My first assignment in Gambia, October 2018

Annette Sartori

After 11 years in Malawi, this is my first assignment in Gambia and I am curious what to expect. After an uncomplicated flight we arrive in Banjul in the afternoon and it is roaring hot. My experiences on the Amazon and in Manaus are nothing against it!

The trip to Mama Africa takes us through loosely to more densely populated areas, past markets, donkey carts, vegetable sellers and many houses that are already in ruins.

The Mama Africa Lodge & Art Center is like a paradise. Our cottages are surrounded by lush greenery, tropical flowers and birds of all sizes and colours. They are stylish and furnished with great attention to detail. The first two days, it’s the weekend, I first get to know our project partners, Isha and Bernd, and the property and its staff. Also the school and the treatment rooms are shown to me. I am impressed by the good equipment, the extensive library, the selection of medicines and the furnishing of the classroom. On Sunday there is even time for a few hours on the beach of Batokunku and we enjoy the view of the sea in the shade of a palm roof. Five yellow dogs keep us asleep.

Finally it is Monday and we are ready to go. Since Mr. Colley is teaching on this day, Gabrielle and I sort out the medicines we have brought with us and organize the next days of lessons. It is incredibly hot and humid – taking 4 showers a day brings only a short relief.

The next day, it rained a lot, all employees of the Mobile Clinic are at least one hour late. Also our students are late, at 10:00 only 5 out of 15 are there. Somehow it seems familiar to me from Malawi… Nevertheless, we start with the lessons and about 11 o’clock, almost everybody is there. The teaching situation is immediately familiar to me and it is fun to organize the lessons together with Gabrielle. We complement each other well. Gabrielle has well prepared material with her and I ask our students to present the medicines as a small drama. Initially they are still a bit shy, but after I set a good example, they take courage and enjoy it very much!

On Fridays I teach alone by going through the summary of the medicines learned so far, preparing for the upcoming test. On Saturday the graduates come for supervision. Kibilly’s case fits very well with my prepared material, so I can pass my material on to the group and feel it is falling on fertile ground.

The homeopaths of the Mobile Clinic are already too late again. After a serious meeting the next day, two of them are suspended for the time being and the Mobile Clinics are being redesigned. On the following day Gabrielle and I go on tour. Bakau is our destination. We set up our makeshift clinic in the sitting area of a chicken grill restaurant (which will take revenge later). A few tables and chairs are moved together, books, laptop, pen and index cards on it – ready. Many older women in colourful robes sit in a long queue in the shade of the mango trees and are already waiting. We are working on two treatment units through the endless queue. Whenever one is called in, everyone else gets up and slides one chair further in the queue. We treat people with joint problems, asthma, headaches and much more. In the meantime, however, the chicken grill has been fired up and we are smoked evenly with chicken smoke. In spite of heat and smoke we manage the whole snake and are exhausted in the late afternoon, but happy at home.

The next day we continue with lessons; anamnesis technique is the topic. We also practice practice, in which the students alternate between being patients and treating and questioning each other. It is not so easy to ask the right questions! Then I’m the drama queen again and demonstrate a Rhus-tox skin rash and a Bryonia cough. Gabrielle takes the anamnesis and the students should repertorize and find the remedy. It’s going really well. In the afternoon more and more patients accumulate who want to be treated by us, so that we often work on cases until the evening. That’s how the days pass.

And in no time the big day has arrived, 3.11.18, when the Mama Africa Art Center will be reopened. Already for days, or weeks, preparations are being made: Planters, signposts, painting, dyeing fabrics, calling plumbers – everything has to be thought of. Now everything is finished down to the last detail and beautiful! Isha has really thought of everything. The employees are out in their new uniforms and our students are there to help guide the guests from the parking lot to the gallery. Ambassadors, Imams and Ministers have come, Musa is singing live and even the television is there. Mama (Isha Fofana) gives a flaming opening speech that deeply touches me. What power has this woman! Then the Minister of Culture and Tourism officially opens the gallery and all guests flock to the newly furnished rooms full of art and West African cultural assets. It is a successful day. At the end there is Benechin for everyone.

My stay in Gambia ends with this big event. Much was familiar through my Malawi experiences and yet new, as it was my first time in West Africa. I am happy to have experienced everything and look forward to my next assignment on the Smiling Coast in the Gambia!