Friday, 15 October 2010

drawing the line

There are plenty of aspects of living here I find hard, but one that is particularly frustrating is working in a different culture. Excellent training by VSO prepares you for this, but - like teaching a difficult class day after day, it begins to wear you down. As a woman I am treated with less respect than my male colleagues, by some people. I am younger than most of the people I work with, therefore less experienced, regardless of why I was given this job. I have always found it difficult to see inefficient systems in use and not change them, or to happily comply with a new initiative I know will create problems later on. Managment don't seem to like this, maybe it highlights their own short-comings, but that's their problem. There is absolutely no way I could do that here; it's not my job, it's not my place and there is the added necessity of encouraging people that goes with capacity building. I often have to bite back comments that I wouldn't think twice about at home. Knowing that you could improve things, but not being able to, is incredibly frustrating. Some volunteers fit right into this lifestyle and are able to work with long-term goals. I don't have the patience and I'm not sure why I ever thought I would have.
There have been significant staffing changes recently and there is a buzz about the place that wasn't there before. Deadlines seem to be suddenly looming and things which may have been overlooked before have become important. My advice is rarely sought, in the event that the two male volunteers are unavailable, my skills may be utilised, but mostly Lucy and I continue to work on our own projects, hoping that some difference is being made.
There is a paranoia that goes with working in a different culture. I am not merely travelling, if I upset people - however inadvertantly, relationships can be damaged. Things are very different, behaviours that would be considered rude at home are common place here. For instance men who are considered to have a lesser status, regardless of age, may be reffered to as 'boy', often being called across the street to run an errand. Similarly, I am sure that I must have offended people without knowing or intending to and I would guess that those instances probably involved greetings or food. However it has come to the point where I struggling to tolerate certain behaviours, in fact I am sure that many of my friends and colleagues here would also consider them to be inappropriate. It is time to reassert myself. I may be from a different culture, one with a horrendous and deserved reputation, I may be a woman and may be quite young, but there is a limit!

Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.


  1. Hi Kate,
    When pondering 'homesickness' over here in Canada, I read somewhere that the best adapters to a culture are 'Cosmopolitans' who incorporate the best things of their new culture with the best things of the old culture ('best' being defined by the person, so!). This works for me. Take what's good about Gambian culture...and what's good about being a British woman and put the two together...if people don't like it...their problem. You have a right to an identity too. And people are happier when they feel like they have one and 'belong' ..even if it's only in the 'United Kingdom of Kate'. Not that this is easy, mind, lovey! Just remember we call a man of lesser status a 'W****r!' 'Boy' doesn't seem too bad, now. (I still prefer W****r though, especially if they support United!!!). As for the woman thing.... it's just men trying to feel important because they can't grow babies. Bless 'em. xx

  2. I like the idea of the United Kingdon of Kate a lot! In terms of incorporating the best things of the old culture - I saw the pics of the box of tea bags! Nice work. Miss you. xxx