- Things to get used to/ vocab:
- Bucket shower: when a shower head is not available, a bucket shower is a good option. To accomplish this, one fills a large bucket with water, then using a cup, rinses, washes, shaves. Even though in Blue House, we have running water, we have to take bucket showers because our shower head doesn’t work. On top of this, although we have solar power, an animal in our ceiling ruined the wiring for the light in the bathroom, so we also take our showers by candlelight (or flashlight, if you so desire)
- Ironing: although you may think you know why one irons clothes, you are only partly correct. Here, after clothes are washed, they are ALL ironed. This is not an OCD characteristic, it is out of necessity. There is a bug (mango fly if I remember correctly) that lays its eggs in clothes while they are on the line. If one doesn’t iron the clothes, the developing mango fly will worm its way into one’s skin and back out whenever it pleases. I won’t ever complain about having to iron a couple articles of clothing back home again.
- Here in Sibanor, because we only have solar with a smallish battery, our fridges and stoves are kerosene or gas respectively. I didn’t know before that you could have a refrigerator run by kerosene, so this was pretty intriguing when I arrived. Getting used to cooking with gas has been fun though. I’ve gotten very good at lighting matches (even in this humidity). Cooking with our stove is complicated though because it has no real low setting- so you have to watch your food very closely to make sure it doesn’t burn!
- Solar power: Having solar power with our smallish battery means that we have to be careful, especially during rainy season (b/c not so much sun) with using too much electricity otherwise the battery can die while you still need it (one of the Blue House girls that went home had the electricity go out when she was in the bathroom and had to find her way back to her room with the lights out)
- Note that the power lines are going up around the country so Sibanor will have power soon and the clinic won’t have to rely on solar power so much (antenatal clinics on a cloudy day don’t work so well because the ultrasound machine takes a lot of power)! Everyone in Sibanor is very excited for this progress!
Here in Gambia, there are four major people groups: Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, and Jola; Mandinka and Jola being the most common people groups in Sibanor. Mandinka is spoken by about 70% of the people and it is used as the main market language. In Sibanor, as you leave the main road, you run into a lot of Jola villages (Sitta, Kiemo, Gifunga – the closest villages that we have anything to do with on a regular basis- I will probably refer to these in other updates). Anyways, since I’m only here for short-term, Mandinka is more useful for me to learn while I’m here. Learning the language is incredibly important for people trying to work in another culture in order to show that you are not too proud to learn another language, and makes communicating a lot easier in more rural areas where most people do not speak English fluently. Although
In the last couple months, I’ve come to understand that I’m not so good at learning languages as I thought. We learned some phrases in Korean as practice back in the US that I failed to really learn. Here, I’ve been completely overwhelmed at how much I would have to learn to become fluent. I am now completely comfortable with the greetings (don’t scoff, they are quite long and involved compared to our greetings back home). I’ve learned a few commands and a few objects, but that’s about where my skills fail. I can catch a few words, but I have still failed all the tests that my language helper has thrown at me. Arg. I think if I was more focused and practiced more outside of my lessons that I would do much better, but I don’t feel motivated enough. I’m learning domanding domanding (Md. slow slow) even though I want to understand saaying saaying (Md. now now).
Since it is Ramadan now (see the section later), my Mandinka teacher needs to cook the evening meal which is a lot of work, so my lessons have been suspended until the end of the fasting month. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn some from other people. My American friend, Jessi is good at Mandinka and knows a lady, Kaddy, who was really helpful for her, so I will be able to practice my Mandinka with Jessi and Kaddy. This makes me excited.
“change, even change for the better is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomfort”
I’m really having to rely on God the last few weeks to maintain the strength to go and get to know the people here more and learn the language. It’s really easy to stay in the “safety” of Blue House and make excuses about the weather or things that I need to do. I find that I’m always better off when I venture out and greet people in their compounds and work on my Mandinka learning, but it is hard work. I always feel a little overwhelmed, but know that my effort was worthwhile. Keep praying for the courage to go out and sometimes get laughed at, but learn from the experiences.
I’ve been considering trying to live outside of the clinic compound with a Gambian family in another compound. There is no difference in the safety level, but it would give me more opportunity to get to know the people and the language better. I feel like I live in a bit of a bubble because I live in the same compound that I work in. It was nice to get used to living in this environment, but I didn’t come to live in a bubble apart from the people. Contact with people in the clinic isn’t enough – they don’t want to be there, and it is only a short contact. There are other team members who have or are living in the village, so it is for sure doable and the rest of my team is supportive, but I just need to find a place that has a space that I can live in. If nothing else, I will try it for a week and see how it goes, and we’ll see where I go from there. Please be in prayer that I will find a space that not only has the space and is willing to house me, but also speaks Mandinka so that I can get more practice.
Ramadan (take a pic of a mosque – Sib or Pipeline)
For those of you who are not familiar with the Muslim practice, we are in the middle of Ramadan. Ramadan is the fasting month in Islamic tradition and since 90% of the Gambian population is Muslim, this month is a big deal here. All Muslims fast from sunup to sundown from food AND water (I’m REALLY impressed considering the climate here). People who are sick, children, and pregnant or nursing mothers are exempted from this practice if they feel that they cannot do it. This makes treating people in the clinic a little tricky. Many times the common practice would be to give the patients the medicine they need when they come, but in order to keep their fast, they have to wait until sundown to take the meds. For those who take regular meds who want to continue to fast, we have to figure out how they can take their meds only in the morning and at night. Managing diabetes during Ramadan is ridiculously hard. Dr. Jamie gave a seminar previous to Ramadan on the topic; what the patients should try to eat in the morning and the evening and how to take their medicine to try to keep their blood sugar in a decent range. Extremely complicated, but I’m always amazed at their endurance during this month.
As I’ve learned from fasting back home, I can get pretty crabby when I’m hungry. The same is true here. We have to be careful not to do anything to frustrate those who are fasting. It’s also important not to emphasize that we as Christians are not fasting so that we don’t make it harder for them to keep their fast. Since almost all of our Gambian staff at the clinic are Muslim, we try not to remind them when we take breaks for second breakfast or lunch. We are trying to be as respectful as possible of them all.