Let me hope that today's post is worth the wait for all of you! I know you've all been begging to see photos and hear stories of my 21-day trip to Africa (mostly spent in The Gambia) while I volunteered with Books for Africa and Hand in Health on their 1 Million Books for Gambia project.
So, here it is. 21 days, 21 adventures is what I'm sharing here. If you want to hear or see more...you'll have to host me on your blog! Please email me (mirandapaulbooks at gmail dot com) if you'd love me to guest post, do an interview, or share more about how your readers can get involved in such an exciting cause promoting literacy and providing books for kids in Africa.
Meeting my travel companion, Cookie the Bunny
|Cookie is on the left...That's a mommy pigeon and her babies on the right.|
Cookie is a fun pal of a local Girl Scout troop and Cookie travels around the world. I documented photos and captions in Cookie's Travel Journal and the girls back home learn all about the world this way! Though Cookie has traveled extensively, this was Cookie's first time in Africa!
Navigating the streets of Casablanca, Morocco
|The merchant was so excited I was from America, he wouldn't even let me pay for the handful of strawberries I ate.|
I speak about five words of Arabic and know only a handful of French, so this was certainly a challenge. But...I did manage to find the world's tastiest strawberries in a local souk market and they melted my fears nicely.
Assisting with the delivery of a new baby...Isatou-Miranda Sallah!
|I wish I could describe to you what it feels like to hold a baby that's named for you. What a joyous honor!|
To sum up this story in a few sentences is tough...what an adventure! Kudos to women who give birth here in Gambia. We bathed the new baby by candlelight and a week later, at the traditional Fula naming ceremony, my best friend Isatou and I were honored when the baby girl's name was revealed: Isatou-Miranda!
Walking the entire country of Gambia on foot
|And after the trip...only 4 blisters! Must be a world record.|
When Tom Warth and Megan Meyer from Books for Africa & Hand in Health first informed me that we'd be walking the entire country (North to South), I was wary...but over the course of two days, we completed the African Bookwalk promoting literacy and distributing books along the way with so many breathtaking sights...and so many stories!
Walking the country of Gambia...with GREAT company!
|Want to see all 3,000 at once? Friend me on Facebook to see the amazing pic posted on my wall!!|
At one point along our walk, we were joined by more than 3,000 Gambian students excited that new books were coming to their school libraries (some for the first time). Some of them even walked with us for miles in the dry season heat - what troopers!
Delivering more than 40,000 books to 31 schools and community libraries
|Yes, a big truck. Filled and unloaded many times over! Thanks, donors!|
To show you a photo of one truck loaded with books doesn't even do our mission justice. The books couldn't fit in a single truck if we tried. But it's amazing to know that statistically, we've changed the ratio of books to Gambians in a dramatic way just in this one trip...and 1 Million Books for Gambia is only getting started!!
Finding a copy of Harry Potter in a Gambian Library
|Wish I would have had Potter glasses for this shot at the first library built in Bwiam.|
I couldn't believe it wasn't already checked out...but it was fun to see that Harry Potter really has made his way to this tiny corner of the world, too.
Meeting the fantastic mayor of Banjul, Gambia
|Gambian Library volunteer Isatou Ceesay poses with Mayor Samba fall for a brief moment before getting back to work delivering books!|
Mayor Samba Faal was a huge help in logistics to our book distribution project. Thank you to all Banjul City Council members and those connected with the Ministry of Education who partnered with Books for Africa and Hand in Health on the 1 Million Books project!
Being constantly surrounded by kids!
|The night before our Bookwalk, dozens of kids and women danced and celebrated our arrival. Pure fun!|
I took 1,587 photos during my trip. I'm willing to wager that more than 60% of them have at least one Gambian child in it. As a children's author and mother, I felt right at home with a baby in my arms or a hand holding mine while I was away from my own kids.
Crashing a wedding...sort of...
If you've never experienced living directly across from a Mosque...let me inform you that the morning call for prayer happens in the hour before the "wee hours" of the morning. So when I was kept awake late one night with the thumping bass of a neighbor's lively music...I ventured out to politely ask them to turn it down. But when I discovered it was a wedding party...well, I just partied right along! Congrats to Ansu and his new bride. (sorry, no pic of the wedding - but here's a photo of the mosque & loudspeaker that woke me up before sunrise daily).
Being in another kind of crash...
|Go seat belts!|
Definitely not the highlight of the trip...but I'm glad the new seat belt law was in place and no one was hurt in the accident.
Delivering Dr. Seuss & other great picture books to a very rural village school...their first ever!
After delivering books to urban and semi-rural schools, the latter part of my trip was dedicated to getting books "up country." Waaaaaay off the beaten path, I was so proud to bring books to communities that are so remote, I'm willing to wager almost no visitors to the country even know these villages exist. But now, they have books and pieces of the outside world...and I took plenty of inspiration from them!
Nearly stepping on a monitor lizard...
I was distracted by all the monkeys and birds...so of course I didn't notice a five foot lizard beneath my feet. Afterwards, a field guide told me that its monstrous tail could have cut me very badly. In that case, I'm really thankful I didn't catch him (yes...I tried).
Meeting Babucarr, an inspirational 9-year-old
Born blind and locked in a room by parents who feared his condition, Babucarr is now attending GOVE school for the blind and has been taken in by my best friend, Isatou - another inspirational Gambian. Babucarr is a remarkably happy, smart 9-year-old and I had the absolute pleasure of teaching him to play scales on the piano, take a digital photograph, and write a pen-pal letter -- things that only a few years ago no one believed he could do. He's the definition of a champion!
Being featured in Gambian newspapers and on TV
|Spending a morning with the busy Editor-In-Chief reminded me of how much I don't miss being the editor of a newspaper!|
With all the fuss about delivering two sea containers of books (about 44,000) to 31 locations, we certainly made headlines. But the highlight was getting one of my photos published in The Daily Observer! And, in second place was meeting one of The Point Newspaper's female journalists and touring the ink press room.
Connecting 100 American students with 100 Gambian students
|Quite convenient that Gambia's national language is English - no translations needed!|
I love visiting schools, and before I left for the Gambia the students at Hillcrest Elementary penned letters which I delivered to students at Rose-Kali and Ming Daw schools in Gambia. Next week, another visit to Hillcrest deliver the responses!
Changing a flat in 30 minutes flat
Lamin & I rocked the tire change in the 95-degree afternoon sun...and on an incline! But as this was my fifth trip to Gambia, it wasn't a sweat - getting a flat tire is a frequent occurrence along unpaved roads full of "rock dodge" detours.
Meeting the Nigerian Ambassador
What a thrill to meet representatives from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, including H.E. Mrs. Esther John Audu. Their huge financial pledge of support will allow us to send 100,000 more books to Gambia in the next round (who is joining me in 2013?)
Figuring out how to cook pancakes over charcoal
Don't get me wrong...I love Gambian food. But the kids at my house were begging for something American. So after a search for baking powder and other ingredients was successful, we navigated our way through cooking pancakes over charcoal and flipping them with two spoons.
Watching kids read new books for the first time!!
This was one adventure I got to live out over and over again during my three-week trip. Watching kids read books is something I hope I'll never tire of. And, to be perfectly honest, parents and teachers were just as into the children's books as the kids were! Cheers to a culture of reading now being cultivated in The Gambia.
Adventure #21 - TO BE CONTINUED...
Adventure #21 will be revealed on MARCH 26th at Renee LaTulippe's poetry website called NO WATER RIVER. I'm not inclined to say more, only that it's EXOTIC and AMAZING. Make sure to visit her site on 3/26 for the reveal (trust me, it kills me to keep this adventure a secret...but soon you'll see why!).
Want to hear more stories? See More Photos?
Please consider hosting me, children's author and international volunteer Miranda Paul on your website or blog for an interview or feature article. I'd love to stop by and tell you more about these adventures and how to get involved with 1 Million Books for Gambia! Email me at mirandapaulbooks at gmail dot com with your idea. Thanks!
|This could be you...let me know if you're interested in traveling to Africa in the future!|
Comments are open below -- I'd love to know what you think of my adventures! And, if you're interested in packing your things and heading to Gambia in 2013, let me know that too -- I'm willing to take a few stowaways with me.
Lastly - I'm getting back on track. Rate Your Story is now open for submissions and I'll be posting Perfect Picture Books on Fridays again! Yay!