Guinea Bissay: Day 14 – My Second Week Gone By

And so my second week comes to an end.. While in the first week I spent much time getting settled in, and getting to know the people and places around me, in this second week I’ve tried more to settle into what I feel my role here will be, and therefore tried to apply myself to where I felt was needed and where I could be of assistance.

Some of this I’ve been able to do from home, such as applying for grants, researching materials for my project etc. This in preparation for what to come on the 26th, when my advisor arrives from Denmark, and my research here starts for real. But having gotten to know the projects operating here, and gained insight into some of the most common problems they face, I’ve also spent my time thinking of and implementing some more efficient routines and equipment at both the hospital and the project.

These include storage and organization of supplies, ordering Wifi equipment for network enabling printers at project and Simao Mendes Hospital (as most people now have to carry their computers into the printer room, and manually connect via USB or in some cases LPT1..), sorting MAC filtering access tables at project to remove old and unknown entries, researching sea cables connecting Guinea Bissau to the Internet in order to determine if a better connection may be set up at project, and centralizing Anti-virus updates for project computers on ISDN speed connection (ex. Update = 80Mb, x 10 computers all downloading at the same time => Will never finish (people only work at the project 4h in the afternoon), will slow internet connection to a halt, will start over every time computers reconnect to Internet..

In general I find that many of the technical solutions already set in place are rather fragile and unstable. This, as they were in most cases implemented by people now long gone, and now left in the hands of others, who sometimes do not possess even the required knowledge to maintain them, let alone the ability to understand and evolve upon them, and to see where improvements might be made.

Therefore, so far, much of my work here so far has been rather geeky in nature. But it’s actually been a great pleasure to be able put some of my non medical knowledge to good use, and in this particular case it also makes me happy I spent all those hours of my youth playing, and later working with computers.

This has actually been somewaht a general feeling that I’ve experienced down here, and one also I’ve had before in other 3rd world countries.. It’s that in places like this, where education is poor, and the luxury of seeing beyond the necessities of everyday life is not afforded to all, that every skill counts, and those possessed and willingly shared, are most often both needed and much appreciated by all.

For someone such as myself, who’s dabbled in a lot of different things over the course of my life, it’s actually a wonderful feeling to be able to fully apply one self and feel that privately as well as professionally, all the parts are allowed and asked to make the whole. I consider this as opposed to a feeling that I’ve had in both Denmark and the rest of what we call the western world, of our society becoming ever more inclined towards specialization in most fields, professional labelling and general conformity strived for with each fold that seperates the sheets.

To put it simply, where in our part of the world, a doctor is a doctor, and a mechanic is a mechanic; here the sum of both is a gift sent from the gods. – If you possess a skill and advertise it, you may almost count on being asked to apply it, as most often the alternatives are none.
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Guinea Bissau: Day 7 – A Nice Walk

This afternoon I took a long walk through the characol market nearby where we live. I wanted to pick up a piece of fabric to hang on my wall, that I found to be rather bare and cold, and also I’d begun to feel somewhat isolated from the world around me, sitting in my room while there was a whole new part of the world to explore just outside.

Having brought my Nikon D40 along (big SLR camera), I had every intention to finally take some pictures of my house and my surroundings. Once outside though, I found myself unwilling to bring it out and point it at anything or anyone, as I felt I would somehow be distancing myself from those around me, becoming a “tourist” of sorts..

I did however use it to take some pictures inside and outside of our house, as well as the small “gazebo” of sorts where we eat lunch on weekdays, prepared alternately by Fatima or Sabado. The first two pictures are of our living room and kitchen, and then the outside of our house (door to the left is mine and Fridas, whereas the one on the right leads to Thornys aparment), and lastly the gazebo on the right.

 

 

Somewhere along the line of my walk (while reading an email I’d just gotten from Anton – Phones here can access the Internet without problems, and it’s cheap too), I remembered that my Nokia E66 phone has a camera in it – and with it in my hand, I could innocently snap some photos while walking or just standing and looking around.

 

The Results are what you see below:

 

 

You’ll notice the piles of clothes upon the ground in one of the pictures, which were second hand clothes that I wondered if had been donated by charity organisations, only to be sold instead of given to those in need.. This was a very large scale operation, so I’m going to ask around one day.

After walking about for an hour, and found parts of the market I’d never willingly go again, where stalls were cramped so close that I could hardly pass by, while rotting pieces of meat lay bare for the flies to feast upon, and the smell was so that I tried my very best not to breathe lest my stomach lurch and my breakfast come flying out – I finally stumbled upon a small stall that carried some fabrics, meant for clothing, but also applicable to a wall if one is a Branco doesn’t know any better.

The one i bought had some very nice colors, and as I noticed when I got home, a big red heart.. When I got home I promply drove a nail into the wall and hung it up, where it now nicely complements my wooden cupboard and bed. In my (and the others) opinion, it really helps the room feel more warm and inviting to enter and to be in.

 

 

Enough for now, I’m off to bed – my second week to start tomorrow : )

Guinea Bissau: Day 6 – First Week

Today is Saturday or Sabado, the 6th day, and the end of my first week of work here in Guinea Bissau.

Yesterday, the appearance of the moon in the sky above also marked the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting during which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking (this includes water!) and sexual relations from dawn until sunset.

This has been widely apparent, as 40-50% of the population here practices Islam, and their abstinence has often become apparent through their absence during evening meals. Most tend to rise early, and fill their stomachs before the sun comes up, perhaps get some sleep during the day, and then feast as soon as darkness sets in again.

This custom is only carried out by adults though, as children, although eager to emulate their parents and other adults around them, are under no obligation to partake and are refused this right by their parents until they deem them old enough.

To take it’s place, now begins the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, during which food is donated to the poor, everyone puts on their finest, and usually new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning by a large mosque nearby. Sadly I missed this sight yesterday, but I heard that it was a sight to behold – an ocean of people rising as waves across the plain, an undulating wave harmonious with calling of the prayer, a myriad of splendid and vivid colours, reflecting in the sun.

I wish I had some images to share, but I’m sure these google images will give you the idea.
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Guinea Bissau: Day 0 – Arrival

So this will be my first post of hopefully many, during my stay in Guinea Bissau for the next year or so.. It is my hope that I can make my musings somewhat interesting to read, but entertainment value aside, they will mostly serve in lieu of what would otherwise quickly become an endless stream of emails – were I to try to keep each and every friend and family member up to date on how I spend my days there.

I’m writing this while waiting in Lisbon Airport, having spent the last couple of hours lounging in what I suspect will be the last plush leather couch I’ll be seeing for a good while, drinking Ice Coffee and eating a delicious cream filled pastry that had Cavity Crew immediately setting up their winter palace in my pearly whites.

.oOOOOOo. <- teeth  / .o.O.OOo. <- my teeth after pastry.

For those of you who have no idea why I’m leaving Denmark, maybe because you don’t know me personally, or perhaps just because we haven’t talked for the last year or so, let me try to explain somewhat briefly:

November last year, I made a decision to no longer passively be educated on what I suspect will become my future professional life, but instead take matters into my own hand and try and shape the path of my career towards a direction of my own choosing.

Having before given much thought towards travelling and working in 3rd world countries, I contacted a doctor and a researcher involved in the Bandim Health Project in Guinea Bissau, asking if it were possible to become involved in the work carried out at the station there. Having sent him my resume and met with him personally, I was set upon the long path that has now taken me to Portugal, with my final destination only being 5 hours away.

What I will be doing, is (in university circles) called a research year, granted to students upon request and agreement with a senior researcher. Under his/her guidance the students will carry out a project of their own, to be concluded with a paper preferably published in a scientific journal or magazine.

Most often these are carried out at department at a University Hospital, where financing is secured beforehand, and the student simply steps into the role created for them, but as I discovered, the role of a research year student in a project carried out abroad, funded solely by grants and donations, is not quite as plush as those to be had at home.

Suffice to say there have been difficulties with financing my trip, as I myself have had to apply for every single (insert monetary unit here) to come my way, as well as battling with Visas, permissions, ethical committees and government officials, not to mention the local university staff that did not exactly fit their job description of facilitators/counsellors.

It’s been a very educational experience though, and one I would not have been without, as the confidence gained with every obstacle overcome, will surely be needed in the weeks and months to come, where such challenges are every day work, and added barriers such as language and culture are likely to raise the bar of difficulty somewhat drastically : )

But it’s all been leading towards this day, and in the last few days I’ve had in Denmark, I have tried my best to be prepare myself for what’s to come, and just as importantly for what I would be leaving behind. This summer I visited Iceland with some friends, and got to meet both friends and family while there, and after coming back, I fortunately had good time to say my farewells in Århus. Then came but 3 short days in Copenhagen, during which I managed to see many but not nearly all of the people I would have liked to visit before I left, and I hope that those of you I did not manage to see will forgive me for this oversight, which certainly bereft me the pleasure of your company as well.

Lastly, let me say thank you, for being who you are, and for having supported me in all the aspects of my life that we’ve had to share. You have all played a part, be it big or small, in shaping who I am today. By being my muses and my influence, through who you are and everything you’ve done, be it good or bad, you’ve helped create the path leading to this moment. Without you in my life, I would not be I do hope that if reading this, you’ll want to leave me some comments from time to time, as it’s a way for me to see who, if anyone, is reading – and it’s always nice to know you care ; )who nor where I am today. – I do this for me, and for all of you.

Not having much else to share right now, except for a scathing review of an in-flight meal and the pleasant smell of Ajax on a clean floor (currently wafting upwards from the shining tiles left in the wake of buxom young Portuguese sanitation personnel), I will now leave you with a picture of the sun setting outside my window here in Portugal, bidding you adieu, and looking forward to having something interesting to share.

Lisabon Airport

Guinea Bissau

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