Culture Shock

Looking through some earlier blogs, I see I have gone through some of the classic stages of culture shock. I should be immune to that by now, but I suppose this visit is different as I’m a sole toubab rather than in a group.

The received wisdom is that after a brief period of “isn’t this brilliant!” you get a stage of nothing but fault-finding – in my case litter and complaints about the unreliability of these foreigners… After that comes – and I hope that’s where I am now – appreciation of the differences and acceptance of them.

A perfectly justifiable cause of culture shock would be the irregular water supply. Today has been hot and busy, so I was looking forward to my cold shower but there’s no water at the moment. I can probably resolve the problem by going downstairs and putting the pump on, but I have this unreasonable feeling that I shouldn’t have to do that and I ask myself why there is a manager of the RPI if he can’t sort out a small thing like that.

The RPI has had a few guests over the last three weeks: at the moment the rooms near mine house a large African extended family which includes at least one toddler. Despite some girning from him, it is nice to hear the mother singing snatches of lullabies or local nursery rhymes to him; though these are counterbalanced by loud voices speaking a language I don’t understand. It is easy to think Gambians are arguing when in fact they are just chatting animatedly.

The point is that there are probably about eight of us staying here and the management hasn’t thought to check there is water.

I believe there is to be a group of 4 or 5 Liberian or Sierra Leonean students staying here next week. Mousa tells me they will spend the evenings quietly studying, but we’ll see. Apparently they will be on an exchange visit through the University of The Gambia.

The head of the Interim Board toured the premises today. She is a redoubtable high-powered lady who has spent half her life in the USA: the impact this has had on her was clear as she toured the “inn” making positive suggestions, but also pointing out faults and easy, cheap areas for improvement. Some of them are so blindingly obvious you wonder why they have ever reached the chaotic stage they have: cobwebs, holes left where fixtures have been removed, simple options to improve hygiene and cleanliness, rickety electric fittings, a strip light in a classroom hanging by the thread of one screw just awaiting its chance to fall on the head of a student. Why is it that no-one seems to notice these things or get them fixed? We now have a kettle that is serviceable, but it was bought with a two pin plug, for some reason, and the “Manager” has neither changed the plug on the kettle I nagged him into buying, nor connected it to one of the several 3 pin to 2 pin adapters that I have noticed lying around unused. I guess that’ll take more nagging, probably when I’m on at him about the unsafe electric sockets, yet again.

I don’t want to come on strong as the know-all white man bossing the natives, but some of these folk need a good kick in the backside or else a kick out the door. Others are hard-working perfectionists who deserve a medal for what they do for so little pay.

It looks as though I’m still in the critical phase of culture shock, doesn’t it!

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