Monday, 16 June 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Twelve (Goodbye and Hello...) From January 2008.

Photo's from the top :-

The twins
Best friends (Mariama & Ida)
I wish the graffitti advertised a better player...
The British High Commission (which was just down the road).
Hotel pool bar.

My last complete day is spent at the poolside at the hotel and I'm not moving.
No running about today, I've done all that.
All my stuff is packed at the hotel ready to go apart from a towel and swimming cozzie. There is some still at Haddy's so I'll be staying there tonight, driving to the hotel first thing in the morning for a final 'idiot' check, but that idea is cancelled and instead of going to the airport via the tourist coach, 'Tufa is going to take me instead.
I'm due at the airport at three in the afternoon for a six o'clock flight out and it's due in midnight at Gatwick... An hour to pick up luggage and get through customs and I should be on the road at about one in the morning...
But that's in the future, I've got one day that I've managed to keep for myself
and do nothing but laze... and drink... and eat... and swim... and lie in the sun...
and laze...
Actually the drinking is mainly black coffee as opposed to beer.
It's weird in that it's the same price for either.
30 dalasi buys either.
Haddy joins me for lunch and a laze poolside afterward.
One thing about Haddy, she doesn't swim.
None of the family do.
They'll paddle in about one foot of water, but actual swimming is beyond them.
I've tried to get her in the pool and to teach her the basics but so far she has resisted it.
She did come in the sea with me when I crunched my knee, but just wanted to sit in the shallows so I'm not going to push it, but I wish she would try...
You never know when you are really going to need it ?

God !
I'm going to be sad to leave...
Eleven days... That's all it was.
I've done enough and not enough...
It's definitely not long enough but the money has run out now.
I'd had to pull another hundred out of the cash machine so I'm now 'running on empty' as far as money goes.
Still, that's the sign of a good break.
I've done the trips I wanted apart from going to visit Haddy's relatives in Senegal.
That would have cost an arm and a leg so we decided to put it off (thankfully).
There are only so many friends and relatives I can meet at any one time so maybe next time ?
And there definitely will be a next time.
It occurs to me as I'm writing that I've basically left out all reference to my fellow travellers and the things that they got up to, but in all honesty I tended to see so little of them.
If we weren't eating or I was swimming then I was down in the village as opposed to the hotel...
Yeah, I know...
There's always one 'weirdo' and this trip I was it, so what can I tell anyone wishing to learn what they can do if they were to come here for a break ?

First things first... It's hot.
I have red hair or what there is left of it and so I burn pretty easy, but I just kept the factor 15 on for the first couple of days and always at that midday period then dropped to factor 5 after two in the afternoon.
That seemed to work for me, but I'd brought a couple of denim shirts along and they're long sleeved so most of the time I just wore them as a jacket over a t-shirt.
The other thing is that apart from poolside, I don't do shorts.
Give me my pair of jeans and I'm ok with a pair of flip-flops for my feet and a bandana for my head.
It's either that or a hat and I have to be honest...
I hate those baseball'y cap things.
I know I wear one for work, but that's for some vague sort of protection.
A bandana is a much better head covering and I've been wearing mine longer than Johnny Depp ever has...
There are a couple of Dutch guys who have been here before and they come for the bird watching of which The Gambia is a favourite destination.
If you are into birds who live near water then where I stayed was no problem and you're less than twenty five miles from the River Gambia anyway so there's a few types to choose from... Songbirds, waders, just make your choice and 'voila' !
The jungle type ?
Then I guess Sindola is going to be perfect.
Anyway, it seems like a 'twitcher's paradise'.
All the rest of the Brit's on my flight only came for seven days so I lost them for the latter part of my break.
There seem to be a lot of 'Missionary' types from Scandinavia and Canada and the odd charity worker staying at The African Village, but apart from the Italian group we met on the Roots trip, there does not seem to be too many Europeans here.
Thankfully, the usual pompous and arrogant Germans that hit Iberia or Italy seem to have given the country a wide berth...
Probably not enough here for the family to do ?
Fishermen seem to be reasonably well catered for also... There is always something about to go on for them.
The restaurants seem ok, too.
There are quite a few around the Bakau area and I've heard nothing but good from those who like getting around by bicycle which you can rent pretty cheaply from the shop within the hotel grounds.
My one disappointment has been trying to get on the internet.
I've managed to do it a couple of times on Haddy's but never managed it on my laptop.
Most of the hotels claim internet access but the server needs to be up and running for that to work, and unfortunately, like the water situation, it goes off occasionally...
Gambian television is a bit strange.
They have their own 'soaps' and series and they all have a moral aspect to the story.
People get murdered so people get hung...
That's a bit weird, especially if the story contains a family member.
The radio is usually tuned to the usual pop, reggae, ragga, and hip-hop with quite a few African acts among them but usually only those who play those styles of music.
I'd love to present a 'folk-rock-blues-jazz-world-country' programme...
That would be so cool.
All the kids love their modern stuff but the rock end of it is sadly lacking.
Haddy loves her Elvis, but there's precious little here and even things like Coldplay who are now one of the largest acts in the world seem scarce.
We did get Lady Madonna by The Beatles quite a lot though...
No Strawberry Fields however.

Poor old Sainabou's tooth has developed an abcess so it's medicine time as soon as we get back to Haddy's in the evening.
As soon as we get back Saina', Mariama, Haddy and myself walk up to the end of the road to see the pharmacist and see if we can get something to help.
The girls have already eaten so Haddy and I are getting takeaways tonight.
Strange thing about their pharmacies...
They have a nurse or doctor attached in a separate room like a surgery for emergencies.
Sainabou is classed as one with her tooth so we are able to get some antibiotics for her.
Poor thing. My heart goes out to her.
It hurts !
I know because I've had it.
As soon as we got her medicine, Saina' and Mariama head back home while Haddy and I wait for a takeaway which is quite reasonably priced.
Certainly cheap compared to England.
I went for curried chicken with chips.
Now I don't like to criticize, but...
Gambian chips or fries or whatever you want to call them ?
To keep them hot they put 'em in foil...
NO !
Yes, unfortunately...
Not only that but they don't fry them for long beforehand either.
A brown crispied outside on the ol' chip seems to be beyond any cook here (apart from in the hotels and a couple of restaurants) and instead
of a reasonable chip you end up with an unreasonable sog...'
That is a public health warning.
They're definitely chips but also so soggy as to be rendered back into potato.
I only did it as a change from the rice, and the curry was one of those quickly done all curry powder and no spice jobs.
I ate it but don't think I'll be having it again.
The Gambian dishes which I've usually had are far superior.

After we've eaten I take myself off to Haddy's room for a little music while she sticks her head into the latest 'soap' on the tele'...
It is at this point that Ebrima calls to see if I'm coming over to say goodbye ?
Yes mate, I was just having a blast of a sixties compilation...
So off I go again and as soon as I arrive the cup of chinese mint tea is handed to me.
After I've drunk and given Ebrima my tobacco to share among his friends, we get down to serious business.
What are my plans for returning ?
I outline them, including my possibility of doing a gig or two to raise money for the local youth club and maybe the girls schools as well at the end of the year ?
Maybe November, Somewhere round about then ?
One of the guys on the periphery says why don't I wait until February and get them endorsed by The President for his Independence Day celebrations ?
What !
I really dunno 'bout that...
Seems a bit 'official' to me ?
I don't tend to get on with too many government officials for some reason ?
Besides, I don't want to use any Gambian money whatsoever because they really don't have any so I'm not really taking that bit in at the moment, but Haddy and I will discuss it and it's not beyond the realms of possibility so we'll just have to see ?
There is no doubt that the 'live' scene is usually confined to hotels, restaurants and tourists, but we'll see about that as well ?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.
They all seem quite pleased with my answer, anyway.

Apparently the guys from 'Geneva' have been having a chat about me and have decided that I am getting an 'African' name...
Well... I certainly didn't see that one coming.
Craftily, while the main man is out of earshot, they tell me what name they have decided upon.
Ebrima !
Same as...
When Ebrima returned I asked him if he'd known the name I was to be given and he said no, he wasn't party to the decision.
You're going to either laugh or cry then... And I told him...
Laugh ?
I thought he'd never stop.
Then they told me that I was to be 'THE' Ebrima' as opposed to Ebrima and that they would be lifting a glass at midnight for my safe touchdown in England.
Wow !
I feel deeply moved by their generous gesture and wish I had longer to give them but time waits for no man and this trip is now over.
These guys have all become my friends and I will miss them.
One of the guys suggests I use the name to post stuff on the net...
Hmmmm... Conceivably he has a point.
I'm going to have to think this thing through pretty carefully before I do something like that but I have to admit the prospect is intriguing ?
I could certainly use him to...
Oh come on... I'm not giving it away right now but an idea has just gatecrashed the brain cells...
I could have a lot of fun with that.
You're just going to have to hang on a bit longer until I'm ready but I think I've got a handle on what I want to do ?
I know what the tag line is going to be anyway...
I reckon the guys'll be pleased too.
When I finally got back to Haddy's it was half past one in the morning...
I think we had us a marathon tonight ?
She laughed at my discomfort and embarrassment at the door.
It's The Gambia...
It has a different set of parameters than the two I'm used to...
I'm getting there, but I'm definitely not quite there yet.

The following day I'm up early but I still miss the girls leaving for school.
They'll be back about half past two in the afternoon so I might get to say goodbye...
I asked 'Tufa to drive me to the hotel so I could have a last swim because officially I'm still booked in.
Haddy is going to join me later on and stay for lunch about midday and then it's going to be all rush...
Haddy rings me to tell me she can't make lunch.
Apparently people are still calling round to tell her that she did the right thing in
'reminding' the politicians to thank the local youths who cleared the patch of ground for the political meeting.
See... That's the thing you forget.
That not everybody has a telephone and it takes a while for things to get round.
It feels like a lifetime ago to me but it's very real and right now to the people living here.
It was regrettable that they needed reminding.
I decide to cancel lunch and they can pick me up whenever it's convenient, which they do an hour later...
Haddy has found a couple of pine nuts on the ground and stuck them in a bag for Ousman with his name on it and a little message... Something along the lines of 'since he was so lazy she'd taken pity on him and didn't want him to starve...'
because he's off shift until this afternoon.
It's funny how I keep singing that old Dr Feelgood classic 'She's a wind-up' in my head when she does something like that.
Shame I won't be able to say goodbye.
It's my last trip from Bakau to Fagikunda and I try to take in everything along the road.
The High Commission, the Army barracks, the dodgy 'dog-leg' bend, the mosque, which seems oversubscribed with crowds outside blocking the road to traffic, the hole at the end of the road and pulling up outside 'Geneva' in front of the guys...
Something to eat and then I have a couple of hours before I have to be at the airport.
The girls arrive home just in time...
God ! I hate goodbyes.
Mariama gave me a hug and then burst into tears before crying into her Mum's shoulder.
Hassanatou, Housainatou and Sainabou follow suit with a hug and so does neighbour Ida who is also sobbing now...
They all wave me off from the gate.
When we get to the airport I find I'm in my flight's check-in time and I have to go straight through to departures...
Jeezus, that was an unkind cut.
No time to even say thank you to Haddy Donicia...
Doni', it was great...
I'm so glad you invited me out there to see your country and I wish I had more time to give it and see it.
One quick hug from Haddy and a handshake from 'Tufa, my young goalkeeping friend and yes, when I come back I'll bring you the gloves, I promise.
I gave Haddy all my dalasi and now I can't get a drink and it's bloody hot...
No change there, then.
I also get stopped by security and am asked what's in my suitcase ?
No change there, either.
I must have a lucky face...
What's the betting...
No, it doesn't bear thinking about.
I'm going to miss them all terribly and that's a fact but with a little work and a little saving up, I'll be back.

We are early into Gatwick but the plane has not been allocated a parking spot so we still have to wait on board for another half hour cancelling out the time we made and then it's Customs...
Guess what ?
Yep... You got it.
I went through the red light because I know I'm going to get stopped for having too much tobacco, so what the fuck !
Go through the red and declare it.
Ok, you can go through my suitcase...
That's baobab...
No it's not heroin and no its not cocaine you div', it's baobab... All you have to do is taste it, look...
(pokes finger through hole in plastic bag and licks off resulting white powder...)
It's baobab... Just taste it for God's sake !
Oh shit !
The usual 'little' room.
I don't think this is gonna be over very quickly... In fact this could get quite strange.
I know what it is, I packed it. It's baobab you fucking plonker !
Can't you get someone who's heard of it ?
It's monkey bread, baobab, it grows in pods on trees and I pounded this myself...
Are they all fucking idiots ?
Actually, no they are not.
The boss bloke comes in and says 'Right... What you got, then ?'
'Baobab ?'
Yeah, baobab.
He sticks his finger through the side of the plastic bag and licks off the white powder...
'yes, that's baobab... Is that it ?'
Yeah, apart from the tobacco...
'How much over ?'
Eight packets.
'Go on mate... If that's it ?'
That's it, nothing else. I always get stopped so I went through red...
'Quite right too... You must have an honest face... Far to go ?'
'Off you go then... Goodnight'.
And I was off...
An honest face and I get the one Customs and Excise bloke who's never heard of baobab ?
I might have known...
It's England.
I got home at 3.15am and collapsed into bed after accepting my scolding from Cozmic and Stella cats.
And that was it...
The first Gambian trip or my first Gambian trip was over.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Eleven. Don't Let That Deal Go Down... La Mer (The Penultimate Night...). From January 2008.

Photo's from the top:-

An expensive 'piece of cloth'.

Everything started getting a little bit hectic round about now.
Rush, rush, rush...
Seems like it was all I did ?
It's not really true...
The reality was that I had a last day to come but I didn't trust that to feel unrushed either so I wanted to make every minute count.
I finally met Haddy's son Amadou also.
Amadou goes to Senior Secondary School and stays with his stepmother's family at present.
Haddy would like him to work a bit harder at school but Amadou has that teenage itch and so is causing Haddy a few worries but he seems a nice enough lad.
He has other plans and they include a girlfriend so he will not be coming with us to the restaurant tonight.
So... It looks like it's just the girls, 'Tufa, Haddy and me, then ?

Sainabou's toothache seems to be approaching critical mass right now and it's 500 dalasi a visit to the dentist. I'd give her the money but my spending has gone over budget as it is and I daren't until my last day.
Sometimes you do these trips abroad and find things you just have to buy...
I was no exception.
The street traders at the hotel had been trying to get me to buy something/anything from them since I'd arrived but apart from a baby kora with seven strings as opposed to the proper twenty three, and yes, I know it's touristy, but I can get a vague tune and rhythm from it so it can be used onstage or for recording, so there !
plus the CD's and DVD's I'd not bought a lot, and then one day one of them brought along this painting on cloth, an abstract painting of drummers in a group and I sort of did a double take when I saw it.
Trouble was, it was nearly four feet long with a three feet drop.
Now that is big by picture standards for an ordinary English house, but then I figured that since I hadn't got anything on the wall over the hi-fi and sound system stuff in the lounge...
Maybe ?
But could I get them down in price ?
That was the burning issue as everybody wants a bargain and so long as we're both happy with the outcome then let's see what we can do ?
The first day I'd just looked, trying to keep my avaricious eyes behind the shades...
I wanted that picture but I wasn't about to let them know how much ?
Second time I saw it they'd hung it over a wall so it was displayed for all to see so I stopped and admired it, as you do...
On the way out it was still there so we stopped and admired it again.
I'd asked Haddy to stay out of the bargaining until the end when she could converse with them in their own language to 'seal the deal' and so I did the 'touristy' thing and kept admiring it until they'd come down 400 dalasi...
Now let's see if they'll drop the other 400 ?
No, not yet, come on, let's go...
Let them wonder whether I'm for real ?
Ah... The 'psychology' of street trading...
It's the same everywhere you go, from English markets and boot fairs to The Gambia's street traders... It's the same everywhere.
I am for real.
I want the thing but I still reckon 1000 dalasi is too much for a few daubs of black paint on a light pink cloth even though I love what the artist has done with their daubs...
Right... let's go for it on our next time past them.
They open with a thou', I counter with 300. It's a piece of cloth after all...
It's cheap... It's 'touristy...'
Yes, it is... I couldn't possibly pay all that money for a piece of cloth...
800 dalasi.
No, too much... (To Haddy...) Do they think I'm silly ?
So she started up and it dropped to 750.
Now we're cooking.
Offer them 500 and let's see ?
Screams of laughter from their side and a couple of shaking heads...
Ok, we're going to have to go (looks at Haddy's watch and gestures to entrance where 'Tufa is waiting with the car...)
Ok, offer them 600 but tell them it's final 'cos I can't possibly go any more than that...
They could take 650 but they wouldn't make any commission and they'd be forever street traders and...
Ok ! Tell them 650 and it's a done deal and they can still pay the artist and take their commission and pay for their pitch at the hotel and buy clothes for their families and all the rest...
Pay the man.
They seem pleased they got 650 dalasi and it's 50 more than I'd wanted to pay, but I don't begrudge it.
I like that picture.
Besides, as an ex-market trader myself of fourteen years standing, I like keeping my hand in.
So that's where the extra money went...
Unfortunately for Saina'.

The restaurant we've chosen is one of the local recommended ones and specialises in fish dishes which is fine by me.
La Mer... (Beyond the sea...) Oh come on... Don't go all George Benson'y on me... The Bobby Darin and Errol Garner versions are much better in my opinion, but the restaurant is one hundred yards from the hotel entrance and is walking distance...
Through the sandy dust admittedly, but walking distance nevertheless.
It is also on a small clifftop just 'Beyond the sea', so...
Everybody is dressing up for this one.
Even 'Tufa and I are wearing real shirts as opposed to the usual football shirt or
It's still too hot for my balding red headed pate, even at 6.00 in the evening so I'm going to be bandana'd up anyway.
I think the nice clean black Grateful Dead one this evening...
You might as well wear your 'Colours' if you are going out.
We get a couple of tables pushed together outside overlooking the sea for the seven of us and order up.
Everyone is drinking fruit juice or coca cola except me who's doing the local beer.
Before we go any further let me clear up something for the record.
Moslems don't drink alcohol...
In the West maybe it's a bit different ?
Haddy's children are all Moslem and they have been brought up in the religion of their father as opposed to their mother (who's a Christian).
It would seem this tradition is common to most families I met while I was out there.
Anyway, the drinks arrive and I promptly order another beer.
I'm thirsty.
So we sit and chat as 'families' do, while waiting for our food to arrive.
Now I can't speak for the others because I didn't eat their food, but when it arrived
it was quite impressive.
There didn't seem to be any shaving of sizes on the portions, and taste wise, mine was great.
I had a fish dish with garlic, Gambian rice, which has kidney beans and chopped chilli in it and a green salad with a mushroom in garlic starter.
You know what it's like...
You order these things up never having tried it before, and half the time you are disappointed...
Not this time.
The food was great.
Haddy had a prawn something or other and everyone else wanted chicken of some description but we all seemed to enjoy what we'd ordered.
Then it was 'sweet' time.
Everybody wanted ice creams of some description and looking at the size of them I just thought I won't bother, but if somebody doesn't manage to finish theirs I could certainly help them out...
Which I managed to do... Three times.
To put it mildly, I was 'stuffed'.
Ok, black coffee to finish and that's it...
Maybe another black coffee and a brandy as an aid to digestion ?
Good idea.
I'm still stuffed.
When we asked for the bill the owner's wife came out for the money and didn't bother with any change which I thought was ok until Haddy told me that our two waiters were unlikely to see any of the tip and she was going to say and do something about it...
Whoops !
Ok, calm down, I'll sort this with money as there is no reason for a stand up and knockdown fight if the food is that good, as when I come back I'd still like to eat there because of the food, but...
So I gave the waiters two hundred dalasi each for their trouble.
It had to be done surrepticiously because somebody had their eye on us, but I think we managed it.
Now personally I'm inclined to Haddy's view that it was completely out of order, but I don't speak the language and Haddy can be a little firebrand when she wants to be
so admittedly I took the 'easy' way out.
The thing nobody counts on are things like these where you can redress the balance somewhat.
So yes, the food is great, the service is good and the owner's wife is greedy...
That's the review for the English speaking world.
The whole meal including my four beers and brandy came to less than 4000 dalasi all in.
That's less than ninety five quid English or one hundred and ninety American dollars for a meal including drinks for seven people. (The American rate has bettered since I've been back and the English rate has gone down).
But we learned for next time.
Looks like 'Tufa is going to have to stop at one of the country's few cash machines
(Visa only) for my last two days as I'm nearly out.
Bummer !

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Ten (A Few Random Thoughts Before I Leave...). From January 2008.

Ah, random...
Anything and everything in any order whatsoever...
The important and the trivial, the minutae of everyday life, the mundanity of everyday life, the challenge of everyday life, the difference between one day and another and everything else that ever wanted to rear it's pretty or ugly head...

Photo's from the top are as follows:-

The 'Dead Heads' reach The Gambia.
On the beach.
View into hotel dining room.
Hotel cat.
Hotel swimming pool.
Hotel view toward reception from pool. The pool bar is behind the plant.
View down to fish market with Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Shops shot. Road to Bakau.
Road to Banjul with cattle crossing the road.
Shop shot in Serra Kunda (I think).
The dustiest bit of the road Haddy lives on.
Shot taken from 'Geneva' looking uptown. Ebrima is the first character from the right (wearing green) looking down the 'T' of the T-junction.
Driving uptown from Haddy's (Who's in the rearview, then ?).

Part One. The Coolest, Saddest Thing...

You know what the coolest thing was ? The coolest thing of all ?
Me and Mariama (aged 8) walking hand in hand for about half a mile to the main road shops at 10.30pm in pitch darkness except for our little hand torch to see the potholes, picking up the order and walking back again.
That was the coolest thing of all.
Hell ! I could take you places in England where anybody doing that would never even see a policeman before they'd been 'murdered' by the local population...
How sad is that ?
Mariama and me...
Adult and child, hand in hand...
Ain't that the way it's supposed to be ?
You know... The adult holding the child's hand to keep them safe ?
The child holding the adult's hand to feel safe ?
C'mon... Tell me that isn't true ?
I guess when it comes right down to it that we Westerners have lost a lot of what constitutes 'soul' and I don't believe it's possible to get it back...
It's just gone forever.
How can a society that vindictive, venal and self important ever learn to trust again ?
It can't...
Easy as that.

Yeah... So that was the coolest thing.
I talked to Haddy about it and how I felt and she was amazed.
You know what she said ?
She said that Mariama was holding my hand to make sure I didn't fall into any potholes... It wouldn't have looked good for Gambian tourism if I'd fallen down a hole in a Gambian road so Mariama was just being 'responsible...'
I told you she was a wind-up.
But see... That's what adult's or eldest children do here...
They take 'responsibility'.
And younger children for the lowly humble tourista ?
It would seem so.
But thinking about it after the event I still felt good about it.
It felt right.
It felt natural.
In the name of any and all the Gods...

Part Two. The Guys From 'Geneva'.

Haddy's compound gets a lot of sun but the gated wall is on the side that doesn't catch it so it usually gets a few of the local guys sitting leaning against her wall
on the outside because it is one of the few places around that gives a little shade.
The local guys call it 'Geneva' after the cooler Swiss town.
Why Geneva and not any other snowy city I never did find out ? but they sit and they talk and they pass around the mint tea and they put the village, the country and the world to rights while they are there.
Of course it's not quite a first come first sit sort of situation because there is definitely a 'pecking order' but for the life of me I haven't worked it out yet.
Probably because 'Tufa always parks the car there when he's picking me or us up and we are usually in a rush.
I have worked out one thing however...
There is the time and then there is Gambian time.
They are not always the same.
Gambian time is a little more laid back...
A bit like Rock'n'Roll time back in England and the guys from 'Geneva' are definitely on Gambian time.
I have to admit I still find it strange that no women are involved at all.
That is a serious culture shock.
I've never had any trouble with the equal pay for equal job women's rights issue and have actively supported it (while taking the mick out of it when I'm on stage which gives me the best of both worlds), but seriously tho' folks...
Yeah... I am in favour of it broadly speaking, as well as being quite used to it within my own circle.
There are still a few little anomilies that need sorting out but in the main, yeah...
So getting to grips with this Gambian society requires a total change in one's thought processes and I have to say the boys from 'Geneva' aren't doing a lot to help the matter, because they just 'are'.
I mean they're not misogynists by any stretch of the imagination...
These guys like women.
But a woman's place in Gambian society is not the same as a man's and that is a fact.
I'm playing no sides on this one as I can sort of see it from both sides but I'll make a little wager just for fun...
In thirty years time the women in The Gambia will be a dominant force in Gambian politics.
The world is changing and with the internet being instant and all knowing,
it is only a matter of time.
Well, that's what I reckon, anyway.
Not that this bothers the guys from 'Geneva' who are passing around the cup of mint tea again.

Part Three. Naming The Baby.

I'd been in The Gambia for three days when I was invited to a baby's naming ceremony.
Now this sort of celebration occurs after the infant has reached the ripe old age of one week old and is, I suppose, the equivalent of an English Christening.
I have to be honest about this...
I was not expecting it and it took me by surprise a little, but Haddy insisted we go so off we trouped, down the road in the other direction, to where the ceremony was being held.
Think barbecue with fish and lots of fruit and vegetables, oh, and the usual cliques...
Keep that thought in your head as the women prepare the food while talking up a storm and the guys just sit and chat amongst themselves, occasionally rising to great another guest, and all the while the younger children are playing and running around noisily as children tend to do, but these children have their what in England we would call their Sunday best clothes on.
Today is special for the youngest one there and they and the adults have dressed to do them honour.
I sat down with the 'guy's' after being introduced as Haddy's visitor from England.
It was a lovely start to the day.

Part Four. Roads, Beaches, Hotels and Shops.

Roads in The Gambia are not particularly brilliant unless you stick to the main ones.
These are reasonably safe to drive on unless of course there is any other traffic upon them which is pretty much all the time.
You want to know what it is like ?
Ok, think stereotypical Italian driver... Too fast, don't look when pulling out and always use the horn as opposed to the brakes when something is in the way 'cos they are much more important than the poor sod who's in their way...
Got that ?
Right, now add a penchant for braking in the middle of the road to pick up passengers and you've got your typical Gambian car driver...
It's quite scary and in all honesty it is probably something you need to observe for a while before you put your life on the line attempting to do it for yourself.
The roads themselves do have the odd pothole in and they also have large holes where the municipal workers have dug down to put in something like pipework and then the money has run out...
Trouble is they don't put barriers around the hole so should you see one, for God's sake remember it's there because you might not see it in the dark.
We had one at the corner of the street with the main road... It was six feet deep.
I saw a car being pulled out of it one morning... It just had it's front down the hole and it's back wheels in the air. If it didn't look so comical I wouldn't have laughed. One of the guys from 'Geneva' tells me later that the guy misjudged the turn...
You're telling me he misjudged it... He didn't even come close.

Taxis, which are quite reasonable fare wise, or a type of minicab which stops and picks you up like a bus is the norm' here if you don't have a bicycle or a car, although I have to admit that when you are driving it is quite scary to see a bicycle coming straight towards your car bonnet.
These minicabby things have people on the outside too if there is no room inside so when overtaking try not to take somebody's limb with you 'cos that will definitely hang you up on your journey.
Then there are those who just wish to cross the road...
I would imagine it's something you have to get used to

The beaches on the part of the coast that I'm closest to are clean and sandy with the odd rocky outcrop or two jutting out into the sea. Devon and parts of Cornwall is probably the closest way of describing it if I remember rightly.
The sea is warm and blue but...
The submerged rocks are a bit of a problem if you are unaware they are there.
Now I like swimming...
Sea or pool ? It's all one to me, but ever since I took off the front of my right shin at Clacton when I was about twelve on a submerged rock, I've been aware of the danger these things pose.
The Gambian coast is pretty much the same.
Look out for them or you'll come unstuck as I did.
I stood up in about four feet of water and promptly tripped over the small one onto a larger one which gave my knee a right bruising.
Thankfully it didn't break the skin but it hurt like hell for about three days afterward.

Haddy and I went to the supermarket to get some food and drink for the family. Thankfully we had 'Tufa as a driver because a fifty kilogram bag of rice is a fair old weight to drag or carry.
The supermarket is a bit like our local branch of 'Netto' in England, and it also sells beer... Well it's a lager type really but who's quibling ?
Forget the racking, just pile it high and sell it.
It is a strange thing to be in a country where alcohol is not sold by the majority of food shops because they are Moslem.
The only problem I have with that are that the vast majority of take-aways don't sell it either, but the hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do, so...
Oh well, when in Rome and all that.
The smaller shops are a bit more 'specialist' and by the looks of them, a lot poorer and you can see a lot of these all along the main road.
Actually we are quite lucky where Haddy lives in that the local bread shop for our breakfast baguettes is literally over the road and the street vendors supply the fillings (well done fried fish usually, or a couple of fried balls of dough with a bit of mayonnaisse as well).
The fried fish is fine by me but I'll pass on the fried dough balls thanks very much.
I went for a swim one morning a couple of hours after eating one and sank...
So that's a word to the wise.

The hotel that I'm staying in is named The African Village Hotel and it is at Bakau,
about three miles away from Fagikunda.
The grounds are laid out as in a stereotypical African village with grass topped chalets and a couple of building blocks of which I am in one, with steps at the back taking you straight down to the sandy beach.
The room isn't bad with two single beds, a table, wardrobe and separate toilet and shower facilities. The usual holiday room. I could rent a television but since the one in the bar is continually tuned to Al Jazeera or football as my trip coincides with The African Nations Cup there is always something to watch.
It is probably fair to say that anybody wishing to change the channel to anything else would probably have provoked a revolution within the hotel.
The 'a la carte' food is uniformly good to excellent and with the fish dishes being local, that is what I usually went for, although breakfast was a bit strange until you got used to it. Loads of fruit, bread and cheese, chicken salami (Moslems don't do pork), hard boiled eggs and very occasionally a fried egg (which I'm not allowed to eat anymore depending on the oil it's fried in) and gallons of coffee, fruit juice or tea with a real teabag.
The staff are all helpful and polite and I seem to get on well with all of them, as does Haddy when she turns up to turf me out of the pool for another 'adventure'.
I don't know whether it's common to all the tourist hotels but mine had entertainment every night.
It ranged between proper African dancing to Reggae and all points in between.
The dancers are all good, let me state that upfront.
The problem is that you can never be sure from one act to another whether anything changes ?
Some of the musical acts are really good and occasionally the staff get the 'know' upfront so they help us out.
I mean they work there so they should know, but most of them have finished their shifts a few hours ago, but when they know who's on and they know they're good then there's a battle to change shifts so they can see them also.
We got the 'nod' on a reggae band.
They were only a three piece and at times very 'Lovers Rock'y' but bloody hell were they good or what ?
As we'd had the nod in advance we asked the girls if they wanted to come up that night and they seemed to be up for it so we took over the tables closest to where the group was appearing for a meal and as soon as 'Tufa appeared with the girls, we had the front row...
No Woman, No Cry, Redemption Song, Get up stand up... All the Bob Marley stuff was there, but done in such a light acoustic style that they basically transcended the original article.
Good little band...
I'd have booked them.
The girls enjoyed them, too.
They were happily singing along to pretty near every song they played.
A definitely good night.
The hotel has two cats which wander around begging as much as they can from the diners at any meal.
They are there to keep the obvious pests away.
I gave one a piece of my curried fish once to see what it would do ?
My old Cozmic cat at home seems to like a bit of curry although his taste is really chicken cooked any way you like including curried but let's see what happens...
Ok, the cat ate the fish, stretched, licked it's whiskers and paws and padded off toward the swimming pool where it stuck its neck over the edge and proceeded to drink...
It probably had the equivalent of a cat's couple of pints of beer, then it wandered off to another couple to try and beg some more...
I like the cats. They seem to make the place more homely.

There's a family shot above which has been previously posted on a couple of sites...
Meet the first 'Dead Heads' in The Gambia.
According to The 'Deads own site map, most of Africa is unconquered territory but not any more...
Haddy got into them while she was working over in England, mainly through me playing them in what we termed our mobile office (an unmarked Ford Transit) and is now seriously into some of the songs as opposed to the jamming side of the band.
Then of course she played them to the girls...
That's definitely the way to do it.
No stupid 'aging hippie' or 'boring old fart' remarks 'cos these kids just took them on by music alone.
They weren't party to the press or the hype or the image or anything else that the media trot out.
They came in innocence and stayed around for the music.
Cool !

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Nine (Sidetrips). From January 2008.

Photo's from the top are as follows:-

Family dinner. (Oh damn, it's missionary again...)
View down from The President's Arch (cafe).
Ditto:- Road into Banjul.
Ditto:- View across Banjul to sea.
Driving away from The President's Arch.

Today we took the girls to see The President's Arch in Banjul.
As far as vanity projects go it is quite impressive from the outside, but it's when you get inside and look around the small exhibitions which are, I have to admit, quite well presented, that things start getting interesting.
There is an art exhibition and I bought a couple of small pictures to take home. There was a larger one of a flautist that I really liked but I can't afford the £95.00 price.
Well I could, but then I'd have nothing for anything else so I don't think about it. Lovely picture tho'. Definitely impressive.

The thing that really impresses me however is the 'Ju-ju' exhibition.
Now here's a subject I know a little bit about so let's see what they can tell me that I don't know ?
A lot actually.
As I said, I knew a little and now, after the exhibition, I know a fair bit more.
Ju-Ju... What Dr John fans would call Gris-Gris, and what makes the whole thing even more impressive in my eyes is the fact that there is no glossing over the facts to hide unwelcome truths for it is all there...
How the predominantly Muslim faith over the years instead of trying to suppress the amulets and charms of the indiginous population actually worked with it and brought them into the faith.
For some reason this impresses me more than supposed Christianity who have always tried to suppress things like that.
You only have to look at the pictures of some 'boy' soldiers in some other African countries to know that Ju-ju is still very real in this region.
I find the whole subject fascinating and am eventually dragged kicking and screaming from the exhibition by Mariama and the twins who want ice-creams.
Coffee and Ice cream... very civilised... Everybody should try it at some time.
After our little break we climb the stairs to the roof and look out over the city.
It's quite an impressive view.
Right, onward to the market... Where I spend a few quid on some Youssou N'Dour DVD's and CD's. The guy is out of Toumani Diabate which is a drag 'cos I'd've loved to get some live stuff but it can't be helped. Maybe next time ?
You get two choices out here. You can either buy the real thing or they will
'pirate' you a copy while you wait.
Money is of course the great divider.
In England I would generally go for the real thing, but here ?
Sod it !
There's only so much money in the world so I'll go for pirate copies.
That way I can get something for Cropredy Annie for when I get back and I know she will appreciate it, pirate or no, as it will not be available in England.

In the evening we went out with Haddy's cousin Pa and his son James.
We ended up in Senegambia at Alibaba's.
It is a restaurant geared for the tourist trade with a keyboard player/singer and/or karaoke and an African dance floorshow for the diners...
God help us... The Brit's abroad.
I will however give it an extra star for the fact that I could get a draught Guinness and for the food...
My keftas were pretty good and Haddy's deep fried prawns were absolutely delicious and should we ever go back there ? I want them.

Actually it is the first time since I arrived that that I've eaten a meat dish except the Gambian family stuff that I eat at Haddy's, where, to be honest, I'll eat anything that is put in front of me by the girls.
All the locals, especially the women, seem to be a bit concerned that Gambian food will be too hot for me chilli wise, but in all honesty it is no hotter than a good Rogan Josh and I'm not stupid enough to want to prove the point as I happen to know that chewing on a bright red 'scotch bonnet', cooked or not, is always going to be beyond me.
Today we had smoked fish and catfish combined in an onion and chilli sauce with rice.
Rice is the staple here. Near enough everything has rice with it.
I'd also pounded the family's baobab which caused all manner of amusement as apparently that is 'woman's work' and the girls kept trying to get me to stop and let them do it, but Sainabou has toothache (a wisdom tooth coming through) and every pound of the mortar into the large pestle (think tree trunk into large wooden dustbin) is making fireworks go off in her head.
After I've finished sieving the pods out of it we bag it up.
Most of this is coming back to the U.K. with me for Fatou, Haddy's eldest daughter, who cannot get it locally and has to go into London should she want any...

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Eight (Litter Bugging... and Under Age Sex). From January 2008.

Photo's from the top are as follows:-
Yeuk !
Yeuk dug out and left on roadside.
Me at hotel poolside.
The local girls practice a song and dance routine.
Those T-shirts.

Today is The President's 'Clear Up' day.
Now that's got you hasn't it. What on earth could that be, then ?

Ok, what actually occurs is The President makes a speech which is carried by Gambian television (and possibly radio too but I've never heard it ?) the day before, where he asks if everybody could just clear up the bit of land at the front of their own property or compound then the whole country would look a little nicer on the following day... ?
And get this... The people actually do it.

To move from The Gambia to England (or even maybe the whole of The British Isles ?) for a moment...
I mean can you imagine The Inbred Mutant Offspring of the London Overspill as they are known around my way, actually picking up their neighbour's or their family's litter, bagging it, and then leaving it roadside for a collection ?
Isn't it enough that they get their household refuse picked up as a collection and put out a few cans and bottles for re-cycling and now somebody wants them to pick up somebody else's litter from outside on the street ?
C'mon... It'll never happen. As a nation we're much too bloody selfish for that...
Look around you.
Look at that flytipping bastard who lives next door who dumps his rubbish by shopping trolley or wheelbarrow on the nearest patch of wood or waste ground and despite your Council Tax going up to cover the cost of removing it, you still won't report them for flytipping and their one thousand pound fine because you want the same to apply to you ?
What a slovenly bunch of litter bugging bastards we have become.

Anyway, I digress. Who wants to read about England's rubbish when you have to live in it, so let's get back to The Gambia ?
So there I was, in complete astonishment at never having seen anything like this before... watching the adults and the kids outside bending their backs and picking it all up to put into a small black plastic bag about a third the size of those our Council gives us and within a couple of hours the whole place looks different...
Ok, tomorrow is another day as someone once said but the fact that it occurred amazed me and the fact that it happens once a month is mind blowing to a Westerner who would like something like that to occur in England but knows it never will because of the selfish attitudes of the people.
And get this... It works.
It's so simple and it works but I suppose you have to have a sense of community and an attitude that isn't just 'me, me, me, me, me, me' all the time and where are you going to find that ?
Maybe in some of the prettier small villages something like this could occur, but across the nation ?
No chance !
Here however, it takes place once a month and my trip has coincided with it.
Since I don't have a compound of my own I'm excluded and told to go back inside by the family...
What !
They're not joking either. Apparently I'm getting in the way.
Sod that !
I'll help out over the other side of the road.
Picking it up, sweeping it up, shovelling it up and getting covered in it...
It's all go here until finally the whole area looks transformed and clean except for the bulging black sacks of rubbish which await collection by governmental truck and the piles of yeuk that we've been digging out of what looks like an open sewer up the street.
The only good thing about the heat is that it dries it out so it doesn't smell as bad.
So there we are, all covered in crap and the water goes off for ten hours which it does occasionally when there is a run on it...
Arrrrrggggghhhh !
Give the kids some money to buy the bottled stuff and call 'Tufa...
C'mon mate... Let's go to the hotel. They've got an emergency tank full of the stuff and what is more, they have a swimming pool too...
I knew there was a reason I booked in there as well.

I think I'm going to spend the afternoon lounging by the pool but the sky clouds over after an hour so I'm out of the pool and drying off... Ok, back to Haddy's.

When we arrive back there we find that some of the local girls have taken over her compound to practice their song and dance routines that they perform at the local youthclub and so there is no peace for the wicked.
They will be off to perform later that evening and poor old Mariama will be left behind again, as despite knowing all the songs and dancing moves she is still too young to perform with the troupe.
It's a hard life being a younger sister sometimes.
I comment to Haddy about the t-shirts that the girls are wearing as the message on the back seems quite relevant and she tells me that they are trying to instil into the teenage girls that they don't have to have sex with somebody just because a young lad wants to.
I agree, but does it work ?
She answers that it isn't perfect but it has instilled a new sense of pride in the girls, and there seem to be a lot less pregnancies since they started it.
I am amazed.
Think about that for a moment ?
Could it happen in your country where male and female actually have equality but the amount of teenage pregnancies is rising every year (and in the case of England, going through the roof) ?
Why is it that the European model does not have enough self pride to say no and yet these kids in what is definitely a poorer society to us have learned enough and taken enough pride in themselves to say no ?
Maybe you have to appreciate that small amount you have ?
These kids have been 'empowered' by that one small thing.
They can say no with a sense of pride in themselves and nobody in their peer group takes the mick out of them for doing so.
Good for them.
It's such a shame that we've passed the point of no return in England...
Still, it's one way of jumping the housing queue, isn't it ?