Thursday, July 03, 2008

More Gambia

There is so much to say about this place. I can't really organize it all in my mind while sweating at this internet cafe, so I'll just recount the events of this past week and work on a "Slice of Gambia" entry later.

Saturday we went to the home of a doctor who has been guiding us at the hospital. We ate some spicy okra with fish. The fish here is not delicious. The okra was doused in oil. I enjoyed it in a weird way.

The fish here, is just... so... fishy. But I'll write more on Gambian cuisine later.

After politely gagging our way through the meal, we got to see a show with drummers and people singing loudly (and a little bit obnoxiously), and then some guys in crazy costumes came out and danced and harassed us for money. Pictures to come.

Anyway, at first, we were excited to be seeing some culture. We were told this was some sort of show for children (and there were tons of children around), and we were like "yeah, Gambian culture!" And then, slowly, we all started to notice that attached to his elaborate costume, one of the dancers had some little stuffed animals and toys attached to his crotch area. He started air humping, we were confused, we laughed a lot, got harassed... it's all a blur kind of. But it was funny as hell. And weird.

Sunday we went with our guide, Sana, to his village, where we were expected to bring medicines and cure everyone's ailments. We were dreading this, mainly because we know so little and couldn't bring much meds. Also, the pressure was just insane. When we got there, they all gathered in a circle, thanked us for what we were doing, and played some music. An elderly woman sang to us in Mandinka (one of the tribal languages here), and made a coughing gesture in the middle of her song to indicate to us that she wanted us to cure the ailments. Talk about PRESSURE.

Then we set up three rooms in a compound and the entire village came through. Name, age, complaint? Written down. Blood pressure and glucose levels tested and recorded. Then the translators helped a few of us find out what was wrong. Then we wrote down the name of one of 4 or 5 drugs we had. Then, the patient came to the pharmacy, which was a table under a tree where we had the meds. We rotated and most of us got to experience all parts of this insane assembly line. There were so many people there that we needed someone to act as a bouncer at the door.

So many people just wanted to take advantage of the clinic despite being perfectly healthy. "I had diarrhea 3 months ago." "My knees hurt." It was like "The doctors from America are here, and they're giving stuff away for freeeee!"

This is not real medicine. This is not true healthcare delivery. We all knew it. But we couldn't help but feel good about what we were doing. Some of it was actually legit, but most of it was placebo.

The people were so grateful, and it felt so nice.

Monday I spent in the ER of the hospital looking through records. Nothing remarkable.

Tuesday I went to the smaller clinic and worked on their records. The handwriting here is terrible. It was very labor intensive.

Some of us spent the second half of Tuesday at a primary school. We came to teach the teachers about common illnesses in children, some tips about what to do when a child is sick, and proper hygiene. The children first greeted us with songs and some of them danced. It was heartwarming. Again, everyone was grateful for what we did, and it felt so nice.

The only downfall of that day was that our bus broke down.

About our bus: Known as a "gele-gele here in Gambia, ours was a certified piece of shit. We were paying about $65 a day for the gele gele to take us to where we needed to be and pick us up. When we arrived in Gambia originally, the gele gele picked us up and then its front axle broke on the ferry, creating a 2 hour delay we really didn't need after spending a million hours traveling.

The axle was fixed but the problems didn't stop there. Every time we needed to go somewhere, 4 or 5 of us had to push the giant gele gele in order to get it started. This was supposedly fixed and then on Tuesday the damn thing just gave up on us. True piece of shit. I would describe the actual gele gele but once I can post pictures you will understand what I cannot put into words.

Wednesday I went to the small remote clinic in Kubuneh. It was a slow day but fulfilling, since this is the place we get to do the most stuff (interview and diagnose patients). Since our wonderful gele-gele was broken, 4 of us took "bush taxis" to get there. It took three taxis, some walking, and a lot of waiting to get there. Total time spent: 2 hours each way. The bush taxis take lots of people, it's like a public bus in the US, except no AC, and 90% of the people are not wearing deodorant.

On the plus side, we got to do some shopping at the market and worked on our haggling skills. I got some nice presents.

And today is Thursday, and we got the day off, kind of. No clinics today, but we're working on our paper. Well, we're supposed to be.

On a personal achievement note: this is the first time I've used the internet since Friday, which means I lasted 6 days without visiting an internet cafe. Part of this was willpower, and part of it was circumstance, but either way, it feels kind of nice to be detached from the world I left behind when I came here.

I do miss warm showers and air conditioning. I miss fresh salads. I miss my friends and family.

This is so worth it, though!

I already see myself returning to the Gambia in the future, hopefully with better medical skills and more knowledge. Also, next time I'll bring more clothes to wear, and perhaps some make up. Days upon days of scrubs, ugly shoes, and messy hair = not really my style. I guess that's what my third year of medical school will be like. Also, it has been kind of nice not having to spend extended amounts of time asking myself "What should I wear?"

And on that note, I've exhausted the Gambia update.

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