Saturday, 26 May 2012

Well the Director of Education in Region 6 is now back, after having been away in Kombos for a month.  The office had been fairly quiet without her. All of a sudden it’s a beehive of activity again! I was away on trek when she returned but was summarily summoned to her office on my return from Wulli West. She was having a meeting about the Regional Teachers Awards. I was informed that I was in the team to verify the North Bank nominations and was to leave on trek with Kinteh, one of the senior education officers and Waddeh, education officer, the following morning! Wonderful, even better when told it involved an overnight stay. Don’t think Kinteh was too pleased either as tried to use me as an excuse saying I wouldn’t get a bed because I was fair skinned!! We drove from Basse to Fatoto, crossed the river then zig-zagged our way across the North Bank visiting 17 schools in 2 days. Thorough job is not the word to use to describe our verifications! We spent the night in some teachers’ residence crawling with bugs and no mosquito net or fan to keep me cool. What made me feel even worse was the fact that we decanted these teachers out of their beds into sharing with colleagues. The roads are also appalling on the other side of the river, although as the rains have only just started they apparently are rather good! It didn’t help that August, our driver, thought he was a rally driver. Thank God for mobiles! So much so he thought he could take a ditch at speed. Ended up stuck for an hour while Kinteh and Waddeh tired to push and shove branches under and I stood and recorded for posterity. In the end Kinteh phoned a nearby school for assistance. Thank God for mobiles! Definitely not two days I want to repeat in a hurry!

Yesterday was supposed to be a public holiday in The Gambia, African Liberation Day! However, not for Sarah or I. We were told to be at the office for 8.30am for a Cluster Monitor meeting. We duly turned up at 8.30 to find 1 cluster monitor waiting. Gradually others began to arrive, then we find out it was agreed to start  at 10am, but as usual no-one thought to inform us VSOs. In the end it didn’t start till 11am – GMT (not Greenwich!). The meeting went on till 5pm, things being discussed and argued over again and again, going round and round in circles. Although I was finally given something to do by the Director. One school was torn to shreds by her in the meeting. Every aspect from school grounds, buildings, classroom, staff, head teacher to record keeping. She wants me to go into the school and do some staff training with them on lesson planning, short and long term. It is good she has given me something but at the same time means I can no longer go and visit my schools in Wulli West and I had just started building good relationships with the schools over there. That will now need to be put on hold for the time being.

On a lighter note, I learned to make Lait the other day. It is amazing, tastes rather like condensed milk but thinner so much easier to drink. It will be so good to have on cold days back home, Sarah and I both agree that a mug of the stuff on a cold day, wrapped in a blanket would be sublime. Some friends came over and showed us how to make it and we drank it all ourselves. After they left my landlady was teasing me about not offering the compound any. She was quite right, it was very rude of us. But Lait does that to you! I did make it up to her and made some last night for the compound, but didn’t seem as easy as I remember it being the first time. The pouring from barada to glass and glass to glass is definitely an art form, one which I have yet to master!
My way

The right way

The Wulli East to Sandu Rally

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Last week I had to go to Kombos for our residence permits and a VSO meeting. What can I say about that, not sure the 11 hour trip there and the 10 hour trip back was worth it. Although catching up with all my intake of volunteers and the best pizza in The Gambia may have made it better!( By the way if you plan to come on holiday to The Gambia, the best pizza can be found at Paradiso’s in Senegambia!) My trip back involved hitting a donkey, several police check points (not unusual), everyone dismounting at one as the front passenger wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and the police wanting to charge the driver and fine him 1000Dalasi! Not to mention the 2 hour ferry crossing at Barra and another one at JJB! I was never as glad to get back to Basse, even with the hot. Mind you I got back to find the power had gone on the Monday evening, this was now Wednesday. Then the water went off. Welcome back! For those of you who are concerned, power (such as it is) has been restored and water is now flowing again!

Last Saturday was cup final day in Basse, Mansa Jang vs Security (army, police and immigration). Mansa Jang is the suburb where I live, so naturally my support lay with them. What a game, the captain of Mansa scored the first goal, the crowd erupted. A few minutes before half time security equalized. Nail biting stuff, Mansa Jang got a free kick and.......... GOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! Mansaju won the cup!! The crowd poured onto the field surrounding the players. Smiles all round at home. After the presentation, the cup was spirited away by a large crowd of supporters and taken through the street of Basse on its way to who knows where! I am informed that the cup did eventually end up at the house of the manager.

I have been getting out on my bike alot, visiting lots of schools and doing more observations. I am becoming an expert at finding these schools now and even finding short cuts through the bush to reach them rather than taking the highways. I really enjoy getting out and about and observing lessons. Everyone is really nice and some teachers are very receptive, whilst others are a bit unsure still. I hope the more they see me, they will take on board my comments. However, I have found 1 teacher whose class I really enjoy going to. He always has active lessons and is such as smiley, friendly chap. He never gets cross with the children and they all really respond to him.

Also, Sarah has returned to Basse this week. She’s the other VSO in Basse but has been down in the Kombos working on ECD workshops with another NGO. It’s nice to have her back and think she’s glad to be back too, even though its hot, hot, hot up here. The rains have also started. Thursday 3am with a bang! I literally thought the roof was about to come off. That was without thunder and lightning!

For those animal lovers among you, the donkey got up and walked away unharmed!!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Just a short post about Workers’ Day. The day started off with marching bands through the streets of Basse and Mansa Jang, followed by gaggles of children.....and myself! After which everyone headed to the local sports field for, yes you’ve guessed it.....a day of sporting activity! I arrived looking for the Education Department who I was told were around. Unfortunately, I could not find them. Instead, Gamtel/Gamcel, (Gambia’s version of BT) invited me to join them for attaya which was very enjoyable. I passed a pleasant hour or so in their company till my colleagues all arrived. Then it was on to the sports events. There were various Government departments involved; police, immigration, revenue, health, education, army, various banks and others. There was scrabble competition, the tug of war (which Education lost in the first round to the Police), greasy pole, basketball and various running events. I represented Education in the 100m!!

The other female competitors and I lined up. The tension was palpable, the crowd were ready, the marksman was ready, we were ready!! Who would take 1st and do their department proud? The crowd went quiet, waiting for the race to begin. BANG! Off we went, running full speed down the track, jostling for position, all trying to cross that line first...................................Well I say we were jostling, what I really mean is the other 4 girls in the race were. I was so far back I was only half way by the time the race was won! It was quite a sight, the only toubab taking part in any event and failing miserably. It gave the locals a good chuckle. My compound brothers found it hysterical at least! There’s not many people in Basse who haven’t heard about my exploits.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I have been getting out on my bike visiting schools on a much more regular basis now. I jump on, cross the river and head to which ever school I can find! Well, maybe not quite as random as that. There is one school that is eluding me. I’ve tried a few times to find it on my own without any success. I’ve finally given in and asked Malick, the cluster monitor for Wulli West to take me again! Other than that I’m getting to find my way round pretty well and even riding through the bush without getting lost and not only that but actually ending up where I plan to!!

As for the schools themselves, they are so different to the UK. Not much in the way of wall displays and those that are up are old and tatty. No electricity so no computers and the like. Old, and in some cases, furniture that is falling apart. The desks and chairs remind me of the furniture from 1950s picture books. In fact they probably are! The staff vary dramatically. There are some teachers who are really good, but could be great given the proper resources and training.  The major problem, well one of them – there are many - in Gambian schools is blending. Children find this very difficult and in some cases are unable to do it, even if they know the sounds. The teaching is sometimes good, other times painful to watch. As I mentioned before, in my area we have GATE training teachers in Jolly Phonics. They do not seem to provide the teachers with any ideas of practical activities the children can do to improve blending, unlike the other NGO working on phonics in Region 6, FIOH. The lessons, no matter the curricular area, are very much chalk and talk. It has been very interesting observing lessons. In the UK, I observed my colleagues lessons as a peer, which had a very different feel and focus to it. The first time I observed a lesson and fed back was quite difficult. However, I am now passed that and the teachers are actually really positive about it and say they’ll try and work on their areas for development, so hopefully they will. After feeding back to the teachers, I then have to feed back to the Head Teachers. How different they are to the ones in the UK. For a start, they are all class committed as they have less than 750 pupils in their school. One particular school I visited, the Grade 1’s class teacher was ill and had not turned up for work. The children were sitting in the class, with the koranic teacher, doing nothing. Some of the children were fast asleep. Mind you the temperature was about 40 degrees! However, I came out of observing a Grade 3 lesson to find the Grade 1 class in its state and the HT asleep on the veranda. That was a bit nerve-wracking trying to tell this HT that it was not acceptable to leave his Grade 1 class without work, but I had to do it as there was no point in them being there as they weren’t learning anything. Attendance is a huge problem for him and this would just make their parents even more reluctant to send them. I don’t think he really listened to me though, I mean what does a female tubab know!!!!

Anyway, I am really enjoying myself and making lots of friends. I attended an FIOH workshop and was chatting away to one of the Christian teachers who was shocked that I had not been to church since I’d arrived......I know it is terrible! Anyway, she made a deal with me that if I attended her church, the catholic one, the next day then she’d come with me to mine the following Sunday. I duly took her up on her offer. No idea what was happening in the Catholic service but was very nice all the same! The next week we went to the Anglican Church in Basse, St Cuthbert’s. It is a very small church, infact there were almost as many children as adults. Our numbers totalled 14, including the minister. I was asked almost, or told really, to read the first lesson. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end! It lasted 2 hours and although some parts were very familiar to my own, others were very different. Almost  evangelical, with testimonies and members being blessed by the pastor for healing. He’s very fiery and was quite scared of him....he kept looking directly at me all the time. He really doesn’t like Basse much, thinks there’s not much love here. I don’t agree and rather like the place. I am much happier I am up here than somewhere else. We’ll see what happens next Sunday!

Today is Workers’ Day, a public holiday in The Gambia. Schools are closed so no work, although all my colleagues will likely be in the office as they always are, evenings, weekends. They’re not really working just hanging there!! Mind you they don’t really have much else to do in Basse. They are all from Kombos and that is where their families are. Kombos is about 6/7 hours travelling time away so not really somewhere you can just pop to for the day, even the weekend is not really a possibility. All over the country sports event are being held to celebrate and I’ll be off to one later myself!