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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
Hundreds of flying creatures invading the kitchen (and blocking my access to ice cream) and a gecko barring me from escaping outside.
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!
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.
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
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. 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.