Sweet Pea in Gambia

I don’t often post about birthdays because, the truth is, we have a lot of them and while I’m good at celebrating, I don’t always manage to write about the day.  Today is a little different because it is Sweet Pea’s birthday and we aren’t celebrating because she is in Gambia working at a rural hospital.

We haven’t been able to communicate very much with her because they rarely have electricity that allows her to use the computer, but we’ve gotten a few emails.  Rather than tell you about her time there, I thought I would let her share it herself by cutting bits out of her emails.

Today was the Reproductive and Child Health clinic day at the hospital. I weighed and charted 182 babies and small kids. They were cute, hilarious, and woebegone by turns. When one would occasionally cry and fuss and flail about getting on the scale, the Gambian nurse would yell “Hey, hey” loudly followed by something in Mandinka or Wolof or Jolla. She kept saying to me, “You have to be stern – these are African children.” I told her American kids have just as much trouble. It might have been separation anxiety, or it might have been the “toubob” (white person) manning the scale that scared them – I’m still not sure! …

Tomorrow and the next day we will spend walking all the way across the country, stopping at numerous villages to promote literacy. A bunch of donors and dignitaries are coming too. Fortunately, it’s a narrow country! I think we’re doing 8 or 9 km each day and staying in another hospital the night between. …

We did it! We walked across the country from the southern border (with Senegal) to the northern border (also with Senegal). The walk was a crazy experience. It was a joint effort by Books for Africa, and Hand in Health, along with a foundation from Nigeria, to deliver one million books to Gambia in the next few years. We delivered 20,000 to 15 schools over the course of the two day walk. …

At each school, the students and teachers would line the sides of the recently-paved TransGambian highway, shouting “WELL-COME” over and over in unison. It was like being in a parade, where you shake hands with hundreds of dusty, sticky, sweaty, smiling kids. “Hallo, how are yoo?” “Fine, fine.” “Whas your nehm?” “Awa. Awa Joof.” Aside from my poor attempt at reproducing the accent phonetically, that’s kind of how it went. People were so excited about getting the books into their schools. There was a lot of pomp and ceremony – pictures of the filthy fifteen of us and the formally attired teachers and community leaders, meetings with the imams and mayors. …

I’ve never been so dusty in my life. I thought the tan was going to wash completely off, but there’s a bit of it left. When I washed my face, mud ran down from my orange eyelashes. My hair was so sticky, I could tie it in a knot and it would stay (usually an impossible feat). …

I was given a Gambian name! A teacher at the Mansera school, our first stop, named me after one of her fellow teachers, Awa Joof. Because there are probably 30-40 names for girls in Gambia, there are lots of other Awas, which means having many opportunities to find your toma – “sister” with the same name. I met several on the walk. Having the surname Joof makes me an honorary member of the Serer tribe, traditionally fishermen, and gives me a “joking relationship” with members of the Fula and Jola tribes. Joking relationships are this brilliant way of solving conflict among members of various specific sets of tribes. If a Fula and Jola get into an argument, and then realize they are Fula and Jola, respectively, then they are forbidden to curse each other and the argument evolves into friendly jibes. …

We miss her, a  lot, and I confess that I worry a little about her, but overall, I’m so glad she is able to use her gifts and education to serve the people.  She’ll be home in less than a week and then the excitement of Match Day will quickly follow on March 16th.  I’ll write more about it next week, but essentially, every medical student in the country who has applied for residency will receive a letter that very day telling them where they will do their residency.  It’s quite a process.

Thanks for sharing Sweet Pea’s birthday with me – I miss her today.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. Deborah
    March 7, 2012

    Happy Birthday to Sweet Pea – my how she looks just like her Momma! I know how you feel – my oldest son is in the Navy and turned 21 on Monday a long way from home. No matter how old they get they are still your babies!

    Reply
  2. Stephanie smith
    March 7, 2012

    Happy birthday sweet pea! We share a birthday although my day will look very different from yours! Hope you have a fantastic day on the other side of the world!

    Reply
  3. Karen P
    March 7, 2012

    My husband is a pediatrician and, even though his Match Day was 15 years ago, I remember the excitement and fun of that day. In true south Louisiana fashion, there was a crawfish boil that afternoon! Happy birthday to Sweat Pea and good luck with the match…I hope she gets her first choice!

    Reply
  4. Julie
    March 7, 2012

    Happy birthday, Sweet Pea! It sounds like this will be a birthday to remember!

    Reply
  5. Julie
    March 7, 2012

    It's so wonderful to see your older children being pro-active and passionate about caring for the "least of these". 🙂

    Reply
  6. Rachel Rausch
    March 7, 2012

    Happy birthday! What a marvelous experience. May God bless and keep her and use her heart and hands!

    Reply
  7. Ellen
    March 7, 2012

    Match Day was 7 years ago for us. It was an incredible day. Happy Birthday to your daughter!

    Reply
  8. Paula
    March 7, 2012

    What a wonderful opportunity for your sweet daughter!

    Reply
  9. Maggie Gieseke
    March 8, 2012

    Ahhh… Thank you for sharing your lovely girl on her birthday. She is a gem! Happy happy Birthday to Miss Sweet Pea- I am happy to know that we have terrific young ambassadors like you abroad… many thanks!

    Reply
  10. Sue
    March 9, 2012

    Your daughter sounds like she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Happy birthday to her! And God bless her for using her gifts to serve our Lord and His people.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 9, 2012

      Thank you, Sue.

      Reply

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