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 !

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