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.

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