Monday, 26 May 2008

The Gambian Experience Part One (The bit they don't tell you about in the brochures) From January 2008.

Hey y'all
It's been a while, but then I've had a few things to do since I got back that I believe are important like sorting out my parts and stage of a world music festival which this year features the great (and I don't use the word loosely) Billy Cobham, but here 'tis... Finally.


Photo's from the top are as follows :-

Council elections candidate rally with The Kankurang (what is that guy looking at ?).
Cameras all ready now, then ?
Dancing for victory.
Speeches... Don't you just love them ?
Haddy at the hotel entrance.

The women are doing their washing in small metal or plastic tubs, their compounds full of colour. The sky is cloudless blue as people walk past unhurriedly,
stopping to greet the obvious foreigner in their midst.
"Hi, how are you ?"
"Fine... and you ?"
And another hand is shaken.
A glass of mint tea is offered and partaken of as another business deal is concluded.
Everything is altered from my English state and returning my thought process to encompass what is happening in front of me is proving somewhat difficult, even for one who is used to that sort of thing.
All this is far too much to take in on my first full day in Africa.

The flight had been ok but six hours long. Haddy had met me at the airport in Banjul with 'Tufa, my driver for the forseeable future and taken me to my hotel which I'd insisted upon staying at (just so's I could use the pool) and I'd booked in, dumped some luggage, and then gone straight to her place to meet her children.
Apparently the word is out that I'm coming and people are going to be queueing to greet me which I think is quite strange, but then apart from the charity workers they don't get too many English visitors here, not down in the 'village' anyway.
Visitors to this country tend to stay in hotels.

Slowly the penny is dropping.
The contrasts with the west are immediately apparent for it really is a mixture of extremes...
How can poverty equate with happiness and yet these people who have next to nothing are happy to share it with you with a laugh and a grin ?

There will be a political rally tonight on the wasteground at the other side of the road to Haddy's compound, and she, politically astute that she is, will be going there officially to support her candidate for the local council elections.
People, kids actually, are already working on it. She has managed to conscript the
lads from the local youthclub to clear the scrub and the obvious litter and the local guys who hang on the street are taking bets as to whether it will be finished by this evening ?
The general consensus is that they haven't a hope.
Not that this is going to affect the guys hanging on the street. They just sit and watch and hand out advice to those who have broken their backs lifting, clearing and moving lumps of tree, car and dumped litter.

It is getting near the end of the evening and Haddy is getting extremely angry and agitated about something.
She sits on the front row, glowering toward the candidate and the council executives while Mariama either sits on my lap or the chair next to me depending on whether the excitable lady next to me is either in it or out of it.
I haven't a clue what is going on but something is and I've missed it.
She's up on her feet now and moving toward the speech givers, stopping in front of one guy and bending his ear on something, gesticulating and pointing toward the candidate...
Then the guy is moving toward them himself, tugging on a sleeve of a council official and bending his ear while she just stands, looking at them with some expectancy...
'Something is happening here but you don't know what it is... Do you, Mr Jones ?'
That line of Bob Dylan's comes crashing into my head and what is more he's right...
Truth is ? I haven't a clue.
A piece of paper changes hands and there is a nod back toward Haddy who turns haughtily away and stalks back to her seat.
If anybody is in any doubt about what that looked like then think nature programme about a pride of lions, 'cos that really was 'Mama Lion' in action... The rhythm of the walk, the look, the attitude, the style...
It was all there in spades.
I tap her on the shoulder and ask her what on earth that was all about and she turns and tells us...
Apparently they had forgotten to thank the kids who had broken their backs clearing the area all morning and most of the afternoon.
She explains that that sort of unthinking and uncaring attitude is not something she is prepared to put up with and they should thank the kids, after all, they will be the elders and leaders of tomorrow.
You know what ?
She's right.
They will be.
It is also right that they should be thanked officially for their part in making the evening successful as most of them are too young to vote.
It doesn't cost a lot to keep the young on your side and what does politeness cost these days ?
No more than impoliteness that's for sure, and that can cost a great deal...

When we get back to her place I ask her about it, but she is still fuming that they should not have needed reminding.
I know she is politically active and I really hope that this incident is not going to colour my whole stay ?
The following day she has calmed down (a bit) and she is being visited by others who are aware of what she said...
The general concensus of opinion is that she did the right thing, so that's all right then ?
I hope.

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