Life in the shoes of Niyma Manjang

I hope you all are enjoying the summer and are enjoying these updates.  Your prayers are all appreciated.  Let me know if there is something else you want to hear about.  I’m trying to give y’all a good glimpse into my life here, but I need help to know if that is what you would like to hear.  Feel free to send me an email or snail mail.  I enjoy hearing from you all.

Gambian name

My Chaco tan so far

Since I’ve been here, I’ve found out that my name is hard to pronounce.  Especially older Gambians are confused when I say my name is Emily.  They also do not have the ‘th’-sound in their language so my last name gets butchered.  It is pretty normal for toubobs to take on a Gambian name so that the people can pronounce and remember them.  It’s also a way to honor the Gambians to take on a name and shows that we live here.  The thing is that you are named rather than actually picking your own name.  My first week in Sibanor, I finally got my first name, and then a week later, since the surname is the most important part of a name, I received my surname.  My first name is Niyma (pronounced like Nemo, but with an -a at the end instead of -o) which was given by Jessie, the girl in the Peace Corps.  I took the surname of Manjang from the Gambian surname of Robyn (the Australian nurse practitioner).

Running and “Get Fit” Sessions

The Road to Sitta

I’m sure there are several people who have been wondering if I’ve been able to run here in Gambia.  I have gone running a couple times; the first only a couple miles to get used to running in the climate, and then I ran almost six miles with James last week (he has much longer legs than I do, so we ran at a pretty good clip).  Running here is more complicated because I have to first of all comply with the modesty standards.  Because most of the country is Muslim, women are supposed to keep covered well.  This means that my knees and above are not to be seen, so I have to wear longer pants than are comfortable in the hot climate.  There are few hills (at least compared with home) so it is not too strenuous, but it is hot enough to make me sweat much more than normal.  Also, an important element of the culture is to greet everyone you meet if you are out walking or whatever.  This also means that I need to greet while I’m running.  Needless to say, my greetings tend to be pretty breathless.   Anyways, despite the difficulties, I might be more prepared to train for a marathon when I get home.  😀

The last few weeks, all the women at our station have been getting together for get-fit sessions.  We’ve done some calisthenics and a exercised along with a dance video.  The videos are from England and are a little old, so half of the workout is laughing at the outdated or very posh English phrases they use.


Gate to the Clinic

One of my days in the clinic, no one had anything specific for me to do, so I was sitting in one of the treating rooms just observing the people that came in.  I was only there for maybe 15 minutes before a woman arrived in labor, so the nurses sent me to watch.  The woman was a grand multiparous (a woman having borne more than four children) who was already 8 cm when she arrived.  She delivered about 40 minutes after arriving.  I was very impressed with the level of calm that she displayed throughout her labor.  Here in Sibanor (not sure about the bigger hospitals near the coast), there is no such thing as getting an epidural or really any pain medication.  Here, when someone is in pain, instead of saying “ow” they say “way” and this woman basically just said “way, way, way” and snapped her fingers to deal with the pain. Wow!  These people really have an amazing ability to deal with pain effectively.  Anyways, the midwife had me do some of the charting and had me listen for the fetal heartbeat (with a fetoscope – basically a little metal cone), and take her blood pressure.  Then within an hour of delivery, since the baby was nursing well, they went home.

I’ve also been amazed to find that they rarely do Cesarean sections here.  If one needs to be done, it has to be done at one of the bigger hospitals near the coast.  They deliver twins, some breech babies, and have even delivered at least two sets of triplets vaginally in our rural clinics!   I have been blown away by the things that back home I considered necessary to having a successful labor and delivery.  Hmm.  This is exactly why I am here.  I want to know exactly what is necessary and what is not when it comes to treating patients.  While working at the hospital in Sioux Falls, I had grown to only be comfortable with “advanced technology,” so this experience will bring me outside of my bubble and help me to understand the world of medicine a little better.

Right now, maternity is pretty slow because staff have been taking their holidays so weekend nights aren’t able to be covered.  In a week, we will be fully staffed again, so I might be able to do more with maternity on a regular basis.  I can choose which areas of the clinic I can concentrate on, so I might be able to follow the midwives enough to eventually deliver a baby myself (with the midwife there as backup of course).

Farming with Nehneh

Planting rice (me, Nehneh with Rutti on her back)
James trying his hand at plowing
Field in the compound behind Blue House

During rainy season, everything turns green.  When I arrived, there were little sprouts everywhere, but otherwise almost everything looked reddish-brown with the dirt.  The people start farming since this is the only time that the crops will grow.  Many people farm near the river, but not for the water in the river (because it is salty), but because all the water from the surrounding areas flows down to the river, so the crops closer to the river can soak up all the water that flows down from upland.  The people from Sibanor farm just outside the village (or in a plot within their compound if they have enough room for it).  About a month ago now, Daniella had made plans to help her English student, Nehneh plant rice.  Right before she left, she invited me to tag along.  At first, there wasn’t an extra hoe for me to use, so I entertained her daughter Rutti until she fell asleep.  Then, another hoe was found, so I got to help plant the rice.  It was hard work and I got some good blisters, but I’m really glad I got to have this experience.

A couple weeks ago, I went with James to Sitta to help farm again, but it turned out that they had it all under control.  The men were using oxen pulling a plow, so there was nothing for us to do.  James tried it out for a row (see picture), but wasn’t as good as the guys from Sitta apparently. 😛

One other time, I got to pound baobab fruit with Daniela.  Baobab fruit is kind of powdery surrounding seeds, so you have to pound it to get the powder off the seeds.  The resulting yellow-orange powder is used to make really yummy juice-reminds me of peach juice but much more sour.

The dirt is red with iron, so during the dry season, the trees near the road look red from all the dust and during the rainy season, the water turns red (comparable to tomato soup)

2 thoughts on “Life in the shoes of Niyma Manjang”

  1. Your observations about medical practice are really interesting. I’ll wager that you’ll learn more about medicine by observing how it’s practiced at the bottom of technology scale than by observing it at the top.

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