Fail Blog 2: Culture and Everyday Life…

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Welcome to Fail Blog 2, the follow up to my farm fails blog. In this edition I’ll share some of the mistakes and laughs that result when PCVs good intentions fall apart for any number of reason. As you’ll see below – there are a lot of reasons!

From the outside looking in, our peace corps service may look impressive, admirable and well executed. Our blog and Facebook photos are nice, the plants on the farm look good and the people, including myself, look happy all the time (really, who’s going to post photos of themselves being angry or holding dead plants?!). While our PC service is admirable and impressive, it’s not a constant and many times a fair bit of editing happens before the final presentation. Unflattering details are left out, 6 bad photos are deleted to find the good one and stories of weird illnesses or cultural interactions are omitted, perhaps for the sake of others.

My favorite ‘fails’ happen when I try to act ‘cool’ or take a picture of something artificially impressive and I get humbled in the process. There’s even a Mandinka proverb and word that describes something you forget because you’re head was somewhere else and not with the people you’re around. There have been many times I’ve thought “wow, I really did a great job with language and saying good bye to everyone” only to realize that I forgot my backpack in the room I just rushed out of. I often do the walk of shame back into a place to retrieve a forgotten nalgene bottle or cell phone.

A ‘fail’ definitely depends on your perspective. I’m convinced that a slightly delusional sense of optimism is definitely healthy for PC service – and maybe life in general? So, some of the photos below will have both a fail and success aspect to them. Even this ‘fail blog’ is a small success that allows us to learn from each other and make connections. Onward….

Bad timing fail: I come a little bit too late to get the photo of them killing the goat. While I thought that I missed the opportunity to get a picture, the Gambians, without any prompt, strike the pose and pretend to hold and kill the goat for me. Fails and successes alternate rapidly here sometimes. And I must say, it says a lot that they immediately tried to help with my agenda upon seeing the camera.

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This is a 10 second timer shot taking from my point and shoot camera. Not only did the picture get whited out but the look Alagie gave me wasn’t what I was expecting at all! I thought he was looking at the camera and only noticed it after reviewing my photos. After looking at it a few times I think it’s a definite “win!” Alagie is on a whole new level of artistic expression!

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Foot fail: another random surprise in my service – a gigantic foot! I couldn’t figure out why this happened, no obvious trauma or big bug bites. Rainy season strikes in mysterious ways.

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Looks delicious right? But these recipes turned out tasting very bad: all mush and vinegar. Made a good photo but that’s only the cover story…

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Fresh air fail. So after 2 hours of work on the Tobaski bull I needed to take a ‘5-minute breather’ in my house. Generally I’m pretty good about blood but this was a marathon session of strange smells, sounds and machete hacking. I came back out thinking “whoa! much different than the meat department at the supermarket.”

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Taking my share of the meat from the above photo I was faced with the problem that I don’t have a refrigerator or place to store the meat. I was given 5lbs or so and immediately cooked it to share with my family. You can see the kebab mix my brother in the states gave me; I used it to season the meat.

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Another round of pickles that comes up mushy and basically inedible. I’ll need to rethink my brine recipe before I share them with my family again.

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Food share fail: it’s good to share nutritious foods with your family. I made some moringa powder by pounding the dried leaves of a moringa tree; it’s got lots of vitamins and is considered one of the best ‘aid’ trees because of it’s multiple uses. I excitedly brought it to lunch one day, only to discover that nobody wanted to try any. Finally my host brother tried some, only to be yelled at for getting the powder in another persons portion of the food bowl. The win? – later using the un-pounded leaves to make a tastier sauce everyone enjoyed.

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Mullet fail: this was the last day for my mullet; but i’ll argue that anytime you try to do a mullet it’s a win! I’m thinking of making a mullet comeback tour, complete with mustache – maybe Halloween? One good thing about peace corps is that it’s one time in your life you can pretty much be weird and do whatever you’d like to with few social consequences. People here already think we’re weird so there’s not much to lose :).

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Tail fail: the board bites the dust in 2-3 foot surf. Plus side is that we’re extra motivated to find a board on our surf trip to Senegal and end up getting one for a great price: free.

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Privacy fail: My backyard wall is knocked down to make room for a new waste pit. It’s never that ‘private’ here in Gambia but this took it to a new extreme!

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Kombucha fail. Maybe the tea made me sick, can’t say for sure, but one 14-day fermented batch turned really vinegar-y. The plus side: I got to put more things in jars and my little host sister learned to say “where’s the kombucha?” in mandinka :).

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Trash: it’s a problem in West Africa – this photo was taken in Senegal.

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Maybe this could be called a ‘recycling’ or ‘waste bin’ fail but taking it back a step you could see it as a ‘quick fix with plastic containers and bags fail.’ Many years back it was less convenient to carry things with your hands or natural material baskets – you couldn’t carry as much perhaps or sell single serving items. Now all things are more convenient and comfortable…that’s what i’ll say for this…I know you can think of the rest and I don’t need to get on my high horse ๐Ÿ™‚

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Theft fail: The bee hive on the right was stolen. I would admit that this is partly my fault for not having bees in the hive – I had set it there hoping for it to colonize while I was waiting to transfer a smaller ‘catcher box’ into this one. I learned that the bees are also the security for their home – the thieves did leave the lid behind.

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My host grandmother in Kiang Kaiaf (training village) steals the show! Good for her! Definitely one of my favorite photos. I imagine her thinking something like “I don’t think so new guy! This is my chance for a photo!”

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My first host mother Wanto and I take a photo together. This is was a real peace corps photo looks like :).

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This generator took several minutes to offload from a donkey cart; various people, tires, levers and rollers were used to get it into position. The fail is that it ended up hurting 3 people in the process, one guy needing stitches: man power only fail.

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Camera fail: I was told by other PCVs that “Gambia is the place electronics come to die.” This is true. My camera has a hard time opening up but it still works in manual mode (e.g., using my hand to open it).

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This is a type of ring worn by Muslim men. I can’t remember now but it symbolizes something. The fail? When religious practices constrict basic biological processes. We cut the ring at the metal shop and returned peace, and blood flow, to his life.

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This water tank was really expensive but busted and drains water out when only 1/3 full.

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I had taken this keyboard to try and make something out of it – what I made was an enemy when I confronted the man going through the carrier on the back of my bike. Fail lesson: just let crazy people go through your stuff if they want, you really can’t do anything productive in the moment.

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Trying to make yogurt and fermented plant juice. All this stuff didn’t go as expected and fermented, molded, turned sour etc. I would go on to refine recipes and make nicer natural farming inputs.

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Welding fail: this rakes support rods broke off at first use. This is one of those times I walked proudly to the farm to show off my work, much to the delight of my friends, and then got laughed at when the rake immediately broke! The statements go from “good work, you can weld!” to “haha, you don’t know this job!” in about 5 seconds.

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Another behind the scenes insight – this tool hasn’t been used since I welded it – we’re all too afraid it’ll break. It’s been in the corner of our farm house collecting dust for 7 months. It really looks like I know what I’m doing doesn’t it!?

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Passing moment fail: books can be so inspiring and ready revolutionize your life. They do…but perhaps for just a moment. Then you may forget everything in them and move on, like I did with this one. And how about that title!? That was it alright, long gone, impermanence win!

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Cheese fail – if pictures could smell! This batch came out horrible, but what did I expect with powdered milk, 100 degree weather and a purple plastic bucket covered with a handkerchief for 5 days? It’s a start…

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Excited about a microscope and looking at all the cool microorganisms in the compost and soil etc. No slides, no this, no that, no cool science views.

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This is a touchy one – lots could be said here. These products were bought by my host sister. This could be a huge spring board for self-acceptance gurus, the dark side of marketing or a dissertation topic. Thoughts?

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Taking a “selfie” at a coffee shop near the ferry crossing. Instant karma when the photo turns out unclear and I get badly overcharged on the coffee! Repeat: “don’t try to be cool!” ๐Ÿ™‚

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My host brother enters the sales world with a unique product but ends up losing money on storage, food and shelter. For what it’s worth, he was trying to sell it for a price that could buy you 350lbs of rice :).

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Sweet wort – a fermented millet drink that’s highly nutritious. I don’t think the conditions here make for easy fermenting, bottling, brewing, etc. It’s more likely a wild mix of yeast and inconsistencies. I did drink some of this but it needed a lot of sugar, and maybe I got a stomach ache off of it – I can’t remember now. The success is that I’ve learned better ways to make it and if I can do it here I know i’ll be able to in the states.

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Gloves fail. They looked strong to begin with. Sure gloves are bound to wear out – the funny thing is the amount of time it took to get them to this state :).

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I came home with a sense of victory after my first day throwing net for tilapia. My family was less impressed and refused the fish because they were too small and smelled bad.

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Well that’s it for now. Thank you for reading along and sharing in my experience. Please post your comments or questions or some of your own fails below. We’re all trying our best so lets keep going along our paths with a sense of lightness for the unexpected. -Stephen

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