Germ Theory: And Why We Should Be Grateful For It.


Theory  scientific definition-  a coherent group of tested general propositions,commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for class of phenomena:

Einstein’s theory of relativity.

often confused with

Hypothesis (scientific)- 1.a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.

2.a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument.
3.the antecedent of a conditional proposition.
Theory & Hypothesis in common usage– a mere assumption or guess. <——————————–Not a scientific Theory

 Germ Theory-in medicine, the theory that certain diseases are caused by the invasion of the body by microorganisms, organisms too small to be seen except through a microscope. The French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, the English surgeon Joseph Lister, and the German physician Robert Koch are given much of the credit for development and acceptance of the theory.

(Thanks Encyclopedia Britannica)

Germ Theory– In technical or scientific use, Theory, principle, and law represent established, evidence-based explanations accounting for currently known facts or phenomena or for historically verified experience: the theory of relativity, the germ theory of disease, the law of supply


So for those of you that read the above definitions germs are a theory and will continue to be so. Hey maybe in 2134 well discover that little martians inside micro organisms cause illness but until then its the best we got.

Any way, as to why we should be grateful for our knowledge of Germ Theory let me tell you. Its the reason that even the most uneducated person in America could tell you why washing your hands before you eat is a good thing (even if they don’t so it themselves).

People here have no concept of germs and how to mitigate the transmission of germs. Many people here still believe there are witches that make you sick or that illness just happens. They don’t understands that vectors that spread disease. In the real world this translates into gaping wounds being left uncovered to fester and rot, preventable diarrhea, and other infections that would never happen with a little soap with water and a clean rag.

So far I’ve seen children with 3rd degree burns just walking around with charcoaled skin, festering sores, and minor cuts turn into big infections. Just from a lack of basic first aid knowledge like.

These things may be small but they translate into bigger problems like Pink-Eye outbreaks…

In training village about 1/3 of everyone (around 2000 people) got pink-eye because they would shake hands with infected people and then NOT WASH their hands and then wonder why they have pink-eye.

cleaning a wound with soap (or some kind of disinfectant)

keep the wound covered until it heals…

Basic stuff.

So be glad you live in a place where if you slice your hand open you don’t just leaving it uncovered and then go pet the dog.

That people don’t sneeze in your face or wipe their nose on a rag and then clean and apple with it…

Yes, be very grateful that you live in a place where the local doctor washes their hands between patients.

Get down on your knees and give thanks to Louis Pasteur andJoseph Lister for modern attitudes towards cleanliness.


Why Change is so Hard Here.

Tradition- 1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends,                           customs, information, etc., from generation to generation,               especially by word of mouth or by practice

           2. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting

Change- to make the form, nature, content, future course,etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.

       (Definitions courtesy of

For those of you who don’t know, Peace Corps has been in The Gambia for more than 50 years now. You might wonder why were re still here if our focus is development.

I haven’t been in the Gambia very long but there are a few things here that I have noticed. Change in hard here. Seriously!!! I was standing next to a man and we were watching jam being made and he didn’t believe it was possible.

We take for granted and may not even notice that in the West, the U.S.A. especially, change is  not that hard. Yeah, people talk about the days of auld lang syne but when we think about its mostly its just feelings of nostalgia and not an actual longing for the days before hand sanitizer and Google.  As a people we are able to take a new idea and make it a part of our lives as if it was always there before.

Here in The Gambia tradition is part of their tradition. People feel that because they have been doing things the same way that is the way things should be. They farm the way their parents did, eat the way their grand parents did, and for the most part live the way their great grandparents lived. Most of the new ideas circulating in The Gambia were brought from outside and the people here who want change fought tooth and nail to make those ideas stick.

Tradition is by no means and evil unto itself. Traditions is often that glue that binds generations together and allows children to know the great grand parents they’ve never met. It molds our culture and influences our future generations to be more than they’re predecessors or it can keep In them in the same place as their forebearers.

In The Gambia tradition is obeying your elders, not asking too many questions, doing what your mother did, what your father did… and for the most part… never asking why.

In America rebellion, change,  and the  ability to adapt to change is build into the founding of our nation. You can even say that change is part of our tradition and that makes all the difference.

Change happens when people dare to ask why and the desire for the “why” in life and how we can make things better. In the Gambia, people do ask why, but then those why’s are often silenced by a tradition of  doing what your mother did, what your father did. So the cycle of stifled “whys”, poverty, and a lack of tangible development.

Some food for thought

– I’m not saying that The Gambia is doomed by tradition because things are changing (sloooooowly).  I am just saying the next time you wonder why a third world country is still… well… third world think about that country’s history. Did it begin as 13 rebellious colonies with a hunger for freedom and independence? Or, was it forced into the 21st century by well-meaning do-gooders who apparently forgot about the horrors colonialism and the partitioning of the African Continent at the whim of nations concerned only with lining their coffers.

Do you come from a culture where the atypical thinker is usually praised (especially when their idea makes them a ton money) for being original and thinking outside of the box? Or, do you come from culture where stepping out of the box can leave you ridiculed? Where stepping out of the box means disobeying your elders and shaming your family in a tight knit community?

Just think about it.


Culture & Family in The Gambia P2: Child’s Play

This is my continuation of observations about culture and family (C & F) in The Gambia.

When we think of children playing  most of us picture children playing in the streets or in a field with balls and bats.  Or inside with video games, dolls, or figurines. With the exception of the layer of dirt that all children seem to acquire when playing, that is a very Western image of children and what children’s activities should look like.

There are are stuffed animals and plastic toys in The Gambia and I do see children with them but not often. Mostly I see them playing imaginary games with sticks and odd bits of junk lying around (sometimes its cardboard other times its rusted pieces of metal…)

The primary issue here with children and the things they choose to play with is that it is often with dangerous junk like old leaking batteries or razor blades…(I cant tell you how many children I’ve seen under the age of 2 walking around with razor blades in their mouths)

They also play with trash a lot because there is no sanitation job here. No trash men/women, weekly trash pick up from the curb. There is no system in place here for that so people pick random (and usually inconvenient and dangerous) places to dump their trash.

Now before you jump to conclusions and start blaming their parents remember that this is how they grew up as well. People here LITERALLY do not know any better. Remember that post I did about change….


Naming Ceremony

Whenever a new baby is born there is a naming ceremony 7 days afterward. It is a big celebration for families and everyone is invited to bring gifts and just share the joy of a new addition to the family. Since we are considered new additions to the family a Naming Ceremony was held for the Peace Corps trainees.

In The Gambia everyone is named after some…literally. Your name-sake is called your Tooma and anyone with your name is also called your Tooma

During the ceremony the baby’s head is shaved because the hair from before birth is considered “unclean” and its also supposed to mark a new beginning. Needless to say our heads were symbolically shaved.

Here is the speech given by Sekuba (a Peace Corps Language & Cultural Facilitator) after we all received our names

**NOTE** Our families loaned those outfits to us for the day.  I’ve not seen that dress since.


Casey, one of the volunteers in my training village with me had a very special honor. His host father, Mussa, chose to name his newborn daughter after him. This may not seem like much but Casey’s host dad stepped way out of the box of tradition and took a big social risk naming his daughter after someone of the opposite sex and giving her a non-traditional name. Here is a video of a naming ceremony for baby Casey.


Cross Cultural Challenges

I can’t emphasize enough how different our cultures are even thoug human nature is fundamentally the same. There are good people, bad people, rude ones, kind, generous, and the list goes one. What separates us is usually language and culture. Culture shapes the expression of these fundamental human characteristics.

Many of you may or may not know the  (directional) left has an interesting history. In fact, there is an actual name for people who are left-handed, sinister. This comes from the belief that the devil is working in people who are left handed. Thus, anyone who was left handed was encouraged or beaten into using their right hand. It’s a historical fact and definitely Google is if you re more curious.

So here in the Gambia there are very few left-handed people because of what the left hand is used for here.

I’ll give you a hint. There s no toilet paper here excepting the metro area….

You got it. People use their left hand to wipe themselves. Don’t get all grossed out because people here are, for the most part, very clean.

So you can imagine the thought of someobe giving you something or eating (people rarely use sponsor forks)with their left hand. Yuck!!!

Why is this difficult for me? Well I’m not left handed but I’m pretty ambidextrous so sometimes I eat with my left and drink with my right. Or I pass things with my left hand, something that can be seen as rude or disrespectful. It was really hard the first few weeks to “forget” about my left hand and I still make mistakes.

I am by no means germophobic but The Gambia has even pushed me to my limits.
I have a special post coming up on this topic at a later date.

Being Bored
When I get back to the States I don’t think I’ll complain as much about being bored. At least I had my car to go for a drive, my x-box, Wii, Playstation, etc. Here the only thing to do, as an American, is read or visit other Americans.
In the States when you are bored there are options to do something  by yourself or with others. I’m The Gambia when someone is bored the seek other people. There are very few options to relieve boredom by yourself.

Pets… or a lack thereof
There’s no pet culture here and animals are seen as tools. In other words there s no concept of animal abuse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen children chase, hit, terrify an animal as a game. It’s terrible but no one really knows any different. Animals have no value beyond their function and are never seen as companions. There are exceptions to every rule but I have yet to see it.

Vehicles and Pedestrians
Yeah, this is totally cultural. There are very few stop lights in the Gambia. It’s cynical,but in America, if people don’t value others they certainly value their vehicle and a life out of prison… There are traffic laws but they aren’t enforced so you’re on your own when you cross the road. Oh, and watch out for that donkey cart