Day Nineteen - Wednesday, February 13th, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Gardens Hotel

Today was the first day of a two-day employee/employer conference in Banjul. We were picked by Lynne up just after breakfast and we were taken into Banjul to the Royal Victoria Hospital. The traffic was very busy as we pulled into the gates of this old colonial-style hospital. We parked in the car park and then wandered around the side of the buildings, along a dirt road, and up an outside staircase (lots of those about here) into the canteen where we waited for the employers to arrive as we helped ourselves to tea/coffee and water. The canteen overlooks Independence Avenue so many of us spent some time just watching the people and traffic go by.

Eventually most of the employers had arrived so we proceeded into the meeting room a few doors down where we discussed a bit about what was going to happen over the first few days and we had the dreaded “ice- breaker” exercise where we had to go around and figure out who was described with a series of odd facts (“person born below the sea” – answer Marcel since he was born in the Netherlands which has much of it's land below sea level – reclaimed from the sea in fact). We had given Lynne a small anecdote about ourselves shortly after we arrived which was used for this exercise. I picked a bit of an odd thing, suggesting that I was an avid collector of stamps and coins since I knew that not many people would have guessed that! It was largely an embarrassing exercise but a bit of fun for the first thing…

Much of the day was spent discussing the basics about the job and what VSO expected from both parties (the employers and the employees). We spent a bit of time discussing development as well as things like the practicalities of where we would be working (take the bush taxi to…). I found out that my office is right beside the main entrance to the market in Banjul on the first floor (second floor) of an old, colonial style, office building. It is also right beside the residence of the president. I met Kalleh and Margaret (Peace Corps, though now an independent contractor) who I would be working with though my ultimate “boss” also showed up for a few minutes just to introduce himself.

The last thing in the afternoon we split into two groups (employers and employees) and as employees we discussed our feelings about the in- country training that we have just completed. The feelings of the group were largely positive though we had to say something about the homestay which we were very uncomfortable with and questioned the benefit that we actually received. It was a constructive conversation and was met with concern by the VSO staff.

It was a very good day and also very interesting. When we left we all got into the hot car for the return trip to the hotel.

I did not bother with dinner but basically went straight to bed since I was not feeling too good. I think it could be the water in Banjul but my stomach was not doing all that well.

⇒ Continue to Day Twenty - Thursday, February 14th, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Gardens Hotel