Phoebe's Blog - 10 February

Today I've been here a month! The time has gone so quickly, I can't believe it. It's weird how you can adjust to such different surroundings, when I first arrived I thought I'd never get used to it but now I no longer think about the animals in the street, the corrugated metal roofs or washing from a bucket as strange.

Did a big clothes wash on Saturday morning which two of the little girls helped me with. It began with them splashing soap at me but eventually we established a good routine! Yai, the 5 year old, would help wring out my clothes and Tanta, the 2 year old, would hand me a clothes peg. They can't speak English so the only words we said to eachother for half an hour were 'thank you' but it seemed to work quite well!

Anita from MBG ( the organisation we are doing this through) happens to be staying out here at the same time, and arrived with sweets and letters from home last week! Have discovered my will power ( where rationing chocolate is involved) is horrendous.

The last week has been great. I'm feeling properly settled and enjoying everything so much. The teaching has gone well so far! Before my first lesson I was terrified and kept imagining everything going horribly wrong. In the end I really enjoyed it! The class were really enthusiastic, even giving me a round of applause at the end and saying I made them like English! It feels almost like a performance, going in and taking a lesson. Even more so when I've had to tell them off! As people warned us the good behaviour slowly declines once the classes get to know you. As everywhere there are the star students who make the lessons great, and the frustrating groups who I constantly tell to stop talking! I have two Grade 8 classes, but the ages range from about 14-19. I've found the range of ability hard to manage, as some of the pupils understand everything and finish exercises straight away then others take forever.

We only teach in the mornings, so we have found different things to fill the afternoons. Sometimes just sitting in the compound reading ( or eating the amazing oranges) but on Tuesdays we now go to 'Benakunda' a compound belonging to a German charity where some volunteers our age are staying. They run an open afternoon for local children to play there and it's nice to hang out with other people our age. On Wednesday we visited a neighbouring village, Medina Salaam, where a charity called WYCE has set up a primary school, health clinic, second hand bike shop and more. We're starting to volunteer here every week, to help paint the school and lend a hand with other bits that need doing! On Thursday we visited a local bee keeper and saw his hives. He makes honey/ wax products but no one really knows he is there, and his shop needs cleaning up and decorating, so this Thursday we are going to help come up with some ideas for his business marketing.

This weekend was great! On Friday morning and Saturday afternoon it was the school inter house competition. The school was absolutely packed on Saturday, hundreds of people from the village came to see the track events. This was amazing to watch - the speed of some of the runners was unbelievable!! One grade 7 girl took part in 11 events and won 7! It was amusing when we were asked to add 'musical chairs' to the event list. The best athletes were entered for this too and it actually got quite violent! There was such an exciting atmosphere, and we got to sit on the judges panel taking scores which was fun! On Saturday evening there was a huge party at the school which was great. Very odd as it was teachers and students... But so fun!

On Friday night and Sunday night we went to Kartong festival. This is a music and cultural festival which was really cool to see. There were drummers, singers, acrobats, dancers, fire breathers and wrestlers! So much loud music and excitement everywhere, it was very fun. We even got free seats on Friday for being from Marlborough! Still can't get used to being all this way from home but people knowing our tiny town. The man whose house I'm staying in in fact stayed at The Rectory when he visited Marlborough ( but with the previous vicar) and I've met a few people who've visited our house and can describe it, it's so strange!

Weather is hot and sunny all the time and food is much the same. Lots of spicy fish and rice, chicken and bread. The chips have stopped since I explained the vast quantities were making me ill, and I've mastered eating with only a spoon as my hosts don't have a fork. I help Amie prepare my food in the evenings now, either cooking over the fire or gas stove. Eating lots of fruit and have found Pringles and mcvities digestives at the supermarket which serve as great home comforts! The local 'ground nut cake' is delicious too, I'm learning to make it on Friday.

Missing everyone at home ( and my comfy bed) but feeling very content. The people here are the friendliest and happiest I've ever come across, you can see why they call it 'The Smiling Coast of Africa'!

Find out more about volunteering in The Gambia Work Placements in Gunjur.