Mali adventures “she will eat anything!”

The water tower in Famorila and a boy fills up the water jugs for his family.


Hi all!  Sorry for the delay in posting –   Hopeful that all of you who would have been following my blog got my email updates passed on to you.  If not, no worries, I’ll be including basically everything within my blog.

Where I was and what I did:

When I arrived, I flew into Bamako, and then drove east to where Brett and Sheri MacLean live.  Brett is a pediatrician and Sheri is a family practice nurse practitioner.  I enjoyed hearing their stories and picking their brains on how to live and practice medicine in Mali, as well as how they got to Mali and what they have experienced of the culture.  Had the opportunity to go rock climbing on their house!


MacLeans start their kids climbing young!

The next day, Sheri took me to the hospital in Koutiala 2 hours to the south where there is a women and children’s hospital.  That was a really great experience because if/when I came back, it would likely be there that I would be working to teach Malians how to do what I do in Obstetrics and Gynecology.  They have at least 11 labor beds (2 private), and  have 3 operating rooms, and a very large post-partum unit.  I was very impressed with the whole place.

The next day, we packed up and they brought me to Adamabougou, my main site for my time there (on the map below it is in the bottom right corner).  This was over 2 hours drive to the south and east, only half an hour of this was on paved roads, and the rest was on the “red road”.





The "red road"

The “red road”

In Adamabougou, my main jobs were to assist with prenatal visits, participate in any deliveries that happened (only 1 that I was able to attend, but did not deliver), teach them how to use the Doppler and otoscope (for looking in ears).  We also put together an incubator for the premature and jaundiced babies (the lights for jaundice are not pictured here).


Using the video otoscope to teach the workers how to use the them


Teaching a maternity nurse how to use a Doppler


The first baby to get to use the incubator in Adamabougou!

The first baby to get to use the incubator in Adamabougou!

I spent a week in Adamabougou doing all those things.  After that, I went to 5 other centers: Tatrima on Wednesday, slept in Famorila (in the center of the map) Koro on Thursday, stayed at the Famorila center on Friday, to Kallan on Saturday, church in Famorila on Sunday, and Tiecorobougou on Monday.  In each place I taught them how to use the Dopplers and made incubators with them.  Every day I travelled to a different place, so it was kinda fun to meet lots of different people and see all the centers.

Similarities and differences:

This experience in Mali was similar in some ways and also very different in what I learned and what I noticed from when I was in Gambia.  Probably no one will notice differences in any pictures but me though. It is hotter (because we are landlocked and subsaharan – there were several windy days but still very sunny, so it felt like an oven opening.  One of the downsides to being landlocked is that I couldn’t go to the beach to cool off.  :(  The landscape is more sparse though the plants and animals are almost all the same. The buildings are similar, but more of them are made of mud than cinder blocks whereas in Gambia it was the opposite.  (I have a video that is a better example of the houses, but it is too large to upload on here, so ask me about it when you see me, and I’ll show it to you.)


Note the contrast between the mud building and the brick one.


The people have similar daily habits and mannerisms and tone of voice. The clothes are essentially the same, though I’m still flabbergasted that some of these guys can wear heavy jeans every day!

The food is similar in taste, and I like most of it, but it is not as good as in Gambia (in my opinion).  Since I was in the bush, I ate a lot of Malian food, and didn’t have much for Western food.  Got mango a few times (soooo good!), but mostly had a staple carb (rice, sorghum, couscous, or rarely spaghetti noodles) with some sort of sauce (peanut, onion, okra, and a couple I couldn’t necessarily identify), and a lot of times some sort of meat (mostly goat or chicken, but occasionally beef or guinea fowl).  A couple times I got spaghetti noodles with an oily onion sauce for breakfast instead of the soupy tapioca-looking stuff for breakfast.  Since I hadn’t brought much for “Western food”, I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in what I ate, which was fine with me.  I was always hungry since it was so hot, so most days wasn’t limited by taste.  One day when I was in Famorila, I was eating with the head of the center, and there was a bunch of meat on top of the sorghum and sauce, that he said was guinea fowl.  One of the meat bites that I got felt and tasted like liver, which I’ve ended up with before.  The next bite I got had a bunch of blood vessels coming out of one side.  I didn’t think too much about that  until after it was in my mouth, and I realized by the texture that it was heart… Guinea fowl heart.  That was a first for me.  Thankfully, this was earlier in the meal, so my gag reflex was suppressed with my hunger.  :P  A few days later, when MacLeans came to pick me up, he told Brett and Sheri that “she’ll eat anything”.

Reflections on the experience:

I have to be honest and say that this experience was probably one of the more difficult things I’ve done in life.  Being in Adamabougou and Famorila without anyone else that spoke English, and having a house/compound to myself was fairly isolating.  I struggled having to use French all the time, since I’m not very good at it anyways, and I basically couldn’t speak at all in Bambara, so that was very limiting.  When we would have patients at the clinic, they would talk to the workers in Bambara, then if the workers translated what they said, they said it in French, which I had to then translate to English for me.  A lot of work, no doubt leading to some misunderstandings.

Through all the difficulties of living and working there for those couple weeks was where I saw God work the most.

  • He provided in that when I was in Gambia, I learned Mandinka instead of another language – Bambara is similar in several words and phrases, so I was able to pick up a few words, which was a big deal
  • The times that I felt the most alone, He provided with people who came to greet and welcome me, or work to do or encouragement from a Scripture or email
  • I got to use email the whole time I was there.  Brett let me use the replacement iPhone he had me bring from the States, so I was able to connect to the mobile network there for keeping connected with family and friends.  Granted, in Adamabougou, I had to use an antenna to get enough cell service to make a call or check emails, but it was so nice to have that ability to be connected.

The antenna sticking up over the roof of the house I stayed at in Adamabougou


So that’s all I have for now.  I might try to do a few more specific stories on another date, but I’m sure this is enough for you all to read for now.  :)  Thanks again to all the people who supported me in prayer while I was there and for those who made it financially possible for me to go and bring all the medical supplies!


Back to West Africa!

Hi all!  Hope you all are well!  I’m excited to say that I am currently on my way back to West Africa.  This time to Mali to work with Global Partners in Hope in their Medical Centers making OB care safer for higher risk mamas.  They did a nice article about what I’ll be doing about a month ago, so you should take a read.

I will post updates as I am able, but likely won’t be able to post pictures until I get back (sorry!).  All that to say, thank you so much for all the love, care and support through prayer and finances to all who have been so gracious to do so.  Specific things you can be praying for are effectiveness of the protocols I’m bringing, energy and health in the heat, and for my French brain to turn on quickly!

Anyways, I pray blessings on you all, and look forward to sharing stories and pictures with you about this next adventure!!

picking up a life

Hey all, sorry for the delay in writing.  I haven’t been THAT busy, but just unsure of what to write about and if it would even amount to enough to put up.  But, I figured that it would probably be wise to keep on top of this at least a little bit before my life turns upside down when I start medical school.

So far, my transition to living at home has gone pretty well.  I have had ups and downs, but I am still thankful to be home and to have plenty of people around me supporting me as I process this experience and what is next.  I am overwhelmingly blessed by such awesome people surrounding me, who have encouraged me and helped me spiritually, and through words and a helping hand/voice.

Since I’ve been home, I have really enjoyed being able to tell my story in different contexts.  I’ve found perspective change in being physically apart from my friends and colleagues in Gambia.  Thank you to everyone who has been patient enough to listen to me and endure my processing of my experience.  I am more aware of and have more of a passion for helping other returning missionaries to process their time when they come home, and how to support them before, during, and after their time of service overseas.

Also have had the honor of going to the wedding of a friend and one of my cousin (two days ago).  For my cousin’s wedding, this afforded me the opportunity to clear away the cobwebs on my violin and play with my mom and brother for the wedding prelude.  :D  The wedding also meant that I got to see a lot of family from all over (TX, MI, and the Netherlands).  So much fun surrounding a wonderful celebration!

As you might imagine, coming home after such a long time away isn’t an easy process.  The things that have been hard to process have been (in chronological order):  the size and speed of things here, missing my friends in Gambia, boredom, and job search.

a market stall

more market

The first week or so, I was pretty overwhelmed going to stores that had so many options.  In Gambia, there were markets that you would buy most things at, but nothing was anywhere near the size of stores here.  It was stressful to go to get anything from any store; I made it my goal to get in and out as fast as possible and not focus on the huge variety of items to purchase.

dear friends! who says we can't have fun?

Then, I started to think about my friends in Gambia, both in Sibanor and in other locations.  I began to miss their company and presence in my life.  I had to say real goodbyes to them, not knowing when I would see them again, after having building strong relationships with them and having many shared joys and struggles.  I thought about what they might be doing on any given day without me, and thinking about their heat and having covetous thoughts.  Case in point, one of the days last week when it snowed, my friend Margit had sent me a message in which she expressed her surprise that it was snowing and saying that she had been thinking that she wished she could fit into the refrigerator in Blue House.  About the same time, Cheryl sent me a message saying that it was regularly getting up to 113°F in Chamen!  All the while I have been in the frozen tundra called SD.  :P

at the beach with good friends!

I’ve started to get bored as I’ve been hanging out at home.  I’ve kept busy exercising and helping Mom out around the house and with shopping and such, but otherwise unable to explain what I had spent my day on to anyone who asked.

Initially when I came home, I thought I would get a job back with my former employer.  I knew I would be paying my student loans until I start medical school.  This has turned out to be a non-option.   This caused me a significant amount of stress in trying to figure out how to proceed with the situation presented me.  Though disappointing at first, I have come to see that God had a plan through the struggle.  I have been asking around for babysitting jobs and they have been coming in.  I have a couple possible part-time jobs, so I am excited to see this all come together.  I am by no means “rolling in the dough” but I am getting by, and am learning the comfort of resting in my Heavenly Father’s plan for this time.  I am really learning the meaning of Paul’s words to the Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).

Finish Strong

I will be posting a few updates as I settle in to life at home, so stay posted.  I would love to chat with anyone who wants to who wants to hear more about my journey and share what you’ve been up to while I’ve been gone.  I will also be sharing with various groups in the next couple weeks:  Genesis Sunday School this Sunday@9am at Central Baptist, CRU meeting at Augie this Monday @9pm.  I hope to do one for those who are interested on April 3 in the afternoon (exact time TBA), location TBA.  Please let me know if you are interested in coming.  It should be about 1 hour.

Conference – written Feb 24
I had to start some of my goodbyes during the conference that we had.   I was surprised at the emotion that bubbled up as I had to say my formal goodbye to the whole team.  Most I would see again in the next few weeks, but some I had to say goodbye for the last time.  It seems strange to be saying goodbye and honestly not know if I will ever see these wonderful people again.  But as a good family friend always says, “it is never goodbye, it is always see you later” with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Being flexible again

I had to be flexible with my schedule for my vacation.  Initially I was going to go visit my friend Cheryl in Chamen first, and then go to Senegal, and then to Sibanor for my final goodbyes.  God had a better plan though.  I first went to Sibanor and had a wonderful but busy few days saying all my goodbyes to people in the village and to some of my teammates.  Then I traveled to Senegal to the school where almost all of the kids on our team attend.  Following that, I traveled to Chamen and then to the coast for a couple days before I flew back to the US.
Sibanor – written Feb 24
As I am saying goodbyes in my village, I am realizing how much I really will miss the people here.  At times I felt like I didn’t belong here and was doubtful if I would actually be missed.  But, as I’ve gone to visit people for the last time and wish them my final goodbye, I’ve been amazed at the sadness and grief that some have showed.  I was especially touched that my language helper/coworker cried when I came to say goodbye because most people here don’t cry unless someone dies.  It makes me sad to say goodbyes when I know that I’ve just gotten to the point that I might have an impact in this culture, and makes me realize the necessity of long-term commitment to make any breakthrough.
In the culture here, it is extremely important to say goodbye well.  You have to let people know ahead of time when you are leaving, as well as saying a proper goodbye when you actually leave.  You are usually meant to give a goodbye gift, especially to the people you know well.  This has been pretty easy considering I don’t have a whole lot of room in my suitcase, so I can give away clothing I won’t take home or other various items that I don’t mind leaving behind.  I’ve been forced to the realization that I cannot be attached to stuff.


The road to and from the school was the most adventurous part of the trip.  There are some spots that you can hardly go over 5mph because the potholes are so big, or the road is not paved all the way.  There were big chunks of the road that were wonderful, but the bad parts were really bad.  It was really fun to watch out the window and see how different Senegal is from Gambia.  First of all it is strange to see a lot of similar things but with French signs, as well as different modes of transportation.  In Gambia, there are mostly small 5-person cars or 18 passenger vans that serve as transportation, but in Senegal, the majority of the transport was by “sept-place” (station wagon seating 7) or tour bus.  They also greet in French, so they could pick us out as Gambian when we would use the traditional Arabic greeting “Salaam malekum.”  Even though I took 3.5 years of French in school, I did a terrible job of adapting to the language.  The last couple days I started to get my “French brain” on and could start to function there.

The school was really fun to see.  The kids and teachers and atmosphere were really welcoming.  I was very impressed, and it encouraged me that sending kids to a boarding school is not the end of the world and can be a wonderful experience for the kids.

To Chamen


a sept-place (not the ones I rode though)

My trip back to Gambia was the worst experience of public transport in my time abroad.  Public transport is much more expensive in Senegal than in Gambia, and I almost didn’t have enough money to make it to Gambia again.  I ended up being fine, but not knowing so much French didn’t help my case.  I felt much more at home when I made it back to Gambia and could converse easily and feel more at home.

a typical Fula village - it was a compound with roofs like this that caught on fire

On the last leg of the journey in Senegal, the sept-place I was traveling in came across a small village in which a compound had caught on fire.  The air and the thatched roof were so dry that the flames burned very fast and high.  Our driver pulled over and all the men in the vehicle got out and ran to help put out the fire.  The old woman in front of me started wailing.   From the time that we stopped to the time that it was finished was about 10 minutes; in that time, the people fighting the fire went from about 10-15 to 100.  It was surreal to watch all that happen before my eyes.  I don’t think there were any casualties, otherwise I’d have gone to see if I could do anything, but our vehicle left very quickly.  I would have taken a picture of the fire, but my camera died the day before and I didn’t have the right adapter to charge it at the school.

In Chamen

I spent almost three days in Chamen had the most wonderful relaxing time.  Cheryl and I had a lot of good talks about life in Gambia, my going home, and everything in between.  I also got to help some of the ladies with some creativity in jewelry making.  Even at home I like to do beading and being creative with wire, so this was a blast.  It was really like vacation.

Traveling towards home

To travel to the coast, I had to use public transport again (this time it was a lot better because I was in Gambia).  I also traveled with a national who was going the same way I was, so it was very nice to have his help.  During that trip, I used pretty much all modes of transportation:  first I rode on a serretto (horse drawn cart) for the first time.  Then I rode in gelly-gellies to get to the ferry.  I rode the ferry and then took another gelly and then a little taxi until I was finally at headquarters.

At headquarters

For my last two days, I mostly finished up with packing, shopping, and finalizing of a bunch of details.  My last afternoon I went to the beach for a bit to soak up those wonderful rays before trekking to the frozen tundra called SD.  :P

shopping is always an adventure!

Traveling girl

Hey all, just wanted to keep you updated that I have had some good holiday time and travels and will be travelling only a little more before I am home.  Tomorrow my flight will leave here, so I will be home next Friday.  I will try to post a blog about my holidays as soon as I possibly can.

Blessings to you all.  Thank you for reading, and am looking forward to seeing you all again!

Chores, things I’ve left out

Want to apologize… I got one picture to upload, but any subsequent ones aren’t working.  Will upload them tomorrow if it works.

Cooking Gambian style

Before I take my leave of this wonderful country, I thought it would be good to get some experience with cooking some Gambian dishes.  I really have enjoyed a lot of the foods that we get on a regular basis, so I thought I would maybe be able to share some of those dishes with you all when I get home.  A month ago, I got to try cooking domoda aka. Durango with my language helper.  We used spam and it turned out very nice.  This is the first dish that I tried (even before I arrived!) and I like it very much.

A couple weeks later, I was told that there was an opportunity to learn a dish that my language helper doesn’t make.  I was super excited, so I tagged along.  We did not end up making that dish, but made domoda again.  This time was a lot more exciting though because we had to kill, pluck, and clean a chicken in order to make the dish.  That was an experience in itself.  Margit really wanted to kill the chicken, but since there was a man on the compound, he had to kill it (otherwise it compromises his honor).  Margit still got to pick out the chicken and hold the wings and feet while the chicken’s throat was slit, so she was happy.  She had me make movies of the whole process which are quite hilarious.  The files are too big for me to put up, but you will have to ask me to show you them when I get home.  Margit is speaking in Dutch, but you can get the idea of what she is saying anyways.  :)  I do have some pictures too so I’ll give you a bit of a taste of getting to cook.

plucking the chicken!


Being that we only have solar power, I’ve already mentioned that we have a kerosene fridge.  In addition, we are unable to have a washing machine.  I’m sure many of you are curious to know how it gets done without a washing machine.  ;)  We actually have a woman who comes and does our washing several times a week.  She arrives around 7am to wash the clothes and hang them out to dry in the sunshine.  In the rainy season, this was a little more difficult.  Then in the afternoon/early evening, she comes to do the ironing.  Everything gets ironed:  towels, skirts, shirts, everything.  They do this with all of their clothes as well.  It’s not an OCD thing; they actually benefit medically from this practice.  Especially around mango season, mango flies like to lay their eggs in drying clothing.  If one does not iron all clothing, when the eggs hatch, they like to burrow into your skin and come out when they please.  Doesn’t sound very pleasant huh?  Thus, I am okay with the practice of ironing everything.  The coolest part is that she uses a charcoal iron.  I think it is pretty amazing that they can iron their clothes and not burn them with this contraption.

Don’t think that this is all easy for me though.  Our washing lady (any for that matter) does not wash our underclothes.  I don’t blame her one bit, but it means that about once a week I have to wash my underclothes.  By hand.  And then hang them out to dry.  When it isn’t mango season, I can hang them on the line outside, but otherwise, I have to hang everything inside wherever I can find space.  That is sometimes an adventure in itself.  Anyways, no pictures on this one… don’t think you’d want to see it anyways.  :P

Countdown:  3 weeks until I fly!

random topics and pics to enjoy!

After I wrote this update, I realized that there aren’t really any pictures that I have to go along with these topics, so you get some of the random pictures of life here that I haven’t gotten to post yet.

bantaba (meeting place) in front of the clinic

pounding groundnuts

eating around the bowl - yummy benichin

me being artsy on the road outside of Sibanor

sometimes Gambia looks like SD

SP is my cuddle-bug

American night!

Every week, we have a designated day to pray or hang out as a team.  In the last year, my team has been taking one of our fellowship nights to learn about other team members’ cultures.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard about German, Swiss, Dutch, and Brazilian cultures.  It is super fun to see how each group perceives his/her own culture.  Everyone seems to light up when they are talking about their home.

Last week, was my turn to lead the culture night.  I had to come up with food to prepare and what to share.  Since America is pretty huge and diverse, I chose to focus closer to home and the places I like to go.  I prepared a bunch of different pizzas for the food:  buffalo chicken, BBQ, Hawaiian, cheeseburger, and cheese (for the picky eaters), and served it with Coke and M&Ms.  Although pizza isn’t considered to originate in America, I personally think that we perfected the technique and so they got to try very Americanized flavors.  Everyone liked it and several asked for the recipes for some of the pizzas.

For my presentation, I had my team start by saying what they think of when they think of the States (foods, people, general impressions).  Then I showed them pictures of my family and my home (house, city, state) and the places and activities I like.  I received my Christmas package from my family a couple weeks ago with this year’s marching band show.  Since this was a HUGE part of my high school experience (and so many people have a very dull version as their mental picture), I showed them the video.  They were blown away.  I got goosebumps (way to go band – even from a video – that is pretty impressive).  Then showed them pictures of my alma mater (they had to ask what an alma mater was…) and the med school I’ll be going to next year.

At the very end, I had them play a game called Four on a Couch (some of you may be familiar with it – if not, ask me when I get home b/c it is kinda hard to explain).  That turned out to be an even bigger hit than the food and the marching band show.  Everyone got really into it.  We played long hair against short hair (my mentor has short hair so she joined the boys to make even teams), and long hair won both times (I will admit that it was a pretty close game though).

Dressing Wounds

As a general helper, I get recruited to do all sorts of odd jobs on top of my normal responsibilities.  One of the things I’ve also had the opportunity to learn is how to dress wounds.  It’s not very hard, but it was a little overwhelming to start.  I had observed a couple times before, but never had to do it myself ever.  The nurses definitely threw me right in and made me learn.  It was awesome.  It was just like the saying “see one, do one, teach one” (the motto for overseas surgery), but on a much less scary level.  Here there are basically three kinds of dressings:  sugar, iodine, and an ointment for really badly infected wounds.  For wounds that are not infected, we use a sugar dressing (to give the tissues energy to heal , and for wounds that are, we use an iodine dressing (to kill any bacteria that would be hiding there so that the wound can heal more effectively).

The first day I did dressings, we also had patients who were involved in a road accident.  It was a very minor road accident: no stitches or major treatments were needed, just some scrapes and bruises, but it made the day a little more exciting.

This last weekend, I also was called on to do some dressings.  I was a little unprepared for my first patient though.  She was an under 5 girl who had fallen in the fire and had major 3rd degree burns to her thighs (~5-6% of her body surface) with blistering.  They had been dressed previously, but even the process of removing the previous dressings was excruciating for her.  I hate being the bad guy.  It was bad enough that I was pretty sure it was beyond my capabilities, so I asked the doctor on duty if there was more pain relief we could give her or anything.  He definitely agreed and took her to the doctor’s room to put her under ketamine anesthetic and removed some of the blistering and admitted her until she could walk again.  He didn’t end up dressing the burns, but just put an antiseptic on the burns so that they could air out and heal faster.  It was really cool to watch her change from a girl screaming in pain to one that would give me high fives the day she was discharged (<5 days).

This weekend, please be in prayer as I try to figure out some details so that I can wrap up my job of making the HIV care database.  The first format that I made it in was incredibly frustrating and limiting, but changing it is also a big hassle.  Computers are frustrating.  I can now empathize with my dad when he comes home from working with computers all day.

Countdown:  less than 40 days until I fly.

The big move

I want to apologize for not updating for so long.  I’m doing very well and so it is not on account of anything happening to me.  The first weekend I should have put up an update, I had no excuse other than I was having too much fun going to the beach and hanging out with Margit and Lisa.  :D  Then the weekend of New Years, I didn’t have internet access because we went camping again (see the other post).  Then I would have had it posted on Wednesday or Thursday but the internet didn’t cooperate.  So here, finally, is a couple updates.  This one is more a bunch of small, random topics and the other is about the holidays.  Don’t feel like you have to read it all, but for those who were dying to hear from me, hopefully this gives you your Emily fix.  :P

The Big Move:

As you may have noticed in previous posts, I was meant to move to a compound last month.  This ended up not working out.  I am bummed out, but I am glad now that I am still in Blue House.  Despite not moving outside of the clinic compound, I have moved… to a different room in Blue House.  We just had a new girl move into Blue House who is a doctor (Rachel).  The room that I was in is a more convenient room for doctors to be in so that it is easier for the watchman to come wake her up if she is on call.  So here are the before and after pictures of where I call “home.”

before - bed to the left

before - desk

new room. desk on my right

“Bambu”:  No doubt, when you think of Africa you have some picture of a woman carrying water on her head with a baby strapped to her back.  At least here, that is no exaggeration.  Women carry tons of items on their heads.  I’m impressed over and over at their strength in their necks to be able to do such a thing.  That is one thing that I haven’t really tried and don’t really plan to because I it isn’t necessary and looks too uncomfortable to me.

Here, when a woman has a baby strapped to her back, it is called bambu-ing.  It is rare that I ever see a baby not on its mother’s or grandmother’s or older sister’s back.  They can cook, farm, and do about anything with a baby strapped on.  From very young the girls are taught how to do it with younger siblings even if the baby is half their size.  I always thought it looked like a comfortable way to carry a baby, so I got to try it out a few weeks ago.  I was at a wedding and was holding a baby for her mom for a while and my arms were getting tired, so I stuck her on my back.  It really was comfortable for me, and she even fell asleep.  I carried her for almost 2 hours and didn’t really get tired.  I only had to stop because she got hungry and I couldn’t help her solve that problem.  :P  I will definitely use this when I get home.  It really is easy and comfortable.

Thinking about home:

For those of you who weren’t counting down yet, I am getting close to being done with my time here.  As of now, I have 4 weeks of working left.  I still have to work on handing over my responsibilities and soaking up all the tropical medicine tidbits I can while I’m here.  Then we have a week of meetings and fellowship with the team to work out visions and goals for the year.  Following that I am taking two weeks of holidays to visit people and say my goodbyes and prepare for going home.  Then I will fly at the end of my holidays.  I will then go back to the US headquarters to have a debrief time for 5 days.  Following that, I will fly home.  So, if you’d like, you may start your countdown.  8 weeks and counting…

Clinic needs:

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve become aware of the enormous challenges of living and running a medical clinic overseas.  There are staffing issues as well as supplies issues to deal with.  We are all praying for these needs to be met, so on behalf of my team, I am asking you all to pray as well.

Since it is dry season, our staffing is not so desperate, but rainy season is coming, which means more infections and a busier clinic.  Between now and then we are also looking at losing up to 4 staff members and only gaining 1 in replacement, and the staffing is already difficult with the current people.  Recruiting from other institutions is impossible because we cannot offer better salaries then them.  In the past, we have held nursing training on our compound, but at the moment, we have no nurse tutor and none in the foreseeable future.  So if you can pray for this need to be met, that would be awesome.

One of our other big needs is for a new ambulance.  Our current one is quite old and not so reliable anymore, and we have to use it frequently to transfer patients to larger hospitals for any surgery or complicated treatment.  It is also used to transport staff to and from treks to smaller villages to provide care to people who cannot get to our clinic.  We have an estimate for a new ambulance which would be approximately €39000.  We already have raised €25000, so there is still €14000 needed.  This translates to about $18500.

Christmas in the Tropics

I love dry season.  I didn’t think I would.  During rainy season, I was always so thankful for the rain because it cooled everything off, but now the humidity isn’t around so the heat is more bearable.  At night it even gets a little chilly.  I usually have to crawl under at least a sheet if not my quilt (thank you Portal!).  I’m sure you all feel sorry for me that I have to deal with this weather shift.  :P

During the day, I am also not burdened to watch the sky all the time.  I don’t have to worry about going out and getting stuck in a downpour anymore.  But I do have to think about trying to stay out of the sun in midday because it gets quite hot if you are not in the shade.  I am getting a nice tan though.  I will really stand out among all the pale South Dakotans when I come home.

During rainy season, everything was green.  There were almost forests of grass everywhere.  As the sun dries everything  out, the grass turns a golden color and gradually withers and is scorched by the sun.  Also the dust starts to cover everything.  It is a dull red color, and as it settles on the trees, it almost looks like Christmas… red and green with gold surrounding.  Very beautiful.

Now, almost all the crops have been harvested.  There is still some cous left and some rice I think, but the groundnuts and corn are all finished.  We have been eating plenty of watermelon and bananas lately too.  The harvest was good this year.

The one unpleasant thing about dry season is the dust.  Although it is pretty on the trees, whenever a car drives by the clinic, a cloud of dust follows making it almost impossible keep anything clean.  We have to be very careful with computers so that the dust doesn’t damage the hardware.  We also breathe in a lot of dust as well.  Usually a couple times during the day I have to blow my nose to clean the dust out of my sinuses.  It’s pretty gross.

Other than the dust on the leaves, it didn’t look or feel like Christmas at all to me.  I’m used to having a white Christmas and it was very strange to have a hot one.  Even though it was very different, it was really good.

A couple weeks before the holiday, we had our staff Christmas party and we came up with the theme of snow with the reference text being John 20:29 since relatively no one here has ever seen snow.  The decorations were snow and the cards for the staff had snowflakes on them.  Since I was in charge of the cards and the decorations, I made a LOT of snowflakes.  I had help with them, but I was so sick of them by the end.  After the party, we hung the snowflake decorations up around the clinic and ward.  They really turned out nice, but I’m glad they are done.

Margit with our SNOW

The day of the party, we also showed Narnia 1 for the staff in the evening.  It really went well and it was really interesting to watch it with the people here because they really get into the movie.  They especially like battle scenes – they really cheered for Aslan, and didn’t laugh at the same jokes that we did.

Then on Christmas, we had a big service at the church.  There were tons of decorations up and everyone was dressed up very nicely.

all fancied up

We got started a little late and then we sang for 45min- 1 hr.  Then each conceivable group there got up to sing a song.  It was a lot of fun.  There was plenty of dancing too.  Finally Dr. Jamie preached.  Awesome experience – one to remember forever.  But the service was 3 1/2 hours long.  That is record breaking for me – though I’m sure many of you all can top that ;).  After the service we all moved to Jamie and Debbie’s compound for lunch.  The ladies had all worked very hard to cook it.  They started the previous evening at about 6 to cook.  A bunch of us had come for 3 hours and chopped carrots and green beans and potatoes and onions and garlic.  The onions were a pretty miserable job – for about 30 minutes, we were crying.  Anyways, the meal ended up being really good.  It is called chicken yassa (one of my favorites) and it was served with noodles rather than rice.  Delicious.  Afterwards, some of the youth people went to the preschool to play soccer with a group that was visiting us.  Since it was only the guys playing, we girls sat and chatted and watched.  When it got dark they started a campfire and played some games and shared testimonies  under the stars.

The following day was Sunday, so we went to church.  After the long service the day before, I was less excited for another service, but it was good.  When I got home, I gathered together the Christmas gifts that I had to give out and went around to give them out.  That was fun.  Then in the afternoon, we had a smaller Christmas party planned for just the single people with our station leaders and their baby daughters.  We started with coffee and nice Swiss Christmas cookies (all homemade).   So yummy.  Then we played a game of Rage.  For those of you who play Up and Down the River, it is similar to that but with extra cards that make it a lot more interesting (thus the name is Rage).  I was winning for a while in the middle, but ended up in 3rd place in the end.  We are all competitive so it was a ton of fun.

playing cards - lisa, simeon, david, james and margit

After that, we made dinner – meat pastries with salads with ice cream for dessert.  Over dessert, we asked our station leaders some deep questions and got to hear their story of how they got to be where they are now – the short version, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to hear it.  I’ve really enjoyed hearing my team member’s stories in bits and pieces.  I am privileged to work with such amazing people.

on the beach

lisa, margit, me :)

counting down with our sparkling grape juice!

For New Years, a bunch of us went camping at the beach – the same one as we went before.  This time, we mostly hung out on the beach, had some cool conversations, and played in the waves the majority of the time.  The waves were amazing.  They looked pretty intimidating but we had fun playing in them.  A couple people got scraped up a little by the waves, but otherwise it was all good.  At midnight, we had a countdown and then we had some non-alcoholic champagne, lit off some fireworks, and then some of the more adventurous members of our group went for a New Years swim.  So much fun.

Tobaski and Thanksgiving

We are all dressed up for Tobaski!

Here in Gambia I seem to be experiencing my share of intercultural holidays.  In the last month in particular, I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Tobaski (a Muslim holiday I had never heard of  previously).  The holiday is preceded by Ramadan by a month or two, and is a celebration as big as Thanksgiving and Christmas in the States.  Both Ramadan and Tobaski are key times for families to come together.

My original plan had been to have holidays and be at the coast for the day, but the prospect of not getting to see how my village celebrates Tobaski was too disappointing so I went back to Sibanor and postponed my holidays, and I am so glad I did (though I am sorry for misleading many of you that I would be available to chat then).

Tobaski is a day on which each compound kills a ram to atone for the sins of the family for the year.  The tradition stems from the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac.  Weeks before the actual holiday, when I was going to visit my friends in Chamen, I got to cross the ferry from Banjul to Barra on the north bank.  Since there are no bridges spanning the entire river, this is the only method to get from one side to the other.  That was an experience in itself, but as a result of upcoming Tobaski, the thing that you noticed the most on the crossing was the amazing amount of rams being transported back and forth on the ferry.  Rams being herded between cars, rams on top of gellies, rams in flatbed trucks… rams everywhere.  During my two ferry crossings, I am positive I saw at least 1000 rams total.  A little  amusing to see the creativity needed to transport these animals.

some rams that escaped their herder long enough to take a drink from a puddle outside our vehicle

The actual day was not super exciting.  I was invited to a friend’s house to eat the afternoon meal with her family, but everything else was just on the fly.  On the way to lunch (all the way by the market), I stopped at my language helper’s compound, had juice, and chatted with them for a while.  It is really exciting that I can start to communicate with people in Mandinka.  I can carry on a reasonable conversation (quite limited in what I can say, but understanding is going way up).  :D  Lunch was benechi (rice with a little tomato paste cooked in, plus meat and vegetables on top) with plenty of goat meat.  I ate a whole bowl, only to find out 20 minutes later that another friend had a bowl of food for me to eat!  I was too stuffed though.  Then I went to the compound of one of my American friends who had visitors and hung out with them for a while (and also ate MORE food!).  Later in the evening, I went walking around town with a big group of friends and got plenty of pictures of people dressed in their new Tobaski outfits.  Pretty much everyone gets a new outfit made for Tobaski.  Many of them get matching ones for several people (didn’t get pics of this… sorry).  It is so cool.

Because of the heat, I almost forgot about Thanksgiving.  Luckily, I remembered the day before and had already bought “Thanksgiving food” to make.  On Thanksgiving Day, I had the day off from work so I started cooking at 10am and had dinner ready for seven people at 1pm.  I made baked herb chicken (a recipe I had to improvise on because I didn’t have all the ingredients), mashed potatoes, stuffing (from a mix… don’t get too impressed), corn, green beans, and cake for dessert.  Although it wasn’t exactly traditional, it turned out very nice and everyone enjoyed it, and there weren’t even leftovers (except the cake) :).

This year Thanksgiving was a little different for me because I was celebrating it with my “family” here who hail from Australia, Holland, and Switzerland.  None of them had never celebrated this holiday before.  I had to explain the history behind the holiday and some of the traditions that we have with it.  I felt a little funny having to explain something that is totally culturally normal at home.  We read a scripture before eating and then each said 5 things we are thankful for afterwards.  We had a good time and I am thankful that they were so willing to try my cooking and participate in this cultural activity.

For those who were highly disappointed about not seeing the monkeys and lizards, here they are…

I've been trying to get a picture of one of these since I got here, but they are too fast most of the time