Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

We learned today that the lodge was expecting to be paid at the end of our stay for the food they've been giving us, at a rate that well exceeds our budget. We have enough to spend $5 per person per day, and they were expecting $20. So already the three days of food they've prepared for us has cut way into our money plan. When we expressed that we could not afford it and were happy to make food ourselves, they were taken aback because apparently it would be inappropriate to bring outside food into the 'motel'.

Tensions were raised. We met to discuss what to do, they met to discuss what to do, and finally they offered to accept $15 per person per day, despite that being three times our budget. Our site coordinator told us to pack up and move to his village, which would put us an hour's walk from the hospital. Our group leader requested another day to try to work things out.

The head of the hospital was very upset and came to meet with the people at the lodge to emphasize that having us work at the hospital was very good for the village and that they hoped to have other OCA groups here in future, so it was very important to make us feel welcome. I don't know the specifics of the discussion, but in the end it was decided that we would make breakfast ourselves and pay the mother of someone from the hospital for groceries, $3 per person per day. A shift would be added to the hospital rotations so that one person would cook with her each day. These were the concrete agreements, but the most important change was a shift in mindset. We are no longer seen as tourists, but as a part of the community. It is still a tentative agreement; we have planned a reassessment meeting for Wednesday.

So Much For Roughing It

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

When we arrived, the people who live at the lodge told us that they would make us breakfast the next morning to give us time to get settled. At the market when we went to buy dishes, they told us we could use theirs, and when we asked about making lunch they said they had just finished and invited us to share. Together this means that they've made us every meal since we got here. This is definitely more of a hotel situation than the village situation we were expecting. There are aspects of the roughing it experience that I will miss getting to have, but this will probably give us more energy toward other things. We've been socializing with the people who work here so hopefully it will still be the community experience we were looking for.

Close Quarters

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

“So I was taking a shower last night, and I hear the door open and my roommate comes in. And you know how our bathrooms don’t have doors, so I said, ‘Hey, just so you know I’m naked back here.’ And she goes, ‘Uh...’ So I say, ‘Did you need something?’ And she says, ‘Yeah, I think I need to throw up.’ So I’m like...I mean what else are you going to say? I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I’m standing there backed in the corner, butt naked, and all I can think is, ‘Wow...this is only day two!"

This story was shared at breakfast this morning and we all had a good laugh anticipating the dilemmas living in such close quarters will lead to. There are surely many more stories to come.

48 Hour Report

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

It has been two days and I have yet to see a drop of rain or a single mosquito.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

The children here are so excited to see visitors, they come running from every direction yelling, "Tubab, tubab!" which means 'white person'. They love looking at our cameras and asking us to take pictures with them. Anywhere I go children come running to hold my hand. I am well cared for here.

Regarding the Opposite Sex

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Before coming here I was concerned that cultural customs regarding interaction with guys might be strict and suppressive. I know there are cultures where smiling at men or shaking their hand is considered inappropriate. It turns out that the customary greeting here is for guys to ask if we're single and can they please have our number. They are SO forward it's ridiculous. Our first day here we collectively received one gift and two love notes. The total as of now includes three marriage proposals, one of which was from a female nurse to a guy in our group, so the forwardness is by no means one sided. It's very flattering and even though we know that's just how they show their affection and how excited they are that we're here we have learned quickly to set clear boundaries.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

For the last two days I have tried everything we've been served, which now includes rice, meat sauce, groundnut, papaya, stew, mango, fried couscous, green tea, and coffee. I honestly don't know what's gotten into me. I know it's not because of any pressure. No one here has pressured me to eat in any way. In fact they've been quite supportive, and curious about how foods they consider commonplace taste to someone who is having them for the first time. I don't know if it's related to travel, if my taste buds have changed, or if I'm just finally ready but I've found myself wanting to find out what the local foods taste like and looking forward to meals to see if there's something new.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We are sleeping two to a hut. I’m the youngest member of our group and the oldest member invited me to room with her. As one of our hosts was showing us around the lodge, he told us that we will all need Gambian names because our American names are hard to pronounce. He learned that my roommate is the oldest in the group and gave her a traditional name from his tribe, meaning First Daughter or Big Sister. I asked if there was a name for the youngest daughter. “Of course there is,” he said, “But you, you are Jainaba. It means Brave Woman.”

(I learned later that because birth control is a very new part of Gambian culture, if it is known when you are named that you will be the youngest child that means that your mother died in childbirth. These children are sometimes given the name Chad as an insult. I think the fact that it is a unisex name is supposed to make it even worse.)


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

The lodge is a short walk from the town market, which is almost a city unto itself. There are rows and rows of stalls with everything from fish to fabric. The exchange rate is 30 dalasi to a dollar and most small things like 20 minutes at the Internet cafe, a mango, or a bottle of sunscreen are D5. Especially after seeing New York, the pace is particularly striking. It is not simply that they don't rush. They stroll. And even with this, the place is so busy it can be overwhelming. Everyone greets everyone else and children and goats run between everyone's legs. Vendors will encourage you to buy from them. It is a very pleasant atmosphere and we have spent most of our time there, looking at the local products and talking with the shopkeepers.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We had been told that we would be staying in staff accommodations at the hospital, but at orientation learned that the plan had changed and we would be staying in a 'lodge' nearby. We were pretty concerned because we didn't know if it would have the same amenities. When we arrived we found that it was a well-setup facility usually reserved for government officials, operated much like a hotel. It is absolutely beautiful here. There are lizards that crawl over the walls and goats and hens roaming freely. I'm sure the photos will do it more justice than my descriptions could, though so far the Internet has not been strong enough to upload them.

We’re staying in a compound with a collection of small huts, each with two beds, a toilet, and a shower. When we asked if the showers had hot water, they looked at us like we were crazy. It is so hot and sticky here that my cold shower is one of the highlights of my day.



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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.