“So, how was Gambia?” The Gambia was what it always is when I go: an opportunity to learn, hot, a bit stressy, and that oddly fuzzy phrase rewarding. What does that really mean? I’m writing from the perspective that I come back, of course, happy to be back, relieved that the organisational difficulties (more or less) resolved themselves, and that the Health and Safety issues were (more or less) OK. Using Gambia-Extra certainly made the organisation go more smoothly. Alan and Tony were brilliant. Relief at how well it went is certainly part of it – and the enjoyment I took while there is in no little measure due to their thoughtful, hard work.
So it went OK.
What did I learn? Is the “reward” about what I now know about myself, about the Gambia?
Well, the inservice course teaches me a lot every time: enthusiastic and committed Gambian professionals make this a wonderful opportunity for me, and I’ve mentioned this before. The challenge of teaching without as much tech support hones my skills no end, makes me think differently about my pedagogy, and the debate this time around how to organise for play and for observation with a ratio of one adult to 40+ children told me a lot about how deep my own assumptions about early learning go. I really like the photo I’m including here because it shows me really enjoying what I’m doing – not easy sessions, but teaching, listening, interacting.
Interacting. Hmmm. There’s an interesting idea. A lot of other assumptions go out of the window too: how students relate to tutors; how language changes; how the immediate challenge of relating session by session to students becomes a different thing when it runs from before breakfast to after-dinner drinks.
But are these what make this trip rewarding? I know more about the students that come, more about myself, more about the Gambia. This time I also got a bit of a sun tan, saw the dawn rising, and the grey stretch of the Atlantic, and travelled more independently than on any of my previous trips. Is this what made it rewarding? What does rewarding mean?
Enjoyment is part of it, in immediate pleasure (a cold Julbrew by the pool at the end of a journey on several bush taxis) and also in some longer-term contentment. Feeling good because I know I was learning is also part of it. Feeling good that a project has gone well enough, that people are already thinking about Gambia 2014, that there are writing and research opportunities that have grown from the discussions in the evenings…
So, this is even woollier. Feeling good. Perhaps the best approach is simply to look at where I see this nebulous “reward” coming from: I think it comes from the change I see – in me, and in the students. More confidence, change in perspective, change in skills.
And maybe that’s some of what the other course participants felt too. I hope so.