Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Third Gambian Experience Part Three (Get Ready).

Pic's from the top:-
I think it's a relative of The Kankurang or maybe one of the twins getting ready for their Al Jolson impersonation.
Proud Parents. Ida, Omar and Amadou.
Sainey (guitar) and Jally (kora).
Hadim (Drums... Well, Djembes actually).
Counting in the kids for Jacob's Ladder.
(I took the top shot and Joy took the rest, completely forgetting to redate her camera...)
Out we roll into another day...
It's all go 'round here.
Rush, rush, rush...
Dry Off...
'Yes, I'm up... I'm just pulling some clothes on... Be out in a minute...'
The twins are off to catch their lifts to school but then I've driven passed theirs and it's about five miles away.
Mariama is just hanging around for a couple of her friends before she too is off.
Sainabou is starting off the charcoal burner for whatever we are eating for breakfast and Pussy is getting underfoot because she wants feeding too before she feeds her brood of four kittens.
'Tufa has been rung to go and pick Joy up but Joy's walked it anyway, stopping to be greeted and to greet all and sundry along the way.
The way that is going I'm suprised she even got here today.
It's amazing how the word spreads around.
Fried fish, a bit of salad and the usual baguette from the shop over the road and that's us done after a couple of cups of tea...
Now all we have to do is wait for the guys to get here and we're back to school again and we're due there at approximately school assembly time which is 8.20 am.
This will be the last of the school trips and replaces the scheduled appointment of yesterday, but that couldn't be helped as pupil's welfare should come first and it did.
The guys turn up just after eight and we all pile into the car and away we go, back up the road, through the potholes, keeping a weather eye out for goats, donkeys, chickens, dogs and children...
All of whom seem to go to school by themselves.
Something which it would seem our little Traceys, Justins, Britneys and Osamas have got out of the habit of doing...
Not that I'm having a dig.
Much !

Anyway, we got there in time, addressed a couple of classes with the headmaster's permission and that's it...
The advertising, short of a projected radio interview which is, or isn't happening, depending on who I'm talking to, is now at an end...
We've done our bit.
The radio station is round about 6pm tonight if it occurs ?
School is over and the next stop is the Standard Chartered Bank at Westfield to change up some travellers cheques and then to hit the supermarket and spend a bunch of it.
I like Standard Chartered as a bank.
Not only am I getting used to their system but the bloke I have to see remembers me from five months ago and when I ask him how bad the rate is ? He tells me that it might be bad but it's one dalasi better than it was yesterday...
'Now if I remember, he has to go off and authorise the cheques before I can join the queue for the counter... ?'
I remember.
But it's painless and he's soon back.
Next time I go in I might as well ask him about opening an account as travellers cheques can be a pain sometimes when they are seriously busy, and it would be so much easier just to queue with the rest of the population.
Still... Mission accomplished so it's off up the main road to Right Price...
(Thank you, thank you, thank you to the British couple back in the departure lounge in July who told me about them)
The thing about this supermarket which I might point out sells wine, spirits and beer (which is always a plus when abroad) is that it sells Golden Virginia tobacco as well and it's a lot cheaper than it is back home... Even in the duty free shop at the airport but that's not a suprise to anyone from the British Isles, is it ?
If it's food we want, then we'll use the one opposite whose name I've forgotten.
So it's ice lollys all round and cans of ginger beer, which in this heat are true godsends and since the guys are all Moslem, makes perfect sense and tastes better than most of their fizzy soda water drinks.
When I first started offering the stuff around it was looked upon with suspicion from those who'd never tasted it because of the word 'beer', but as soon as they realised it's called that because of the brewing process rather than having any alcohol in it (It doesn't) and it's quite refreshing to drink when the weather is warm...
Ok, when it's hot then, but either way it's still a refreshing drink and I seem to have got them all hooked... Family members too.
I know they probably won't drink it if I'm not there but while I am I don't mind buying it for all.
Joy and I are supposed to meet our band members today for a run through and practice session. We've been told we'll be getting some for our set, but in all honesty we haven't a clue ?
It's about midday when we finally get back to Haddy's compound and Sainey, our guitarist to be, is waiting for us when we arrive.
Sainey's brought along his acoustic, which looks as if it has seen better days...
It's battered and scarred all over and looks as if it's going to spring apart at any moment but it's how it's played that is going to matter to us.

When I first got the news that the gigs were on and I'd decided to fly out and do them, I had sorted out a set that I could do solo or with musicians depending on whether I could get any ?
It was a mix of music and poetry and was based around what you can do with a human voice which has to be the most important musical instrument anyway, and to involve the twins and some of the local kids from the village in it if they wanted to be part of the thing.
Oh come on...
Work it out for yourselves, it's all about communication and that makes the voice important.
(I can hear the ego monsters who think they can play their instruments a bit, screaming 'Oh no it isn't' in the background)
Half the stuff I listen to at home these days is foreign and I don't understand a word of it without reading the translations in the cd slick but it communicates and you find yourself singing along with it whether you understand it or not ?
The arrangement with the musicians however, is definitely the key to success but the voice or communal voices, as in a group format, is what makes it popular in the first place as that communicates first and foremost...
Got it ?
So... What are we gonna do then ?
I was wandering through Tescos, as you do, just before Hallowe'en and I saw these skeleton masks on black fabric that you can wear as part of a costume and not only that, but they had the hands too...
So the thought synapsis went into overdrive and I immediately knew what I was starting my set with, and why... ?
(It does help when you wear black on stage)
Sometimes you get the opener and the rest falls into place just like that, and it had done for me
in this case.
I'd previously said to Haddy that I wasn't prepared to compromise my set if I did it and the political stuff was going to remain in, regardless of whether people liked it or not ?
The question was, how to make it 'entertaining' in a totally different society than that we have in the West ?
Would it work ?
Who knew ?
But I was going to do it anyway.
Then, when Graeme had to drop out and Joy came on board I had a co-vocalist and so we could do more musical items.
Generally speaking, within the context of using music onstage, I am more of a minimalist.
Every time I've used musicians, whether with Kocaine, Bass Relief or The X-Perience we have gone for less rather than more, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I'm not a musician.
I can 'arrange' it, but I can't play it.
Still, I'd worked with Joy in two of those outfits so we both knew what we could accomplish together and she was and is still one of my favourite people to work with on stage so I'd shown her my set and asked if she wanted to come on board for any of it and add anything she wanted to the mix ?
She brought up a couple of interesting possibilities including a stunning version of 'Amazing Grace' which she'd nicked from one of my Ani Difranco cd's.
So long as we don't have to do yet another crap version of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' like the vast majority of dodgy cover artists then I'll be happy.
The song is great but you can't do a lot with it except sing it badly.
Bob's recorded solo version comes from the heart and you can hear that in his performance, but the 'covers' all come from the head and you can hear it all the time and I really dislike crappy cover versions without a shred of individuality.
If you can't cover it and make it your own then don't try, is my attitude.
I'd sooner do 'Get Up, Stand Up...' as it rocks out and you can do a lot more with it...
Besides which, in this day and age it makes a lot more sense whichever side of the line you stand and when I'm on that stage then I'm on that line...
I might be right or I might be wrong but at least I have the courage of my convictions, and which dickhead was it that uttered the line that 'Politics does not belong in music' ?
You think that line ever bothered any of the 'Greats' ?
Did it ever bother Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Nina Simone, Howlin' Wolf, The Clash, Fela Kuti, The Sex Pistols, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, The Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Christy Moore, N.W.A.,Tom Lehrer, Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen, Youssou N'Dour, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash or even the good ol' Grateful Dead who, apart from one track late in their career, never even mentioned political matters on stage and yet because of the freedoms they seemed to espouse with their seemingly 'alternate' lifestyle, were as political as they come ?
And what about those quintessentially English lads from Dartford ?
Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel ?
I think it was Plato who said something along the lines of 'When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake' ?
Perceptive old codger, wasn't he ?
Come to think of it, what about George Frederick Handel who had to come to England from Germany to make it ?
Or Shostakovich, or Stravinsky, or Haydn or...
No, politics has always been part of the musical spectrum... always has been and always will be and as for spoken word artists ????
Now you might not like them all or any for that matter, but what about Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Peter Cook, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly, Ben Elton, Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams or Jo Brand ?
Without politics these artists would mean as much as the next winner of 'The X-Factor' which is as close to 'Fuck All' as anybody can come.
I've said it...
Hallelujah !

Anyway, I've deviated somewhat from the script...
Sainey, our guitarist to be, is waiting for us when we get back and because time is short he's invited for lunch and we get to discussing what we'd like to do.
Now soundwise, on his acoustic anyway, Sainey is a typical African guitarist in that the sound sort of rolls from the guitar.
Those of you who own Paul Simon's Graceland or anything by The Bhundu Boys will have more of a clue as to what I'm on about here...
It is a sound common to most guitarists on the African continent.
It ain't a rock'n'roll sound whichever way you look at it and it's certainly not 'rawck' as the old Nuzz Prowling Wolf would have it but it certainly has possibilities...
The problem is that Sainey can't see it.
We run through a couple of accapella versions of things but he is stumped for an arrangement so we'll have to see what happens when our other muso's turn up ?
Apparently we are getting a drummer and a kora player too but they are working until late afternoon and will be coming over later so we keep on trying with Sainey until they arrive which they eventually do at dinner time...
Hadim, the drummer, has two Djembes, and Jally the kora player has brought his 'African Harp' as it is known occasionally and so the five of us settle down to chat about arrangements...
The ginger beer situation is now down to zero but now we're really cooking with gas...
It must have been very difficult for Sainey faced with these two weirdo's from England to even project an idea but now the other two are involved he's coming up with ideas of his own as are Hadim and Jally and we've managed to sort out arrangements for three numbers within a couple of hours.
The problem we now face is that I've got to leave for the radio station interview and the kids are starting their all singing and dancing practice outside while we monopolise the lounge and
that isn't particularly helpful.
Joy says she'll do the radio if I'll take the practice and I would but it's not her name on the poster so on that fact alone it's a no goer...
I'm doing the radio because if I don't it might not be taken as seriously as it otherwise would be, so she can run the practice until I get back which, seeing as the radio station is at Westfield, a couple of miles up the road shouldn't take longer than a couple of hours...
(This is me totally forgetful of the fact that we're on Gambian time).
Kawsu, Lamin, 'Tufa, Haddy and I are the guests on the 'Health' show and seeing as the gig with Jalex is a fund raiser for the youth club to do with the local youngsters sexual health, it seems appropriate.
An hour later than the timing that we've been given, we finally get ushered in for a half hour show.
I'm trying not to be blase about the interview but I've done them before on both sides of the fence as a radio producer and as an artist, and this one was no exception to the rule.
It went reasonably well and Haddy and the guys got their points across well.
The interviewer and the DJ asked all the right questions and I bunged the DJ three free cd's as we left, with a serious warning NOT to play any of them on air unless he's checked the tracks first.
(I'd copied my official release from 2003 and given Joy some recordings that I'd had of her to fashion a release from and it had come together quite well. The other was a live set from Bass Relief at Rhythms Of The World Festival 2007 which we'd always liked as a gig even though the recording could only be considered Lo-Fi and suitable for download if anyone wanted a copy, but we'd printed that on the sleeve anyway and in the absence of anything else between us, it was us with musicians and we were giving it away while we were in The Gambia.
(The cynic in me says that it'll get pirated and bootlegged all over the continent now that we've done that)
All three were live recordings from either club or festival gigs...
These generally have adult audiences and both of us tend to cater to them and we both speak to audiences in the language that adults use and the audience understands and if that means the odd swear word gets used as they do occasionaly in conversation then that is not unusual)
He grins as I leave and says he appreciates the warning...
No problem.
When we arrive back it seems that half the village had heard it on their radio's so at least we'd got their attention...
(Excuse me while I just stroke my own ego for a moment...)
and not only that but a few of them actually came up to me and said that they'd really liked the poem I'd done 'cos it had made them think...
Sometimes it is so gratifying when just one person stops you and says something like that because it means that you have actually communicated something to somebody outside of their usual thought parameters...A different way of looking at things... That sort of thing, anyway...
But to have a good half dozen ?
That has to count as a success, and yeah, I was pleased about it
(Come on id... Down you go boy... Ok, I think it's under control now...)
Sorry, but it seems so strange writing about it that I can't really take it seriously because it does sound so po-faced, but when it actually occurs in reality it really is a great feeling...
You'll just have to take my word.
It was entitled 'A Four Letter Word Beginning With 'F' and if you want to read it for yourselves it is on a site called More Writing and you should be able to get there by clicking on this link...
(And in an absolutely blatant plug to get others to read some of the other stuff, just click on my name while you're on the page and a whole lot comes up along with comments and reviews...
Join and add your own, why don't you ?)
While we'd been away Joy had got pretty much the whole set sorted out except for the one that's going to involve the younger ones and we'll have to wait for them to finish dancing outside before we get them and time is getting on...
Finally Mariama and Ida lead a bunch of them inside to try out their bits...
And it works...
Not only that but it works like a dream.
The sound that I'd heard in my head when I'd first suggested it is just amplified by these kids and their untrained voices.
Ok, the track we were going to use them on is our version of Bruce Springsteen's version of Pete Seeger's 'Jacob's Ladder' which is as gospelly and as raggedy arsed as they come...
Bruce's version is ragged but spot on musically, and the raggedness of his arrangement fits the song like a glove.
We have a lot less in the way of musicians but a hell of a lot more voices and I'd figured that sound wise, one would work as well as the other and after two run throughs we're rocking and we couldn't shut the little ones up...
Ain't it great when a plan comes together ?
Then the parents turn up to collect their children and it slowly quietens down somewhat, but only somewhat, until our three musicians leave us after making arrangements to meet up at the soundcheck at 3pm tomorrow afternoon.
I'm knackered...
'Time for bed' said Zebedee.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Third Gambian Experience Part Two (More Questions Than Answers...).

And because I forgot to upload the photo's in reverse, the whole day looks backward... so in pictures we start with the evening and work toward morning and the words follow the right sequence... I'll re-input them later.
Photo's From The Top:-
Dance party.
Mum and son.
Amadou and another proud mum...
Pussy's kittens.
The girls turning up after school.
Ida, Baby Omar and Mariama.
So shall we ?
We could...
2x shots of 'Roots' Infants.
It's about a quarter to six am and now the chickens have started the cockledoodledooing along with the two local mullahs calling the faithful to prayer.
You know what ?
It really irritated me when I first came out here back in January because my sleep was being disrupted and although I still feel like that after a long late night there is something comforting about the sound of the mullahs.
I might be a visitor to what is still a strange or maybe different type of society to those we adher to in Europe but still and all it is something I've never really thought about before, and getting your head round it is pretty easy if you just go with the flow.
All the locals that I know from Kawsu through to Ebrima and Lamin will ring up or run over to the compound to apologise that they will be late for whatever is going on if they are going to the mosque.
They go when it's convenient and fit in their prayers when they can and I'm quite sure that their God understands and is quite tolerant about it.
I'm sure he realises that sometimes you have to put food on your family's table and rigid adherence to time is going to make innocent people suffer unnecessarily.

Unfortunately, rigid adherence to time is what we're all about this morning so it's a careful roll out from under the mosquito net and into the shower where those that had given up trying to get through the net are all sitting around complaining that they haven't been able to stick the old proboscis into my pale white flesh, when guess what comes blundering into view ?
The shower is a whirl of arms, hands, fingers,legs and droplets of water, with me fighting back against any and all incoming insects with a hatred and a vengeance I customarily reserve for those trying to do me harm...
When it's done we're about equal. I know I've been bitten at least once but I've mashed three of the little sods into the shower tray and Haddy will be about them with the insecticide when she goes in, so it's bye-bye mosquitos... and anything else stupid enough to hang out with them.
Today we are to visit some of the local schools to ask if any of their pupils would like to be represented on the second gig ?
Either singing, dancing, waxing poetic, small playlet or somesuch from their imagination either as a school or as individuals ?
Joy and I are going with Kawsu, Lamin and 'Tufa and we've been screened as this sort of thing needs the permission of the principal or headteacher and they've got the piece of paper so as soon as Joy is brought over and breakfast is choked down, we're off.
First stop is Roots Infants School, and we (The guests) are allowed to take a few pictures of the pupils who will go on to steal the show...
What really impresses is something intangible.
Not only are their manners impeccable but these youngsters, and they are quite young, are so polite and quick... A bit shy as children of that age tend to be when with their teachers, but there's a willingness to listen and learn that we in the west seem to have lost completely, and when they sang one of their songs for us there was seriously not a dry eye in the house.
We take our leave from Roots and head off up the road or what passes for it, to the next school on the list leaving the infants for the juniors.
Joy and I are invited to speak at this one, so hopefully after Kawsu and Lamin have outlined the programme we'll try and get the message across...

"The heart and soul of a country is defined by the people who live within it. This definition is not given by the teachers or the politicians or the leaders of a country, this soul is defined by the artists who work within it.
Those who paint... Not for the tourists but for themselves.
Those who would challenge the thoughts of the day with their writing or their performance, or those who would challenge it with song or music...
These people define the culture and the soul of a country, for it will be their work that is remembered in the centuries to come which defines the era in which they have lived and that is true from The U.K. to The U.S.A., China to The Gambia and all places inbetween.
It is their vision that will endure for some of those visions will travel the world and be remembered in places other than those in which the seed was planted.
The seed might have it's roots in The Gambia but the vision of the artist will be just as relevant in other countries and when these things occur there is no stopping them until it is like a wild fire consuming everything and everybody until the whole world has, if not seen that vision, then at least heard of it.
There will be those who oppose your vision... There always are.
They are frightened of something upsetting their own little world which normally involves power...
It is up to you how far you go to appease them if at all ?
It is a smaller world now since the days of your parents and grandparents and with the advent of the computer anybody and everybody can take their work and their vision to the world...
They do not even have to travel, and since that is what Joy and I do in the U.K. we would like to invite those of you who have those visions to share them with the rest of Fajikunda and The Gambia...
It is a first step and a first step only...
Some of you will complete your studies and go on to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, scientists, teachers architects and politicians...
But some will become artists, performers, playwrights, singers and musicians...
Cultural ambassadors for your country throughout the rest of the world.
The whole world is open for you to conquer with your talent, so please, think about it with your friends, families, teachers and if you have that vision please come along and share it with us at the crossing before Rex on Sunday..."

It was about the longest speech I can ever remember making but it is what I honestly feel so I went for it with differing variations in every school we visited... and the kids were listening.
One lad even asked if 'comedy' was permitted ?
"Everything is permitted for we are beyond the normal rules which govern these things...
Your only rule now should be to let 'your' imagination govern your work".
The seed is planted... Now the nurturing begins.
Four Schools in the morning...
Our only failure was with St Charles whose headmaster was out on an emergency with a pupil but we made arrangements to come back the following day in the morning.
There was no doubt some of our vocal addresses had been more successful than others but then that is the nature of things with this sort of thing...
Some are more receptive to it than others.
The really good thing was the questions.
Some of the kids who heard us started putting their hands up and asking questions trying to define the parameter of what they were about to do.
Could they critisize ? Could they make fun of... ?
Could they talk about H.I.V and A.I.D's ?
If they wrote a play could their friends be in it ?
Could do their own rap ?
Yes, yes, yes, yes...
The only no is to restriction of your vision.
You knew by some of the questions and the facial looks on the pupils when the answers hit home...
I knew one young girl would turn up and do something as soon as she'd asked her question.
The same with a young lad who we'd already marked down as the class comedian...
You just knew...
Didn't have a clue of what they were capable of, but you just knew that the pair of them had things they wanted to say and these couple of mad visitors from the U.K. had just given them the chance to come on board and make it official under the auspices of a local youth club.
After the event you get to thinking about what it is you are actually proposing to let them do ?
You have just given a bunch of children permission to do just about anything they please within a vaguely creative framework...
It is possibly a little irresponsible, bearing in mind how well criticism of authority goes down in most African countries...
Yeah... I did think about that afterwards... but whichever way I thought about it there was a feeling of confidence that maybe we'd just opened a chink of light and those kids weren't going to screw up the opportunity and both Joy and I felt that all the time.
It never wavered.
We would have to see.

One more school and a blitzkrieg on the local supermarket for a few provisions-eggs, cheese, chicken frankfurters, jams and fruit juice cartons and after a quick lunch we're free for the afternoon... Well, about an hour, actually, until the kids get home from school and the song and dance practice begins and the whole compound becomes a mass of all dancing and all singing...
Little ones, older ones, even some of the madder adults...
Joy cuts out at about 11pm and 'Tufa runs her back to the guest house while I hang around to open the compound gates to get the car in when he returns.
After which I said my goodnights and crashed...
It's the man from the mosque again...
Must be morning...
Someone wanna tell me where the nightime went...
I mean that is the time we're traditionally supposed to sleep...
Ain't it ?
We get to meet our musicians today so I suppose I ought to get up...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Third Gambian Experience Part One (The Airplane Song).

Photo's from the top:-

Binta (In the leaf pattern dress) and the local girls, dancing up a storm

Mariama doing the same in her Chelsea kit...

Little Ida in Benfica kit.

Neighbour Ida's little'un, Omar .

Joy T. having just arrived.

The third Gambian Experience is off and under way and here we are, me and my co-conspirator from Parnassus Performance, The N.P.W/Chris Ripple X-perience and Bass Relief,
Ms Joy T.Chance, are seated aboard an early morning Monarch Airlines flight out of Gatwick on a cold November day bound for the warmer climes of Banjul Airport in The Gambia.
Well, we would be if a couple of mechanics weren't hammering nails into a wing panel to hold it in place as the previous one had fallen off somewhere...
No, I'm not joking, it fell off somewhere and since this is definitely a health and safety issue (MINE), I have no problem with it, honestly...
I just have this picture of a bloke in a Monarch Airlines suit, hammering on some foreign geezer's front door and saying "Scuse me mister, can we have our bit of wing back, please ?"
So, no problem with the guys at Monarch. Be safe, be certain and be professional and they were all of that.
Still, after flying out about an hour late, the flight being totally uneventful and with a 100 mph wind at our back we'd made up 45 mins when we reached Banjul only 15 mins later than the flight's scheduled arrival.
Nice One.
We breeze through Customs and Immigration their side (I only get problems leaving the country...
Something to do with giving up cigarettes, but more of that, later) and it's straight out into the arrivals area where Haddy and 'Tufa are waiting to greet us...
"It's Mr Chris..." yells 'Tufa, loud enough for the security guards to all turn their heads and look sternly toward the event that has just bothered their equilibrium, but it turns into grins at the giant 'hug in' that is occuring on their turf and they go about their job again knowing we might look a bit weird but we're ok really.
It's a bit strange for me as Joy is my ex-girlfriend and Haddy and Joy did not get on too well when I was going out with her, but she's a much loved friend and a great co-star/conspirator whether she's an ex or not, and I'm so glad that her current boyfriend, Kieran, allowed her and trusted her enough to come with me. (Thanx mate, I owe you a beer or something... Mine's a J2O).

Anyway, back to the immediate plot.
As soon as we get to Haddy's compound it's all out of the car and leg it inside before the village comes over to greet the guests (Hey, I'm not knocking it, it's nice) and to see if we can drink down at least one delicious cup of tea before it all starts...
No chance... We were spotted by too many...
We did get the cup of tea but I managed only half before forgetting where I'd left it in the hubbub.
Joy, being black herself, is being greeted as a long lost sister even though her parent's roots were in what was once British Guyana and hers are totally English...
It's mad, it's mindblowing and it's a lovely welcome for her and I think she really was a bit emotionally overcome by it all.
Sorry if that wasn't the case, mate, but it did look that way to me, and who's writing this anyway ?

After a couple of hours we take her about a quarter of a mile up the road in the car to the room she is staying in for the duration of her stay.
It is basically furnished but at least she is in the village.
That means a lot to the people here.
She will be eating and rehearsing over at Haddy's with me anyway and we're going to find out very soon if it's acceptable to her ?
Joy chooses a ground floor room at the back of the guest house (It's cooler that side) and pronounces it as being better than Cairo, so that's ok, then, now it's back to the compound to greet the kids who are back from school and the rest of the village who have now found out about our arrival from the first lot...
Mothers, children, even some of the local men who have heard about why we are here, are turning up to officially welcome us on their behalf to their village.
It is one hell of an emotional moment and there ain't no doubts about that.
Joy needs her sleep and I certainly need mine, having been up nearly 36 hours, so she makes her excuses around ten o'clock after a quick shower to get the travel grime off, and 'Tufa runs her back to the guest house.
I blagged the next shower and virtually collapsed, exhausted...

Oh blimey ! I can hear the man from the mosque... It's morning.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

So... It's back to The Gambia then...

So... Here we are again after one total computer crash which wiped out all the stuff I'd been keeping safe...
You know what caused it ?
A bleedin' memory stick which I'd just downloaded into to keep the files safe...
Still, it ain't the end of the world although realising I've lost all my photos and poems and the rest, is a bit of a bummer to say the least, but I've got 'real' copies of most of them and the book is on a separate disc which I now can't get into for some reason, so I won't be adding anything to that while I'm away.

The Gambia... It can't come too soon as this place (England) is beginning to get on my tits !

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Seven (Get Back To Where You Once Belonged)

So here I am, sitting with ‘Tufa and Haddy at Banjul airport enjoying a beer…
Everybody seemed to like the chicken thing I concocted except I personally thought the chicken lumps too big but that can be altered for next time I’m out there which should be in November for the gigs.
I haven’t got the dates yet but they’ll let me know the details when they are sorted out.

What a rush… Lamin was out when we called round but Ebrima was in and so we drank tea and chatted as people do as the storm raged outside.
Normally we’d be sitting outside on the long bench seat but the lightning is flashing around our heads and the thunder is rolling over the mountain…
That’s an expression from my youth by the way, back in the days when I had heroes and I suppose that if truth be told then Thunder Rolling In The Mountains was, and is, still a bit of a hero.
Certainly he was one of the bravest of men and definitely one who should be admired…
If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about then look it up, I’m not here to make things easy for you. The Creator gave you a brain so bloody well use it.
Anyway, that’s the past and that has gone, so back to the present.
Ebrima has given me some oranges to take home from his compound tree and I have to admit they taste pretty good. Sort of sweet and tangy as oranges should be as opposed to the sometimes tasteless supermarket stuff that can taste like sugary wet papier mache, but that’s the difference between getting them straight off the tree as opposed to the forced growing that we suffer in England in the name of the Brussels Agricultural policy…
So we pass round the oranges and nuts and drink tea with Ebrima’s wife and with Jacob (See, I did remember) as the storm rages until Haddy comes over with two umbrellas and I say my goodnights and leg it back across the road getting absolutely soaked in the process.
The following day I spend an hour at Haddy’s saying goodbye to everyone.
It was like a conveyor belt with a different face every two minutes for a goodbye handshake or hug…
Even some of the local kids came to say goodbye without their parents.
It really was very touching and I thank you all.
They say it’s the people that make a place what it is and this is certainly true of here.
These people are so welcoming that it is sometimes difficult to get your head round after the usual self important English argy-bargy-ing

‘Tufa had football practice at the same time as my departure so he needed special permission to take me otherwise he wouldn’t get picked for the team so I went half an hour early so he could do both.
It has definitely been another good trip.
I could have done without the cold and the case of ‘Banjul Belly’ but these things happen sometimes and this was one of them and I’ve actually remembered to keep back 350 dalasi for food and drink in the departure area this time as I definitely needed something before getting on the plane.

My usual bad luck at airports is holding and I got pulled on the Gambian side for my Nicorette Inhalitors. Giving up smoking is a pain in the arse but it has to be done and after I’d given them a demonstration and one of them had tried out one of my spares and sneezed himself out of any sense of lucidity (It happens to me sometimes on the first and second drags so I know it occurs) they concurred that I wasn’t a drug smuggler after all. The boxes do have my name on because for me they are prescription items so I should be ok, but they don’t seem to know about these things over there yet.
They will, but its early days for Africa yet. They’re still smoking like chimneys out there.

I met the airport cat again while in departures. It’s a sweet little thing and it begs like a professional… Ok, the prawn sandwich could have been the spur but one king prawn and a lump of bread later it seemed a happier cat and we were chatting away to each other like a couple of old women and then the couple on the next table started feeding it also and I got a break.
The flight back was uneventful except for the two hour delay which puts my car in jeopardy at the car park. Hopefully they will be told the flight is delayed and won’t charge me any excess but I don’t know ?
What I do know is that I’m going to be completely knackered when I get into Gatwick at four in the bloody morning, and then there’s that half mile walk to pick up your luggage…
God, I hate Gatwick Airport !
Hey ! Miracles do happen. I walked through the green light totally clear of any excess whatsoever and I’m not sure how, but that was a first for me as it has never happened before… Previously I’ve gone through green with nothing and been pulled everytime, but since I’m carrying only mangoes and some dodgy sour fruit with seeds in that I don’t particularly like for Haddy’s daughter Fatou, then I know I’m ok.

It’s now early Saturday morning so the M.25 hasn’t yet jammed up with traffic although I’m sure it will later but I sail right on through at a steady 70mph which is somewhat gratifying and get home at 9.10 am.
Meet and greet a couple of grumpy pussy cats and then go straight to bed…
Sod the washing, that can wait.
Aaaah sleep…


I got the dates at the beginning of October, six weeks before the events take place.
First Joy, Nuzz and Grant can't do it because of the way the holiday system is worked in this country so the band is out, but Graeme from Parnassus can.
A week later a poster appears through the post as e-mailing is out of the question courtesy of Gamtel.
One week after that I receive a frantic telephone call from Haddy...
The Semega Janneh Hall is being renovated the week we're supposed to be there so they've been put back a week and the three gigs have now dropped to two but I've got three school workshops now as well...
Oh Gawd !
Much as I like doing them, if I'm on my own when am I going to have time to rehearse with the musicians ?
After some frantic ringing around at my end Graeme now can't do it because of the date change but Joy now apparently can, and that is where we stand at this moment in time.

Checking out the poster I suddenly realise we are working on the same bill as the next African superstar in waiting...
I've seen Jalex (Akuntu) on television and was very impressed...
That lad is good.
For Africans and specifically Gambians from whence he comes, it would be like working with Bob Dylan in 1965 or Bob Marley in 1972 just before they went into world superstardom, but then he comes from Bakau which is where I stayed on my first trip out there and so if he's at home then it's only down the road for him.
Give the lad another couple of years and I reckon he'll be pushing for Youssou N'dour's crown... Mark my words he's gonna be big.

We're far too late to apply for any sort of funding for this trip or to get anyone else involved, but if it goes ok then lets try for the big one next year with funding, plus maybe I could get The Faction out there as well as The N.P.W/Chris Ripple X-perience, plus anyone else who wants to go ?
It's all down to money and who's doing what holiday wise, but let's just see how we get on with this one first ?
I hate the political correctness of the funding system and I know from a previous letter from The Arts Council that because I'm white and doing something in a predominantly black and Muslim country that there are gonna be problems.
They wanted to publish Parnassus' poetry but only black or asian poets...
Well I've got news for those fuckwits.
We live in a predominantly white area of North Hertfordshire so while we might have one or two black members the vast majority are gonna be white.
We don't have a problem with colour so why do they ?
Fuckin' rascists !

Looking forward to it ?
You betcha ass !

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Six (The Old Weird America)

Photo's :-
'The Cuckoo is a pretty bird...'
Haddy and Lamin (and Mariama).

My second to last day dawned with sunlight which made a nice change with what had gone before so I’m out at about half seven again just doing some vague writing outside the compound gate sitting on one of those wooden seat come rests that Haddy has, mentally sketching the day and the people walking past while off to their respective workplace.
Some who have met me call out good morning and some other things but the vast majority just seem to be curious about the one obvious outsider in their midst.
It is of no worry to me.
I’m just lost in my own world for an hour or two until Haddy calls me inside for breakfast, after which, I’m back outside for another go, at which point Lamin turns up to say goodbye just in case he misses me tomorrow.
We tell him not to worry… We’ll be over his place tonight for a last visit before I’m off home again, although ‘home’ is a concept that I’m having serious difficulty with at the moment.
Lamin, who I’d previously met with a drum while at Fatou N’jai’s naming day is, I guess, a teacher, coach, mentor… Whatever ? To the local kids who are into music and football for he is adept at both despite using crutches to get around, and we talk generally about my stay and my return again at some point which is definitely something I intend to do and I’m going to miss the local kid’s who play their ‘Cup Final’ next week and then he tells me that Kawsu will be over to see me at some point today.
Now Kawsu is one of the guys I’ve met but I have no idea what’s going on so I just file it in my memory and think nothing of it until, of course Kawsu shows up and tells me that they are arranging three gigs for me for the next time I’m out there and can I bring the band ?
I think ‘gobsmacked’ is the right word although astonished and amazed are probably more accurate but don’t really carry the same weight.
It’s like the guy who translated the word bullshit into rubbish as in the expression ‘you’re talking bullshit’ (you’re talking rubbish).
How was it the translator was the one guy who never knew what the word ‘bullshit’ meant ?
So gobsmacked might be slang and not good English but at least it’s the right word and in this case definitely accurate.
Bringing the band that I’m working with at this present time is going to be next to nigh impossible as who knows what holiday arrangements they’ve all got left but we’ll see what we can do after I get back as unfortunately without the internet access I can do nothing while I’m here ?
Actually, my surprise is quite genuine as soundwise we are definitely a bit abrasive for a country that definitely prefers sweeter sounds but some of them have heard the minidisk that I recorded of us at Rhythms Of The World so they must know what they are getting…
Things are definitely beginning to get interesting.
If I can’t get the band which is likely then maybe a couple of members of Parnassus ?
I’ll see what I can do as two of the gigs are in halls with primary and junior school pupils and a couple of the local outfits and one is outdoors on the patch of waste ground behind Haddy’s compound with some of the older kids and a few local outfits, so Hey ho… let’s go… and I just have this crazy thought of The Nuzz Prowlin’ Wolf crashing into a Ramones or a Johnny Thunders riff on the waste ground outside to a bunch of Gambian kids who like their Rap and Reggae…
Damn… That thought is making me smile… and face it, stranger things have happened though right now I’m hard pressed to think of one ?

I’m cooking again tonight. Chicken this time and vaguely Chinese style with vegetables, chillis and noodles although Lord knows when I’m going to be able to cook it as I’ve promised Ebrima I’ll go and see him in the late afternoon and later I’m due round Lamin’s which is down the street away but I know which compound it is by the sounds of reggae emanating from it…
Well, that’s the plan if the rain holds off.
200 dalasi has just bought us a taxi tip to one of the supermarkets in Westfield, a couple of miles up the road which also has a bank to change up some last travellers cheques so I get the money sorted and the shopping trip done at the same time…
Enough apple juice for the rest of the stay and a couple of bits for the Chicken Chinese which I’m told they are all looking forward to trying.

Mariama’s friend Ida has just come over to watch a cartoon on the television.
It looks a sneaky bit like The Banana Splits to me, but who knows ?
The characters remind me of them even if this thing is set in the middle ages.
A couple of days ago we all watched ‘Babe’ with English sub-titles and followed that with it’s sequel Babe-Pig In The City which I might point out is nowhere near as good as the original but anyway…
Yeah, we watched ‘Babe’ and there were tears among the watchers when it looked like that little pig wasn’t going to succeed…
But didn’t you say that The Gambia is an approximately 87% Muslim country
Chris, and that Haddy’s children and friends are predominantly Moslem ?
Yes, I did… But it would seem that one little pig can melt a whole lot of hearts and maybe it was just me that got the contradiction but they didn’t think anything of it…
Babe was the good guy and he triumphs in the end by being nice to others…
I think that is the only way of looking at it and it ain’t a bad way at that… but that is for ‘The New Weird Gambia’ and not the old one…

The Old Weird Gambia…
The Kankurang comes from that place.
Stay with it and you will understand.
The Old Weird America…
That was the first expression coined by one of the ‘Beat poets’ some time in the late 1940’s and since taken up by authors and writers everywhere but where did the ‘Old Weird America’ come from ?
It came from England, It came from Scotland, It came from Ireland, It came from Wales and it came from France and Holland and Germany and it became by travel and emigration a thing of it’s own…
The Old Weird America like The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (Yeah, I know it was invented by Washington Irving) and places like that, but there was an older earlier ‘Old Weird…’ with elf and faerie and men who kill swans who turn into maidens and all that strange folk music stuff that is centuries old but that must have come from somewhere... ?
Like Europe perhaps, but who knows ?
What matters is that exists.
It existed when I was young in the songs and nursery rhymes and strangely enough it never went away and exists even now, and even with the advent of the electronic superhighway and instant messaging to anywhere in the world that is logged on, it still exists…
The Old Weird America…
It’s a beautiful way of describing a mythic and legendary past and since I know for a fact The British Isles have a fair bit of ‘Old Weird’ emanating from it then it follows that other places must have their own also, and The Kankurang is definitely a bit of Old Weird Gambia and there it would have stayed except for one little item that freaked me out when I heard it…

Now there’s this cd box set, see…
It’s called The Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music and it contains some of the oddest and strangest selections of old folk music known to the world of music.
It came from (obviously) a guy named Harry Smith who was an experimental film maker, artist and musicologist among other things and who amassed a collection of 78’s of early recorded music and what mattered to him was that it sounded different and not related to anything else that was around at the time and one of the items that you will find on it is a track by a guy named Clarence Ashley entitled The Cuckoo (or Coo-coo) and this track was recorded in 1928.
Now there is an older version of this song to even that one, as it actually appears in ‘Sharpes Folk Songs Of The British Isles’ which would definitely make it seventeenth or eighteenth century by the language used or possibly even earlier ?
This stuff obviously exists out there but unfortunately is known only to a few as opposed to the mass…
So imagine my surprise when a couple of Mariama’s friends started chanting the first line within one of their skip rope songs ?
Now I didn’t get it all, and some of it was in one of their indigenous languages but it was definitely The Cuckoo and what made it even weirder to me was that it was the American version.
Obviously, going back there again I’m going on a hunt for the kids to find out where they got it from if I can, but why the American and not the English version ?
The Gambia was a British colony before independence and there are a couple of word changes within the two versions which give away the country of origin.
Hey ! I’m not an expert on this stuff, I didn’t even know there was an English version which predated Clarence Ashley’s until I looked it up, so how did it end up in The Gambia ?
To my knowledge there are no serious folk music freaks in that part of Fajikunda so could they have got it from one of their school teachers who knows the thing ?
I dunno, but it certainly freaked me and I’m going to have to find out as the intrigue is beginning to get to me.
Anyway, if you don’t own the Harry Smith Anthology, just do yourself a favour and buy it. Give the wife (or husband) a few quid to get them out of the house, dim the lights, pour yourself a cup or glass of whatever takes your fancy, stick cd no.1 in the cd player and press play and then settle down and relax and just let it do it’s work…
I guarantee that when you’ve got through the cd’s you will have more questions than answers.
Will it change your life ?
Well, if music is part of your lifestyle then I would say yes, definitely it will.
I’d known a few of the tracks on it for years but usually in their ‘cover’ versions by modern performers.
Just as a for instance on ‘The Cuckoo’, I’ve got a Tom Rush version and a live Bob Dylan version in my own collection and from memory I know I’ve another by a female but right now I can’t remember who ? (Janis Joplin).
Hearing the originals puts you in a different time frame as all the tracks on it were recorded between 1927-1933 and listening to them (for an old vinyl junkie like me) without the pops and crackles that accompanied the old thirty three and a third format is an amazing experience…
Anyway, do yourselves a favour… Just go out and buy the thing or borrow it off a mate or hire it from your library, but listen to it.
This stuff should be taught in school music lessons and not how to play Wonderwall
as this stuff is more likely to live forever.
The Old Weird Gambia is maybe nearer the Old Weird America or the Old Weird England than some people think ?

Haddy has a cuckoo living in her orange tree in her compound…
Karma ?
Omen ?
Or just serendipitous coincidence ?
By this time she will have read the Greil Marcus book and passed it on to Lamin to read also.
Maybe when I get back they can shed some light on it ?
It’s a strange old world sometimes and occasionally it gets stranger…

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Five (Alive On Arrival)

Photo's from the top :-

Me in Cape Point Hotel pool.
Haddy in reception.
Me in my new shirt.

Great, we’ve got a sunny morning and the weather forecast says it’ll last most of the day so it’s up and out and let’s try Cape Point again after the bank and supermarket have been attended to.
I can relax by the poolside and just make a few notes while the world goes by outside and Haddy receives and replies to text after text on her mobile.
I kid you not, the bloody thing never stops pinging and there are times it drives me nuts…
Try having a conversation when about a dozen messages are coming in from different people… All of which need replies.
Whilst I would agree that it is a boon to use one on occasion, there are times when I would happily have all mobile phones bricked up in cement and sunk to the bottom of the ocean and Haddy has one of ‘those’ ‘phones.
First of all however, we need petrol for the car and oh no, not again…
The same beggar in the same position at the same garage and as soon as he sees the white face in the back he’s up and ready for action…
But he gets a little more than he bargained for when Haddy gets out and starts screaming at him.
I know from her attitude and general demeanor that this bloke has either said or implied something that maybe he shouldn’t have, and she’s really going for him and he’s backing up, backing off and making ready to run, then she’s off into the garage office to register a complaint with the manager about letting these wasters of people hang about when honest folk just want to go about their business in peace.
She gets back the usual condescension about how we should ‘give to the poor if we have it to give ?’ and after telling the bloke that she does not expect to be assailed by the same beggar everytime her car pulls onto the forecourt and so she knows that he has ‘rented’ the beggar his pitch, she gets back in the car… fuming.
Is it any different to our so called ‘Town Centre Manager’ back home doing fuck all about our professional beggar, Caroline.
That woman has been banned from Hitchin Market and from doing it in Letchworth where she lives.
Unfortunately, our local gutless Town Centre Manager just lets her carry on begging in Stevenage instead, but for some reason she doesn’t beg from council workers.
When I’m not in uniform however, she does, and gets unequivocably told to fuck off in no uncertain terms.
The actual phrase used is usually ‘Fuck Off ! I don’t give to professional beggars’ which is always said louder than needed to draw attention to the fact that the next person along is probably going to get caught out and it drives her nuts.
Still, if she didn’t beg and tip off the local druggies who used to hang about outside the local Drugsline office (since moved) that the police are in the vicinity, then I’m sure she could always get a job but that would probably mean coming off benefits and she couldn’t possibly do that, could she ?
It’s the same thing, just a different country and different circumstances.
Anyway, we’ve got fuel so we’re off again to the hotel where the doorman recognises us from last time and lets us in with a smile and a grin.
Haddy asks to see the manager again and I just hang around in reception ‘freaking out’ the tourists, until I’m called over also and down the corridor to the manager we go…
I like their manager.
He seems to know what he’s doing and I can appreciate that.
It’s his general attitude toward things and the way he sorts out small problems before they start becoming larger ones.
Still no internet access which is really getting me down as there are some things that I know will be on the system that will need replies but I can’t get on because Gamtel is still down for us plebs, but I get my pool ticket again and that’ll have to do right now because the sun is still out and the water looks inviting…
‘Tufa is going to pick us up at five pm or earlier if he gets the call which is all dependent upon the weather holding, but a day of doing absolutely nothing will probably do us both good so let’s get on with it…
Haddy’s ‘pinging’ ‘phone is turned off, to be turned on again every hour to check for messages (we’ve agreed) and we’re free…
It’s great.

We’re up and ready to go at four thirty so we head for reception and a coffee before ‘Tufa is due to appear to take us back to Fagikunda and as we do so the rain decides to pay us another visit and starts hammering down.
‘Tufa took the car out last night and nearly didn’t make it back.
The twins and Sainabou and a bunch of their friends were all off to a fashion show but it didn’t start until late and because I’m still wilting from two different viruses I’d decided not to go as they were due back some time after about four thirty am which is a bit late for me unless I’m fit and I’m undoubtedly not that so I gave it a miss.
We found out later that he’d had car trouble getting them all back hence this morning’s pit stop for petrol.
It’s five fifteen and we can’t reach ‘Tufa.
His ‘phone’s on answerphone and we have no idea what’s happening ?
Finally Haddy gets hold of him via one of the girls as the car has broken down half way to us in the pouring rain and he’s out of credit for his mobile.
He’ll have to stay with the car otherwise there will not be enough of it left to fill a matchbox in the morning and somehow get it fixed or towed back to the compound while we take a taxi from outside the hotel.
Oh well, no rush now, so let’s have another coffee and watch the new arrivals appearing…
The whole coach load seems to be either from the U.S.A. or Canada and they’re wet, pissed off as their flight was delayed, pissed off in general, or maybe they’re just plain grumpy…
They are also so fucking large that the word ‘obese’ doesn’t even come close…
They are enormous…
Bloody gigantic.
How the hell do these sized people fit in aeroplane seats ?
One of the things I really like about my ‘odd’ apparel (basically the bandana) is the fact that I can just be normal and look weird…
And this lot seem to be a little ‘weirded out’ by the pair of us.
Maybe they’re just not used to freaks sitting in reception ?
Haddy looks normal so I guess it must be me, then ?
And when the manager comes out to placate a couple of the more vociferous moaners and asks us if we’re ok, I make a joke about cashing my travellers cheques if we have to stay there any longer (You can’t unless you’re a resident, remember ?) he laughs, causing even more frowns to appear on the faces of the newcomers.
What is it with this lot… They seem to think they own the world and anything not in their image is to be avoided or complained about at all costs ?
I’m at least half your weight and I don’t look like I’ve swallowed a hippopotamus which unfortunately most of them did and I don’t dress like a tourist…
So what’s your big fucking problem ?
What was it that Oscar Wilde said ?
‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about…’
Aaaah, I can’t be arsed !
This lot are just bloody rude.
Pig ignorant is the expression I would normally use so let’s use it here and just for a change I’ll drop the combativeness I usually face that crap with, and let’s just get a taxi and go…
After all, if we come back again we could probably piss ‘em off even more just for reminding them we exist.
Three hundred and fifty dalasis to get us back home and we see our broken down car on the way.
Apparently the battery is dead but anybody ‘Tufa asks for a tow is seriously trying to gouge the poor bloke and he’s getting a bit despondent.
Finally one of the local taxi drivers says he can probably help by constantly changing batteries for the two mile trip which he does, and is suitably rewarded for his trouble.
We’ve got the car back (along with a very soggy ‘Tufa) but it’s not working which does put us in a bit of a quandary, but things could be worse…
It could be snowing.

You know what ?
We get back and my shirt has been delivered by the tailor's and it looks pretty good even if I do say so myself.

The Second Gambian Experience Part Four (Do The Monster Mash...The Kankurang)

Photo's from the top:-

Giving the Kankurang a wide berth.
This thing is scary...
'Stand And Deliver...'

The Kankurang is a creature of scary proportions.
It’s like a large human sized orang-utan made from strips of bark and carries two cutlasses which it clashes together at regular intervals or whenever the mood takes it.
Officially it is there to protect the children of the village, but the actuality is that like any other ‘mythical’ creature seen in the flesh, it scares the living crap out of you while…
What’s the right word ?
Extorting ?
Yeah, that’s the right one...
A few dalasi from all the local shopkeepers, tourists, nearby drivers-taxi and otherwise, cyclists, motorcyclists and anything and anybody else it can stop…
You name it and it’ll get you eventually.
I got caught twice, the first time for twenty five dalasi (about 62.5 pence) and the second time for 50 when I found I had no smaller change.

It has a couple of human accomplices who seem to help it out when it goes on the hunt, but it’s the kids that it is there for.
It is their ‘protection’ and if they need help from people intent on doing them harm of some description then they can call for the Kankurang.
It is a throwback to the ‘Old Weird Gambia’ to which I suppose this chapter is just a form of prologue ?
As for the kids, it scares them silly and they shriek with fear if it so much as takes a step in their direction before they all run like the wind to avoid it, hiding in whatever nearest available compound is to hand.
When it caught me the second time around I was literally stuck outside the gate to Haddy’s compound with Mariama, Ida, and another ten or twelve little urchins on the inside holding the gate shut to block it’s entry.
Thanks kids !
Where they’d run shrieking at the tops of their voices when it had moved in their direction.
(It doesn’t ask children for money, only adults)
I’m not sure what it would do if you refused it and to be quite honest I wouldn’t.
I’d felt the blade of one of it’s cutlasses when it shook me down for the twenty five…
Sharp ?
Those things could’ve cut a mosquito’s balls off while it was in flight so yes, I would say they are sharp.
So why the extortion ?
To pay for repairs to the ‘creature’s skin’ as it does seem to lose bits when it’s out and about and also to pay for some of that Chinese mint tea that the locals drink and to which I could definitely develop a taste for if I haven’t already ?
I suppose if you equate a glass of tea to a western can of beer then you get the general idea and I’m not sure I agree with that part of its idealogy, but as a creature of vengeance against any and all who would threaten or harm any of the village’s children then I’m all in favour of it and if the payment of a few dalasi gives peace of mind in all the locals eyes then what the hell ?

The Second Gambian Experience Part Three (Round, Round, Get Around, I Get Around...)

Photo's from the top:-

'Tufa and his friend Lamin.
'Neighbour' Ida (Six months pregnant).
The view of the sea from La Mer.

My body has stabilized a bit.
Thank God.
I can now keep food inside me for at least three quarters of a day which is a vast improvement over the last couple of days, but this is obviously dependent upon what I’m eating as too much veg’ or fruit is going to set it off again so I’ve stuck to ‘bread’y’ concoctions with my constant cartons of apple juice and just a little taste of fish and rice as opposed to the other way around.
Haddy and I are supposed to be going out for dinner tomorrow night with Haddy’s cousin Pa and as it’s a sort of return trip as it were. We know the food is good at La Mer so we’ve picked that and we’ll be meeting up at about eight pm.
I like Pa he’s a nice bloke.
Last time I was out here he was talking about this piece of cloth that he’d got which he wasn’t sure about so he’d offered it to me.
I didn’t mind the pattern so I just said yeah, not knowing what I’d be getting into.
Anyway, the cloth was at Haddy’s when I flew in and is a black on beige patterned piece of cotton linen and so now it’s a question of what to have done with it, which obviously I have to discuss with Haddy ?
We decide on a shirt… African style.
I’ve got that African suit but I’m not a great fan of the style of the trousers because I don’t feel they suit me.
I mean, they might suit perfectly but I personally don’t think so, so I’ll stick with my jeans and this shirt would be a lot less ostentatious than something that you see the girls carrying as a handbag as they use the same pattern, and so the local tailor has been summoned and we have a chat about it.
He says the best idea is to go to his shop, get measured properly, look at some patterns and then they’ll take it from there, so that morning we set off after the usual thunderstorm and meander through the potholes and puddles before the mosquito population has realised we’ve passed them.
The shop is a basic hole in the wall with three or four ancient looking sewing machines in and I’m introduced to his assistant or one of them, named Basil (or Baz’ which he prefers) and am promptly measured up. A further twenty minutes spent looking at patterns and I go for a (not quite) basic look, but I think it’ll suit the cloth.
Vertical stripes as opposed to horizontal hoops which make everyone look fat.
It intrigues him to learn that when I started work all those years ago, I started as a dress fabric student and can still recognise a good piece of cloth from a piece of cheap man made rubbish manufactured for the ‘instantly fashion conscious’.
They tell me it will probably be ready in a couple of days and will be delivered to Haddy’s when it’s done which is fine by me so I’m looking forward to it.
We take our leave and meander slowly back, me being greeted by all the little ones who come up and want to shake my hand and wish me good morning, and the adult males who just sit and call out the same.
When we get back, Haddy rings up to try to find a hotel with a working internet connection but there are none in the local vicinity.
Bummer !
I’m uncontactable by the outside world unless I switch on my mobile and I refuse to do that because of the cost. It’s there for my emergencies and not other people’s.
I ask Haddy about the streets as she seems to live on the only paved road I’d seen in the village and she tells me that I am correct.
Apparently a few years ago all those who fronted onto it got in touch with the local council and asked how much it would cost to pave the road in front of their compounds ?
A price was agreed and everybody paid a portion and it was done.
Nobody else has bothered hence the huge potholes full of stagnant water which are breeding mosquitoes like crazy and are not exactly safe for the bicycles and taxis to drive through.
It’s how the other half live though…
You see it with your own eyes and realise what the local population has to go through and you can comprehend, but without seeing it at all it is just so much excess verbiage and you don’t comprehend and yet this is normal for these people.
It’s a scary unjust world sometimes.

Because I’ve not been too well (understatement of the millennium, that one) I’ve got loads of invitations to go round and visit in the evenings and the invites are beginning to back up.
It’s obvious that I can’t do them all because there is not enough time so tonight I’m going out with ‘Tufa.
He asked me in a lucid moment (mine, not his) yesterday, why I never went over to his part of the village ? and I’d said that to be honest, I’d never had the time because I was always supposed to be somewhere else, so tonight, thunderstorms and rain permitting, I’m going ‘His side’.
Before we go, I get the ‘Be careful and don’t carry anything valuable’ speech from Haddy, so I leave everything but about three hundred dalasi at her place and after dinner that evening, off we go.
It’s like a minefield out there.
We’ve got one small pocket torch between us but the rain has been so heavy that you can’t walk anywhere without stepping in puddles and or mud and or piles of rubbish washed out of corners by the constant rain and I am so thankful I brought my trusty Para’ boots.
Everybody said I was mad to take them and that it’s too hot for that type of footwear, but (a). They’re waterproof and/or sand and dustproof, and (b). They keep the mosquitoes from getting to my feet and tonight in this sort of terrain they are proving a godsend.
As we walk slowly through the darkening streets ‘Tufa greets the people he knows with a wave and a few words while all the little kids come sloshing through the mud and puddles to shake my hand and wish me well.
Ok… I call him ‘Tufa because that’s what his friends call him, but his real name is Mustafa and he’s an ordinary football crazy youth in his early twenties that you can find in any country, any city, anywhere in the world and he’s a nice guy to boot so let’s see what happens when we go out ?
I’m nearly old enough to be his grandfather after all.
We head up past the local mosque which is quite large and very white compared to everything around it and I mention that I’d thought it on the other side of the village as the sound of the mullah always seems to come from my left when I’m at Haddy’s as opposed to the right.
It must have to do with the way the streets are laid out and the way soundwaves
travel ?
We finally get to where we are going and I meet his family for the first time, shaking hands and indulging in small talk along the lines of ‘How do I like The Gambia ?’ and ‘Which hotel am I staying at ?’
It amazes them to know that I’m not staying at a hotel but in the village with Haddy although I’m quite sure that he would have told them that already, and that I quite like The Gambia, or maybe rather I’m getting more used to The Gambia.
It is a country of extremes whichever way you look at it ?
We take our leave when it is polite to do so and head off somewhere else.
I’m reasonably good direction wise if I’m walking, and can generally remember the approximate direction of where I’ve come from, but tonight we’ve twisted and turned and I’m not too sure, but hang on a minute…
The mosque is at the ‘top’ of the village and the streets are mainly straight, so…
Ok, I’m back on it… Approximately.
We stop for a chat with some guys his age, sitting outside a compound on a couple of wooden benches.
These are his ‘guys’.
The ones he hangs with when he’s not doing anything else.
Football, music and fashion.
That seems to be the main interest of the youth.
Nothing much changes, does it ?
It could be one of any number of places on this earth.
We’re moving around in an approximate circle as the road is now a reasonably steep hill and we’re climbing it but I don’t remember coming down it earlier, until we stop in front of a shopfront where another few guys are sitting shooting the breeze and the mint tea is being prepared…
Space is made for the two of us on the benches and we have another rest while the tea is brewing.
Drinking mint tea is a social occasion and certainly not one to be hurried and so as another hour goes by we just talk and drink and talk again.
It’s the usual chat of hundreds of people in bars and tearooms all over the world.
As consequential and as inconsequential as any other and I feel quite humble while I’m partaking of their hospitality.
You have to go somewhere like this where society is totally different to the one you know and come from to realise that people really are the same the whole world over.
It’s just their circumstances that are different.
The people themselves are the same regardless of country or culture.
They talk of their interests, they laugh at jokes, they worry about their finances, they moan about local politics and they tease the young women that they know who walk past…
They do everything that we do in the west and still we are subject to government propaganda, both theirs and ours.
It’s crazy and it’s divisive and it keeps the propagandist’s and politicians happy giving them something to rail about and yet it is so wrong.
Apart from the age difference and the colour of my skin I could be one of the guys on the benches…
Yeah, I know…
It’s crazy.
I’ve got the direction in my head again by the sounds of the differing music coming out of the compounds.
I know the louder reggae one emanates from down the street from Haddy’s and that is now coming from my right so… Back on track.
Again we take our leave and keep climbing…
Aha… I recognise the little ‘bar’ (soft drinks and tea or coffee only… No alcohol) and then we are stopping to greet a very pretty young lady who ‘’Tufa introduces as the young woman he is going to marry.
So far in the two visits I have made to the country I’ve met two of these already but I have a funny feeling that I don’t think he’s pulling my leg this time.
Back down the road and we’re back at Haddy’s compound.
It’s been an eye opener and I am more grateful than I can say to ‘Tufa.
In all honesty we have not seemed to do much at all, but the amount of ‘understanding’ that I have gleaned from a short walk around the village is immense compared to any knowledge I might get while staying in a hotel, and I’ve met some of his friends which means a lot to him.
No worries.
I enjoyed the walk and the talk.
Thanks mate.

More rain…
It’s getting me down a bit but then I’m out there as a holiday maker and being cooped up indoors all day isn’t much of a break.
Still, it breaks in the afternoon and the sun comes through for a bit.
I’m going to have to do another supermarket run at some point as the drink cartons are going down fast.
The rain starts and stops and starts again in the early evening so you never know one minute from the next what it’s going to do but we’re going out so who cares ?
We try and get an outside table because of the heat and humidity when we arrive at the restaurant but get beaten by the mosquitoes after about ten minutes and are literally forced inside… Still, they’ve put the fans on now and it’s a bit better when you’re table is directly underneath one.
There are less insects too.
They are still there but you can deal with one or two at a time.
It’s when there are hordes of the little buggers that it gets irritating.
Pa’s ordered steak of some kind, ‘Tufa is into chicken, Haddy has fish in foil (It’s steamed and very nice, I’ve had it) and I go for mixed grilled seafood with a green salad and (oh thank God) real chips.
That really is the first time I’ve had proper cooked chips since I’ve been here apart from at Haddy’s when she’ll either get one of the girls to cook them (usually for me) or do them herself.
Pa tells us that he was hoping to be in England at this time watching his son ‘Pass Out’.
His son is in The Royal Navy and he’s just passed his officer exams but because of the usual British ‘immigration’ bollocks he has not been able to get a visa to visit for a couple of weeks and attend the passing out ceremony which has upset him somewhat and let’s face it, who can blame him ?
We accept these young men and women into our armed forces to fight for our country and when it comes down to it we don’t let their parents into the country to witness one of their proudest days…
It wouldn’t happen to our two chinless wonder princes would it ?
The hypocrisy of ‘my’ country really does make me want to vomit sometimes.

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Two (Coughs And Sneezes Spread Diseases...)

Photo's from the top:-

Mariama, 'Neighbour' Ida and 'Tufa (is it raining then ?)
'Little' Ida.
'Ullo John... Wanna buy a motor ?'

The cold is taking hold and is not much fun.
We’ve gone to the pharmacy on the main road and I’ve got paracetamol and cough medicine which hopefully is going to start killing it off, but the reality is I feel like shit and the bloody electrics keep going off so the fan stops and the humidity hits home so I do my best to go back to bed and sweat it out.
Sweating is not the problem but sweating out the cold is.
I’ve been here four days and I haven’t seen Ebrima yet but I know he’s been over to see how I’m getting on while I’ve been sleeping so I just leave a message that when I feel up to it I’ll be over but right now I’m more a cough, splutter, sniff, danger to anything that moves on two legs…
The following day after taking most of the cough medicine and the paracetamol every four hours I’m feeling a bit better.
The cold is still there but it feels like it’s more under control so I get up and potter around the compound trying to interact with the constant stream of visitors who I’m sure just want to have a good moan about the rain...
I hate holiday colds and this humidity and dampness is doing nothing whatsoever to help me get over it.
Still, it stops raining in the middle of the afternoon and I make plans to cook my masterpiece.
I’ll definitely be needing Haddy’s help with the charcoal and some of the cutting up of onions and garlic but we pitch in with a will and soon there are a constant stream of people from outside coming in to see what ‘that’ smell is ?
Thankfully Haddy shoo’s them out as soon as it is polite to do so.
I’ve never been a good host when I’m cooking and trying not to burn anything.
The girls are hanging about watching the proceedings too.
Sainabou keeps taking little looks into pots while the twins just hover and Mariama and Pussy (the cat) both do their best to get underfoot while the local fly population have obviously told all their friends to turn up at Haddy’s ‘cos there’s some seriously good foodie smells emanating from it…
Mariama, do me a favour and get me the flyspray please.
There are about five hundred of the little bastards in a square yard of compound floor which I’ve just liberally squirted over.
Guess what ?
We ain’t troubled by flies anymore… Well, not for a couple of hours anyway.
That stuff smells horrible.
Nasty pyrethin based muck that works but clogs up your sinuses and makes the
Catarrhal tickle at the back of my throat ten times worse.
Still, at least the flies have gone for a bit.
I’ve told them about an hour and a half to cook a good one and get the flavours right so that’s what I’m aiming for and surprisingly it’s worked perfectly.
By the time I’m ready to serve, Haddy takes over and I have to remind her that it’s a fork or spoon job and not an all hands in the pot one.
Ooooer… It’s all gone quiet.
Nobody is saying anything but they are all stuffing their faces so that’s a good sign.
When it’s over and I can’t eat anymore (and neither can anyone else because it’s all gone) the girls all tell me it was very good so that’s a bonus.

You know what I forgot ?
What happens when meat thaws and gets frozen again (bloody electricity cuts) ?
I’ll tell you what happens to me…
I get a case of what the locals call ‘Banjul Belly’ and the Imodium I bought with me for just such an emergency is being totally beaten by the germ I’ve got inside my stomach.
Great !
Another day stuck in the compound, this time with the family’s complete supply of toilet paper…
What with my cold as well, I don’t seem to be doing too well this time out.

It seems that the only time you can get a hot shower at the moment is in the middle of the night after midnight or early in the morning (if the electrics have been working), when the local mullah starts calling the faithful to prayer.
He does this in dawn’s halflight even before the local chicken population has woken up.
SHUT UP… All of you. I need my rest. I’m knackered.
I’m totally drained by the bugs that are getting to me but he doesn’t know that so I forgive him somewhat.
I remember being introduced to him last time I was here but I can’t put a face to the memory.
Oh well, hit the shower and dry off then go back to bed under the mosquito net.
It’s now half past seven and the flies are beginning to awaken…
Don’t even mention the mosquitoes as they’ve been up all night… They never rest.
I’d lost yet another day to illness and it is now beginning to annoy me so I make a decision to do something with my day other than hang around the family loo.
The Imodium hasn’t stopped the Banjul Belly but it’s less troublesome.
At least now I can keep some food inside me even if it is for only maybe three hours.
That’s two hours and fifty five minutes better than yesterday…
The local cockerel has just ceased it’s interminable cockadoodle-doo and there is movement all over the village outside on the road, most of which is going to work for those lucky enough to have jobs.
Walking, cycling or yellow taxis with green stripes are the usual forms of transport up to the main road.
The old guy from Ebrima’s compound comes over to see how I’m doing and to wish me good morning.
It is about the only English he knows.
Haddy is looking after his money for him which has all been written down and logged in a big ledger type book.
His compound has no locks and he had been working for the last week at the port authority in Banjul and has therefore been paid but without locks on doors he cannot keep the money safe from anybody just walking in and taking it, so Haddy has become his local banksafe.
Slowly Fajikunda is coming to life.
The local kids of about Mariama’s age and under all seem to hang out opposite the compound outside the local convenience shop (bread, tinned milk, cigarettes, teabags, coffee, coca-cola, that sort of thing).
Much to the local shopkeeper’s surprise who usually gets one of the girls buying it, I’ve bought our breakfast baguettes already.
Ebrima appears from the opposite direction.
He has been out working since dawn as he cannot plaster in the rain and so far, so good, the sun is beaming in a clear blue sky and I apologise for constantly missing him through being incapacitated, but he shakes his head… It is no matter.
He is just happy to see me up and about as apparently there were some who were getting a bit worried about me.
Haddy sticks her head out of the compound, greets Ebrima and walks over to the shop where she asks one of the larger kids to nip down the road and get her a bag of charcoal for the burner.
He will of course get paid for his trouble, but for the children here even one or two dalasi can make a big difference to their own lives and real money in the hand is prized by the kids as their parents tend to keep theirs close and who could blame
them ?
So I sit and write in the shade of ‘Geneva’, and those who know me either as Chris (pronounced Krees locally) or ‘Ebrima’ come over to shake my hand and to ask if I’m feeling a bit better or just to wish me well.
They are so polite these people…
Being rude, even to a stranger is not even in the vast majority’s vocabulary.
I am still a visitor, still a stranger in town and still the only white face here in the village but curiosity is beginning to get the better of some, especially the younger children who all seem to rush forward to shake my hand and to wish me good morning.
I see Mariama’s friend, little Ida this morning. She comes over to shake my hand and gently curtsy as she wishes me good morning and I ask her where she has been as I’d not seen her since I’d arrived ?
She tells me in her very halting English that she has been staying with her cousin and that she has been suffering from malaria.
I have pills to take everyday to keep me free of it that must be continued for twenty eight days after I return and yet the disease is still rife here.
Shit !
If I could wave a magic wand out here with just one wish I think I’d go for the eradication of malaria ?
It is an absolute scourge and I know Haddy suffers from it occasionally.
The sooner we can eliminate it from the world the better (and healthier) the world would become.