There was a problem with the hot water last night, we didn't have any! The fault lies in the tank at the house and so John and Steve stayed at home to wait for the plumber. Ruth and I went to the storeroom with Malik so he could lift some heavy items for us. We took 2 filing cabinets and some boxes of teachers resources down to Brikama college for the staff to use. I had arranged to meet Lamin and Deja from Kumbija there as they are on the ECD course during the Christmas holidays and they needed their expenses, they originally thought the course was two weeks over the Christmas break, but it is three.. We arrived at the college, found the right department and delivered the goods whilst waiting for the trainees to come for their money. All sorted, we returned home past the national bee keepers to buy honey for Steve. Back home, the plumber had been and gone and everything is working again. As usual things haven’t always gone to plan, we had arranged with our friend and neighbour, Hammy, to borrow his white Mercedes for the wedding on Monday, complete with driver. Padi, the driver came to see us this afternoon because the Neighbours' son had borrowed the car, got it stuck in sand and burnt the clutch out trying to get it out. The driver came and asked us to help repair it before Hammy returns from England, so we can borrow it on Monday, or he will get the blame. The son cannot do anything wrong in the father’s eyes. Fortunately the repair is only £30, and we do need it for Monday so we have sorted it and will speak to Hammy on behalf of his driver when he comes back from his holiday.. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool and then went out to Kololi for an Indian meal in the evening.
Saturday, 28 December 2013
Back to work today. Most of the shops and businesses here do not close for Christmas at all, yesterday was a normal working day for nearly everyone. We went to Naata today to make sure the work is finished before the children return after the break. We had been asked to provide notice boards in the classrooms to save the paint work from all the blu-tack, and so we stopped and bought plywood on the way to school. Kebba had arranged for a generator to be hired so Steve could use his electric drill to mount the boards, and so after he had dropped us at the school he went off with Ibraima to fetch the generator. Ruth, John and I spent the morning cleaning the classrooms ready for painting and removing all the posters from the walls and as much of the blu tack as we could. There were a lot of bugs living behind the posters, they have been up for 3 years, it was time for a change. As usual things didn’t go to plan as the generator only worked for 5 minutes before needing maintenance and had to be taken away to a mechanic. So instead of a morning job, we were there nearly all day.. Tired, dirty and thirsty we stopped at Timeless on the way home for lots of water and a meal. The choice for the TV tonight was Gavin and Stacey and we watched all of series one before retiring, an excellent choice, it is still good to watch and made us all laugh..
The boys are not working today, so we got up late and had a leisurely breakfast and a lazy day before changing for Christmas dinner. We had booked for 8 of us to have a full dinner today, not a usual event for us, but we had arranged to meet Amy, her fiancé and parents at Sambas for a late dinner. We drove up to the restaurant and met everyone, we had reserved a table in the courtyard and we all sat and enjoyed pre dinner drinks before the main event. There were the usual crackers, jokes and party hats and a great festive atmosphere with English Christmas songs being played. The dinner was excellent, we also met Don, Eileen and family who had recommended the restaurant to us. A very enjoyable evening.
It never feels like Christmas here, so it was a morning like any other today. Kebba was up early and we loaded the truck with the tiles, and then called at the builders merchants on the main road for paint. Steve went off in the truck with Kebba to Naata to take the deliveries.and then Steve returned home before lunch when the four of us went off to the beach for the afternoon. We arrived at one of the beach bars who told us he had fish, so we had a drink and then ordered the fish for dinner. It was nearly 4 before it arrived, so we ate the meal and then returned home to change before going to Cabana’s for cocktails and sunset. The meal had been so late arriving that we weren’t hungry so we just had the drinks and then returned home to watch another film until late..
We were all up in good time and had breakfast sat in the sunshine by the pool. Then Ruth and John decided to come with us to Naata to see what the work is we are doing. Kebba climbed on the truck and we set off down to the school. Sanaba was already there building the storeroom wall, Ibraima and his helper were down digging in the soakaway. We met Bas and discussed what needed doing paint wise, and then we measured the storeroom before leaving to go to Kanifing to buy tiles. We also met Ousman on the way to hand over the wage slips for Kumbija as he is travelling home later today for the holidays. Steve has forgotten to pack a shirt and shoes for the wedding next week so we called in at Emilies boutique where we got a shirt and then on to Kololi for a cold drink in Chillis and a pizza before looking for shoes. There are several new shops in the area selling European style clothes and shoes, so fortunately we were able to get him some with no problem. Mission accomplished, we returned home to change before going around to Neil’s bar for the evening.
Up early today as it was bright and sunny, Mike and Faith arrived before lunch as they had had to check out of their room. We sat round the pool chatting when Amy and her family arrived. Her parents had managed to change the flight again and came in today instead of Friday, which gives them time to help with all the wedding arrangements. We introduced everyone and had a beer and a catch up, before they left to check into their hotel; and we then took Mike and Faith off to the airport for their flight. We let them check in and then we all went upstairs to get a meal before the next arrivals. Ruth and John’s flight was on time and we didn’t have long to wait before we saw them coming through the scanning area with their luggage, there was a hold up whilst bags were inspected and we wondered if it was the charity baggage causing a problem, but it turned out to be John’s large amount of medicine which had caused some questions. Eventually they got through and we made our way outside, we let them look around for their lift before we arrived at the new truck which was a surprise for them. Back home and time for a long chat before we retired for the night.
Kebba organised the builders this morning and then came home to help with getting the house back in order for guests. We seem to have eradicated the bugs from the cupboards, but just to be sure Kebba used silicone sealant to fill in all the joins between the cupboard sides to stop anything running between them. I got the bedroom ready for Ruth and John and then we replaced all the items back into the cupboards. Everything ready for the next guests.
Faith and Mike are leaving tomorrow at the end of their stay and had invited us out to dinner this evening. We got changed and headed up to Hanks bar in the new truck, we hadn’t told them about the new vehicle and so they got a surprise when we turned up. Even though we were only going to the bottom of their road they wanted us to take the truck so they could have a ride. For those of you who have been in the old truck, you will know that on a long journey we had to put towels on the back seat for extra padding. The new truck still has all its' springs and so comfortable seats in store for this year's visitors. We went to Cabanas a new restaurant on the beach, which Mike and Faith had visited earlier in their stay and decided it would be perfect for their last night. We sat in the covered balcony area to watch their last African sun go down, whilst sipping cocktails. The meal started with tapas, followed by steak and ended with ice cream. Perfect. We will certainly go there again. We stayed and chatted until late and then dropped them at Hanks before returning home.
All schools finish today for the Christmas break and Naata is no exception. The plan is to dig the new soak-away for the new toilet block, build a storeroom, repaint the classrooms, paint the outer wall, and get all the work completed before the new term begins. Kebba and Sanaba have got a team of boys together to do the work and so the digging commenced this morning. Steve took a delivery of wood for the new roof down on the old truck, we sorted out supplies of cement and made sure the boys had everything they needed before returning home. We spent the rest of the day preparing for the holidays and our next arrival of guests. Steve is busy planting lots more vegetables in the garden, so we should be almost self sufficient come the new year. We decided to eat at home and had just started preparing a meal when Musa arrived with our new truck, much excitement, it looks splendid and sounds very quiet compared to our old one. We inspected it inside and out, and then Musa joined us for a coffee and a piece of Christmas cake before leaving with the old truck to pass on to it’s new owner. We ate a quick meal after he left and then retired early.
Thursday, 26 December 2013
Up and round to the storeroom this morning to collect the chairs and other items for delivery to Nemasu today. We loaded up and got to the nursery just before break time. Some of the old chairs have been damaged and we were replacing them with newer ones donated this year. Faith was taking a small group for a maths lesson, Momodou and Abdou were taking the rest of the pupils between them as Fatou is away on her course this week. We waited till break to sort out the damaged chairs and replaced them with the newer chairs, we then took Faith back to Hanks where she was staying this week. Back home for the afternoon, another dose of bug killer in the cupboards, and then a call from the well man asking if I had deposited the money for the renovation of the well in Nemasu village? I had completely forgotten he was coming this week and so we had to return to the bank and get the cash to take to his bank to pay in. A simple operation you would think, but nothing is every that simple here, each bank will not take any other bank’s word that the bundles of money are correct and so I had to wait an hour whilst the cashier painstakingly counted every note through the machine, and then by hand if the machine would not read the old battered notes. Then each bundle had to be repacked in the bandings for Trust bank instead of Access, stamped and initialled before agreeing to transfer it. Back home finally for tea and a film in the evening, our tv here will not pick up any channels at all, so dvds are our only entertainment. We are considering getting a satellite dish after Christmas, so we can get a news channel, we are pretty news starved here as we only get an english paper when visitors arrive. We certainly won't get a sports channel otherwise we would have all the boys in the neighbourhood in on football days, which here is every day from somewhere in the world.!
Steve had arranged for us to go and pay for the new truck this morning, so we set off with Kebba to the bank to get the cash. The largest note here is 100 dalasis which is the equivalent of less than £2, so our request for a large amount of money led to a small panic amongst the staff as we were taking all the money they needed for the rest of the day and it was before 10am. A suitcase of notes was wheeled out from the secure room and they proceeded to pile it on the counter ready to be counted. One of the senior staff was then on to head office asking for more supplies to be sent over to fulfil the needs of the other customers of the day. The cash was counted out to us and we put it in a holdall which Kebba was carrying for the purpose; we had decided to take him with us in case of any problems; also the cash was heavy and he has more muscle than either of us! We then left the bank and got into the old truck to go to the garage by the traffic lights to meet Musa and give the new vehicle a final inspection. Everything went smoothly and we handed over the cash in return for the keys to the shiny new truck, another Mitsubishi. Musa drove the new truck to his garage, whilst Steve drove the old one. The new vehicle needs some slight alterations, a bumper bar to the front, a roof rack and bars behind the rear window so we can tie deliveries on. We left the new truck with Musa and drove to the storeroom in the old one. Just as we arrived at the storeroom we had the second panic of the day; Amy’s dad was on the phone, the airline had cancelled their flight and they needed our help at the airline office to try all means of getting them here before the wedding next week. Steve left me in the storeroom and went to the airline office to try and sort things out. I sorted out our delivery for tomorrow and then got home to another panic! An infestation of black bugs in our kitchen cupboards! there were dozens of them running through all the floor cupboards, getting between all the joins and the hinges. Kebba and I emptied out all the cupboards onto the dining room table and proceeded to douse every cupboard, nook and cranny with the pest remover. We left the cupboards empty for now to ensure we had got everything. Steve returned home later and the flight has been arranged for Monday so Amy's parents will be here in plenty of time for the wedding on the 30th.
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
First thing this morning we went to the bank to get the deposit out for the truck should it prove to be ‘the one’. Steve then set off to meet Musa and I returned home on the local transport. This is a real Gambian experience for those of you who never venture outside the hotel, a Gelleh bus is usually a converted van from Europe which has failed it’s MOT. This morning was no exception, although the standard of the seats was worse than normal, metal frames with a small well used piece of sponge balanced precariously between the frame. I was one of the first to climb in and secured a seat behind the driver on a bench for three with two gentlemen. The seat behind had a very well dressed man, minding his own business with his headphones in his ears. The next occupant to arrive was a lady with a baby and a small toddler; she tried to climb in with the sleeping baby over her shoulder, but the roof was too low, she handed the still sleeping baby to me whilst she climbed in when I handed it back. The toddler took the next seat in the row of three; there was then some discussion between the conductor and herself, the outcome being that the conductor wanted the toddler to sit on mum’s knee. The lady turned to the man next to her and without a word handed the baby to him to mind. He sat with a startled look on his face all the way down the road, holding the child at arms length. I returned home and spent the rest of the morning doing the charity accounts and this months wages. Steve spent an enjoyable day test driving the new truck, driving around with the mechanic trying to find sand deep enough to get the truck stuck and test the 4 wheel drive. Boys and their toys. Apparently they struggled to find anywhere that the truck couldn’t cope with, a good sign. Musa inspected the truck inside and out, underneath and the engine thoroughly and gave it the thumbs up – so we have a new truck!Steve returned all excited at the prospect of the new vehicle, which we have to pay for tomorrow from our donation. He had also met Momodou, Mr Jallow’s son and gone to the pharmacy with him as Momodou has been unwell and attended the clinic this afternoon. Momodou stayed long enough to charge his mobile phone and then made his way back home. We decided to go out for dinner to celebrate the new vehicle and walked around to Neil’s bar for the evening.
Faith was going to Nemasu this morning for a weeks visit, and we had arranged for a local taxi driver who knew the way to meet her at the turntable. We were meeting some of the students from Plymouth who wanted to see a private nursery school to contrast with the Government school they had visited last week. We called at the storeroom to pick up the items for Nemasu, loaded the truck and set off for the turntable. The mini-bus was on time and they followed us down to Nemasu where Faith was already in the playground with class one and their teacher, teaching ‘Charlie over the Ocean’ There were 10 students with Liz and Miles, and they all congregated in Mr Sallah’s office before being formed into three groups and split between the three classrooms. Steve went off with the caretaker to deliver some charcoal which we had collected for Mr Sallah on our way back yesterday. At break time the students helped the pupils with some of the play items, including some they had brought, balls and skipping ropes, and observed how they formed themselves into groups around the lunch bowls. Steve returned with a huge gash on his head, apparently the verandah at Mr Sallah’s house is very low, and Steve being tall he had walked straight into it, saw stars and fell over!! Liz in a first aider and was able to treat the gash with antiseptic and large plasters. The morning over, the students climbed into their mini-bus and we said our goodbyes. I returned to the storeroom for yet more sorting, whilst Steve went off to see Musa our mechanic as they are looking for a new truck. Early in the evening he returned home with the news that they think they have found one and they are going to test drive it tomorrow. We had dinner and then settled down to watch a film, but had one of our frequent power cuts half way through, so we abandoned the TV and went to bed.
A lie in this morning after two days travelling, we decided not to have breakfast as we were meeting for lunch, so a coffee and then off to Kololi to meet Faith, Mike and Ousman for lunch at GTS. We had a long leisurely lunch, and then set off to African village hotel to meet our friends Miles and Liz with this years student teachers from the University of Plymouth. We gave a presentation about the charity to the 20 students and their teachers, and then answered many questions from them, before packing up for the evening. Miles and Liz then very kindly invited us for dinner at the local restaurant, Doobidoo, which was celebrating their first anniversary and had a variety of entertainers booked for the evening. The University arrange two student visits every year, December and February for ECD and Primary school student teachers. A lovely evening with time to catch up with everyones news.
We woke as usual to the sound of the women in the village pounding the cous for breakfast and the pump on the well starting its days work. After packing the car for the journey back we spent some time with Alieu sorting his classroom to make space for the new items delivered yesterday. Lamin, one of the new teachers arrived for his lift to Brikama where college starts on Monday. We set off to Loumen to collect Deja, another teacher trainee, with her sister, and then on to Pallen to visit Mr Sowe at home. He wanted us to pass by to see his new daughter who is being named next month after me, an honour here, the Gambian people always name their children after someone, usually in the family, so that the name does not die out. There are no ‘old fashioned’ or trendy names here, just repeats down the ages. I had taken a new blanket for the baby, kindly knitted by my friend Sue Bartley, and so the new baby has a pink and white blanket to keep her warm in the cold nights. Sue had knitted many blankets, the balance of which are going to the maternity clinics in Batakonko and Sara Kunda. Mr Sowe offered to drive in front of us to Yallalba our next stop, as the road is apparently difficult to spot from this direction. We followed his motorbike on the sandy roads until we reached the school where we were able to deliver some boxes donated by Glenaire Primary School. The head teacher was delighted as many exercise books were among the items supplied. Back on the road, we stopped in Farafenni for breakfast and then continued down to the ferry to cross to Soma. On the road down is a military check point, and we were asked if we could take a soldier with us, back to the coastal area. We usually take passengers on the rear of the truck when we are travelling back as the public transport system here is erratic. This time it was fortunate we did as the queue at the ferry was worse than yesterday and we would have been there several hours had it not been for the soldier in uniform who helped us to the front of the queue in less than one hour. Apparently it is a religious festival this weekend in Senegal and many people were travelling across the border to join it. The road on the south bank is now almost finished and we had to divert a short way round the road works, but this means that when we return after the holidays the whole road will be tarmac, which has taken 5 years to complete. Less stress on our new vehicle!
We dropped off the soldier, followed by Lamin and lastly Deja with her sister, before returning home.
So we slept in this morning, Friday 13th indeed. We didn’t leave until 7am, which meant that we didn’t reach the ferry in Soma until after 10am. Unusually the queue was horrendous and time was against us all the way, we managed to cross by 11.30 and then headed straight to Kataba, after ringing to say we would be there by 12.30. The schools which operate in a morning close early on Friday and this was one of them. The head teacher asked the children to stay behind as we had a special delivery for them from St Anthony’s Primary School in Bradford. Everyone was waiting for us when we drove into the school yard and they were not disappointed. We had a large delivery of sports equipment for the school, much excitement as the packages were unwrapped and the pupils saw new footballs, basketballs, nets, rounders bat and ball sets, and sets of markers for the field. We also had some hula hoops which only the head teacher had seen before and despite his advancing years managed to demonstrate much to the amusement of the staff and pupils. Football jerseys were modelled and many photos taken. We also had some T shirts for the girls which were donated by Hello magazine, and I took some photos of the girls’ team modelling the shirts and reading a copy of Hello, which I intend to send off to the magazine. We also had several boxes of books for the new library which St Anthony’s had paid for last year. When the excitement had died down, the children were told to go home and then Steve and I were invited to join the teachers for their lunch, being Friday it was beans with fish and bread, the beans being part of the World Food Programme which this area received. On then to Kumbija where Baatchi, the caretaker, was waiting for us. We are sleeping here tonight before returning home tomorrow. We had more items to unload here for the new term and to arrange in the classrooms. We had a meeting with Mr Sowe the head teacher here, and then Steve went off to Farato with some food items for Mrs Bah to cook for our evening meal. The sun went down over the playground just as dinner arrived, and we shared our meal with Baatchi before retiring for the night.
The charity had received an email from a Dutch lady, Daisy, asking to visit a local school, so we went this morning to collect her and her husband, Renee from their hotel. They had brought many items for two schools on the plane with them. We first went to Nemasu where they looked around the school with Mr Sallah whilst Steve and I unloaded the items they had requested for this year. We stayed through break time watching the children eat and then play with some of the new items, toy cars and skipping ropes. Each class was doing exams until break time and they had been able to observe quietly as the pupils answered the written questions or in the case of class one, practised their handwriting skills. We then moved on to Sukuta Lower Basic school where Mr Sallah teaches in an afternoon. The headmaster here was very grateful not only for the items brought by Daisy, but also the boxes of books which we delivered. We toured 4 of the classrooms, but were disappointed not to see any subjects being taught; apparently they had finished exams this week and so were ‘resting’ nothing happening, very strange. We dropped Daisy and Renee off at their hotel and then we went down to the beach to Poco Loco for lunch. Back to the storeroom, to load up for tomorrow, and then home. We had just arrived back when Faith rang to see if they could drop in later this afternoon. They arrived later and we spent time having a drink and a chat in the garden before they headed off back to Kololi and we retired early as we are setting off early in the morning.
The roll has increased at Naata and more chairs and tables are needed in addition to the resources requested. We loaded the truck from the storeroom and set off to Naata, arriving just before break time with the goods requested. All the class sizes have increased, and we spent some time during the break swapping various size desks and chairs from class to class until we were happy with the new layout. Each teacher had a box of resources to go through at the end of the school day. Faith was working with Abdoulie today and his class was out in the playground working with them both on rhyming games. We left Naata; Steve dropped me at the turntable and took Faith back to Kololi before going on to the garage where Musa is working on fixing the 4 wheel drive on the truck, whilst Steve is on hand with his wallet for spares! I went to the storeroom and had just arrived when Sigga, our bank account manager rang to say she would like to call at our home and say hello. I walked back home and found her just arriving with three colleagues, they had been doing visits in the area and called to drop off a new cheque book for me. Personal service!! Back to the storeroom and more sorting out before returning home for the evening.
Armed with my lists of requirements from each of our schools I spent the day in the storeroom, looking in boxes and making up deliveries for the next week. We have also promised region 5, the Janjanbureh area, text books and reading books this year, they have not been lucky enough to receive any before and have many needy schools. Kebba and Malik joined me in the store and we made piles of boxes ready to be collected by the Government truck to take to region 5, hopefully before Christmas and then we can make a space to move around and sort things. At the moment we have three narrow aisles to walk down between tables piled high with up to 10 boxes on top and other breakable items stored underneath. We are extremely lucky with the items donated from schools, organisations and individuals, all goods donated are given out within our 6 month stay and then we start collecting again for next year. We always need exercise books and pencils, coloured pencils and pens, but in addition we now need duplo blocks, lots of colouring books, and educational games for pre-school children. Also first pre-school reading books, the kind with one or two words only on a page. Steve spent today in the garden with help from Alagie one of the small boys, he dug out more vegetable plots ready for the next round of planting. Kebba planted a tree this year, a new one for us, it is already fruiting, and according to Faith it is known as a custard apple tree, or cherry moya. Hopefully we should be able to taste it soon. After a day in the store, a welcome swim and dinner.
Early today Steve, Kebba and I met with Faith at the turntable to take her to Naata for this week’s assignment. We arrived just after the start of school and Faith and I sat with Mr Jallow discussing what he would like her to do this week with regard to the language development and skill games she has brought from England. Faith wanted to watch each teacher for part of the morning and then introduce the games before they went home at lunch time. Timings were agreed with Mr Jallow, who decided to sit in the classes with her. I felt that 3 adults watching one teacher was one too many, so I went with Steve and Kebba to arrange the purchase of sand for the block making which is starting tomorrow. The sand is mined down the coast and then brought to the ‘tipper’ garage where you barter for the amount you want. Sanaba was already at the garage waiting for us and had had some difficulty sourcing sand; Sunday would have been a better day when not so much building is going on. An agreement was reached for a trip of sand, and Kebba waited at the garage for the next load to arrive from the coast. Sanaba came back with us to buy cement and ensure that we had everything the boys needed for block-making tomorrow. We returned to Naata just before they broke for the day, so Faith decided to wait and come back with us. We spoke to the teachers and got a list of their requirements for the new curriculum and to replace any renewable resources such as pencils etc. We helped them go through the resources left in the cupboards and to remove all games and books which had been damaged over the years, or pieces missing. A clean sweep ready for new goods later in the week. The location of the new toilet block was agreed, and we set off for home. Mr Jallow has offered to collect Faith from the turntable every morning on the back of his motor bike and brave soul she has agreed. We returned home where I managed to have a swim in the pool before we had our evening meal.
Monday, 9 December 2013
Steve and I had a leisurely breakfast and then spent 2 hours in the storeroom with Kebba and Calipha moving boxes and sorting deliveries for later in the week. We returned home and got showered and changed before driving up to Hanks bar in Kololi to meet Mike and Faith. We were looking forward to hearing about all their adventures at Jamwelly and Loumen. They had had an interesting time, the first week living in the school office at Jamwelly, the second with a family in Loumen. The villagers love having visitors and had really looked after them, showing them the way of life and including them in all activities. Faith had been teaching action songs and rhymes and some ball games. Both schools had had the painting of the murals and the name of the school newly by Mike and both were looking better after the rainy season. Both schools had benefited from Faith's vast experience with Early Years, and were left with many ideas to improve the teaching of language. In Loumen, several of the villagers had come to them for first aid after realising that they had a large box of first aid items, this escalated over the next few days and women were coming to Faith with all kinds of ailments which she was unable to treat, some quite serious. It transpired that the women were frightened of going to the local clinic for fear of being divorced by their husbands! There are still many ancient beliefs and traditions here, this is one of them. We sat and chatted at Hanks bar before leaving for a birthday meal at Maddies bar on the beach. We spent a very pleasant evening before returning home for the night.
What a busy week. Steve and Jeremy opted to stay at home while Sue and I went with Malik to Serrekunda market this morning. Kebba had gone across to Barra to meet Mike and Faith who were returning from their trip up country after two weeks. Malik came with us to fend off anyone else who wanted to ‘help’ us with our shopping and translate where necessary. I was looking for uniform material, Sue just wanted to see the market. We walked around looking for several items and then decided to drive to the Emporium, a large store, before driving down to Kololi to the craft market. We popped into Yashmine for a cold drink and then Sue and Malik went into the market looking for Batik. All purchases complete we returned home for a last swim in the pool for Sue before we left for dinner and the airport. We were enjoying the afternoon sun when the taxi arrived with Mike and Faith who had crossed with the small boats, helped by Kebba. Faith had really enjoyed her trip and we arranged to meet tomorrow for lunch and a debrief, she and Mike are moving into Hanks bar in Kololi this afternoon, where Mike is going to give advice to Hank about increasing the profit on his restaurant food this week. Last minute packing for Sue and Jeremy and then off we went to Timeless for a last meal before taking them to the airport for their return flight. We watched them through passport control and then returned home to a quiet house!
Those of you who remember the series Roots and the book by Alex Haley, will know that the Roots trip takes you to the island of Kunta Kinteh, formerly James Island and the home of the slave trade. There are two ways to reach Juffreh, the river option by boat or the road option. We had opted for the journey over land, but to do this you first have to cross the river from Banjul to Barra. When all 3 ferries are running this may be problematic depending on the level of traffic, but currently with only one ferry it is a nightmare. We decided we would cross on the small boats, foot passengers only, so we had to park up in Banjul. The small boats are actually quite large, they hold over 100 passengers and wait just off the beach until they are full. As they cannot quite get onto the beach and there are no jetties, to board means that you have to be carried out to the boat on the shoulders of a very strong young man. This system, which has been quite chaotic in the past, has been formalised this year with the bearers wearing a tabard of green on the Banjul side and blue across in Barra, with a number and a drawing of someone being carried on the shoulders out to a waiting boat. There is still a scramble of boys waiting to carry you, and negotiation is necessary for the appropriate fee, 5 dalasis for a Gambian, and whatever they think they can get away with for a ‘toubab’ or white person. We were met on the street in Banjul by a young man, first of all wanting to be our guide for the day (not allowed as Juffreh have their own) then to get us a private boat, and finally introducing us to a bearer, number 65, who agreed to carry us for 10 dalasis each. Bargain! We made our way to the beach and although many other bearers approached us we just said that we were waiting for number 65 to carry us in turn. Sue, however, was rather wary of the whole process and let the three of us go first onto the boat, and then didn’t fancy being held up high, so got two young men to carry her between them. The problem with then is that you are nearer the water and more difficult to climb onto the boat, instead of putting your foot onto the end, you are at knee level. Sue’s white trousers were green around the knees when she got on. We then were ushered to our bench, and sat and waited for the boat to fill up. I was sat next to a Gambian man on holiday from Sweden, we chatted about the system, about the length of our stay, and then he said that he couldn’t afford to come back to Gambia often as it was so expensive for him. The extended family system here expects the richest person in the family to provide for everyone else in the family for all their needs. Musa lives in Sweden and works there, therefore he is the richest person in his family, and a week back in the Gambia costs him more than a month in Sweden, not the cheapest place in Europe. Finally the boat was full, and the Navy Police got on to ensure that every passenger was given a life jacket, before we set sail. The crossing by small boat is about 20 minutes once it sets off, and we passed the ferry which had left half an hour before us not long after leaving the shore. The only working ferry at the moment, it is running on two engines instead of 4, and taking up to 2 hours to cross each way with half an hour loading and unloading at each side. The round trip taking 5 hours, so if you miss one ferry you have to wait at least 5 hours until it returns. We arrived in Barra, more bearers to carry us to shore, again Sue between two of them, and made our way to the petrol station in the town where we know a young man who can organise transport for us. Bachary also has the cleanest toilet in town, none of the others is worth a visit and this one is not pristine, but at least he keeps it reasonable. A taxi was sourced and we had a nice Mercedes with a very good driver for 800 dalasis instead of the usual 2000. A 45 minute drive and we were in Juffreh where we met our guide for the visit, Jarra, the only girl guide challenging the men of Juffreh! (her words not mine) Our first stop was the slave museum with many artefacts and exhibits from the slave trade.. Then onto the café for a cold drink; before getting onto another boat; to visit the island and the remains of the fort. This time we had a jetty to use to climb into the large canoe. We arrived at the island, looked at the scale model of how the island used to look, and then followed our guide around the fort while she explained the history of the island. Ay slave being able to swim from the island back to the shore was given their freedom. None made it. Some 30 million people were shipped from West Africa to the New World to become slaves on the plantations in North America or mines in South America. In the south, the average life span of a slave was just 3 years. We arrived back at the jetty and climbed into the boat to sail across to Juffreh, before getting into the taxi back to Barra. A tiring day, but still the crossing to Banjul to negotiate. A different bearer this time, number 57, carried 3 of us out to the boat, but Sue panicked and had to be carried by our friend Bachary and another guy, after sitting on the edge of the wet boat and scrambling up the white trousers were now green all over.! We finally set off and arrived back in Banjul in time to get home, a quick change and out to the Lebanese buffet in Kololi. Ousman joined us for dinner, but we were all really tired and made our leave around 9.15pm
Steve, 2 boys and myself spent the morning in the storeroom, trying to get the boxes into some sort of order. Some of the container load will not be accessed until March or April when the visiting people require it, so we were trying to put all those boxes at the back of the store out of the way for now. We spent 2 hours there and then went home to see how our guests were faring. The pool is getting well used this week! We joined them in the pool and then got changed for a late lunch/early tea at Maddies Beach Bar which is on the beach with a good view of the ocean. After lunch we made our way to Kotu bridge to meet Ebraima the bird guide who we always try to use. The bird walk took us along the creek, across the rice fields, and then parallel to the main road. There are over 600 species of birds in Gambia, and on one of these walks we have counted as many as 65 different species in the hour and a half it takes to complete the walk. The last bird we were shown today was a small owl, just taken up his perch before the sunset, ready for his night time hunting. We returned to the truck, thanked and paid Ebraima and made our way home for the evening, another film and off to bed.
Jean had sent some items on the container for Nemasu and wanted to be sure they got to the right place, so as promised we went to the storeroom, retrieved the well marked boxes, and set off for Nemasu after breakfast. We arrived just before break time and Sue and Jeremy were able to visit the classrooms and see the children working before the bell rang for break. I delivered the boxes to Mr Sallah, and took photos as requested by Jean, whilst the children were eating their lunch. Unlike their English counterparts, the children here crouch around a communal bowl of rice whilst sitting on the floor. We then set off to see the vultures as promised earlier in the week. There are still many many black kites arriving to be fed as well and they make for an impressive sight. We sat and had a cold drink on the balcony whilst our guests made their way to listen to the talk and photograph the birds. After a cold drink we toured the grounds, watching the visiting monkeys which have made their way over from the nearby monkey park, and made our way to the beach bar for another drink whilst watching the ocean. We returned home to make use of the pool before going on a bird walk. Unfortunately one of our number was not well, succumbing to the local tummy bug and so we had to postpone the walk to another day. Instead those of us who could eat, had an omelette and chips before we all watched a film.
We were all up early today as the shipping company had advised that there was a chance of getting the container from the port this morning. We arrived in Banjul at the shipping company office, and sat down prepared for a long wait. We had only been there about 10 minutes when the agent told us that we could go to the port as the container was ready for inspection. A new employee, Abdoulie, walked with us to the customs office and introduced us to Mr Morrow who would be inspecting the contents. We made our way into the loading area and then waited while our container was lifted down from a stack of 4 and placed on the floor. We then walked over and stood around waiting until the duty police arrived to watch us break the seal which had been fitted back in October in Armley, Leeds. The seal was broken, the door opened and the stack of equipment, which had been painstakingly put into the container by a band of around 30 volunteers this year, became visible. Some settling of the contents had happened, so there was a small space above the furniture on display. The port boys then emptied about 3-4 feet of goods onto the oily port floor and we waited for the customs and National Intelligence Agency to come and inspect what we had. Surprisingly they were there within minutes and the whole process including putting back all the items was over by 11.30am. A record! Sue said she and Jeremy should come every year as they were clearly a lucky charm! The agent said that all that remained was the final customs paperwork and we should have the container within an hour and a half. We left Steve with the shipping company and we went back towards home, having rung Kebba to assemble a team of 15 boys to unload. On the way back as we had a little time, we stopped at Independence Arch to climb to the top to see the island that is Banjul, and a short visit to the cultural museum. We picked up some bread for sandwiches at the bakers as we were not sure what time we would eat again, and arrived home to wait for the call that the container was on the way. Several of the boys on standby had gathered outside our gate and were brewing their local Ataya, or tea whilst they waited. We were hoping that it would be out of the port gates before prayer time at 2pm as everything is then delayed for an hour. Unfortunately there was a hitch in paperwork, not ours, but one of several containers which the shippers were handling and poor Steve had to wait in Banjul until just before 6pm when he rang to say they were definitely coming today. Those of you who have been to Gambia will realise that it gets very dark at around 7pm at this time of year, so I went around the house gathering up all the torches before going to the petrol station to fill the tank so we could run the truck with the lights shining into the container for the boys to be able to see. We borrowed a ladder and hung two torches from the ceiling in the storeroom to act as lights (no electricity in the store) and waited for the truck to arrive. This year all our unloading boys were dressed in orange golf shirts, so easy to spot in the gloom. The container arrived, the doors opened, the boys had been briefed on where to put everything, and the unloading started. Jeremy was helping unload, Sue and I were shining torches, Steve was directing. The advantage of a night unload of course is that the container is not as hot inside, but still plenty of water was drunk as the boys got tired and thirsty. With lots of effort, (thankfully these boys are strong!) they had everything unloaded in just over an hour and locked into the storeroom. The boys were paid, everyone disappeared home and we returned home for a quick shower before making our way to Neil’s bar for a welcome beer and dinner.
As our guests are keen to see some of the country we decided to take a delivery to a school down the coast today. Nyofelleh, is about 25 miles away in the rural area to the south, the Lower Basic School there we have twinned with St Peter’s school in Wakefield and they donated many items of sports equipment on the last container; most of which we had delivered last season. This morning we were taking the remainder of the equipment from the storeroom and were anxious to see that they were using the items donated. Most of the items we delivered last time have been well used, particularly the footballs which are universally loved here. Today we had some rounders equipment and small stilts, used by holding string whilst moving each foot. The head teacher and the sports master were out today, but we managed to persuade the duty teacher to bring out two teams for rounders. There were two young teachers and the deputy head, who was probably about 50. He was the only one with any idea of how the game should be played, so it was hard going trying to get a game organised. The children had never played before and some could not grasp the idea of getting the opposing team out by touching either the player or the post. One boy in particular kept throwing the ball back to second base instead of on to 4th! We tried for half an hour and eventually got some semblance of the game going. We had more luck with the stilt game. 4 teams one representing each house in the school, red, blue, yellow and green were assembled to do a relay around markers using the stilts. This proved to be a great success, despite the children never having seen anything like the stilts before. We had a great time, shouting and encouraging them up and down the field. The younger teachers were really enthusiastic and were going to introduce the game to the rest of the school. We finally left after a trip around the school, which has increased the roll this year by 100 as all tuition fees are now free for school children. They still have to buy uniform, shoes, books and pencils. We returned home and all had a swim in the pool in the afternoon before going to meet Jean at Yashmine for dinner.
Our first month in Gambia over already, it has really flown by. We were up early and sat in the garden when Sue and Jeremy got up. We had breakfast out by the pool and discussed what they would like to do for the week. As it is their first visit to Gambia we are planning various ‘tourist type’ trips beginning today with the vulture feeding. Then Sanaba arrived and he and Kebba wanted to talk about the work at Naata, Kebba then went out to the shops and ended up ringing us to say that there was some wood on ‘special price’ and as we would need some for Naata toilet roof could we buy it today. He sent a boy to collect the money and by that time we were too late for the vultures, 11.30 being their feeding time which only lasts under half an hour. We decided to go to the crocodile pool instead. Katchikally or the crocodile pool is at Bakau, about 15 kilometres from us. We all got in the truck and set off to Bakau. The pool is a major tourist attraction as you can stroke Charlie, a tame or very well fed crocodile. There is also a small museum about Gambian culture, musical instruments, JuJu belief and traditional costumes, a section about the history of Gambia and a small section about the Commonwealth make up the display. We spent some time in the museum and then walked around to where the crocodiles are usually to be seen. Charlie, the crocodile of choice for today, was sitting in the shade looking like a plastic model; other crocodiles were in the pool or lying around in the sun. Jeremy was persuaded to touch Charlie, but Sue kept her distance. We completed our visit and returned to the tourist area where we had Sunday lunch at Samba’s, and then we drove back down the coast and onto the beach near to where we live to have a walk on the sand, and a beer or two in one of the local beach bars. We watched the sun going down and returned home just before dark where we sat in the garden and chatted before an early night.
The car was in again today for more sprucing up before we hopefully can sell it. We are hoping to buy a newer one thanks to an incredibly generous donation to the charity. Every car or truck here is taxed from the 1st January to 31st December, so we are going to change the vehicle at the beginning of January. I made sure that the room was ready for Sue and Jeremy for tonight. Faith and Mike are still up country and are moving from Jamwelly to Loumen today for another week. Faith has been helping the teachers at Jamwelly with singing, action rhymes and ball skills, and plans to do the same at Loumen this week. Mike has been painting and repairing anything which needed it. Steve returned in the afternoon and we set off to the airport about 7pm, hoping to get a snack at the small bar in the airport hall before our visitors arrived. We got to the airport just as the plane was landing, half an hour early, but then they took an hour getting the luggage which meant that they didn’t emerge from the luggage hall until nearly 9pm. I had arranged tickets for a fashion show this evening for Sue and I, so it was home, a quick change and off to the Kairaba hotel for us, the men went off to Yashmine bar to wait for us. For once in Gambia things had started uncharacteristically on time and so we had missed half of the evening’s entertainment, but arrived in time to see a group performing a rap type song, followed by two fashion houses, one from Poland and one from Spain showing their designs. The audience was really well dressed, many European evening dresses were on show, so we were glad we had dressed up. Each fashion designer had about 20 models parading up and down the catwalk which had been laid in the garden of the Kairaba hotel. A lady radio presenter was the MC for the evening and after each segment came on and variously thanked all the sponsors, the designers, the models and the audience for attending. The last item was a DJ singer from Denmark, half Danish, and half Gambian who had written a special song for the occasion. ‘Uplift Gambia’
When it was all over we walked up to Yashmine to meet Steve and Jeremy for a drink, they decided they were hungry so we asked for the menu. The waiter brought 4 menus and passed them out to us and then said ‘I hope you are not wanting the kitchen as it is closed’ Jeremy thought this was hilarious and kept laughing all the rest of the evening. As a compromise they offered pizza from their sister bar down the road, which was delivered shortly. A very late evening for us as we didn’t get home until nearly one.