Friday 28th September

“I have a healthy body”

“I have a healthy body”

“I have a healthy body”

or more accurately

“Am na wargu yaram”

“Am na wargu yaram”

“Am na wargu yaram”

I was violently sick last Monday. I arrived at school and did not refuse the breakfast offered to me by one of the teachers. I had already eaten my morning oatmeal with peanut butter, my favourite meal of any day, the grey brown sludge lights up my life. Thus I did not need the sustenance – I should have refused. But it was differnet, it was something I hadn’t eaten before. It was white, it was milk with sharp yellow clustes which turned out to be pounded maize.

My stomach did not appreciate the novelty and rebelled. I rushes from my Grade 2 class half an hour later and slipped into the teachers pit latrine, a putrid wrteched place which only increases the grievousness of my intended action.

I went and gasped at the only other teacher at the school that I was not of healthy body and that I needed to go home and rest. He beamed a sympathetic grin my way and I stumbled back up the dirt path that meanders through my village to my compound. My family tempered their excitement at seeing me back from school so soon, with concern and worry for  my health. This only served to make me feel guilty at the extant of the concern. I never saw this concern metted out to the children of the compound and many of their bodies were in a much worse state than mine. They have maladies which make my upset stomoach pale into insignificance.

A day of rest and a complete clearing of the stomach into my relatively cleanly pit latrine did the trick and I was back on my feet. But the concern of my family, predominantly the women, has not abated. Hence the need to constantly reassure them with the mantra

“I have a healthy body”

And I do have a healthy body, for here. I have no massive infected cuts, I have all my limbs and digits, I dont limp, the whites of my eyes are white, I don’t have worms or ringworm (I hope – I’m keeping my eye on a weird patch of skin on my chest). I can bike to my nearest town without too much trouble. I have healthy body.

For here.

If I was in America or England, I may not say the same thing. I am constantly lethargic. My back aches. My ankles itch. I have a lump in my armpit. I have jock rash. I am wet with sweat. I get headrush when I get up too quick. I get pins and needles when I put sustained pressure on my limbs. I’m being melodramtic. I have been in village for one month.

I think my body is just adapting from its metropilitan pampered existence to this new rugged rural environment.

Things my body needs to get used to

  • sleeping on lumpy foam
  • lack of fruit and veg
  • decrease in aerobic exercise
  • increase in sweat
  • permanence of the battle against infection of all the little cuts and scrapes I get

Having dealt briefly with my body lets look at my mind

  • I’m lonely
  • I’m guilty
  • I’m bored
  • I’m helpless
  • I’m optimistic

Theres always some pot of gold around the corner whether it be a successful math lesson, the bean sandwich I hope to have for lunch today, or the HIV bike trek I hope to go on in November.

Finally – my work.

School begana couple of weeks ago.First day one teacher and 70 kids showed up. Next day more kids, no more teachers. By the third week we have 3 teachers and 150 kids although they never all show up on the same day -both teachers and kids.It’s tough to define my role in these circumstances. I have been tokld by Peace Corps that I am not simply to be a classroom teacher. I am here to help the whole school and work at develping the skills of all the teachers as it is more sustainable. I’m here to get the whole school working more effectively.

It’s a task of mythic proportions. Where to begin? How can I train the teachers here? They are doing it the Gmabian way, it doesn’t really work but it’s their way. My methodologies derive from a completely different environment. Who am I to try and say that they need to change?

I observed a teacher teaching a grade 6 class about where The Gambia is. He didn’t know which way the compass points go. How do I broach this with him? How do I, some cocky 26 year old western guy, come up to an older 38 year old man who has been teaching for over ten years and tell him that his lesson was detrimental to the kids learning?

I don’t. I let him carry on teaching that North is East, West is South. I tell him it was a great lesson. I’m going to build up to criticism slowly slowly. Maybe after Christmas East will be East. There is general lack of criticism here. Shoddiness is permitted. You don’t chastise people for lateness or not doing a job to the best of their abilities.

I’m dirty. Constantly dirty. Apart form the hour after I have my cold daily bucket bath at dusk, I am dirt. I revelled in it at first. I have nver beeen fastidious about cleanliness by western standards. A bit of dirt doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. A lot of dirt might kill you. I miss taps, hot showers, people who use soap, sponges. I sweep my hut twice a day to get rid of the bugs, dirt and termite dust, yet there is constantly a layer of dirt over everything.

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