Monday, 22 November 2010

Ashley our visitor

Ash creating a map of the region and its schools in the office!

Me taking a few gin-assisted low vantage point shots

A dog ran in front of my motorbike, I slammed the brakes on, skidded in the sand and fell off. It hurt. These are the bruises one week later!
Cool dude.

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

how do you quantify success?

With my final days of work approaching I have started writing handover notes and packing up my house. It is hard to imagine the dark mornings and afternoons I'll be returning to. The temperature has cooled slightly here and I now sleep under a sheet. This whole experience has been interesting. Last week was a holiday for the Muslim Tobaski celebrations - rams are slaughtered and everyone enjoys a feast. So after a less than pleasant previous week at work, I escaped to the Kombo. On the day itself I managed to hide in Courtney's house and avoid all evidence of slaughtering, then joined the others for gin later on. Tobaski is a great example of what is good here. Richer families may give a ram to poorer families and everyone is included - even a houseful of alcohol drinking toubabs who have realtively more money than all the surrounding compounds, were brought foodbowl by two neighbouring families. With christmas approaching we will all begin moaning about commercialisation, but do we honestly look past the endless marketing and glitzy wrapping?

Although I don't feel like I have achieved much, I have learned a lot from this experience. VSO's pre-placement training is excellent and gives you a good grounding in the economic situation in developing countries, considers issues of power and control and looks initally at how corruption affects us at home before moving on to how it may affect you during your placement. You leave your home country with a very particular mindset, aware of the bigger picture and ready to work. I had certain expectations but found the situation on the ground very different and that is what you have to work with. Indeed The Gambia is more developed than I anticipated, in places. It is hard to generalise.
Teachers in the UK complain how excessive amount of paperwork leave no time to prepare lessons properly and it is true. Endless hours are spent assessing pupils so we can set targets we then spend the rest of the year harrasing them with. A child who needs a D-grade to get into college receives less attention than a child needing a C, it is equally important to their lives but makes no difference to our magic A*-C numbers. This shouldn't be what educaiton is about. The Gambia is steaming ahead of many places in terms of policy. Monitoring visits check that policies are in place, displayed and even created in a participatory manner. Weekly teacher and pupil attendance data is collected and submitted. Reports are generated left, right and centre. Even NGO's have to be able to justify their work; how many teachers have been trained, what percentage of lessons are child centred, what increase in the number of girls in education has there been? When there is so much focus on the quantifiable, we are in danger of creating a distorted picture and the qualitative judgements become overlooked. 100% of child centered lessons would be an amazing achievement and at least one of the education objectives would have been met and surpassed, but if we have a different understanding of what child centered means and children still fail their exams, where is the value?

Disregard for a moment trade sanctions, mineral depositis, the effetcs of global warming and what percentage of ministry positions are held by women. Above all it is people that make change happen, but they have to want to change.

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

Monday, 8 November 2010

rather this than a tumbu fly...

The week before last I was somewhat unwell, but unable to put my finger on quite what was wrong. Incessant tiredness, no appetite, bit of a headache, strange stomach ache. I moaned my way through it and felt fine again towards the middle of the week. Friday arrived and we headed down to the Kombo for a flying visit – Ashley, our temporary resident teenager on his gap-year, needed to renew his visa at the immigration department, so we all went along for the hell of it, or maybe more for the good food and alcohol. Regardless, we checked into Mama’s Friday night, drank more than is healthy in the space of one meal then headed into Senegambia, to show Ashley the social highlights. As it turns out there were actual highlights to be had, a free bar in the Jewel of India to celebrate Divali.
Saturday morning we stumbled down for breakfast then went back to bed. As the day progressed I began to feel worse – the incredible humidity and lack of water supply in the Kombo didn’t help, unbearably hot but unable to even shower to cool down. In the evening we headed to Max’s for dinner and our usual musical endeavours. My thigh bones and knees had begun to hurt. I took some painkillers and avoided the beer. That night I could not sleep, racked with aches and pains and unable to cool down. I felt distinctly viral. Lucy was equally restless and the pair of us tossed and turned until morning.
Feeling no better the next morning and a little worried that this was a second bout of illness in the space of a few days, I called in at Afrimed for a malaria test to put my mind at rest before heading back up-country. It is a well-known fact that a volunteer is unable to leave Afrimed without being tested for everything under the sun and prescribed drugs for things you probably don’t have. I felt short-changed when my vitals were checked and my blood tested for malaria but nothing more. Having dosed myself up on paracetamol my temperature was normal and the malaria test was negative.

Monday; I took more painkillers and tried not to think about how I was feeling as we made our way back to Soma. By early evening we were home, I had a very cold shower and went straight to bed. Not really managing to sleep or even lie still with the pain in my back, I got up and took my temperature; a balmy 38.1 – more paracetamol called for. I didn’t pay much attention to the slight nose bleed in the midst of things. Sleep eluded me; I finished a book and the paracetamol took precisely one hour to make any difference to my temperature. I couldn’t make it out of bed on Tuesday. By the time Wednesday came around my temperature was back to normal but I still ached and had developed a rash across my chest, stomach and back. I sent a text to the Doctor who told me to take an anti-malarial treatment dose. In all my studies of the malarial parasite I’d never heard of a rash being a symptom, but I did contemplate it for a while. I popped into work, sent some emails and discussed my symptoms with my mother over Skype. When I got home Lucy had returned, she too had developed a rash. We compared notes then went for a sleep. A few hours later we were covered head-to-toe, with Lucy beginning to suffer with the aches that had begun to recede for me. I trawled through the traveller’s health book and updated my mother on our symptoms.
The all round consensus was dengue fever:

  • Initial unspecified illness – check
  • Muscle and joint pain – check
  • Day 3-5 red rash may appear on trunk – check
  • Rash soon spreads to limbs and face – check
  • Possible minor nose-bleeds during early stages of fever (not symptomatic of hemorrhagic form) – check
Thursday morning; rash no better and my face was all puffy with my eyes feeling like I‘d spent the night sobbing, worsening throughout the day until they just plain hurt. Additional symptom later discovered on WHO website;

  •  Pain behind eyes – check

I updated the Doc via text, he told us to see a local doctor, so off we trotted to the local clinic – a sprawling plot of land with numerous random looking buildings, without no signs anywhere. We told a random person we wanted to see a doctor; he pointed us in the direction of what turned out to be the maternity ward. I asked if there was a reception we should go to and was met with a puzzled look. Someone gestured into a doorway “Cuban Doctors” so in we went to discover 3 doctors with a limited amount of English. We tried to explain our symptoms and the time-line of their development. The rashes spoke for themselves. I sat in a chair whilst one of them listened to my chest and took my blood-pressure. I can only imagine they were both fine. No-one took my temperature or looked at my throat or anything really. We were asked if we’d eaten anything different – we hadn’t. We were asked if we took any medication - we explained about the doxycycline we take daily, our anti-malarials. They looked horrified and told us to stop taking it straight away; you don’t need it – just use a bed net and spray and protect your house. They went down in my estimation and I viewed my scrawled prescription with scepticism. Diagnosis - skin reaction. Off we went home, not bothering to call into the pharmacy. Two different and contradictory pieces of medical advice in as many days and I didn’t trust either of them. Oh well as long as I’m in safe hands. I updated the Afrimed Doc via text and gave him my opinion; he asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t think there was much you could do to treat a virus, so we agreed to just wait and see.

By evening, the pain behind the eyes aside, I was feeling much better. Lucy wasn’t.

Monday now and I feel as right as rain. Apparently we have to watch out for a post-recovery relapse, it is important we rest. We may also suffer months of tiredness.
Not sure anyone will be able to tell the difference.

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