My third week here is coming to a close. It’s been an extremely busy week, with many new volunteers arriving and switching around the schedule. The Starfish students are in the middle of exams for their schools, so our main focus has been helping them prepare for their exams. My coping skills class is over, so for the first few days I helped teach 7th grade math to some of the students who were struggling the most. It’s been a long time since I learned about angles and perimeter/area!
Starting on Wednesday, I began teaching my music class. I began with the basics, so what the notes are and the beginning of reading music. But what the girls and mentors are most excited about is my ukulele. For starters, most of them have never heard the word ukulele and laugh everytime I say it. But they all wanted to learn what it is and how to play it. I wish I had more instruments in order to teach, but I’ll have to make due with my single ukulele.
On Wednesday, I taught them how to hold the ukulele and what each string was. I had them each practice playing a little, which they all enjoyed and kept wanting to hold it. It’s hard to teach 7 students with only one ukulele when they all want to hold and play it all the time. Eventually I got my instrument back, and could play a song for them. Since most of the songs I know are too hard to be learned in a week, I played my ukulele as they sang. I taught them the words to “Can’t help falling in love”, the Twenty-One Pilots version. They loved singing along, and kept asking to sing it again. All my students are so passionate about music, it brings out my passion.
On Thursday we went back over the notes. Learning the notes is essential to eventually being able to read music, so I really want to focus on that at the beginning of each class. They begged to sing “Can’t help falling in love” again, so we sang it quite a few more times. It is one of my favorites to play, so I was just as happy as they were. Then we went into learning some basic chords, so eventually the girls can learn to play a full song. It’s exciting to see so many students, mentors and volunteers who want to learn. I hope to pass on as much as I can, so when I’m gone everyone can continue learning.
This week we also started our site visits! We don’t leave the Starfish compound much during the week because we’re so busy with classes and preparations, but this week was dedicated to going out as much as possible. On Monday we visited the Kachikally Crocodile Pond and the monkey park. Crocodiles are a sacred animal here in The Gambia, so we got to visit a pond dedicated to protecting them, and even got to touch one. From there we drove to the monkey park. It’s honestly just a forest where a bunch of monkeys live, and if you come in with peanuts you won’t find it hard to find any monkeys. They swarm to the peanuts, and grab as many as they can. I even had one stick it’s arms into my pockets in search of any more peanuts.
On Tuesday we went to the Barkama craft market to look for anything we would like to buy. They sold a bunch of wood carvings, instruments and clothing. I found an instrument called the Kora, which is basically the Gambian version of a ukulele. I was tempted to buy it, but it was so expensive and I didn’t know when I would have time to learn how to play it. We will be going back to the craft market sometime, and I know I will once again have to exercise some willpower to not give in and buy it.
On Wednesday we went to a snake farm about an hour from here. We were shown a bunch of species of snakes, turtles, crabs and lizards. I held a few of the smaller snakes, and even had a python sit on my shoulders. Definitely not an experience I would like to have in the wild, but it was cool to see how huge the python really was. On Thursday we went on a boat trip through the rivers where the Gambians fish. We sailed to a river bank where we caught some crabs. The riverbank was all mud, so I wouldn’t be surprised if my feet are still dirty for the next week.
Overall the past week has been extremely busy. I have been able to pursue my passion of music by teaching the girls, and am able to continue exploring The Gambia while learning about their culture. I can’t believe I only have one week left, and I’m not at all ready to go home.