Down river

We were up early today for some tourist activities. We went out into the bush a little bit to see birds and to get some breakfast. I’m not much of a birdwatcher, but it was good to get into some dugout canoes and to see some of the countryside. It’s a hell of a contrast with Banjul and the north bank of the Gambia River, which we visited yesterday.
It’s damned hot here. I’m going to need a holiday when I get home.
Scoping Gambia Svw 120
Scoping Gambia Svw 144

Pool time

After a very long morning meeting, we’re finally getting some well deserved pool time. Nobody works on friday afternoon in The Gambia. Well, except us. And probably taxi drivers. But at least we’re working beside the pool in shorts and t-shirt.
2007-09-28--Crazy Taxis
Taxis held together by rust and dust.
2007-09-28--African Coast
African Atlantic.
Pool side.
Don’t forget to keep checking the news page on the website.


It has surely been a day of contrasts today. After spending the morning at the Medical School and the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital we visited the MRC’s base in The Gambia. The RVTH is very poorly funded (for example the pathology labs have only H+E staining only, and manual histological processing – imagine how this extends to the rest of the hospital), newly populated by recent graduates of the Gambian medical school who are working very hard, alongside the nursing staff and senior doctors. Banjul is a busy, poor city, full of friendly hassle but also full of colour and smiles.
The MRC’s institute here has been in place for 60 years, and again is populated by dedicated, young, hard working staff. But the MRC is a modern, state of the art facility, filled with impressive kit (real-time cyclers, DNA sequencers, 9 colour flow cytometers) & equally impressive men and women.
The MRC institution is heavily involved in researching & eradicating communicable diseases in the Gambia & abroad. They also treat many of the local population, with people queueing overnight to be seen by a doctor. One man at the MRC that we met begrudgingly admitted that he started work at 3.30am every morning, to care for those patients. He was still there after 5pm when we visited.
Right now, I’m sat in a bar that is itself sat right on the Atlantic, in the sunset. It’s quiet, remote and gorgeous. The weather is good, I’m drinking Julbrew and considering forgiving Steve for dragging me away from the pool. My view of West Africa has flipped from desperate dislike to potential and promise. If this was 6 or 7 years ago I’d be thinking about looking for a molecular biology post-doc here.
The man running the MRC institute is a Gambian. A deeply impressive Gambian.

Dragged Away

We had a brief break from work this afternoon & managed to get to the pool between meetings. Its hot & humid. Think white man from the Welsh climate stuck inside a West African hospital & think sweaty. Then imagine a pool, with bar, shady brollies, and a cool breeze. Then the sun came out! A few more hours of this would be nice, we thought.
But no, the evil Steve dragged us away to yet another meeting via deathtrap with wheels. Maybe tomorrow? You’re not allowed to work on a Friday afternoon in the Gambia, are you?

Anatomy Teaching

I thought I’d got out of teaching anatomy on Monday, in Swansea at least. Prof. Menendez and the anatomy lecturer here in the Gambian School of Medicine have roped me into teaching the 3rd year students in a 1 and a half hour slot on Monday morning (at about the same time as I would have been teaching the Swansea students). That much teaching would normally take me weeks to prepare for, but I only have the weekend. I’m getting better at winging it these days.
Prof. Menendez (the leading professor in the school) is very enthusiastic about our involvement and it’s clear that he and his Cuban team put huge efforts into the training of new doctors here. Much of that training is dependent upon donations of materials and equipment from other countries, including Spain, Holland, Sweden, the UK and many others. Hopefully much of the elearning we’ve already been developing in Swansea will be directly applicable to the Gambian students (anatomy is anatomy, is anatomy) and we’ve identified many areas that we can help with.
They’ve got a better collection of microscopes than we do, but histology plays a more important part of the teaching here and classes are getting larger. There is only one histopathologist in the Gambia.
2007-09-27--Histology Lab
The histology lab. More microscopes and some decent kit in here. One of the main problems in the Medical School is space, with lecturers sharing offices and some tight space for teaching.
There are no arguments about blackboards vs whiteboards here, and there certainly isn’t a digital Blackboard for storing powerpoint lectures. I’ll have to practice my chalk skills.
Right, back to work.
P.S. As a side rant, you bastards sending me spam are a real pain in the arse when trying to send and receive email in West Africa! You’re slowing down the whole internet!


We safely arrived in The Gambia and the hotel after many hours and much tipping of Gambians. The flight was very picturesque, passing south over England, crossing France, the Bay of Biscay, flying over Portugal or Spain, and then north Africa down to Gambia and Banjul.
Today, we met with our Gambian counterparts in a lengthy meeting to introduce each other and get some ideas onto the table, followed by a tour of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital to see the facilities and staff (or lack thereof). This further helped our group to form ideas and plans for the rest of the week.
2007-09-26--Hospital Tour
Visiting the teaching hospital.
2007-09-26--Bent Autoclave
Puzzling over a burst autoclave.
2007-09-26--Soggy Banjul
A wet Banjul.
2007-09-26--Royal Victoria Hospital
The front entrance to the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, through the mossy meshed windows.
Outside a typical ward.
2007-09-26--Better Late
The neighbouring Gambia Musicians Union has an excellent motto: “Better late than never”.
We saw a bit of Banjul, but I nipped back to the hotel to cool off in both the pool and the sea/estuary/river to puzzle out the hotel WiFi. We found the hospital library, which has a number of up-to-date Dell networked computers and a good collection of books, but the internet service provider’s bill is currently unpaid so the students cannot access any information on the internet.
Steve has some night maneuvers planned (which is a worry) but these will apparently end in food (which is good). Check the Swansea-Gambia Link website ( for more information about this week’s scoping visit to The Gambia.
Royalvict Gambia Svw  6-1


I’m off to Banjul tonight for a week. I’ll be switching my mobile phone off to avoid the roaming charges (because I can guarantee that my Mum will ring me and it’ll cost me £10 to remind her that I’m in Africa) but should still be able to Skype Out and remain in contact while away. My blog may be very interesting over the next week or very blank, depending on the level of connectivity that I find. I’ll take my camera, but it’s very wet there at the moment.
See you all soon.

Jack at the range

2007-09-14--Jack Hitting Golf Balls-1
Jack wanted to come to the driving range with me so I bought him a junior club about the right size for him, gave him a bucket of balls and let him at it. He’s pretty good, but he doesn’t half get through a bucket of balls quickly!