Today I am grateful for being encouraged to go to an International Development careers fair; that I went and learnt lots which will hopefully turn into a brand new career or at least get me moving in the right direction career wise.

I live for certain moments at work, today I bumped into a young person who I know quite well and just being greeted warmly by her makes the rest of the day worthwhile. I am all about the personal interactions!

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Today I am grateful for having my Dad to talk to,  I had got myself into a little bit of a tizz and after talking to him I felt a lot better. I am also grateful for the positive comments that I got from friends about my Gambia piece; I enjoy writing and its nice to know that people enjoy my writing and felt my enthusiasm/ passion about Gambia.

Gambia 2011, Part 1

Packing frantically the night before trying to ensure my hand luggage was only 5 kilos; the 5am wake up call to get dressed and meet Paul at Finsbury Park; dropping my camera on St Thomas’s road because my smaller rucksack wasn’t properly closed, and phew, finally I was on route to Gatwick airport.

We met the others at the airport on time (!) and after checking in our luggage, Paul treated us to the finest breakfast money could buy- a Wetherspoon’s breakfast. All too quickly, it was time to get on the plane and there started six hours of reading; making nervous small talk with my neighbours; napping; eyeing the mass of boys on a college trip and eating aeroplane food. The journey seemed to go quickly and before I knew it, we were disembarking and the familiar wave of intense African heat from the sun hit my shoulders as we waited for the shuttle. We passed through the airport quite quickly, spotting Howard on the other side of the barrier and were soon ushered onto a coach to drive to our hotel.

That drive illustrated some of the extremes of poverty and wealth found in the Gambia as we passed a curious mixture of buildings and houses that were finished; half finished; and barely started. The architecture of the finished houses a mixture of Italianate balconies and European styles or in contrast Art Deco inspired buildings. The heat, the green landscape, the colourful people walking down the road, the billboards encouraging people to vote/ buy a mobile/ how not to get AIDS; despite being really tired I could not take my eyes off of the road. We finally turned into the main street next to our hotel, a busy street, full of restaurants and people milling around, this was to become a familiar sight over the next six days…

Our first night out as a group was to the restaurant bar Bini’s, I remember thinking as we dined al fresco that it was almost really romantic sitting under the stars for dinner, with summery tunes playing in the background. The stars in the tropics were incredible. As someone that eagerly star gazes out of her window in smoggy old London, I felt like I was on a stage or theatre set with the incredible backdrop of thousands of stars and constellations, the North star piercingly bright. There was the distinct feeling of being on holiday that evening, that feeling was to diminish somewhat in the heat of the sun the next day. For the rest of the week, our routine would be, arise at 6.30am, breakfast at 7am, leave for the building site by 7.30am. Some of you might know that I am not a morning person so my first challenge was to get up each day. I’ll be honest- I set my alarm for 6.50am and if I got up before that, then that was extra 5 minutes to brush my hair!

My first ever Jeep ride happened the following morning, we stopped in a petrol station and I remember trying a breakfast staple- imagine rice pudding but with a slight lemony flavour and a smaller grain. Despite it being warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts, travelling on the back of a Jeep was quite cool, but an excellent way to see everyone on their way to work; children on their way to school, shouting and waving to us, the ladies carrying vast loads on their heads, men cycling, the sea when we were close enough.

The first day on the site saw me attempt to use a cutlass to clear weeds; and start whitewashing the toilet block. Despite not having rollers or ladders, the main challenges were staying rehydrated and protected from the sun as the temperature had risen sharply and the white paint reflected the heat straight back at us. I was working with a lovely family, Vanessa, and her three younger daughters- Sophie, Lydia and Georgia and together we managed to cover most of the back wall, creating steps with unused bricks and a makeshift stand of two oil cans and two planks of wood. Sophie and Lydia clambered on top to do one side of the wall and their cousin Josh came to help out to do the other side. I was struggling with the heat and was more than grateful when we stopped for lunch.

Whilst we were painting the toilet block, the others were preparing the materials to create forty tables and eighty chairs for the school; mixing cement and cleaning, laying and pointing bricks. There was no running water on site nor any electricity so there were lots of trips to the well to create the cement.

For the first couple of days, the village children were quite shy, curiously looking at us whilst we tried to get them to talk to us. A few of the children knew some English so we were able to exchange names but I think both sides were both quite reserved. That was to change in the coming days. Our first working day finally ended in the afternoon and I was shattered. I fell asleep face down in my hotel room awakening groggily with a head full of sun and sleep. I went to the bar to write my first diary entry, noting that I could imagine the French, English and so on arriving here and feeling like they had arrived in a modern day Garden of Eden; each morning I wonder at the bright cerise flowers and green plants growing everywhere, the jade and dusky pink birds; there are so many fruits growing aplenty that I do not think that you could sell and export them all and I echo my father when I thought, how can a country so beautiful and full of resources be so poor. And of course I know the answer is complex but I can’t help wondering how this came to pass. 

I scribble some more, my head full of the things that I have seen that day, we wander to the beach and order a fruit platter from the beach ladies, a delicious treat of chopped watermelon, pineapple, coconut, orange and grapefruit, topped off with some peanut brittle. Finally my first dip in the sea, Howard urging me to go in further and further ‘push your comfort zone Mange’. I remember nothing more of that evening except that I had formulated a painting plan- we were to tackle that back wall immediately on reaching the site and before the temperature rose to uncomfortable heights. And with that I went to bed- except the constant cricketing, chirruping and reggae music from the bars had me reaching for my ear plugs. Before I knew it, it was the start of a new day.

I’m still basking in being able to tell everyone that asks that I truly had a great time in Gambia. It’s a really good feeling and today I started making a YouTube Gambia playlist; and adding lots of books about the region to my wishlist on Amazon. Is it too early to start pestering people for children’s clothes? How long does it take to post stuff to Gambia etc etc?


Today was a very chilled day, reading the papers, sorting out all my stuff, doing the washing etc, just chilling out. Sat and read the entire Review section of the paper on the sofa which is a new luxury as the boy is no longer here to pinch it! 



Gratefulness before and during Gambia.

Where to begin? So much has happened since I have last blogged and I am aware that I have a lot of catching up to do, so here it goes:

 
Before Gambia
 
Friday 11th November: I enjoyed yet another lovely meal with Devina in our favourite restaurant.
 
Saturday 12th November: I went to my first Feminist conference and really enjoyed hearing lots of new opinions and solutions. I love some food for thought; and that lots of new and old friends were there as well.
 
Sunday 13th November: I have been very lucky that lots of friends have been very generous in donating stationary, clothes, medical supplies etc but Devina’s mum and housemate surpassed themselves by giving me more clothes than I could carry! I also had a lovely Sunday dinner with the North London gang in my dad’s favourite family pub.
 
Monday 14th November: I remember I was quite stressed out that day because I was cooking for friends that evening but had not finished sorting all the donations I wanted to bring. However it was a really lovely evening, I enjoyed cooking and seeing people and I was very lucky that Hattie gave me lots of practical bits for Gambia which I definitely needed whilst there.
 
Tuesday 15th November: One of my colleagues came round to donate me some male clothes of which I had none and we had a good chat.
 
Wednesday 16th November: I was really nervous on Wednesday but lots of people were really sweet, Lisaane our intern let me use her international minutes to call Gambia and some colleagues gave some more donations. On my last night in the UK my dad came down to bring me some labouring gloves and more sweetly, Devina came down unannounced to help me pack my clothes and plan my evening outfits.
 
Gambia:
 
Thursday 17th November: I was really grateful to travel with my colleague Paul, it was good to have someone to chat to and to joke about with, especially when I was feeling quite nervous meeting the 30 odd other volunteers at the airport. Devina very sweetly texted us both to wish us a safe journey which I really appreciated. In fact it was good to hang out with Paul that day and in the days to come, a familiar face in our very large crowd. 
 
I love looking at the stars out of my bedroom window at night and there was a moment when I was walking back to our hotel and for some reason I turned around, looked up and the entire sky was lit up with stars that appeared to be glowing. A moment I will not forget.
 
 
Friday 18th November: At the end of our first working day, I was thankful to sip a drink at the side of the pool with Howard, eat an amazing fruit platter with him & Paul and then to have my first dip in the sea.
 
Now after friday I only made one more diary entry, but these are the things I was grateful for:
 
1. I was working with a lovely family, the Bradfords on our toilet block and with amazing teamwork we were able to go from this:
 
to the amazing finished product that was:

2. I was really thankful for my parents the day I visited the orphanage school. I don’t always get on well with my parents but seeing those small children with no parents, in a culture where family is the bedrock, really made me think. I sometimes take for granted that I have both my parents, and that they are healthy and well.
 
3. I am really thankful for all the lovely people that I met, both the volunteers and the family we were working with. Everyone was really nice and you didn’t mind who you worked with as there was a lot of camaraderie. The boys in the family we were working with were absolutely lovely, they looked after us really well, taking us around, answering all our questions, making sure we weren’t hassled too much etc. They work so hard in what is a much tougher environment and mucked in with us whilst making sure we were ok.
 
4. One of the sisters of the family we were working with made us a Gambian lunch so on three occasions we were able to enjoy authentic Gambian cuisine, this was especially welcome when you have been working hard in the 30 degree heat but also when your breakfast likes to exit before lunch! We ate really well and for me, much more healthier than usual!
 
5. The kids. What can I say? I loved seeing the kids everyday, and wished I could talk one of the four languages spoken in the Gambia! They were so cute and knowing that some of village children we met will be able to go to the school makes me want next November to hurry up so we can see them.
 
6. I am massively thankful for having had the opportunity to go to the Gambia and to see all that I have seen. I saw soo much and learnt something new everyday. I am grateful to Howard for asking me to come and then all year telling me that I would be fine, which of course I was.
 
We come to today:
I am thankful for being able to help make a difference; that my housemate and friends care about what I’ve been up and that our temporary housemate made me a lovely dinner this evening.

Today I am grateful for learning new things and being able to act pro-actively. I went to my first lecture at the School of Life and learnt some new things- namely that 


If you want to achieve something in a year’s time, not only do you have to write it down but you have to do something related to gaining it in the next 24 hours.  


The idea behind it is that if you can’t do something about it in 24 hours, how are you going to achieve it in a year. This seems like eminent good sense and feeling good I decided to put this into action straight away- It felt really good  and I can see why people get addicted to doing things that provide an adrenaline rush! Who knows where this might take me….

Good things that happened today:
1. I was asked for help by a new student with a job application and he smiled when I said Good Luck. (Quite a shy student).
2. I helped several students with their personal statements and had a good chat with all of them. I hope they all get their dream university places. This is my favourite part of work, I love chatting to the 6th formers and helping them in a concrete way with their future. Wish I could do more!
3. I received an email from another student thanking me for my help with their personal statement.
4. I finally got it together to apply for a new job.
5. I ordered a new fantasy book as it was only £2.81, hopefully it will arrive in time for Gambia!