Saturday, 3 September 2011

Muslims, Wildlife and Bumsters

Muslims, Wildlife and Bumsters

Finally I have found some time to write up my first blog, been a busy few weeks and only to get busier I presume...

Finally here! What a long journey it seemed. No sleep since 9am Monday morning and its now 8.30pm Tuesday. Journey went smoothly, coach from leeds 9.20pm arrived at Gatwick 4.20am, caught our flight at 9.15am, arrived in The Gambia 2.55pm... Although the flight was only 5 hours, it felt like forever! Such a small, uncorfortable plane, even for me and im not exactly the tallest of people. But we got here in the end. As soon as the doors of the plane opened... the heat hit us like a ton of bricks! Instantly dripping with sweat, as its the rainy season here, the air is super humid, cant seem to cool down or dry yourself. Gets quite uncomfortable at times, but cant complain, loving the heat. The Senegal President arrived at the airport just after us so we were greeted to everyone waiting for the president to land. Sisawo and Ansumannam met us at the airport with big welcoming smiles, they are both fantastic, very helpful and thoughtful. As they took us to our accomodation we went via the local towns which are madness, lots of busy people getting on with their gambian ways of life, vibrant colours of african clothing, waving, smiling children, bikes, cars, trucks, dust, goats, donkeys, dogs, cats, lizards, chickens, exotic birds, markets, flies, basic buildings, smells of smoke, rubbish, fish, car fumes, sounds of shouting, music, beeping, vehicles, rain. So many new sights, smells and sounds taken in at this point, overloading the senses, too much to take in at once and hard to describe with out being here yourself.
The accomodation was a huge shock to the system, preparing ourselves for basic living, we were told that the original accom. they had arranged for us had fell through so they had arranged for us to stay with a friend of thiers. Well when we arrived we could believe our eyes, such a grand house, marble flooring, big luxurious sofas, massive plasma TV! Definitely not the african experience we had imagined. So the owner of the house greeted us with big smiles and introduced her self "Aunty Nyima" made us feel at home straight away. She has now become a mother figure to us, so lucky to have her guide us. The house is only a short walk away from the beach which is a massive bonus also! As we settled in I got told that i would be doing my placement in a Hospital on a pediatrics ward! Absolutely over the moon about this, never thought id be able to get the chance to work in a hospital here. Feel so lucky to have been given such an amazing opportunity. At this point after arriving i felt very much out of my comfort zone, but loved it, this was the feeling i was looking for and felt i needed to experience.


We woke up an hour late due to forgetting to change our clocks but this wasnt a problem as Sisawo had arranged to meet us at 10 but fulfilling his Gambian reputation he didnt arrive until 12, but gave us the chance to have a nice relaxing morning. We went to visit Alexs placement at the NDM (National Dissaser Management) which is situated in town, at the top of an office appartment, everyone here seemed very friendly and looked like a good place of work, with lots of field work involved, which is good for Alex to get him out and about and hands on work. Then we went to visit the hospital which my placement is based... Serrekunda Hospital. This is further away than the NDM but no problem for me. A newly built hospital only been open for 3 years. Here we met alot of the staff who again all seemed very friendly. The hospital as it is a new hospital is quite modern and well built, with decent facilities and qualified staff.  From here we went to a local market (one of the busiest markets in The Gambia) by this they mean busy!!! We followed Sisawo who took us to the back of a stall where we sat and chatted with the locals, buying fruit, veg and meat. Such a good feeling knowing you are buying fresh organic food that is supporting families also. Came home to cook our first meal of curry and rice then to have a refreshing cold bucket shower (as there was no water this day) easy enough for washing your body, but when it comes to washing my hair... becomes slightly more tricky. Later that evening a little girl from next door came runnign in to the house asking for water, then her father runs in grabbing her shouting at her and beating her, dragging her out of the house and down the street, listening to her cries and screams which felt like forever. I had no idea what to do in this situation and felt helpless.

Today we went to Banjul, the capital, and visited a school that i may be teaching in at somepoint. Was a lovely little school, old building but again such welcoming staff and happy students picking up their exam results. We were then ment to go do some tree planting but all the organisers had gone home due to the rain. Started to feel slightly home sick just wanting some familiar company, still not seen many white people around, feeling like the only white person in the world. With everyone staring at you and trying to get your attention. Wantign to go out and explore on my own but not feeling safe enough or comfortable enough just yet. No elctricity this morning, but again didnt seem to effect anything or anyone.

Bumsters! Lesson of the day... dont go on to the tourist beach/tourist areas! Bumsters are the biggest hassle ever. They guilt trip you into giving them money, by bringing illness, respect, religion, families, buisness, into the story. They try take you somewhere to meet their "wife" or 'kids" so you follow them and then when your out of a busy area they will demand money from you and wont let you go until you give them money and even when you give them money they still arnt thankful and ask for more! Really annoyed me and upset me. These people are using guilt to get money, when other people here are working so hard all day every day in the sweltering heat doing back breaking work to earn every penny they can get to provide for their family. Where these bumsters are probably making more money from begging and hassling and spend it on less important things like trainers... Its such a shame as it puts a negative repuation on to gambian people but the majority of people are not like that. Now every time some one comes and speak to us we automatically think they want money from us, so end up trying to ignore them. Sisawo had his laptop and all his important documents stolen from him today also, which again is really dissapointing. Theift here seems to be regular... I felt so sorry for Sisawo, such a great guy doing an amazing thing for his company by setting up this volunteer organisation on his own. Why is it always the good people that bad things happen to? So After all this stress we decided to go for our first beer... felt well deserved after the day of hassle ha, and tasted well worth the hassle! 70p for a pint not bad! This evening back at the house I also found out the my conditional offer from Bristol UWE had been changed to unconditional! So the good came with the bad.

Tree planting in the rain today was a good experience out in a small village. Good to be out in the nature getting dirty! Although only got to plant a few trees as the previous volunteers got their before us. after we went to the snake the rain, where we got introduced to all the gambian snakes and various other wildlife. Here we held quite a few of the snakes Python, house snake, egg snake.. also which have been taken from the wild a few weeks ago. Went to visit the village in the rain, we will be staying at regularly called Tujerang, was a beautiful place full of happy people, working, relaxing, playing, cooking etc. Met Sisawos friends and grandmother who was amazing, such a wise woman who said a prayer for us. She is the head woman of the village and is in charge of the midwives. After the village we visited the fishing village to pick up some fish... again in the rain. Was manic, people everywhere! Fish everywhere! Birds everywhere! Flies everywhere! Wind and rain everywhere! The smell of fish was undescribable as you can imagine. Fishermen carrying buckets of fish from there boats onto the beach to sell to the women to sell at their stalls. Despite not being able to see what was going on due to the amount of people, fish and rain we managed to buy ourselves 5 red snappers for 20p each, incredible! Could quite happily get used to that! Came home and cooked our fish, so fresh and full of flavour! I am also drinking copious amounts of tea... dont even drink this much tea at home, no wonder we english people have a tea reputation... Tried their green tea also, not like the green tea in england... its so sweet and quite think, served in a shot glass... nice but quite sickly. 

Day before work starts... feeling excited yet nervous, but really looking forward to it. Lazy day today went to a local beach with a bar and plenty of hammocks away from the bumsters was a lovely relaxing day. Despite getting hassled on the way there getting dragged off to an "orphanage" blatently wasnt an orphanage but managed to escape without paying money after he started to get quite agressive with us, i had a enough and snapped at him, after he was saying that we are rich and have everything we want and we should give to the poor etc. I tried to explain to him that we arnt as rich as they think we are, and if we keep giving money out to everyone who asks for it, we ourselves will have no money, the reason why we are volunteering here is to help on a bigger scale than just giving people money... It isnt our fault that we were born in the UK and he was born in The Gambia.... thats life, we cant choose our own destiny. If i could help the whole world and end poverty i would but that is impossible. He still was angry with us, but by this point i had no patients left and walked away apologising. Later that evening i was laying on my bed and a gorgeous balck and bright yellow tiny little bird came and sat on my window ledge, singing to me in a crazy sort of sound, sounded more like an electrical device, than a bird, however it caught me and i was mesmorized by this little bird... Loads of amazing birds here, big, small, colourful, not so colourful, loud, quiet, shy, confident... They are really interesting to watch. So many cockroaches here also, spent most of my evening chasing a cockroach round my bedroom... finally the cockroach won, and it dissapeared under my bed! My entertainment for the night...

Lesson learnt! First day at the hospital today was great! Scary getting there on my own as it was the first time ive been out and about by myself, 2 taxis and a 15 minute walk to the hospital... was quite nice though, woke me up and prepared me for the day ahead. Really enjoyed myself the staff are great here, Cuban Doctor - Dr Vallon, hilarious man! Head nurse - Aunty Adie, trainie nurse - Abdolie, unqualified nurse - Michelle, and a local volunteer - Fatu. The hospital is fairly westernised. However the hygiene needs improving, flies everywhere! bed sheets being reused without being washed with food, urine, dribble, blood on them. Things not getting washed/washed properly. staff members not washign their hands/wearing gloves/protective aprons. Needles being dropped on the floor. Blood being wiped on surfaces and not being cleaned up. Blood getting on staff members and not being cleaned off. Dirty floor, Rubbish bins over flowing out side, insects roaming around.... the list goes on. Very eye opening! The lack of care towards the children and parents is shocking also. The nurses just seem to do their job and thats it. The babies are crying and screaming, there is no reasuring, comforting them, making them more comfortable, talking to them etc. Mothers are crying as their child is being  practically tourtured by the nurses at times, and again no sympathy or reasuring or comforting or explaining to the mothers. I try to comfort them as much as i can but its hard when i cant speak their language and they dont know what is going on. The head nurse shouted at a patient infront of everyone today for not sitting up when she was talking to her, even though she is ill with malaria and is being sick all the time. The poor girl must have felt so scared and humiliated and scared. Lots of sick babies, and children, with malaria, dehydration, bronchitis, pneumonia, malnutrition, staph infections etc. I was given lots of hands on work straight away which was good. At first we went on the rounds with Dr Vallon, seeing how each patient is getting on and what form of medication they need next, if they can be discharged etc. I helped make up the medications and administer them via IV, did a little bit of cleaning and picking up and dropping off prescriptions at the pharmacy. I really love working here at the hospital, it has definitely confirmed to me that nursing is what i should be doing, it feels natural and each day is new, exciting and busy. Although my feet kill me by the time i have got home...duno how im going to cope as a full time nurse ha.Unfortunately my first day i was walking back to get a taxi from the main road when i realised all my money had been stolen! I was so upset and shocked that someone would have stolen my money in a hospital, especially as i am there volunteering to try and help the hospital. Luckily Sisawo was near by and came to pick me up and took me home. And the next day at the hospital the head nurse had made sure security was better. locking the staff cupboard, locking the staff room, locking the main doors to the ward so people who came in and out we regulated etc. This should have been the case before anyway, but at least now the security has improved slightly and i have learnt my lesson to keep my money and valubles with me at ALL times even when i think im in a safe envrionment. 

Been here for a week now, feels longer as we have been doing so much , meeting so many people. Still thinking of home alot, but of course it isnt going to be easy. I feel my time here may go slowly especially if im thinking of home. But i know before i know it ill be on the plane home, thinking how fast it all went and that i cant believe it is all over. So i am trying to make the most of my time here, thinking positively and try not to think of home... taxi on the way home from work was interesting.... me in the front 3 in the back plus an alive chicken jumping, sqwarking and flapping around behind my head, brought me much amusement ha. Enjoying my shifts at the hospital 8.30 - 2!! Lovely, wish shifts were like this back home! So its good to get the afternoon to myself, pottering around the house, reading, writting, thinking, etc. Feel guilty that Alex work 9 - 4... and im just chilling ha. But by the sounds of things hes work sound quite relaxed anyway. Lots of storms on the nights here, keeping me up, the thunder is ridiculous, sounds like explosions, the wind is so loud and powerful also, and the lightening is like a nightclub, good job im not epileptic! Taxi men keep asking me for my number and asking if im married and when i will take them to england etc... find it quite uncomfortable but i try make some excuse not to give them my number, but then they will stop the taxi ask people in the street if they have a  pen and wont stop until he gets a pen to give me their number.... 

Today we have our language lessons confirmed they will start on the 1st and we will be given 3 lessons a week friday 5 - 7 saturday 9 - 12 and monday 5 - 7. We will be taught Mandinka the main tribal language spoken here. This will be so good for us and will help us a lot i feel. We have to sit 3 exams though, which im not looking forward to! We finish at the end of september in time for our naming ceremony in the village the first weekend of October! We are expected to be at intermediate level by the time we have finished. Did our first hand washing of our clothes today!! Hard work!! Never will i take the washing machine for granted ever again! 

Here we are at the village for a 2 day celebration to celebrate the end of Ramadan (90% of the population here are muslims) For Ramadan they have been fasting for 30 days eating 7.30 am and 7.30pm. So lots of prayers involved over the next few days and lots of food. People also like to dress up in their best outfits and go around to peoples houses greeting them and they are given charity money. First day here and Alex and myself dressed up in african clothing to go to the prayers, this was a really good experience, but i did feel quite intrusive and my god i was so hot in the clothing and head scarf! Have no idea how they wear this stuff all the time! We came back after a walk round the village and helped out with the cooking and made some Jollof rice which we ate for lunch, this was our 3rd (big) meal by 3pm... was so full! But forced myself to eat out of politeness. Wont need to eat for the rest of the week! gambian food, if pretty basic, but surprisingly tasty! Lots of peanuts involved! They loooove peanuts! But so do i so alls good. Rices, cous cous, noodles, meat/fish veg and a few chillies & spices. Later in the night we went for a walk around the village again to visit some of Sisawos friends and family. It was so peaceful! Such warm and content vibes. I felt so safe. No street lights, just candles giving a warm glow to every house hold with the warm night air brushing my skin as i walked and the sound of nature all around, crickets, mosquitos, frogs, birds etc. The night sky was incredible, truly magical, i have never seen the milky way so clear and bright before. Amazing could have gazed at the stars forever and not get bored, lost in the universe. Absolutely mind boggling. This evening just sat outside talking to the locals, really made me realize that we "westerners" are the poor ones and these people here are the rich ones. Surrounded by family and friends working and socializing and living together under one roof in harmony. Completely content and happy. Their house situated on their own piece of land, where they use to farm and survive, solar powered energy, a perfect home. Nothing more, nothing less. Peace. They know how to live, we dont. We dont know how to survive, how to work the land how to live as one. Always wanting more, something else, something better. Not appreciating the people around us who love us and care. Working all the time just to provide ourselves with yet more money and more luxuries we don't need, but tell ourselves we need. Needing drugs and alcohol to have a good time. Unsatisfied, discontent, unhappy, unsustainable. This is no good and is definitely not want i want from life. I look forward to being as rich as these smiling people here, happy and content and at peace. 

Here are some photos so far... I Hope this link works...