It has been lovely to unpack after living out of a bag for a month, and really nice to have my own space. There is a tap in the compound for us to get water, each of us has four big yellow water containers, which I can barely carry when two-thirds full. The water tends to be on in the mornings and again after about five in the evening. I have a bucket with a lid and a jug that lives outside full of water. This is for washing. By afternoon that water is almost too hot for comfort and you do have to remember to keep it in the shade. I have 2 big buckets that I use for laundry, but this seems to be a never ending task. Sitting still you sweat, so any activity however small you are covered in sweat, even morning and night. To add to this, the sandy streets mean that the bottom of your trousers are constantly orange. Already nearly 2 months in, most of my clothes are ruined. In fear of the tumbu fly (lays eggs in your drying clothes, which hatch with your body heat and the first you know is a big red boil with a black dot in the middle – the air hole for the maggot inside) I have been ironing everything, which is a complete faff with the amount I'm having to wash, and eats up our electricity credit!
After the luxury of living in the Kombo (city area) food here is an issue. We brought some tins and dried goods with us, but are having to rely on them more than expected. Currently in the market, we can buy onions and potatoes. There were some really dodgy looking aubergines and half cabbages around, and a few tiny tomatoes that had seen better days. Bananas and oranges are the entirety of the fruit, the oranges only good enough to cut the top off and suck the juice. However most days Kanti has soaked lentils before breakfast and has been expecting us to eat with her, so my diet is mostly rice, curried lentils and potato, every day. One of these is often interchangeable with bread, just to have some variety in our carbs. I don't feel like I have much independence over my eating at the moment, but on the plus side we aren't having to share food bowls. Our compound is owned by a baker who lives with his family across the road, so most of our neighbours are student nurses as the nursing college is just up the road. Therefore we are missing out on the typical Gambian experience where you are invited to share a bowl of food with the family in the compound. Our experiences of food bowls so far have not been entirely positive. Occasionally the food is really nice, but any beef tends to be impossible to chew. You eat from the section in front of you, and someone will split up any meat and veg from the middle and throw it into your section. Most of the men we have seen eat here, do so very messily – whether this is one of those cultural 'showing appreciation of food things' I don't know, but it isn't easy to eat when you have watched someone slobber all over everything, then use their hands to maul food into pieces and put them in front of you! There are small stalls where you can buy bread and choose between fillings of; magic mayonnaise (an enormous tub that sits in the heat for weeks and doesn't go off), nyebe (a mashed bean mixture with an onion sauce dripping in oil poured over, very tasty but greasy), akra (mashed bean balls deep fried) or sometimes omelette. These sandwiches only seem to be available at breakfast though and we haven't yet sussed out anywhere for other times!
The electricity had been off for days when we first arrived, but seems to be fine now. We have power from 9am to 3pm, then 7pm to 2am.
Meeting people is proving tiring. There is an expectation that you must spend time greeting and talking to everyone. Those of you who know how antisocial I am, will realise how annoying this is. Especially when random men come up to you and say things like, I've always wanted a wife with skin like this. So, that's fun. You have absolutely no sense of privacy either. Everyone wants to know where you live, what your phone number is, why don't you have a wedding ring, where are you going, where have you been..... and so on!
Last week, we had one day in our office, then received a phone call from some volunteers in a different region who desperately needed us to go and help them run a workshop for 150 teachers for 5 days. They had been let down by last minute change of plans. So next morning off we went. Talk about hitting the ground running! Tom and Lynn are ex-Ofsted inspectors who now offer consultancy for failing schools. The pressure was on! Fortunately they are both lovely, we worked incredibly hard but gained invaluable experience into where the majority of Gambian teachers are at. The focus of the workshop was reading. Basically it was teaching the teachers to read properly, whilst disguising it as how to teach your pupils to read! After testing, we found the teachers (including some headteachers) had a reading age of around 7.9.
We have arrived back in Soma this week raring to go. Off we went into the office on Monday, the Director was away and nobody did a stitch of work. Mostly people were watching music videos on you-tube. The man we are supposed to be working with was away, so we left and promised to come back the next day. So Tuesday morning back we went. The Director was back, noticeable by a much more subdued atmosphere – people were at least pretending to work, occasionally! Mr Bah however was still not back. The Director's instructions for the day were “let's be idle”. Starting to understand why we are here.
So here we are, Wednesday. Mr Bah is back, so we are now in our office. I've have told him I will be cleaning and sorting it and supplying him with instructions on how it is to be maintained. I'm not holding out much hope however. I've got online, and failed to get Lucy online. It is now 2 o'clock and that has taken up our entire morning. We may even get into a school before the week is out – look out region 4! I expect we'll wander home in about an hour and look forward to another helping of rice tonight...
Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.