Hi, my name is Nene Keita, I’m a 23 years old midwife with a German mother and a Gambian father. Here is my story:
STIN.C refers to the Sheihk Tihami Ibrahim Nyass Clinic in Kunkujang Keitaya, Northern Bank, The Gambia, which is widely known as “Fatou Gaye’s Clinic” or “The Clinic in Kunkujang”.
“Fatou Gaye’s Clinic” is considerably more accurate, as Aunty Fatou Gaye is the woman, who runs the place. Calling her an “outstanding member of society” would be an understatement. This woman, who is both nurse and midwife, is not only responsible for her small but special community serving clinic, but also for a Darra (an Islamic orphanage) and its 50 girls, which she raises, together with her nannies, like her own.
I found this incredible woman, when she was announced “Gambian of the year 2014” by a Gambian News broadcaster. I read about her, her work, her effort and endless patients and kindness while I was still training to be a midwife. I contacted her on Facebook and asked, whether I could work for her when my education is completed, and she immediately replied “Yes!”
And so I did. The communication was easy, once I told her when our flight would land, she even offered to pick me up from the airport.
Middle of April 2019, we landed, I had rejected her offer to pick me up, because I was travelling with my family and had to settle at our house first. After two days, I got too excited and we went to the Clinic. It is situated not far from one of the bigger streets called Coastal Road. From the nearest junction, which is Freetown junction, we walked for about 15 minutes. From two corners away, I could already see the small tower of the clinic’s minaret.
Once we arrived, we were promptly introduced to Aunty Fatou Gaye, who continued to show me to “my” flat, two rooms and a bathroom next to the Maternity ward, fully equipped with beds, tables, wardrobe, microwave and a water boiler, and, most importantly, a fridge full of ice-cold water bottles.
So I moved in, in this very moment, just dropped my stuff and there I was.
Aunty Fatou Gaye showed me her beautiful clinic, the ward, behind the delivery room, fully equipped with three beds, the Midwife Office for antenatal check-ups (what shortly turned into my office), the Consultation Room for “normal”, e.e. “non-pregnant” patients, the Dressing Room, the Scanning Room with an ultrasound device so old, it could’ve been used when my mother was pregnant with me, but working just fine, and the Laboratory.
“You’ll be fine!” said Fatou and hugged me. She is a hugger, and the longer I’m back in Germany, the more I miss her big hugs.
Then she introduced me to her staff. Firstly, to Awa, a nurse assistant, who did the antenatal care and soon became a valuable teacher and friend to me. Then to the rest of her people, nurses, midwives, nurse assistants, lab technicians, pharmacy assistants, and last but not least to the nannies. In the scanning room, I met the two doctors, Dr. Jagne, Medical Director, and Dr. Jobarteh, Head of Radiology in Gambia, and his wife.
Gambian people are known for being very friendly, but the staff at the clinic is just extraordinary. Friendly, of course, but moreover loving, laughing, joking, caring people who assist you in any way they can, who teach you and listen to you. They don’t laugh, when you think, you know better but don’t, and they are not too proud to take advise when you know, you know better.
And then, the time just flew by.
Before I knew, I had settled in, mostly because of the overly welcoming atmosphere, doing the antenatal check-ups, helping in the ward (or tried, at least, because learning midwifery in Germany, it doesn’t mean you are a trained nurse) and waiting for deliveries.
Most of the time, when I was not busy myself, I watched the others, trying to learn not only Wolof (I failed entirely) but their way of practising medicine under tricky circumstances.
Fatou’s clinic is a private one, which means, she depended on the money they earn (a huge amount of which goes directly to the orphanage) and donations. Of course, even public hospitals in the Gambia are not getting enough supplies, but to get hold of them when you are a private clinic is even harder.
But they manage, and its amazing to see, what they can do with the little they have.
The first delivery I had was in the night of the 1st of May, Worker’s Day, assisting a wonderful midwife called Sister Grace. Later that night, there was a second delivery, this time I assisted under the eyes of Fatou herself. The thing about her is that she gives you such an amazing feeling of trust, that you believe you can do anything, and anything will be good. She lets you work alone, but you know, she is there watching, and she’s always open for questions. She knew my abilities, sometimes better than I did, and she guided me, so I felt like I did it all by myself.
And you can always ask her for help, without fearing her laughing at you.
Things I didn’t learn in three years of midwifery training, I learned in five weeks from her.
She has this aura, maybe it’s the years of experience, maybe its just her wonderful personality – you feel safe with her. Even when you have to transfer your own sister to the Serekunda Hospital, because she needs a c-section after hours in labor. The amount of support I received from Fatou is exceptional.
And the food!! Those food at Fatou’s compound is worth its own passage. – I did not get paid in money, but that doesn’t mean, I did not get paid!
We arrived shortly before Ramadan and from morning till evening, I was fed. Around 10:00 a.m., the staff would breakfast, with freshly baked tapalapa (oven baked baguette) and various toppings, from fresh omelette to homemade onions sauce and meat. Delicious.
Then, the lunch, cooked by the cooks who cook for the girls in the darra: Best Gambian food, everyday something different. And then, in the evening, a so called “small dinner”, which means some homecooked meal, enough to feed a family, fresh chicken or, even better, fresh fish, delicious sauce and fresh vegetables. And they even didn’t stopped that payment during Ramadan because they never wanted me to lack of any commodity they could afford.
I would go back, only for the food!
Writing this lines, I also remember Mam Astou Faal, the world’s best clean up lady, strong, patient, polite, funny and extremely efficient in keeping that sandy, dusty place as clean as if she was to perform examples for textbooks on Hygiene.
Time flies when you are there. You are included so well, after five weeks it felt like leaving a part of my family. And they make it really hard for you to leave. On my last evening, they threw a farewell party worth the name, where everybody came together to say Goodbye, with delicious food and wonderful, thoughtful presents.
All in all, those five weeks have given me so much, I can never repay it. I will try, of course, by coming back and doing what I can, maybe even bringing more people to this wonderful place, to experience learning in that atmosphere of love and understanding only Fatou Gaye gives!