Friday, February 22, 2019

My name is...

The power of language.

I had a complaint letter from a patient  (As you do in the modern era of complaining about everything.... but there's a separate story about that).

This lady had requested medication which I had refused to issue as there was no clear indication for them in her records. They also had a risk of addiction.

The tone of the letter was not very nice, to say the least.

She questioned the audacity of this foreign doctor whom she had never met, changing what her old doctor prescribed five years earlier. She decided that this doctor was a previous doctor she had encountered in a telephone consultation whom she thought had a language barrier. (Wrong assumption)
She demanded to see a proper doctor who spoke English.

Somehow, she ended up back on my list.

As it turned out, she had indeed met me before-face to face, not over the phone- but for some reason, had assumed my name to be something else like Moore or Mason. (Apparently, that was the name on the door).

I remembered her well now, seeing her again. It had been a very normal engaging consultation where she had expressed gratitude for making her feel listened to for the first time.  (There should be another story about that phrase....and others. )

This time around, it was awkward. Mostly for her really, I had my invisible resilient cloak on.

"I didn't realise it was you." She apologised. "Because it had a foreign name on the message"


Long story short, she wasn't getting that medication anymore. At least, not from me. She agreed.

It was one of many occasions where I have observed how language sometimes transcends ethnic name or race in how people identify and relate with one another.

I remember reading Trevor Noah's " Born A Crime ", how he used his ability to speak different languages and in different accents to gain affinity amongst various groups of people, including gang type groups in his childhood.

This incident, one of  many, brought flashbacks from many years ago, whilst applying for post-graduate training placements.

I was given advice like:
"With your name,  it will be difficult to get a job."
"Maybe you should put a picture in front of your CV so people can appreciate the kind of person you are"
"Call and speak to somebody on the phone, let them hear you speak "

All with good reason and intentions.

I was once actually advised to start watching soaps like Coronation street to improve my somebody who had never really spoken to me!
I dared not inform them that some of Coronation street language would defile, degrade and befoul my spoken English. I let it slide and let them learn. I was about to start working with them.

I have come to appreciate that language should be seen for what it is. A means of effective communication, not a measure of intelligence.

Anyway I am here now, in spite of my name and in honour of it.

This is me.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Africa for beginners


Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world, made up of 54 countries.

It is also the oldest, and it is thought that human species originated there.

There are over a thousand languages spoken across different countries in Africa including Swahili, French, Yoruba, Arabic and Portugese.
The most spoken language is​ English.

Most sub Saharan Africans are dark skinned but there are around 5 million white Africans in South Africa alone, mostly of European origin.

The most popular religions are Christianity, Islam and Traditional religions which vary vastly across different countries.

Traditional clothing styles are diverse but tend to be made of brightly coloured, rich textiles worn with crafted jewellery or bold natural stones such as coral.

These are usually worn for special occasions such as weddings or festivals and can be extremely glamourous and flamboyant, such as the traditional wedding guest attires amongst Yorubas in Nigeria.

Everyday dressing however is similar to clothes worn in the summer months in the UK.

Africa's economy is based largely on agriculture and trade, with some countries rich in natural resources like crude oil.

Most of the food eaten in Africa is locally sourced with very low levels of imported food. Again the variety is huge across the continent. Starchy foods alongside meats and sauces is common.

More recently, in Nigeria for example, the entertainment and fashion industries have grown significantly, gaining international recognition for their music, movies and clothes designs.

Unfortunately, the potential for economic growth in many parts of Africa has been hindered by corruption and political unrest leading to uneven distribution of wealth, with widespread lack of welfare systems creating extremes of wealth and poverty.

Recent and ongoing development in the private sector is aimed at narrowing the gap.

There is also huge disparity in levels of formal education with some countries having only 60% of school-age children in school,  whilst a country like Zimbabwe has an overall literacy of 92%. Education is still based on mostly British and American systems.

Sadly, many educated Africans migrate to western countries for better and more stable financial opportunities.

Modern technology systems and internet access is widely available in most towns and cities.

Road travel in cars and buses are the most common form of transportation. Many cities have dual carriageways  with motorways between cities. Although there are brands of cars manufactured in Africa, most vehicles are imported.

The climate in Africa varies from hot and dry in the northern desert regions, to warm and humid in the​ sub-Saharan and Southern countries. Prolonged and heavy rainfall is common in the Tropical rainforest zones. Temperatures rarely drop below 16 degrees Celsius even in the coldest months. This makes it ideal for people who want to escape the cold winters in Europe.​

Popular holiday destinations in Africa include Cape Verde, Marrakech in Morocco,​ Seychelles, Egypt, Nairobi in Kenya and Cape Town in South Africa.​

Wildlife safaris are a popular tourist attraction in some parts of Africa like Tanzania and Kenya.

Most animals are found in nature reserves and forests, not usually in dwelling areas.

Contrary to popular impression, many people I know, living in the UK, who grew up in Africa have only ever seen Giraffes and Hippopotamuses in places like Chester and London zoos.