Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Two crossroaders have hooked up with local Gambians. The downside to this is that it's easier not to feel homesick when the people around you are missing their boyfriends, too. The good part is that the flirtation is amusing and has included bringing jewelry, supplying the group with free mangoes, offering to convert to Christianity, and offering to send his children to their mother’s so he could move to the US. Someone reminded me this morning that I've had my share of admiration. I don't think the drunk guy counts.

I Love Living With Med Students

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I was walking through the market today with some people from the group when they decided to try street meat, which came as three pieces on a small kabob. They asked what kind of meat it was, and the boy said chicken. They asked what part, but apparently that was the only word he knew. One woman, a med student, took her piece and gave it a closer look. "I don't think this is chicken..." she said, "Look, you can see the (long medical word I didn't know). I think...I think this is heart meat!"

Another woman, who had been chewing thoughtfully, spat it out. "What?"

The first woman continued to examine it. "I'm sure of it!" she said, "I've dissected hearts before, and it looks just like this, only, you know, bigger..."

We found a boy who spoke English. "Do you know what kind of meat this is?" He took one look at it and said, "Goat heart."

The woman was delighted. She's going to email her anatomy professor and tell him.


Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

A member of our group was sick last night. Really sick. Another team member stayed with her through the day and when we got back she was doing worse. We sent for someone from the hospital, who brought a malaria test, and waited, worried sick, while they interviewed her about everything she'd eaten. They kept suggesting that she'd had too many mangoes. It's mango season here, so we've been getting a lot of kids in the hospital who just ate too much fruit, but there's no way mangoes could make you that sick. The malaria test was negative, and she took one of those prescription antibiotics we all brought with us and felt much better the next morning. But while we wee waiting, we came up with an idea. Since we're all expecting to get hit with a GI bug while we're here, every time someone gets sick we vote them out like that show, Survivor, and the last person to get sick gets a prize. The exact prize is still being discussed but it seems like a week free of your least favorite chore is on the table. I'm so going to win this.

At Long Last

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The water kept cutting out at inopportune times so I went five days without a wash, during which I was putting on layers of sunscreen that would each get caked with dust. The water finally came on tonight. Best shower I've ever had.

Lights Out

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I really needed a shower after work today. The light was on in our room, so I assumed the water was on, undressed, and stepped into the shower. I tried to turn on the water, and nothing happened. Then the lights went out. It was pitch black. I waved my hand in front of my face-- nothing. My roommate had a headlamp somewhere, so I thought I could feel around and find it, but I nearly tripped over the edge of the shower and decided quickly that stumbling around in the dark was a very bad idea. So there I was, butt-naked in utter darkness, waiting. Luckily my roommate came in a few minutes later and rescued me. It was quite an adventure.


Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

You have not seen bats until you come to Gambia. At dusk, they fill the sky. I've tried to get pictures, but they don't turn out well, and the strongest part of the image is the movement, the thin flapping wings everywhere, like the sky is boiling. At first, you can actually see all the bats flying in one direction toward the town, and all the birds fling the opposite way, but as soon as it starts to get dark, the bats cover the sky.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)

In 11th grade we had two students from PSU come into our class to talk about gender stereotypes. They brought in boxes of magazines and invited us to make a collage. "So for girls, you'd put make up, and for guys you could put a sports car or something, okay?"

"No!" I wanted to say, "If you hadn't said that, people would have come up with their own images, the symbols and stereotypes they really use. Now it will all be the traditional stereotypes." Which is indeed what happened. The first image that came into my head for a feminine was a picture of an old woman's hands scooping soil in a garden. I was unable to find this picture in the magazines (though there were a lot of pictures of makeup).

You know that standard (though striking) image of a baobab tree against a fiery sunset, usually found in National Geographic and NOVA shows? I've seen a lot of them, and usually the tree is shown with very barren surroundings, which made me view the baobab as a weathered testament to survival. The first time I saw a silhouetted baobab with hundreds of fruit and flowers dangling from its branches I was completely blown away. It seemed such a powerful symbol of feminine strength, and my first thought was that it would be a magnificent visualization during labor, a way to connect with that ancient part of yourself that guides birth. The next day in maternity, I wondered if the women thought about things like that, and if growing up around such spiritually powerful symbols affected them or gave them strength in some hidden way. But if you saw this kind of thing everyday, you would probably stop noticing it. I don't think people here pay attention to the baobabs very much. Which made me wonder, what powerful images are there in our culture that are so common they're overlooked?


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)

The daughter of someone from the lodge graduated from ninth grade. We had fun putting together a card and gift for her. Everyone came out to celebrate. We decked the place out with streamers and the owner of the lodge made everyone dinner. Some of the girl’s friends came over to join us.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the great things about living in another culture for an extended period of time is that you get to go beyond the most striking differences and learn the little quirks and traditions that make their culture unique. One of these is ‘atcha’, which has since become one of our favorite words. We learned most of the words we know in Mandinka by seeing how they were used, and as far as I can tell, atcha means ‘go away,’ ‘come here,’ ‘hand me that,’ ‘close the door,’ ‘push the baby out,’ ‘blow up the balloon,’ ‘hurry up,’ and ‘go play with your friends’. Basically, it's, "Pay attention please and do what I want." You would think it would be a harsh command, but it's used so excessively that that possibility is lost. It's not limited to people, either. Say ‘atcha’ anywhere near a herd of goats, and they will scatter. You have to say it with the right inflection, though, which I can't seem to get. One group member in particular does it best. Goats will go bounding away from her like there was some kind of explosion.

A Day in the Life

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I told you that the stressful and challenging experiences like dodging mad men in the market and adjusting to conditions at the hospital are not an accurate representation of my experience here. They are the parts that I need to process by writing, but they have actually been only a small part of my experience here, which I hope is making you all wonder what on earth I've been doing the rest of the time. Here's a peek.

We spend a large part of every day in the market. Food storage is not really possible here, so people go to the market every day to buy food. In the market, goats run wild, colorful fabrics wave from vendor stands, and seeing women balancing stacks of egg cartons on their heads is common place. Descriptions of the market do not do it justice. I wish I could stop more to take pictures, but I'd probably get run over by a donkey cart.

And just like a portion of each day is spent shopping, a portion is spent cooking, which is done communally in big mortars and bowls in the common space, with people taking turns at each pot and minding the children that are running around giggling and swinging off the clotheslines.

Food is also eaten communally. A bowl the size of an umbrella will be placed on the ground and up to 20 people will gather around it. They normally eat with their hands, but have been nice and provided spoons for us. They don't eat this way because they lack tables or plates. I know they have them because we've been using them, which they think is ridiculous. They choose to eat this way as a symbol of unity. As a man from the lodge said, "Since we were five years old we came in a circle to eat together. These are my brothers now, and twenty years from now we will still rub shoulders to eat together because we are one family."

With the polygamy thing and extramarital partners I have had difficulty figuring out how, or whether, people are related. Sometimes I think even they have stopped keeping track. But regardless of the complicated web of relations, there is a very strong sense of family between them. Everyone here watches out for each other and they seem to spend most of their time relaxing along the road, enjoying each other's company and visiting with neighbors.

It's incredibly peaceful here. They're in the off-season right now so many people don't have work and will spend most of their day talking with each other. We visited our site coordinator's village while we were considering a change in location, and there were just baobabs, cows, termites, and prehistoric plants for miles around. The children running by were like part of the wilderness. There's something about that kind of serenity here that heals the soul. If I ever get really overwhelmed later in life and need a break, I'm coming to a village in Gambia. Everything is so relaxed that years could pass here without you noticing. And all of that sitting and watching the world seems to have put them in tune with nature. They always know when it's going to rain and when the bugs will come out, so the things I was most worried about never catch us by surprise.



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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.