Six weeks have already gone by since we first arrived in The Gambia. So much has happened and time seems to have flown by. We’ve already made so many friendships, settled into the Gambian culture and our work at the clinic, and we’ve acquired a small vocabulary of the Mandinka language – well at least the greetings. Something that hits you right away when you come to know the Gambians is that they are extremely friendly, warm and generous people. They will always take time to greet and talk with you. If you walk around in the village you will get several invites to join families for a meal or to take part in an afternoon of drinking their favourite brew “ataya” – a very strong sweet tea that has a very particular way it is brewed, poured and frothed. They will give you their best (and often only) chair to sit on while the rest of the family with make do with tree stumps or empty oil cans for seats. They will always show you respect and ask about your family.
The people here care about each other – their family is their support system, their offspring is their security for the future. It is refreshing to see that people don’t invest all their time and energy into acquiring “stuff” but instead invest into relationships and family. Families spend time laughing, chatting and eating together. It is a picture so far away from that which we have become used to in Australia. We like to spend our time on facebook, eating our meals in front of the TV or watching comedies. We work long hours to pay for more “stuff” to keep us happy. These people don’t have much, yet they seem happier than most Australians even if they are faced with the reality of death around them almost every day.
The burden of most diseases that could easily be cured, eradicated, or prevented in the west weighs heavily upon the African people. You often feel that you’re only placing a band aid on the deep wound that is the real problem. HIV, TB, malaria, and severe malnutrition form the bulk of what we see in the clinic. It is heartbreaking to see so many children on the ward that so closely resemble that image we so often see on the world vision ads – and only because their mother could not afford to feed her baby the right food. Some children weigh only 3 or 4 kg at the age of 18 months. Their hair fall out and their skin peel off because they don’t meet their vitamin and mineral requirements. Their bellies and feet are puffy from a lack of protein in their diet. They now have a very stark reality of knocking at death’s door – debatably a better destiny than the life they might lead if they recover from this.