The Gambia: More interviews

I got an opportunity to meet one of the French teachers for an interview. She preferred to have it in French. The teacher told me about all the difficulties in teaching large classes with a minimum of 60 students. In Upper School, French is a compulsory subject for three years, as the official language in their neighbor country Senegal is French. Actually, The Gambia is situated within their neighbor country. In Secondary School it’s no longer compulsory but an option of choice to continue learning French.

As I was starting to relistening to the recorded interviews when I got back, I noticed that my computer was acting a bit strange. I opened a word document to start writing transcriptions, but then suddenly things disappeared on my desktop! Whitin a flash of a moment, I could not use many of the apps and tools that I am so dependent of! This was just too much! First the school strike and now this! I must admit I panicked, but then decided to make a call to Sweden to get help. As I reached out for my cell phone, I had forgotten my code and password during my panic over the whole situation. This had never happened before and as the stress came over me, I simply couldn’t remember the right numbers any longer. I told myself to calm down, and layed down on the bed for a couple of minutes. After resting for half an hour, the numbers returned to my mind. Very relived I sat down on my bed and by mistake broke my glasses. Luckily, I had brought an extra pair. What an unlucky day! Was it possible that it had something to do with the date of today, Friday the thirteen…?

Later that day, I was chatting with a young student, who was renting a room in the same compound. He is a very ambitious young man, working and studying. He told me he wants to start a plantation of bananas, and is now waiting for a response from his application for scholarship, to study for two years at Washington University in the US. I wish him all the luck! My hostess went to Senegambia in the night to join a very popular music concert with the Gambian singer Jousu Ndure. During spare time, people here like to watch TV series from Senegal or Nigerian films.

The Gambia: Interviews

Today I have been in The Gambia for one week! I am slowly getting more and more used to the life and routines here. Now, I even sleep well during the nights. I had a visit from our foster child and she brought her kids as well. It was so nice to see them again and to hand over the presents I had brought from home. I also called the teacher Mr. AM, and since there are no lessons yet because of the strike, I suggested to start doing my interviews instead. There is no time to lose so this was arranged for the following week.
No Wi-Fi for a couple of days now….

All the people I meet here are very friendly and open. Even though poverty in the country is a very big problem, people often seem quite happy despite their hard life. The Gambia was the last country in Africa to get independency from the British colonialization in 1965. The average salary is approximately 1500 – 3000 Dalasi (300-600 SEK) per month.

As I arrived at the school, I met the principal by coincidence and was lucky to get his written consent. He was very interested in my upcoming project and asked me to join and introduce myself at the assembly when the strike is over, before starting my lesson observations. Time in The Gambia is something you can’t control. I had an appointment for interviews with a teacher and had to wait for more than 40 minutes. Just the traffic alone can be hard to deal with on a daily basis. It turned out to be a minor problem, having to wait, because as the interviews were done, I was so pleased to have very good material for my thesis. I arranged a focus group of 4 teachers, teaching different subjects and willing to participate. All gave their written consent, generously shared their opinions about the question, of how to facilitate for the students to understand the topic, with support of local languages as English is the language of instruction. It was very interesting. My assistant Ms. WEN was also there to help me with local expressions and words. I recorded the interviews on my I-pad. The discussion about languages and learning continued after the interviews and other teachers came to join. It was obvious that they all started to reflect and look upon this topic as a serious problem.

I was also invited to visit a Study Center in Bakau, where my assistant Ms. WEN is working, to attend lessons, as I am just waiting for the school strike to stop. What a successful day! They are all doing their best to help me! The Study Center is open for students that need help after schooldays during the week and Saturdays. They have lessons in small groups in different subjects that they need to improve. The language of instruction is in English. The lessons I attended was in history and French. I was also offered a job as a teacher, if I would be interested.

The Gambia: Bad luck!

This morning I finally succeeded in calling my contact, teacher Mr. AM and I am so excited! Already tomorrow I will meet him at the School in Bakoteh. I am hoping to meet up with the principal cause I need his written consent to start the process. I also contacted my Gambian “assistant” Ms. WEN, who also will be joining us. The taxi driver, who is my neighbor, will be driving me to the meeting. During the evening I was preparing everything. I am really looking forward to it!

We went to Bakoteh early in the morning because of the traffic. Just outside the school there was no proper road and many cars got stuck in the deep sand. It took us nearly an hour before we reached the school. We still managed to arrive 30 minutes early and therefor had to wait in the hot taxi car for Mr. AM to arrive. We entered an empty schoolyard full of palm trees and sand. A few young students were sitting talking, and gave me a curious smile along the way. On the second floor Mr. AM opened the door to the teachers’ office. I gave him my gift I had brought from Sweden; some office supplies such as paper, notebooks, pens, pencils and two pair of glasses. Mr. AM also dropped some troublesome news, that because of the hard conditions for teachers in The Gambia, the union had called for an urgent meeting. It was most likely there would be a strike! He couldn’t provide me with further information regarding a possible upcoming strike, due to negotiations still in place.

Let’s hope for the best, he said smiling, I think it will be OK. I suddenly felt very disappointed and frustrated. I thought to myself, have I travelled so far by car and for no use at all? My assistant Ms. WEN arrived a little later. Her younger daughter had malaria and they had stopped by the hospital. The girl looked very weak upon arrival at the school.
On my way back towards the compound, I bought a local mobile phone for local calls, without needing access to any Wi-Fi connection. This was necessary to be able to reach the important people with whom I needed to make appointments with. For my own sake, I cross my fingers there won’t be any strike next week…and for the teachers, I do hope the government will accept their demands.

The goats within my compound have been washed with a special soap to prevent more attacks of vermin which smelled disgusting. I’ve been coughing a lot lately, and at first, I thought it was the special goat soap that was causing it.

After reading the label on the spray bottle against mosquitoes, that this was a very strong product, which should only be sprayed on your body outdoors, I realized that this must have induced my coughing. Since then, I have sprayed only outdoors, and haven’t had any cough since.

The Gambia: Crazy traffic

I got up early (5:30) to join EM at the market in Serrekunda. First, we had a walk on sandy “roads” for about 30 minutes and then take a local ”taxi” for about another 30 minutes, which actually was a very old and shabby van. I counted the passengers, 15 of us were squeezed in tight and close to each other. The van stopped every now and then to let either people jump off or on.

At the market you could find different types of vegetables, fish, meat, chicken and rice. Thousands of flees were buzzing around the baskets of food. The smell was very intense from all the merchandises. In a corner I found a man selling shampoo which I had forgotten to bring. He also sold a cream he called conditioner for hair, so I bought that one too plus batteries for my flashlight and a towel. Before leaving the market, we stopped by a tailor to fix my broken handbag in leather. He fixed it in a couple of minutes, and I only had to pay him 100 (GMD) Gambian dalasi which is less than 20SEK. On the way back it was difficult to find a taxi because of the lively traffic. We had to change taxi or van twice and the last part of the trip, we had a small tuk-tuk with already another passenger inside, so we were four, the driver included. As we almost reached our compound the tuk-tuk was very close to get hit by another car! The tuk-tuk that drives on only three wheels almost rolled over on the side as the driver had to quickly maneuver the tuk-tuk to the opposite side. I was shaking a bit during the last walk towards the compound and thinking how lucky we were not to get hurt!

At home I washed my hair in the shampoo from the market. It was more like some dish liquid and the “conditioner” was a kind of grease that I hardly managed to get rid off, even for many days. Before bedtime I tried to phone the teacher, I had contacted earlier from Sweden. Unfortunately, without any luck.

The Gambia: Many new impressions first days

In Dakar (the town very close to Banjul, my final destination), the plane made a short stop. Over the speakers I could hear one of the cabin crew from Turkish Airline thanking the passengers for a pleasant journey. I felt a bit unsure if I was to get off the plane here but sat still and watched about half of the passengers disembark. A great number of new passengers arrived shortly after, and it felt more like a big “Air bus”, the way passengers were going and coming, rather than the giant jumbo jet it was. Luckily, I didn’t get off the plane and arrived in the wrong country. When I arrived in The Gambia it took me two hours in a long narrow crowded line to get through Security Check and Passport Control. An amount of 20 USD plus money for Customs had to be paid directly. Outside Security the taxi driver who was supposed to pick me up, was waiting with a sign in his hands with my name printed on it. What a relief!

After a very long and hot trip in the car I arrived at the compound where I was going to stay for my two months in The Gambia. The landlord OB and his wife EM welcomed me and showed me my room in a small annex behind the house. I was totally exhausted after more than 20 hours of travel. I quickly unpacked all my things and tried to get a shower but only a few drops of water came out the tap in the bathroom. I laid down on my bed under the mosquito net and fell immediately to sleep. A few hours later when I woke up from my nap, I was served a vegetarian stew with rice. Outside I heard goats running around in the yard of the compound. The extreme heat, the new sounds, the spicy food, and smell of animals – it was overwhelming!

I hardly slept a minute during the night. So many sounds outside as there are no windows to the annex, only holes with a mosquito net attached. I could hear cats meowing, insects buzzing and dogs barking all night long. EM forgot to tell me that during the nights they let out two big dogs to guard the compound. They went crazy, chasing the monkeys that were running on my roof (made of tin so the sound of steps was extremely loud).
In the morning I got Wi-Fi connection so I could talk through WhatsApp with my family. It was a marvelous feeling! The hostess EM works very hard every day as she runs a small restaurant business in her house and by the street outside. This afternoon I helped her with the dishes.

I usually get vegetables with different spicy sauces and rice. Mostly dishes like Stew, Benechin, Yassa or Domoda. In the evening I went on a walk with EM on the beach and we also visited her cousin at a Craft Market. She had nice tablecloths that I might buy later for presents to bring home. There was not much to see or do in the neighborhood, so EM took me to the one and only hotel where we had a pineapple juice to drink.

The Gambia: New Year’s Eve, 31 December 2022, Malmö

Finally, it’s the day of my departure. I will be leaving my home in Sweden in about an hour and cannot believe it’s actually happening! My family will all be in Copenhagen Airport to say the final goodbye to me before my journey. There will definitely be tears shed and a hard goodbye, but as Winnie-the-Pooh said: How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. I will be bringing two big suitcases filled with important paperwork, literature, and my computer. Lots of presents and clothes to give away for both my host family and our former foster child. We met her many years ago through the organization SOS Children’s Village, and now she is a grown woman with two children of her own. I wish 2023 will be a good year for as many as possible in many ways. I will be “celebrating” New Years Eve by myself and lots of other travelers at Istanbul Airport. From Istanbul I will continue to Dakar, Senegal and then my final destination, The Gambia!

Looking back – Before the trip

(8 October 2021, Malmö)

In October 2021, I was fortunate to receive a travel-scholarship, through Malmö University, for a Minor Field Study (MFS) to do fieldwork in The Gambia. Unfortunately, the whole world was in the middle of a Pandemic. When I finally got the good news that the travel restrictions had lifted, even though I was extremely excited and anxious to get started, I started doubting myself if it would be a good idea to travel so far and remote while the Pandemic still wasn’t over.

At the time vaccinations were hardly available in Africa. The airline tickets were incredible high as not many were travelling, which made it hard to plan for any booking. It was also at the time very difficult to get any confirmation form any of the schools I tried to contact, to do my classroom observations for my fieldwork. I also had doubts about the value of my observations in the middle of a Pandemic. Suddenly things started changing rapidly with an opportunity to travel again – despite the world situation. I still had my doubts if I was making an irresponsible decision to go at this time.
Would it be fair to leave Sweden, my job in Malmö and more important my family, knowing that the pandemic still was in place and to live so remote?

(27 October 2021, Malmö)

I’ve been waiting for a month to get a positive response from Schools in The Gambia. Unfortunately, no answer yet but my contact-person/assistant in The Gambia is doing all she can to help me. I had a zoom-meeting with my mentor about my coming essay. I was hoping she would understand why I sent such a short draft and text to her.
I do not feel prepared at all to do my writing, but at least I have started planning my work in a notebook. I also contacted the staff at the library to help me find earlier research on the chosen field. As I read the literature it opened my horizon as I found the new literature very interesting, and the more I read the more I wanted to change my original question for my research. I felt a stronger wish to examine the teachers didactive approach in teaching a subject and delivering the material, rather than looking at the material itself. I also found it interesting to understand what methods are chosen to develop students’ language skills.

(9 November 2021, Zoom)

MFS held a preparation meeting on Zoom, and it was quite learning full and exciting to hear about the others’ scholarships in South Africa, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The energy to plan for my journey suddenly hit me! Although my energy level and excitement about my coming journey was at its highest, I was still a bit hesitant. Would it really be possible to put it all together and leave within a couple of months?

(9 December 2021, Malmö)

MFS arranged a compulsory workshop together with the Global School. My departure was meant to be in the beginning of 2022 but still no answer from the schools in The Gambia! In the meantime, a new variation of Covid had shown up, Omicron, but mainly in Africa. All the News reports showed a clear sign of upcoming changes in rules and restriction for travelling especially outside Europe. With these new predictions, I came to my decision of extending my departure to January 2023.

(28 November 2022, Malmö)

At last!……almost a year later.
The situation with the pandemic is now more stable and something we have to live with. On top of that the whole situation in the world is kind of chaotic, both regarding politics and economically. Insecurity is felt throughout the world, extremely high rates for electricity and climate threat, all adding a concern for peace in the world. Despite all the other concerns I may have, I have now decided to move forward with my field study, that I have been looking forward to for so long. Flight tickets were bought last week, and with help from my colleague, arrangements were made to live in The Gambia at her friend’s compound. I have received confirmation from Bakoteh Schools in The Gambia and insurance in place. Although there are still a lot left on my To-Do List before my departure, I feel very grateful and fortunate to be able to start my journey.

A warm welcome to Mexico!

Hi there!

It has been a long flight but here I am! Enjoying the beauty of this country, its food, people and an amazing weather…

I’m finally in Veracruz, the city where I’m conducting my research. The city is located in the southeast of the country, next to the Gulf of Mexico.

Exploring the downtown of Veracruz.
Exploring the downtown of Veracruz.

Food has been the best welcome to this city: picadas, gorditas, empanadas, tamales… everything is delicious!

The temperature during this season is quite warm comparing to Sweden, it is around 28°C . So I couldn’t miss visiting the beach and the Aquarium of Veracruz.

My best picture so far! Aquarium of Veracruz.
Aquarium of Veracruz.

I’ll post more pictures of the fieldwork very soon!

Please feel free to comment… I’ll be happy to hear from you all!



Week 6: Transcribing and Quotes from Interviews

This week we have continued to transcribe our interviews. Below are some examples of how child victims of sexual exploitation and abuse are perceived and treated in Cambodia:

The respondent continue to describe issues with medical examinations of child victims post exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse:

Child victims are stigmatised by medical professionals, community members, and their own families, which causes secondary victimisation.

The respondent continues to point out key issues associated with poverty in regard to child sexual exploitation and abuse:

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who have donated to our fundraiser so far! The engagement is heartwarming. For the ones who would like to contribute, SWISH 0737353530 and mark it with “APLE”. Thank you!

APLE’s work: solely based on donations.

Dear reader,

If this is the first post you read, here is a little update.

We (Elin & Hanna) are currently in Cambodia to write our bachelor’s thesis in criminology and are fortunate to collaborate with the organization APLE. Their works against the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and enables, among other things, the prosecution of perpetrators and rehabilitates vulnerable children. Children’s exposure is commonly a result of sex tourism, which rarely leads to any significant consequences for perpetrators.

Together with you, we hope to contribute to their continued work against sexual exploitation and abuse through a fundraiser. If you are you able to donate any amount this month, we would be extremely grateful for the contribution. Every little bit makes a difference! (All contributions goes in full to APLE )

To donate, send a SWISH with the message “APLE” to 0737353530.

Thank you!