Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Top 10 things I will NOT miss when we leave The Gambia:
1. Random annoying children who scream at you, throw things at you, put their extremely dirty hands all over you, pinch you, pull your hair and/or demand money, candy, footballs and bicycles because at some point they became trained to believe that “toubobs” exist to give them things. I look forward to the day when a 5-minute walk down any familiar or unfamiliar street isn’t a potential riot scene…And the day when choruses of “Tubob!” aren’t ringing in my ears everywhere I go.
Top 10 things I WILL miss when we leave The Gambia:
4. Excellent hospitality. This is demonstrated by random strangers sometimes inviting you to eat meals with them just because you walk by on the street.
6. Taking a nighttime bath under the starry sky.
7. It’s fairly easy not to be fat here, even though you may hardly ever work out and you eat a diet that is 95% carbs. There just aren’t that many appealing snack foods outside of the capital city area supermarkets and alcohol is hard to find and expensive. On the downside, many of us have experienced a serious loss of muscle too, due to lack of protein and a decent workout routine. Everyday activities like walking through deep sand, carrying buckets of water, gardening and biking don’t seem to help as much as you’d imagine.
8. People not staring at their I-phone screens 24 hours a day or having long, loud phone conversations in public places. Now, to be fair, many Gambians love their cell phones and some of them have very snazzy ones. The etiquette of not answering your phone at certain moments isn’t usually observed, so you may see people answering phones while giving or attending professional presentations or while administering vaccinations (or anesthesia, as I was informed by a friend who observed an appendectomy in a local hospital the other day). But people don’t generally stay on the phone for lengthy periods, because phone credit isn’t cheap. And you don’t see people sitting together, interacting only with their phones and not each other…you see people sitting and chatting and acknowledging each other’s presences. Amazing!
9. Occasionally, the relative lack of regulation – where things are based on personal relationships over an excess of rules, it is sometimes surprisingly efficient. For instance, in lieu of an official mail delivery system, things reach people all over the country by being handed out the windows of vehicles. I once had someone toss a bag of dewormer out of a vehicle at our police check point with instructions to give it to Mama Suso, and about 5 minutes later a small boy on a bicycle delivered it to my compound.
10. The sweet randomness. Head to the market for onions and end up riding home on your bicycle with a live rooster in one hand (because someone told you it was a present for your host sister)…through a herd of cattle…while enjoying some frozen juice from a plastic bag. Or wake up in the morning to see your 2-year-old host brother squatting naked in the middle of the compound, pooping on the ground, with a shoe balanced on top of his head…smiling at you. Or waking up to cool morning air and the smell of smoke from people’s cook fires, then greeting and chatting (nonfluently) in five different languages in the process of walking to the nearest shop, buying bread and walking home.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
|2013: Baby Therese chowing down on a large piece of meat and thoroughly enjoying it|
|Tobaski 2012: Binta snacks on some puffs while a ram is slaughtered.|
|Tobaski 2013: Fancy kids!|
Friday, August 30, 2013
So, here is my top ten list of the West African way vs. the American way
(United States prices are estimates based on Amazon.com searches – I know they are not completely accurate!)
1. sport stroller for jogging(150 - 600 $ USD ) , regular stroller for general use (40- 400 $ USD), expensive baby backpack contraption and/or front-carrier contraption and/or store-bought baby sling (15 – 150 $ USD) , stroller base for car seat infant carrier (100 $ USD)
vs. wrap skirt (“faanoo”) (2 meters of fabric) for riding on mom’s back (1 - 2 $ USD)
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Work at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital is not always exciting. I’ve recently spent a lot of time collecting information for birth certificate registrations, adding it to the official books and filling out certificates when they’re available…we’re always slightly behind on this task and I know my help is appreciated, if not particularly essential to anyone’s health and well-being (except maybe the public health officers, who can spend more time taking breakfast breaks).
I also still help out at clinic by making sure kids get the proper vaccinations, as quickly as possible. At some of the busier trekking sites, some crowd control is necessary at the vaccination station. Gambian women are a multi-talented bunch, but few of them really excel at orderly queuing.
Sometimes I have nagging doubts though – I think most Peace Corps volunteers want to feel that they did that one major project that was flawlessly conceived, perfectly executed and really helped their community in a big way. And many volunteers do! But you can’t just force a project, especially in a large community that already has a lot of resources. Many times in Bwiam I’ve had a sudden “great” idea, only to inquire and find out people are already doing whatever it is, by themselves! Sometimes the best I can do is say “Great job! I’m so happy you’re doing that! Let me know if I can help.”
I never knew much about development work before coming here and I still don’t. However, I have learned one thing: it’s really complicated. What makes a project succeed in terms of its effect on individuals or communities is pretty elusive sometimes. Having a sufficient grasp of what’s really going on in a completely different environment and culture is frankly close to impossible, even when you live alongside community members for months or years. As volunteers we see situations where foreign aid money is being poured into projects and the benefits are minimal – and people are less willing to work for their own needs because they now expect continued support. In other cases, aid is essential for people’s well-being (for example: Global Fund’s funding of antiretrovirals for HIV patients at our hospital) and the idea that the money may someday dry up or be withdrawn is very scary.
There are definitely many people here who believe that all Americans are insanely rich and should be giving them money and things all the time. It’s hard to explain that some of us are privileged in terms of our educational opportunities and skills, but we don’t have bottomless amounts of cash to share with them. A lot of people don’t want to hear that and a few will even become angry with you or call you a liar. I have been trying to put my ego aside and not fight about this – I just want to be secure in my own knowledge that I’m helping in the best way I know how. If I honestly thought that throwing money at some serious problem here would solve it for once and for all, I would be eager to raise funds, write grants or do whatever it takes. But I also believe that it’s something you really need to be careful about.
Honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for real development work. I respect that Peace Corps is geared towards small, community-based projects. And I’m sticking with the smallest of the small. If I leave after two years knowing that a handful of people learned something about family planning, malaria prevention or prenatal care, that’s great. If a few moms remember that some crazy white lady with terrible Mandinka (and even worse Wolof) came and held their hand while they were in labor and helped them to be a little less frightened and feel a little less alone, that’s great. If some of the hospital staff got a few new ideas for how to care for their patients, that’s great.
I’m a nurse and a volunteer because I care about people. I love women’s health because I love women and I want their lives to be better. Most women in The Gambia have hard lives, but they are strong. I don’t pity them, I respect them. I want to show them my respect by working alongside them and encouraging them…and we’ll see what happens.
|Hospital staff educating about the benefits of prenatal care.|
Sunday, June 16, 2013
|Prepping Gmelina tree seeds with host brothers|
|Our family's new puppy "Jack"|
|Colette enjoying the puppy while it's young|
|Our host brother Sam receiving his "Best Science Student" award this year|
|It's mango season here!|
|Sam with his award. We are very proud of him.|
|Colette with our friend Kassa. She's the new Deputy Head Girl at school.|
|Our cat only drinks water from buckets. She's spoiled.|
|The youth beekeepers received their new beesuits!|
|The hut I sleep in every week while beekeeping.|
|The NGO I work at 2 days a week.|
|Bottling fresh honey for resale.|
|Bintou (our host sister) and I are preparing "soso" for lunch.|
|Mariama pounding cardamom pods to put in home made soap.|
|Colette whisking soap mixture.|
|Me whisking body butter mixture.|
|The group is proud of their home made beeswax and honey soap and body butter.|
|More soap making.|
|The youth with their new bee "catch boxes."|
|The group with their hives!|
|At Abuko nature reserve.|
|Abuko nature reserve. It's a hyena!|
|In Cape Verde making sangria in the bathroom. We're classy budget travelers.|
|Cape Verde's black sand beach.|
|One of Cape Verde's many shipwrecks.|
|One student with her Earleaf Acacia that she has been taking care of.|
|In Basse Santa Su.|
|We used to eat by candlelight...now we have electricity!|
|A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer's beautiful hut.|
|One of two bathtubs we've seen in our village. The other one is in a pig sty.|
|Wedding feast called Benecin!|
|We made grass hives.|
|A local "griot" musician played the kora at our host sister's wedding.|