Monday, December 27, 2010

Final Transitions

I wish that there were some effective method to prepare oneself emotionally for drastic change. Graduations, big moves, the loss of friends or families--these things are all foreseeable intellectually, but when it comes to our emotions, there is just no way to avoid feeling lost. I have known that my date of departure from the Gambia was not too far away on the horizon for the past year. It was something that I thought I had prepared for, and yet, now that is unavoidably close and there are so many major decisions to be made and good-byes to be said, I feel blindsided all the same.

My first week in The Gambia I felt adrift. The shoots of what would become good friendships with my fellow volunteers had sprouted, but there was no one close to confide in, and home seemed a long way away. We all sucked it up and dealt with it, throwing ourselves into language learning and technical skills, and by the end of training I felt comfortable in my skin and ready to get things started. Since then, The Gambia has been home, and I only occasionally felt short pangs of homesickness. I had friends in the Peace Corps, friends in my village, and good friends and family at home who sent e-mails, cards, and packages.

Now things are unravelling a bit. Many of my friends in the Peace Corps have already gone home to be with their families for the holidays. Several of my close colleagues in village have been transferred, and I don't really have as close a connection with their replacements. And, while I am looking forward to seeing everyone at home, it still seems like an abstract future that is hard to really imagine, despite how near at hand it is. Feeling lost at sea, it's hard to feel close to people who are here, let alone people thousands of miles away across the ocean.

What is keeping me strong is the music project that I have started, and plans for grad school. Although I have been living in Africa for a couple years, it's evident that I am still very American, as I feel alert and focused only when I am hard on a task that I deem worthwhile. I am extending until the early spring to raise funds and finish the recording project, and, while this is a big undertaking, I find comfort in the motivation it gives me to keep striving and doing something meaningful. Once it's successfully completed, I know that it will be a difficult transition back to life in America, but with the research done and a lot of talking and presentations to give, I think the motivation driving me should continue over the Atlantic.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Music Project : Finally a Reality

First of all, I want to apologize for such a long lack of new posts on this blog. With grad school applications, planning out the next few months, and less than stellar telecommunications capabilities, my mind has been on other things. I am happy to say, however, that one of the things that has kept me busy and away from blogging has finally come to a successful head -- my Peace Corps Partnership Proposal for the Gambian Music Preservation Project has been approved, and the website is up and ready to accept donations.

In case you have not been fully informed about the project, let me fill you in on what the project is all about. About a year ago, I had the idea to record Gambian music to make a lasting record of some of the traditions that are vital to traditional Gambian society. Initially, the plan was to record music from all of the major ethnic groups in the country, and to combine all of this music into a computer database for easy access to anyone interested. After speaking to the leadership of the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in Banjul, I found that there is already a national archive filled with recordings of stories and songs, but that these records are incomplete and kept entirely on dilapidated reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. Revising my original idea, I decided to make an effort to help revitalize the work and mission of the NCAC. Working with Bala Saho, the director general of the NCAC, we decided to get some better recording equipment and focus on recording the musical traditions of some of the lesser known ethnic groups in The Gambia--the Serahule, the Manswanka, and the Bainounka. Our plan is to make treks into the interior of the country to communities of these ethnic groups, and to conduct recording sessions and community forums. The recording sessions will capture these vibrant traditions for current and future generations to see, and the forums will help to raise awareness of the importance of music in Gambian society.

After a few months of revisions and meetings with Peace Corps and NCAC staff, I completed the final draft of the project proposal and submitted it. The proposal was approved by Peace Corps Washington last week, and now is ready to move forward, once funding is acquired. This is where all of you in the states can help. On this blog is a link to the Peace Corps Partnership fund raisings site. To donate to the Gambian Music Preservation Project, simply follow this link and search for my project by keyword (Gambian Music Preservation), by my home state (Iowa), or by my country of service (The Gambia). When my project comes up in the search, simply click on it to donate using a credit card.

I am really excited to get this project started, and will be writing a lot about it in my blog when things really get underway. I am including some photos of Mandinka and Jola music and dance traditions with this entry. While these are not the traditions that the project is aiming to preserve--the ones specific to the project have yet to be documented--they will give you an idea about the vibrancy of Gambian culture and why it is something worth time and money to save. Thanks for your time and support, and look forward to more exciting posts in the future-