May have to come home early coz clearly all the locks I put on my bedroom door and all the Indiana Jones/Home Alone stylee traps have not been sufficient.
Love from Rachel
PS. Please inform the fam that I am now recruiting a new favourite sister. Interviews and auditions will be held in August. Extra points to anyone who makes me a cake and buys me all the books on my wish list.
Y’all I have a confession. My name is Rachel and its been 38 days since I last wore mascara.
I understand there are some serious issues people face in life but can we please just focus on me for a minute? #alleyelashesmatter
I figured the heat would make any makeup just melt off my face. So given that I didn’t want to end up looking like The Joker I didn’t bring any makeup. But now every time I look in the mirror I wonder why I look so tired and since when were my eyes so small. O woe is me.
So, I’ve made it over a month! I was asked what makes Gambia different from the UK. My answer - EVERYTHING:
The weather, food, people, public transport, cars, languages, social customs and norms, clothes and fashion, trees, animals and insects, electricity, bread, signs, shops and shopping, cooking, water, tea, taps, smells, noise, roads, houses, buildings, flowers, music, internet reliability, washing machines or lack thereof, church, sense of humour, landscape, grass, time, money...
Maybe this is why I’m crawling into bed at 9pm barely able to keep my eyes open. But God is good and I’m getting used to it. I’m even starting to feel like I’m getting a handle on much that happens at the clinic:
Monday is general clinic day – anyone and everyone comes to see a nurse and/or doctor.
Tuesday is antenatal clinic – sooooo many pregnant women. We’re the only health facility in the area where women can have an ultrasound scan.
Wednesday is paediatric day – you can hear children crying all the live long day. It starts when they get weighed at registration and goes on and on and on and on. Even my dead frozen heart of stone feels sorry for them.
Things I am yet to get used to:
All the goats, sheep, chickens, cows, donkeys, cat and dogs wondering around the health centre compound and casually strolling all over the main road. Apparently they all have owners and can all navigate their way back home.
Always feeling under-dressed. Clothes with loud patterns and colours are life to me (had you noticed?!). But these women are on a level I can only dream of.
Getting a text every time its time to pray (5 times a day). Managed to somehow activate the PrayerTime function of my Gambia simcard.
Lack of interest in Brexit. Apparently not everyone in the whole wide world cares about UK politics.
Using cash all the time. Def no chip and pin or contactless out here in Sibanor. Wages are often paid in cash, and so is everything else. I've been told of some remote villages further up country where even cash is rare – most people are subsistence farmers and barter/exchange goods.
Lack of interest in the royal wedding. I legit had to explain who was even getting married. Apparently not everyone in the whole wide world cares about the ridiculous that is the UK monarchy.
Lack of access to McVities Chocolate Digestives in Sibanor. May or may not have spent the weekend going on a 160km round trip to the city, on seven forms of van/car/pickup truck, primarily so I could stock up on said biscuits. (Update: have eaten all the biscuits, now planning next escape to the city).
Hope you're all enjoying the bank holiday.
P.S. I haven’t found Wakanda yet, the search continues
That’s it. In my defence, a lot can happen in seven days (just ask Craig David).
Seven glorious days without getting bitten by some spawn of satan insect. Bugs 15: Rachel nil.
In all honesty, it was my fault. I‘d survived seven days which convinced me I was invincible and so I let my guard down and did all the things you’re not supposed to do:
Sit near stagnant water - Yep!
Go outside at dusk without long sleeves or trousers - Check!
Not use insect repellent - Full house!
Bah! I know better! What did the poet once say – pride cometh before the fall? Well, how the mighty have fallen and gone running limping to the anti-histamine cream and insect repellent.
So I’ve been in Gambia for just over a few of weeks now. Sorry not sorry to anyone who bet on me not lasting a fortnight.
I’m living at the health centre in Sibanor and slowly settling in to rural life. I’m getting a good idea of clinic services but I’ve spent much of the past week in a constant state of bewilderment - although lots of people speak English to me, there’s also lots of Mandinka, Wolof and Jola spoken around me. Most of the time I have no clue what is going on. But, what I do know and what I have seen is that the health centre is doing an amazing job of providing quality health care with the little resource they have. One example – every Thursday the community outreach team travel to a village to screen people for hypertension and risk of diabetes. They've also just started to vaccinate children in the villages who have missed out on their childhood immunisations for diseases such as polio, diphtheria and measles.
Life here starts early with 7.40am devotions three days a week, and staff teaching at 7.30am on Tuesdays. Yes, 7.30am. Fortunately my commute is probs not even 50 metres.
Though the real start to my day is around 5am when all the roosters in the whole wide world decide its time to have a sunrise party before the rest of the dawn chorus. These chickens are seriously testing my self-control and part-time vegetarianism – every morning I fight the impulse to run outside with a machete and provide everyone with chicken for lunch.
Staff teaching has been interesting – diabetes last week and asthma this week. Diabetes is just as much a problem here as it is at home. Many people here would rather die than lose a limb – with very little/no access to prosthetics losing a limb could mean that you are no longer able to cook for the family, grow food or work. For many, that is simply unacceptable and they will do all they can to avoid amputation.
Other things that have taken some getting used:
Mosquito nets – can’t live with them coz you’ll get entangled trying to get out every single morning, can’t live without them or you’ll get bitten on the elbow by some miniature beast in the night (not that this is based on a true story or anything).
Patchy internet – o woe is me.
Anyway, enough about my first world problems. Hows things? Did you manage to beach/BBQ/get lost in B&Q this bank holiday?
Gambia has its mayday bank holiday on the 1st May so last Tuesday afternoon we held a Mayday Sports Day celebration for the staff:
Such fun! Although, again, didn't understand half of what was going on.
So all in all its been a good start – I'm currently enjoying the organised chaos of life here.
P.S. I’ve just finished the clinic newsletter so shoot me your email address if you want in.
Y’all, I am certainly not in Kansas Croydon anymore, but somehow surviving.
Even managed to survive leaving the compound where I’ve been staying and going for a walk ALL BY MYSELF and not getting lost (it was only along a main road. And I should confess that I didn’t even cross over the road – I'm not used to the traffic yet, its a little fluid and I'm a massive coward – but the point is THAT I SURVIVED). SO COME AT ME WORLD I CAN DO ALL THE THINGS.
I have also managed to survive:
Wearing nearly all my clothes on the flight over.
The abject horror of realising that in my haste to get ready I’d forgotten about The First Shave of Spring – cue unveiling werewolf legs when I eventually removed some layers before landing in the tropics. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Deciding that I wanted to go home before I’d even left the country. Thanks be for friends who know the right thing to say at the right time, even at 6.28am on a Thursday:
Jumping a mile every time I think some spawn of satan insect has landed on me – so far, its just been my very over active imagination and the anti-histamine cream remains in its box. Praise be.
Drinking tea with powdered milk. Yeh.
Sign me up for The Island because I am clearly a #survivor. All this survival has been immensely aided by:
Your amazing love and support (the crying emoji is my favourite right now because of you). For reals, thank you for your cards, texts, hugs, financial support (there's still time: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/rachel-holmes), well wishing and even poetry. My people are amazing.
No jet lag. The Gambia is in the same time zone as the UK - though because of BST is an hour behind.
A Sunday Roast after church today. Followed by apple pie and ice cream. In The Gambia. I know.
The lovely Dorothy and Doug looking after me this week and knowing where to find the best roast dinner this side of town - you can take the Scots out of Scotland but...
The weather – apparently it’s a lot cooler than normal for this time of year. That’s fine with me. I am relishing any time I am cold, pretty sure I will forget what thats even like soon.
For the past few days I’ve had wifi. Praise God from whom all blessings/wifi flow.
Finding a shop selling McVities choc digestives.
Realising I could have missed this. I could have let fear, doubt and a million other things stop me from saying yes.
The past few days I’ve been at HQ for orientation and tomorrow I head out to Sibanor (sadly no wifi, no roast dinners and no shops with choc digestives) where the health centre is and where I'll be based. I’m looking forward to meeting the staff, learning all about the clinic and starting to figure out funding.
Will try and update again soon - internets dependant.
P.S. Y’all. There are pigeons in The Gambia! Vultures too.
This is it y'all. Only a few hours remaining until I head to The Gambia
1st of All. Thank you so much wonderful people for your all your support. You have no idea how much it has made me cry and how much it has cheered me on. My people are the greatest and the most generous - thanks for reminding me how amazing you are. (PS. You can still chip in: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/rachel-holmes)
2nd of All. Preach Brother Mark Boyle -
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.
3rd of All. This past week has been a whirlwind of:
Wearing all my favourite clothes that are not culturally appropriate to wear in The Gambia (yes, I'm talking about you ever faithful leggings and minidress/skirt combo)
Eating all my favourite eats (yes, I'm talking about you pretentious yet delicious toast in Balham)
Saying 'see-you-in-August' to many of my favourite people (insert crying a river emoji here)
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) and cleaning my muddy walking boots (ditto re: neat-freakness).
So, my bag is packed and weighed. According to my sister Apparently, I am taking too many hair products...
...too many books and too few clothes (my inner minimalist is rejoicing because I have always wanted to try a capsule wardrobe).
As you can probs tell, its been anther weird week to round off a couple of months of weirdness. Most evidenced through the fact that I haven' changed my calendar since March. MARCH - behaviour previously never exhibited in the Life of Rachel.
And so, I'll just leave you with these:
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. da dadada daaaaa da da da da da.
This is it. There’s no going back. Flights are booked, anti-malarial tablets are ordered and I’ve had my Yellow Fever vaccine, supposedly (I didn’t feel the injection at all. AT ALL. The nurse told me that she’s very good at her job and even showed me the empty bottle. Apparently, I now have lifetime immunity to Yellow Fever. But I didn’t even feel the needle, so did I even really get the injection? So am I even really immune for life? Is my Yellow Fever certificate a lie? Don’t ever tell me this blog doesn’t ask the big questions of life).
Only 8 days to go. Nobody panic.
So, riding right next to Excitement is Lament because all these goodbyes have me realising all the things I will dearly miss:
My Favourite. Fortunately, he’ll probs thinks I look enough like my sister that when I see him in August he won't realise that I’m not her.
My Favourite’s 1st birthday, my Grandfather’s 90th birthday, my Dad’s 60th birthday and a fair few important 30ths too. ALL THE SAD FEELS FOR ALL THE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES TO EAT CAKE and, you know, celebrate life or whatever.
My books. I HAVE NO WORDS FOR THE LOSS OF ACCESS TO BY BOOKSHELF. Do not even speak the K-Word to me (#deathtokindles).
My beautiful beautiful clothes. ALL THE SAD FEELS FOR ALL THE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES TO WEAR BEAUTIFUL DRESSES AT BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND EAT CAKE.
Croydon – concrete jungle where dreams are made of.
Nando’s. And I only need two more chillies until I get free whole chicken.
Lemon Cheesecake with raspberries.
Summertime London. The greatest city in the universe becomes even greater.
Tea. Of course I’m taking some teabags but it won’t be the same. It never is outside the UK and you know it.
Dairy Milk – see as above.
Music. I listen to music all the live long day. I have no idea how to get music on my phone. My brother is rather unhelpfully refusing to come down from York to solve this problem for me. I am about to enter a music desert. Pray for me.
Family & friends I guess. Whatevs. Never liked them that much anyway.
You. So if I haven't see you already then lets make it happen soon because this is the week of lasts - last Saturdays, last weeks at church and last chance for us to hang out.
Yep, you read right - in just a few short weeks I'll kiss good ol’ Blighty goodbye to go volunteer at a health clinic in The Gambia for 3ish months. I’M GOING TO THE GAMBIA Y'ALL.
Fear not! I will not be doing anything even remotely medical. I’ll actually be supporting the staff there with some fundraising, some website stuff and a few other charity organisational bits and pieces. I’d always assumed doctors, nurses and teachers were the only ones with useful skills outside of London. Turns out fundraising can be a useful skill too. Who even knew?!
I'll be based at the Sibanor Health Centre which sees 35,000 patients from the surrounding rural areas every year, treating everything from malaria to malnutrition and burns to snake bites. Running for just over 50 years, the centre is well established and people travel FOR MILES AND MILES to be seen by the doctors and nurses there.
Centre services include: a general outpatient clinic, maternity services, a HIV care programme, a 13-bed ward, a child nutrition programme and a Non Communicable Disease clinic (NCDs include cancers, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases). The Centre would like to expand screening for these diseases to more villages. Both the physical symptoms and impact on mental health keep many people trapped in poverty. Earlier diagnosis and treatment would help people live healthier lives for longer. I will be helping to find funding for this project.
As a volunteer, I cover all my own costs. I have been saving for a million and five years but if you'd like to support me it would be greatly appreciated - in return I offer my undying love and devotion and possibly even a postcard. Bank transfer/cheque/cash - just give me a shout and we can sort it out. Or here's a link to my JustGiving page. Thanks team!
Didn't I tell you that you would love this plan? My Nan took it surprisingly well, my sister, however, is still grumbling that I won't be around to help her sort her life out.
I am walking the fine fine line between excited and terrified hysteria. Never in a million and six years of wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be off to The Gambia to help a health clinic with some fundraising. And not gonna lie - the idea of living in a SMALL RURAL town does not fill me with joy (currently stockpiling batteries for my headtorch in anticipation of very many powercuts. Have also resigned myself to three months of Very Bad Hair Days *sighs*). There's also the small matter of new cultures, new languages, new people, new food... throw in giant spiders and I'm sitting in the corner crying and eating Nutella straight out the jar. I question my sanity on a weekly daily hourly basis.
So. The Gambia - that's in West Africa for anyone like me who went "Yeh, I've heard of that place but have no idea where it actually is." It's the smallest country on mainland Africa (a similar size to Yorkshire apparently), approx 50km either side of the River Gambia and other than a short coastline is surrounded entirely by Senegal. Yep, we can thank The Empire and Colonialism for these borders. The Gambia only gained independence from Britain in 1965 (cue some severe colonial guilt over the next few months - oh the joys of a British heritage. But win some/lose some - English is widely spoken and I don't need a plug adaptor). About a third of the population live below the international poverty line, struggling to survive on less than 89p a day.
So there we go, next stop The Gambia. There has been nothing even close to normal about my 2018 so far - I think its safe to say its set to continue that way. I am not a fan of this unpredictability but as its entirely self-inflicted I can't really complain can I?
I will be back in August and I WILL MISS YOU A MILLION AND SEVEN so I'd very much love to see your beautiful face before I go - I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD FOR YOU (for the next couple of weeks) SO JUST GIVE ME A SHOUT.
And yes, Dear Reader, I will endeavour to keep this sacred space updated with the joys of planning, preparation and actual Gambia life so you can live vicariously through all my adventures in navigating new cultures and moaning about mosquito bites. But more importantly, I'm very much an external processor so actually where would I be without you?
This simple diagram has led me to so much fun and gotten me in so much trouble.
I love comfort. I love not having to embrace the difficult, the stressful and the uncertain. And yet…
Life outside my comfort zone has taught me things I couldn’t have learned any other way. Life outside my comfort zone has developed my character and helped me to grow in faith and hope and love.
Life outside of our comfort zone is both exciting and terrifying. There’s always the possibility of failure with a side plate of embarrassment and wounded pride. But there's also adventure beyond anything we could imagine.
Ever been asked what you would do if money were no object? Apparently, retire tomorrow and travel the world with my friends is not the response people are after. But maybe the question is too narrow – it assumes our only limiting factor is finance. Perhaps a better question would be: what would you do if you trusted even just a little bit more in the goodness, faithfulness and love of God? What would you be brave enough to attempt?
Would we be bolder? More adventurous? More generous? More loving? More forgiving? More hopeful? Would we find it easier to ignore the lies of doubt, fear and worry? Would we be more willing to push the boundaries of our comfort zone?
Jesus said he came to give us life in all its fullness. A fullness which empowers us to make decisions based on faith and not fear. Faith that God loves us beyond our understanding and there's nothing that can separate us from his love. Faith that God is with us wherever we go - whether we're riding the wings of the morning, going into a difficult situation or even to The Gambia. Faith that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good - whether everything goes well or whether we have to rise from the ashes.
Confession: This life outside the comfort zone is not the life I usually live - I like comfort, did I mention that already? Though occasionally, I dare greatly enough to start a chain reaction that means I have no choice but to leave my Empire of Comfort and embrace the terrifying, exciting, uncertain and unknown. Case in point: I've waved a fond farewell to my colleagues and have quit my job with no plan more detailed than 'travel/volunteer in the general Africa or Asia area.' There’s not much about this that sits in my comfort zone.
I keep being told I’m brave, I don’t know about that – brave, foolish, there’s a fine line between the two and given that it feels like I’ve set my life on fire and at least five times a weekday hour I ask God what I’ve done and why I couldn’t be content to just be normal, it certainly doesn’t feel brave. Rachel the wild hippy with flowers in her hair would be disappointed at my inability to embrace this unknown. So here I am, currently navigating the outer reaches of my comfort zone – if anyone wants to come join me YOU’RE MORE THAN WELCOME - I have drinks, food and an epic playlist. The sunrises are amazing and the night skies are devastatingly beautiful. And I have a small idea of where we might end up. Everyone but my Nan and sister will love it!
What would you do if you trusted even just a little more in the goodness, faithfulness and love of God? What would you be brave enough to attempt? Dare greatly team.
This is it. I write from my deathbed. I don’t know if I’ll make it to tomorrow. EVERYTHING HURTS. I'm sorry but 50-year-old Rachel the Wild Hippy with Flowers in Her Hair will never invite you over for dinner.
And why? Because I was brave/foolish enough (it’s a fine line) to go for a run in the rain, the day after I actually did some Proper Exercise for the first time this year/since Christmas/since November/since my training buddy ditched me and my motivation and enthusiasm took a hike and I was ill and I was retreating and it snowed and I had to go to Nandos/brunch/lunch/drinks/dinner/party.
Such unfortunate timing as during yesterday’s Proper Exercise gym class/hour of torture I had an epiphany:
Maybe abiding applies to health too - what would it look to like to try and abide in health
Such a shame I realised this the day before my unfortunate and tragic early demise. Isn’t it ironic? But lucky for you, I have just about enough time left to impart my wisdom so you can LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES.
I’m kinda nervous to write about health – totes unqualified in every way and totes aware of the shame, misdirection and lies that surround. BUT NOW I’M ON MY DEATHBED SO I’VE GOT NOTHING TO LOSE. And if you massively disagree with what I say I give you my permission to protest at my funeral – amusing placards actively encouraged.
I'm not talking about fixing all our health problems. I'm not talking about switching up our whole life tomorrow. But I do mean the incremental changes that add up over a week-month-year-lifetime.
ABIDE IN HEALTH Y’ALL. Exercise regularly, eat less rubbish and more good stuff, drink some water and get enough sleep. Life circumstances, allergies, work, kids, underlying health complications… there are a million and five things influencing what this looks like for each of us – you do you. And for some of us, abiding in health will even include the joy of actually getting round to going for a smear test.
ABIDE IN HEALTH Y’ALL. What one thing could you do tomorrow?
Anyways, ‘tis has been a delight and joy to share life with such excellent and admirable hobbits readers. I don’t know half of you as well as I should like (and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve). I regret to announce this is the end… I bid you all a very fond farewell.
See you at the Pearly Gates,
Rachel x x
P.S. Please tell my mother I want to be buried in my purple coat, Giant Heels and my Most Beautiful of Them All* £4 dress from H&M.
*strangers literally walk up to me to say how amazing this dress is. I kid you not, an actual IRL quote: “That dress is everything I want in life.” Pro Tip: H&M sales are The One.