I am constantly reflecting and all the joys and sorrows of last year, trying to drag out another lesson to make all the blood, sweat and tears seem worth it. About this time last year I was holed up in an old convent in Cornwall, wondering why on earth I’d thought a silent retreat was a good idea. It was one of the toughest weeks of my life - right up there after the death of Grandparents but slightly before that one week when I was 15 and convinced that all my hair was falling out and I'd be completely bald by 17 (THE TEARS).

But, je ne regrette rien. Especially after I read this and realised why it had been much harder than I'd expected:

In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.” Henri Nouwen

In that week of solitude I was stripped of scaffolding - no friends to talk to, no social media to update, no work to attend, no music to sing and dance along to and no books to transport me to far away lands. I didn’t have to check in with my people and see how their week was going, I didn't even have to decide what to cook. All that was left was the truth of who I was without all those things to validate my worthiness of life/time/attention/love or distract me from the lack of it.

Naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived and broken.

And yet, I've realised that that place of nothingness can be the birthplace of freedom. Because in that place, God holds a banner over us for all the world to see proclaiming that we are loved and we are valued - despite all things we would rather hide and all the things we are too ashamed to even acknowledge.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to earn God's love or make God love us more - not pray our way there, not read our Bible more, not attend church more, not go to The Gambia and not even give away our very last Rolo. You are worthy, simply for being you.

Without realising, I'd let a notion of earning worthiness creep in and set conditions around something that has always been extravagantly wild and free. Who I am without my scaffolding is enough. Who you are without your scaffolding is enough. Nothing from your past can change that, nothing in your future can steal that; not our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow. Whether we are high above the sky, in the deepest ocean or on a silent retreat, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus.

Being rooted and grounded in God's unwavering love for us in our place of nothingness can give us the power and confidence to live free from fear - of the judgement of others, of tomorrow, of the valley of the shadow of death, of loneliness, of looking like a fool and yes, free of even the fear of Brexit. Life in all its fullness transforming nothingness into a place of JOY - you know the place - beautiful sunrises over the mountains, a fridge full of lemon tart (made with fairtrade lemons and no palm oil, obvs and dancing for joy along to your favourite 90s pop and 00s indie rock songs.

I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your heart as you trust in him. May you be rooted and grounded in the soil of God's marvellous love. And I pray that you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep God's love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great we will never fully understand it.

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By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process." Richard Rohr

I have a confession. I did not want to go to China. If anyone had given me a good reason to stay home I would have willingly taken it. And if anyone has suggested I come home early I would have joyfully packed my bags and skipped to the airport singing songs of thanksgiving and freedom.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to go in theory. I just didn't want to go in actual I’ll-have-to-live-this real life. It was nothing but the grace of God along with the prayers and enthusiasm of my people that got me packing my bags and on the way to the airport.  I knew  it would be a challenge and I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle it. But I also knew there was a high chance of seeing some things and learning some lessons that could very much change my life. I very much wanted the conclusion without the process of having to live through the difficult things.

Day one – “Alright, here I am. What am here to learn?” I was pretty confident that if I could figure it out as soon as possible then the rest of the trip would be much much easier.

By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process.

We want the miracle of something coming back to life but without it having to actually die first. We want to know the result for certain but without ever wondering if its right. We want to fully appreciate goodness but without ever experiencing the pain. We want the end result but without having to work for it.

And right now I could add – we want the joy of risk but without the leap of faith, we want knowing that we can handle the routine of the 9-5 and slot back in to normal life (whatever that means) without having to actually do it. No, just me on that one?!

And why do we want these things? Because dealing with death, doubt, darkness and the process can all be so desperately difficult. We only have one wild life and who wants it to be filled with difficult things?

But the truth is, we never have to face any of those things alone. God is with us every step of the way in dealing with all these things and more. God prepares a feast for us right in the very presence of death, darkness, doubt - we are invited to sit at the table, in the presence of God and celebrate, even with our enemies banging on the door, baying for our blood and reminding us of our ever increasingly urgent to do lists.

O Lord, let me enter into your presence, and there taste the eternal, timeless everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my timebound anxieties, fears, preoccupations and worries.” Henri Nouwen

Is this not what it is to abide? To enter into the presence of God and let it remove all of our timebound anxieties, fears, preoccupations and worries? To keep our eyes on Jesus and abide with God through the tension of dealing with death, doubt, darkness and process.

So if, like me, you've found yourself battling through, hang tight - the table is set and the bunting is up. There's a feast prepared in your honour and God is waiting in anticipation for you to take your place at the table.

Come, have a seat, everything is ready for you.  Abide well.

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Dear former ex-friends,

Good news. Great Joy. You’re re-hired.

Turns out by the actual daily grace of God I survived a couple of months in China.

Turns out I missed you with my whole heart.

Turns out I couldn’t update my blog from China – the Great FireWall keeps out many an internet essential (Google, WhatsApp, Insta, BBC etc). And so, for your viewing pleasure, what I would have posted if I’d had a Great FireWall evading VPN (apols if you were on my e-mail list, this may be a little familiar).

Nihao Team!
I am alive. I am well. I reached China in one piece with an almost struggle free journey*.
I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new world because I am certainly not in Kansas Gambia Croydon anymore. Something that I am constantly aware of because hardly anyone speaks English and I can’t read ANYTHING – bus stops, bus routes, menus, food packaging in the supermarket, shop signs and, more crucially, road signs.
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I have no idea what these cleaning products are for. I’m just using them all on everything to cover all bases.
What with google not working out here, the maps app being in Chinese and having no sense of direction whatsoever, I’m spending a lot of time being lost/taking an unplanned scenic route and apologising for being late, again. Fortunately, I love a good wander and its mostly sunny. But if you never hear from me again I’m wandering through suburban China, marveling at how anyone can ever know where they are when EVERY SINGLE APARTMENT SKYSCRAPER BLOCK LOOKS THE SAME.IMG_20181005_133747432
Much of these past couple of weeks has been spent trying to master the art of eating with chopsticks** and trying to not get run over - there’s even a massive junction where pedestrians have to wait in the middle while the buses, cars and lorries thunder past! I’m learning lots about the different cultures and beliefs here. I’m also learning a tiny bit of Chinese. Chao sa z ma zou (how do I get to the supermarket?) Now I just need to figure out how to understand the replies. In general though, the people in this city have been amazingly helpful when they realise I don't speak Chinese. Maybe because in a city of 1million there's less than 500 ex-pats, foreigners are still a bit of a novelty in this region. I get stared at all the time and random strangers want me in their selfies.
One of the things I have been most surprised to discover is that old guys do actually fly kites in the park, people really do play board/card games like mah-jong in the streets, people really do play flutes/saxophones etc in the park, people really do some kind of tai chi type exercise outside, and people really do let off fireworks during the day. THESE THINGS ACTUALLY DO HAPPEN. It’s not just a lovely Pixar creation. Who knew?!
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Let's go fly a kite.
Also, good news of great joy – this week I went to the Import Store and bought butter and raspberry jam and cheese! ALL THE GOOD THINGS.
So other than not being able to understand anything, getting lost all the time and battling with chopsticks my life here is a breeze. As ever, I would LOVE to hear all the things in your life so do write back and tell me everything.
Till next time,
Love, peace and chopsticks x x
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*Let me tell you, you do not know despair in your heart until you’re sat on the train, at the start of a 1,000 mile trek across London through rush hour commuters to get to Heathrow airport, and you look at the floor wondering where all those pieces of plastic have come from, and then realise that yes, in fact, they’ve broken off one of the wheels of your suitcase. The suitcase containing all your belongings you’ll need for the next two months that you need to take on trains and tubes across London. The suitcase that needs to travel a million miles to China and back again. All this and you’re less than 400 metres from home. O DARK NIGHT OF MY SOUL. Forget getting to China, I didn’t think I’d even make it to Victoria Station. Mum - you were right, I do need a new suitcase.
** Before arriving here I had never eaten with chopsticks, now atleast one meal a day you’ll find me attempting to eat with as much dignity as I can muster – precious little most of the time. I have never concentrated so much on anything in all my life – not even when I’m painting my nails. I am exhausted by the end of every meal.  And if you were ever in any doubt, the best way to build friendships is to impress with your ability to get food all over you, your new friends, the table, the small child at the next table, the small dog outside, the floor and the ceiling (noodle soup *sighs*).

So. How was your Christmas?

Mine was pretty much like the rest of this year – an absolute whirlwind of the loosely planned being usurped by the surprising. Though I learned the hard way that if you spend half the day holding small children and hefting a turkey in and out of the oven your arms will ache for atleast a week. Even brushing my hair is a challenge - sorry to anyone who has to be seen with me in public right now.

Christmas Joy: Getting to meet my 6-day old new favourite
Christmas JOY: Surprise visit from my 6-day old new favourite

I must confess, I was not ready for Christmas this year. I don't understand how its come and gone already, I'm still waiting for summer. I was the most Grinch of all the Grinchs and so reflecting on the reason for the season was not forefront of my mind. But what I did realise is that Christmas is all about abiding - Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) with us, so that we could abide (live/dwell) with him.

The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the end of our separation from God. It changed everything. Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) as light in the darkness, offering us hope, peace and joy.

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God was no longer as distant as before. But here. Present. With us. Immanuel.

And just a few short decades later the death and resurrection of Jesus would change it all again. Giving us access to a home we could fully abide (live/dwell) in together. Forever.

But it’s not just for the future, if nothing else, this absolute madness of a year has taught me that abiding is also for right here, right now. This very moment. Here. Present.

Everyday in China I asked God for the grace to make it through just that day. And the next day I asked the same. And the next day the same again. But I think what I didn't have the words to ask for was this:

O Lord. Life passes by swiftly. Events that a few years ago kept me totally preoccupied have now become vague memories; conflicts that a few months ago seemed so crucial in my life now seem futile and hardly worth the energy; inner turmoil that robbed me of sleep only a few weeks ago has now become a strange emotion of the past; books that filled me with amazement a few days ago now do not seem as important; thoughts that kept my mind captive only a few hours ago have now lost their power and have been replaced by others... Why am I continuously trapped in this sense of urgency and emergency? Why do I not see that you are eternal, that your kingdom lasts forever, and that for you a thousand years are like one day? O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries.... Lord teach me your ways and give me the courage to follow them. Amen." Henri Nouwen

This is what abiding this year has looked like - an invitation to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries. To live fully loved, at peace, joyfully, on a foundation of trust.

Is this what I've been doing all year? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (pauses to breathe and then resumes hysterical laughter) hahahahaha.

No.

I had to go to China and back to figure this out, let me save you the journey and the planet the carbon emissions. Turns out sometimes abiding feels like a picnic in green pastures beside still waters.tanguy-sauvin-3118-unsplash

But also, abiding can feel like being on a rollercoaster, holding on to the edge of your seat, both eagerly anticipating what’s next and dreading it, uncertain whether to laugh/cry/vomit/all three, wondering why you’ve put yourself in that position AGAIN and why no-one told you it was a bad idea, clinging for dear life/faith/sanity onto the knowledge that God is good and God is with you always even if it doesn’t feel like it, and praying it will all end soon so you can get off and return to life on terra firma.

Christmas, a solid reminder than wherever we find ourselves and whatever is going on God abides with us. Our choice is whether we abide with Him at the picnic, the rollercoaster or elsewhere.

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This is it y'all. Only a few hours remaining until I head to Asia! I don't know whether to laugh, cry or throw up. You know what they say - when in doubt, write it out.

1st of All. Thank you so much wonderful people for your all your support. You have no idea how much you have cheered me on through all the preparation and how much that will cheer me on out the door and on the way to the airport  IN JUST A COUPLE OF HOURS.

2nd of All. Clear evidence I have matured - this time 8 years ago I was debating whether I should take The Princess Bride book or my purple yoda jumper with glow-in-the-dark lightsabre on it with me on my travels. Yesterday I put The Princess Bride in my suitcase with no hesitation - jumpers with glow in the dark decal in no way prevent you from falling over mystery objects in the dark. Clearly I am now wise and mature beyond measure.

3rd of All Preach Brother Mark -

When you are preparing for a monumentous change in your life, the reality often doesn’t kick in until a few weeks beforehand. Then you start thinking about how it is really going to affect your life, wonder why the hell you decided to put yourself in such a position and occasionally, inevitably, ask yourself whether you can’t get out of it.

4th of All. This past week has been a whirlwind of:

  • Wearing all my favourite clothes that I can't take with me (yes, I'm talking about you, most beautiful Lavender Fields jumper of them all. I miss you a million and seven already)
  • Eating all my favourite eats (yes, I'm talking about you pretentious yet delicious toast in Balham)
  • Saying 'see-you-in-November' to too many of my favourites (insert crying a river emoji here. I miss you a million and seven already)
  • Asking my bffs "WHAT IS THIS LIFE/WHAT AM I DOING?" on a daily basis (general response: I don't know what you're doing either)
  • And really useful things that are definitely a good use of time and not some thinly veiled procrastination like folding all the clothes in my cupboard (inner neat-freak cannot abide the idea of coming home to a messy wardrobe)

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. da dadada daaaaa da da da da da.

Next stop, Asia. Well, after a million year trek to Heathrow Airport #consideritalljoy

[Insert perfectly candid photo of me panicking though somehow managing to look like I still have everything together and is totally able to handle everything]

Dear (soon to be ex) friends,
I hereby serve notice of the termination of our friendship on the grounds of your terrible life advice and general encouragement in making this year even more ridiculous than it already has been.
Because you know what? I’ve only been home from Gambia a few weeks, I’ve only just remembered how to function here, I haven’t even been able to wear all my fun summer dresses and now I AM GOING TO ASIA IN NINE DAYS. I already went to the Lake District this year, is that not travel  enough?!
Apparently not one of you had sense enough to tell me to stay at home. WHY ARE YOU ALL SUCH ENABLERS?! Stop encouraging this freewheeling, I’ll make a plan when I make a plan lifestyle. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR ME.
You know what is good? Stability. Routine. Schedules. Have you not seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? EVEN SCIENCE TELLS ME YOUR ADVICE IS ALL WRONG.
You no longer have the right to live vicariously through my questionable life choices that you have encouraged. IT’S OVER (though I’ll hopefully be updating this hallowed space so hang tight, you just might get to yet).
Not I am not freaking out in the slightest. Whatever gives you that impression?! I AM CLEARLY EMOTIONALLY STABLE AND WELL ABLE TO HANDLE MY EVER-GROWING 'GETTING READY TO GO TO ASIA' TO-DO LIST.
Whatevs, see you losers in November.
P.S. Sister, you are obvs exempt from this because you are still Chief Hater and have in no way, shape or form, encouraged this endeavour. 5 points to you.
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Just another what am I actually doing with my life moment

 

Team,
So, I made it back from Gambia safe and sound (although the week is yet young so there’s still plenty of time for a visit to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases). Sorry for the radio silence. Being home is every bit just as unpredictable and weird as everything else this year has been. Sorry to anyone who asked me “How was Gambia?” to which I responded “Yeh, it was really hot” when you were actually hoping for something a little more insightful than general weather conditions.
But really, Gambia was hot. It was good though. It was tough, it was hot but it was good. As ever, God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.
I learned that God gives us the shoes we need to walk the journey we're on - whether you're barefoot and fancy free because life is a beach, running in lightup trainers because sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do or whether you need steel toe capped boots to stomp on all the things trying to cut you up. Whenever I wondered if I had enough courage or niceness to get through the next minute/hour/day it was supplied. Didn't mean it was easy, but it was manageable.
I also learned not to sweat the details. Given that pretty much anything I tried to plan in Gambia didn’t work out I’ve started to hold plans very very very loosely. Par exemple: 1. i planned to eat ice cream – but the kitchen got covered in bugs, barring access to the freezer; 2. I planned a quiet night in – but torrential rain meant that friends had to stay the night and I suddenly found myself cooking dinner for five; 3. I got some cultural appropriate clothes made at the tailors –  but at first they were way way too big, and then so so small MY HOUSEMATE HAD TO CUT ME OUT OF THE DRESS WITH A KNIFE. Do not ask me to plan or organise anything. It is simply beyond my capabilities. I have seen and tasted that an unplanned and organised life can be good. I am now the Queen of Last Minute and Spontaneous. I have transcended your earthly need to schedule and arrange. I set my planner aflame and danced upon its ashes whilst singing songs of freedom and victory. Apols for not replying promptly to any texts, snail mail letters or smoke signals.
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Plus side to clothes that dont fit - heaps of material for all your creative needs
I am so so happy to be home. And yet a solid part of my heart is planted in Gambia with friends sitting under a mango tree in the middle of the nowhere, with brightly coloured birds flitting all around and the sun slowly setting (obvs, my rose tinted glasses totally ignores the fact that this would be prime mosquito time).
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Not gonna lie, my surprise welcome home party was nothing to Insta about – mostly because it hasn’t actually happened. The organising committee are taking this surprise thing a bit far. In fact, I'm looking for new committee members, any volunteers?
Much of the past few weeks has been spent staring at my clothes trying to remember how to wear them – apols if you’ve had to be seen with me in public and I’ve either been grossly underdressed (pjs) or overdressed (ballgown). I’m still trying to reclaim my former forward fashunn-function style sweet spot. Four weeks home and it remains ever elusive. So for now, pjs abound. Sorry not sorry.
Home has also been relearning how to cross roads safely (traffic here is less fluid), marvelling at all the drinkable tap water, wondering why the house isn’t clean and then remembering there’s no lady who comes to do the cleaning for me, trying to even out ridiculous tan lines, and not being scared of all the creepy crawlies that I would formerly have been convinced are trying to kill me.
So what’s next? Yeh, let me get back to you on that one, planning isn’t really my thing right now. So for now, back to a life of funemployment.
All that's left to say is THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU. Thank you so so much for all your support. You have no idea how much your messages helped carry me through the rough days. If I could choose to have anyone on my team, it’s definitely you lot.
Much love x x

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I don’t even like halloumi (I only ever eat it to be polite) – and yet, here, in the Desert of Dairy Products, I would quite joyfully sell my own liver for some of the salt rubber cheese.
But all is well for my calcium deprived self because my days here are numbered – it’s the final countdown - again. In six days time I will be touching down in London town.
But good news, the sweat, tears and prayers have been worth it because WE GOT SOME FUNDING Y'ALL! By some literal miracle we will be able to do a little work on the waiting shed so that all the patients fit inside while they wait to register, it stays dry when it rains and keeps cool when it hot. Praise Jesus and well done team!
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The waiting shed: weighed, measured and found wanting
In other good news, I finally finished uploading the new video to the correct Youtube channel (don’t ask... but now you mention it – it takes over a day to upload, that’s all I'm saying... but I uploaded it to the wrong channel, enough said... it took all my self control not to fling my computer and the internet router out the window and into the path of on oncoming donkey cart. 5 points to me for developing self control and growing in patience). Anyway, feast your eyes and heart upon this:

Shout out to fellow volunteer Benni who filmed, edited and graciously tolerated all my suggested edits and our subsequent artistic differences.
I must confess, over the past few months I’ve given you the edited highlights and not every day has been filled with unicorns, rainbows and gin fountains but part of me will miss being here, particularly:
  • Being amazed at how calmly sheep and goats will travel strapped on top of a mini bus going atleast 70kmph (this is a guesstimate because anytime I've been sat near the driver the speedo has never been working).
  • The novelty of pretty much everything.
  • People. I will miss my Sibanor people.
  • Ironed bedsheets.
  • The abundance of mangoes, sunshine, brightly coloured birds and unusual flowers. Top of my birthday list is now a Frangipani tree (evidence I am turning in to my mother number 5,674,374).
  • Appreciation for all the things I have taken for granted – running water, electricity, a flushing toilet, hot water for a shower, a fridge, a freezer, internet, health and safety regulations (hate me coz I'm beautiful but I'm yet to see any fire exit signs). I  am much more thankful, I realise this will probs wear off after a few days. I will miss  daily reminders of dependence on God's provision and thankfulness for what I have received. God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.
  • Village life – everyone knowing everyone, the slower pace and living in the present because if its not in the village does it even exist?
Shout out to Anorthe for this photo
Shout out to Anorthe for this photo
Things I will actually not miss:
  • Village life – everyone knowing everyone, the slower pace, living in the present because if its not in the village does it even exist?
  • That cockerel that is still waking us all up way way before dawn. A suitable candidate for the main course of my leaving party perhaps?
  • The novelty of pretty much everything.
  • The precariousness of public transport - remind me to tell you about the time an ACTUAL VULTURE CRACKED THE WINDSCREEN as we were driving along in a minibus.
  • The many many many offers of marriage – so many I've stopped counting and its no longer amusing. I now just lie and say I’m already married.
  • Lack of access to dairy products. Once I'm home you will find me swimming in milk, making sculptures out of yoghurt and rolling around on a bed of cheese.
  • The guilt of privilege. Can't deny it, life here is hard for many people. Mine is not.
  • The guilt of eating a whole tapalapa in one sitting even though everytime I was definitely going to leave half for lunch and some for dinner.
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This is about a foot long.
So, there we go, four months in The Gambia nearly over and out. I don't know whether to laugh or cry so I think I'll just go ahead and do both - brb.
SEE YOU SOON TEAM! And don't forget to bring a cake to my surprise welcome home party  - its gonna be the best cake buffet you've ever seen! x x
P.S. Organising Committee - please include a cake buffet.

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Forget the football because with only a month to go RACHEL IS COMING HOME. I hope plans for my surprise welcome home party are progressing nicely.
And with just a few weeks to go I have pulled up my socks and am working on finishing everything I've started and everything I haven't yet started (new website I'm looking at you). Ordinarily just the thought of how much I have left to do would bring me out in a sweat, but I’m already sweating, so I don’t even notice, so I am perfectly chilled about it (although not literally because Hot).
Did I mention before that its hot? Well now its major humid too because the rainy season is upon us. And in true late-to-the-party diva stylee it all kicked off with a Great Storm that whipped up so much red dust I couldn't see out the windows and started to wander if I wasn't in Kansas anymore but instead was about to land in Oz/Mars/a dystopian apocalypse. Many buildings across the area had their roofs torn off or completely buckled. But of more note, all my clothes, sheets and towels that were happily drying in the sun got absolutely soaked and covered in mud.
The rains also herald the start of the busiest few months at the clinic. Pretty soon, we'll be seeing people with malaria, and more people with malnutrition, gastroenteritis and respiratory illnesses. This means nearly all units across the clinic will have their hands full with more patients to treat and the ward at full occupation. Fortunately, another doctor is coming out for a few months - taking the total of doctors up to two!
The ward
The ward

 

You know they say travel teaches you things? Well, I have learned that in times of peril I clutch my skirts like a Victorian Lady who’s just seen a mouse. Skirt clutching scenarios include:
  • Great storms with thunder and lightning that is very very frightening and had me considering whether or not to run to my neighbours so I wouldn't face the apocalypse alone.
  • Wandering round a park with ‘tame’ crocodiles. Apparently they get fed well, so they're not hungry and so they won't eat people.
"If one of these things kills me don't let my mum know. I'll get no sympathy for voluntarily walking around potentially deadly animals."
  • Hundreds of flying creatures invading the kitchen (and blocking my access to ice cream) and a gecko barring me from escaping outside.
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Holla at me Hitchhikers fans because a towel really is just about the most massively useful thing any interstellar Hitchhiker can carry.
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Holla at me LOTR crew because the way was shut, this Gecko had made it and he was keeping it.
Repeat after me: I will appreciate God’s wondrous creatures. I will appreciate God’s wondrous creatures. I will appreciate God’s wondrous creatures. I will appreci... But surely some of these beasts have been conjured in the fiery pit of Mordor?
In other non Rachel vs Nature news, I am no longer the only toubab in the clinic! I have a fellow foreigner with whom to share my Toubab Tiara with. Meet Anorthe, a student midwife from Germany, who on her very first morning with us, which also happened to be her birthday, helped deliver a baby!

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Please pray for her, she is having to live through my extremely experimental cooking. Though I think I’m doing a pretty good job styling like I’m used to life here and know how Gambia works. But there are still plenty* things I am not used to, including:
  • The abundance of mangoes in Mango season. Currently eating atleast one a day and hoping the yellow/orangeness of it all is topping up my tan (don't tell me this is not how science works, I'm not interested in your facts).
  • How many people have a daughter / son / wife / husband / father / mother / sister / brother / aunt / uncle etc who died before they were old. Accidents, illness...
  • Feeling so uneducated. Everyone here seems to speak two or three languages. I only speak one and now a small small* amount of Gambian English.
  • The difference the rain has made - the dry and dusty landscape is turning a glorious green. I find myself staring in amazement at patches of grass where I've only seen dust. Living water indeed.
  • Not having a washing machine. Being a fancy toubab my things get handwashed by one of the ladies in the village. But even fancy toubabs have to wash their underwear. May or may not have had to wear my bikini a few times when I've forgotten to do some washing. Also, everything that dries outside has to be ironed to kill any eggs laid in it by mango flies – if not, your body heat hatches the eggs and the larvae burrow into your skin. Am becoming a massive fan of ironed bed sheets (this is what it must be like to be royalty). May or may not have made a massive hole in one of my only three bras when I attempted to iron it (bet this is something Kate and Meghan have never had to deal with).
Though something I am getting used to/have become socially conditioned to accept - if there's no rice or bread are you even eating? I've decided to embrace all my loose, flowing, non-figure hugging clothes and just eat All The Foods. And by all the foods I mean carbs, starches and sugar. And by carbs, starches and sugar I mean bread, rice and biscuits. Its fine, I won't have a job when I get home. I will just live at the gym.
As ever, please tell me all your news. And don't forget - in just a few weeks I will be on-my-way-coming* home!
Till next time team x x
P.S. Still haven’t found Wakanda. The quest continues.
P.P.S. Don't forget the hot air balloon for my party. Or the cake. And if there could be a couple of Alpacas there too that would be fun. And maybe a disco ball. And Beyonce, could you get Beyonce there also? And Gin - a gin fountain would be fun. And pizza.
P.P.S. Watch this space because we have just finished editing a short video about the clinic!
*this is not poor grammar. This is Gambian English.

2 Comments

A few FAQs for ya:
What’s the weather like? Its HOT. As in, 30something°C every single day by 10.30am. And before you say you’d happily trade – this is the kinda hot where just breathing makes you sweat, you have to wear contact lenses because the heat just makes your glasses slide down your face and underboob sweat is ruining all your bras.  Bonus to the heat though, if you manage to spill something all over you it dries in about 10 minutes – not that this happened to me or anything.
Where do you live?  WELCOME TO MY CRIB Y’ALL!
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High ceilings = excellent acoustics = I AM BEYONCE

 

The Blue House
The Blue House
I know, its huge. It used to be the nurse training school building before being converted into volunteer housing. As the only volunteer here right now one of the office staff moved in to keep me company and ensure I don’t get murdered in the night. Meet Emily:IMG_20180526_082354185_HDR
She persuades me to go cycling at 7am on a Saturday, asks me "What about the pink skirt?" when my clothes aren't nice enough for church and thinks I should marry her brother. I’m teaching her how to cook with an oven.
What do you eat? Whatever I want (more or less) - I do my own cooking. Although there ain’t any Lil' Waitrose out here in Sibanor – just a few small local stores crammed with all sorts of household items. So I’ve been doing my foodshop (read, stocking up on digestives) in the city and schlepping it back to Sibanor. Which has led to some pretty interesting combinations when I've run out of my good food - sweet ‘n’ sour tuna and cabbage stir fry anyone? (I’m not a sweet and sour fan. Nor much of a tuna fan. Or cabbage for that matter). I am having fun trying Gambian food though. Top of the list so far: domodah (peanut sauce with meat/fish, veg and rice) benachin (like jollof rice but with peanut instead of tomato).
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Table for 1?
What is Sibanor like? Sibanor is a small rural town of about 5,000 people and exactly three toubabs (white foreigners). It has a market mostly selling vegetables, a couple of mosques, a pre-school, a few general stores, a few tailors, a church, a school (and football pitch), a health centre (obvs) and not much else. Many homes don’t have electricity or running water.
What are the people like? For the most part, friendly. Greeting each other is big part of culture here - Peace be with you, good morning/afternoon/evening, is there peace with you, how is the morning/afternoon/evening, how is your wife/husband, how are your children... I am slowly slowly learning the greetings in a couple of the local languages. Kids just love me, or atleast they just love to herald my presence by screaming "TOUBAB TOUBAB TOUBAB!" at me wherever I go. I'm not one to boast but I'm pretty famous now - I don't/can't go anywhere in Sibanor unnoticed.
What do you do all day? Sit at my desk and try not to melt/research potential funders/write applications/other office type things. The evenings are a mixture of reading, cooking, washing clothes, visiting people and going to bed at 9pm. Though yesterday a few of us went swimming in a river. May or may not have spent much of the past 24 hours convinced I'm now riddled with river parasites and worms.

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This Sibanor life is a joy. It is a struggle. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. 

Got any other questions for me?