before in my life! Our driver really enjoys it. One quote in particular from “Survival� seems appropriate: “How can you be sitting there telling me that you care?� It is strange watching the countryside go by from the comfort of our air-conditioned Land Cruiser.

We finally arrived at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Banjul. I changed some of my money into Gambian dalasis. 100 dalasis is worth about $3. I took the “shower of a lifetime�—a combination of finding a roach in the shower and then having the power go off.

Tuesday, December 9

12:30 PM
It is amazing how many partnerships Gambia has with other countries. There are signs everywhere announcing partnerships between Gambia and Germany, Kuwait, Japan, etc.

12:43 AM
I can’t believe how much stuff I have to write about. I have been taking notes but not putting them into words because I haven’t had time. Yesterday and today were amazing. We spent about 13 hours traveling from Dakar to Banjul, but it was only supposed to take 5. We saw many things along the way, though, so that made it worth it. Just being able to see the culture was wonderful. We left the Novotel and stopped at the Senegal Red Cross (Croix-Rouge Senegalaise) headquarters in Dakar. They run a school for kids there. It is also home to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office.

We visited the Red Cross office in Banjul, their national headquarters. The office is being run almost entirely by youth volunteers right now because many of the regular staff members are in the field at the vaccination posts. We were presented with two great t-shirts and a hat that say “Immunize your Child against Measles� and a Gambia Red Cross Society pin. I only had one Bay Area Chapter pin with me so I gave it to Pa.

We met with tons of officials today and I can’t keep track of them all—the Secretary of Health and the Medical and PR Directors of a local hospital and people from the Department of State for Health. They were all very kind and gave nice speeches about the importance of partnerships with the Red Cross. There were so many empty cardboard boxes that used to hold measles vaccinations lying around and also lots of yellow boxes that are used to dispose of the syringes.

We finally visited two vaccination sites. One that was located at a school near the Jammeh Foundation for Health (started by Gambia’s president) seemed to be just closing up. The next one had many kids still waiting for vaccinations and I had a great time talking to all the mothers and children. Many kids are brought in by their older siblings. I had the opportunity to administer Vitamin A drops to one little boy—he was a great sport and barely cried through his vaccination. The most amazing part was that the whole operation was being done by Red Cross volunteers—one of whom, Betty, we had met earlier at the Red Cross office in Banjul. 85-90% of the Gambia Red Cross Society’s volunteers are youth! That is so inspiring because it is truly young people helping young people all across the world.

I think it is ironic that I had to get 5 shots from our travel clinic in order to come here to see African kids get their vaccinations.

We are spending the night tonight at Camp Tendaba in rural Gambia. It is right on the Gambia River and it is beautiful. It was ridiculous getting here—the rural roads are terrible. So many potholes. Most of the time we drove on the side of the road to avoid them. The rooms are very reminiscent of camping, mosquito nets and all. There are even two crocodiles in a large concrete pen next to the bar. There is a big group of students from England who are visiting as part of a community service program. Every year their community college picks something to restore in Gambia and then comes down to stay. As the Camp Tendaba t-shirts say, “1 million mosquitoes cannot be wrong!�

Wednesday, December 10

Today we visited a school in Tendaba and it was amazing! The kids were clapping and singing for us as we drove up. They were arranged in a line and one girl at the front was holding a Red Cross flag. They did wonderful dances and we joined them and gave them small donations when they asked. We toured the school for a little bit to see their health ward and their vaccination post at the back. A women’s group performed at the end—they were a group of women who are single or only have one child and they use their extra time to put on plays showing the importance of vaccinating your children.

Next we visited the Mossambeh School. The kids ran all the way out to the main road to meet us and they were clapping and singing the whole way there and back! I got out of the car to walk with them the rest of the way. I was so touched to find out it is a school that Pa created. Their headmistress gave a long speech about the supplies they need and luckily Bonnie had brought some soccer balls to give them. Unfortunately that only scratches the surface. We met many members of their Parent Teacher Association and it was great to see what is equivalent in Africa to what we have in the United States. We had lunch with a few of the teachers and officials. It was delicious—rice and lamb in a really good sauce. We had many of the kids sign the Red Cross and Red Crescent flags we brought. They had been used as fundraisers in the US (for $1 you can sign a flag) and now we will be able to take them back with even more signatures. It was hard because some of the kids who came to the school to be vaccinated were not students and couldn’t write, but some were using their vaccination cards to copy their names onto the flag!

In the evening we went to a place across from the Red Cross headquarters and watched a wonderful dance and drama performance by a group of youth volunteers. Their skit was about the importance of taking sick children to the health center rather than to the marabou (the village’s medicine man). Fatou, who is in charge of implementing the Measles Initiative for the GRCS, and Oji, a youth volunteer, translated for us. At the end we joined them for dancing and it was so much fun!

Thursday, December 11

We said our first goodbyes at the Red Cross headquarters because Aubin (National Youth Council Vice Chair), Bonnie ( Staff Writer/Photographer), Seth (Channel One Reporter), and Tammy (Channel One Producer) have to leave. We took a nice final picture and they presented us with beautiful gifts—batik dresses for women and shirts for men. We visited two more vaccination sites and I had a wonderful time. I got to hold many of the children on my lap as they were being vaccinated. Some were very squeamish and Fatou explained that generally those kids are the ones who haven’t been taken to the clinic very often. Jess carried a little boy on her back and tied him with a wrap like the women do. I met an adorable little boy who grabbed my hand and then stayed close to me to play with my hair and my sunglasses. My heart melted.

Friday, December 12

Things are starting to wind down. Today we relaxed and were touristy. Jess and I saw monkeys outside our hotel and fed them peanuts. Such cute little hands! We also visited the gorgeous beach and picked up some seashells. It was so nice sleeping in and staying in our air conditioned room. We had lunch at the Kairoba Hotel next door and then went to the Banjul Craft Market to shop. It was difficult bargaining at first but I got the hang of it after a while. I bought two carved masks and a few carved elephant key chains.

We had a nice dinner in downtown Banjul with the whole group of Red Cross paid and volunteer staff. It was nice seeing them all one last time and the food was really good. Unfortunately we have to get up at 5:30 AM tomorrow in order to make the 7:00 ferry back to Barra. Our flight out of Dakar isn’t until 11:45 PM but we don’t want to take any chances in getting there.

Saturday, December 13

We made it to Dakar at a decent hour in the early afternoon and ended up stopping for lunch at the Novotel where we had stayed the first night. I studied for a little while at the table and then we left for the airport to turn in our rental cars. The flight from Dakar to Paris was just fine—I slept almost the entire way. We had tasty chocolate croissants in Paris and I bought a few gifts for friends. It was sad saying goodbye to everyone but it also felt good to be going home. I think a week was the perfect time in Africa and I know it will be somewhat of a culture shock being back in the US, especially having to go straight into finals!

I still can’t believe I’ve been to Africa! It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to go on behalf of the Red Cross. Over 740,000 Gambian children were vaccinated from December 6-17. I feel like I am really in my element when I am representing the Red Cross and I love learning about other Red Cross Societies and how they provide services to their communities. Meeting Pa, Fatou, Mr. Jammeh (Secretary General), Mariann (his secretary), Cala (Youth Director), and all the youth volunteers was wonderful and they made us feel at home even half way across the world. Seeing two Red Cross Societies come together for a worldwide partnership like the Measles Initiative is indescribable. There are so many feelings of pride for what you are doing and sadness because we can never do enough. It never ceases to amaze me that the $1 someone donates—which turns into thousands and millions of dollars over the years—will vaccinate an entire continent against measles. I am so proud to serve the Red Cross, an international humanitarian organization that does so much good in the world.

Home Sweet Home

I am home and it is great! It is so funny how there are still just as many things to do but it is done less with lists and more with my brain. That is not necessarily a good thing, but it at least makes me a less stressed person. It is wonderful not having to go to class all the time--that really takes up a lot of my time during the semester (big surprise). I think I have finished all my holiday shopping but not the wrapping. Luckily I already got presents for Ryan and Paula so that is not stressful. I still need to do some shopping for my mom.

I got two As and one B+ in my classes this semester and I am planning on contesting the B+, especially because it was a 4 unit class.

I can't wait until the professional pictures from Africa are ready! I'm so excited! I am planning on putting together a great Power Point presentation and slide show so I can present to many, many groups next year.

Alright, I'd better go. I am not sure what I'm doing tomorrow but I am sure I need sleep to do it. Later!