Photo by Kris Casey

Photo by Kris Casey

GHS grad takes on a Peace Corps assignment—and dives into another culture

Adrian Fields hunched over his computer, his heart racing as he eagerly filled out an application to join the United States Peace Corps. Like an enlisting soldier, he knew he was effectively writing a blank check for the next few years of his life—once he was accepted, his assigned country, duty, and host family would all be in the hands of the United States government.

Nearly a year later, he received his assignment: training 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers in The Gambia, Africa, to teach English as a second language. His host family lived in Jahanka, a small village in The Gambia, and primarily spoke Wolof.

How many languages did you learn while you were stationed in The Gambia?

I really only learned Wolof but could greet in four or five different languages.

Tell me about the greetings.

The Gambia is a very open culture. One of the biggest things they do is greet. You go out and greet everyone in the family every morning, which usually takes about five minutes. If you didn’t get up and greet everyone in the morning, they assumed something was wrong—that you were sick or upset.

Why do greetings take so long?

It’s a very communal style of living. There were about 30 people in my host family: my host father, his four wives, and all of their children. Each morning, I’d ask about the children, the wives, the home people, and the work, and they’d ask me about my job and my home people. . . . That’s normal. That’s how they interact. It’s really, really rude to go somewhere and not greet.

The “home people”?

My family back in America, or, if I was visiting another family, “home people” might be my host family.

What was it like living in a polygamist household?

It was strange but not as off-putting as I thought it would be. Kids are raised by the mother, stepmothers, older siblings, grandparents. Everyone is in it together.

For me, though, privacy was an issue, especially at first. My host father and I each had our own mud hut, and everyone else lived together in big rooms. It was really weird having my own space when no one else did, but also wanting my own space and privacy.

Tell me about your mud hut.

I stayed in a square mud hut with a mud exterior and wooden beams holding up the thatch on top. It was tough because bugs were everywhere—little earwigs—and rodents. I killed so many mice and rats while I was there. I had a snake in my bed once, and shrews. The Gambia has this huge bush rat, bigger than a cat. I had one of those in my hut once. Chickens were constantly walking in and out of my house. . . . I guess you could say I was really at one with nature. [laughs]

Once I had a big monitor lizard—one of those big four-foot long lizards—on my roof. It jumped off and ran away. Later, I told my host family about it, and they were like, “We eat those! You should have told us. We would have gotten it and eaten it.”

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

While I was in The Gambia, I really learned my limits physically and mentally. I had malaria for a while. And it was very different to be without cell phone service, running water, and electricity. I learned how pampered I’d been, growing up in Georgetown, and how silly some of the things I get upset over are.

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