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.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part One (Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man... What's In A Name ?)

Photo's from the top:-

Haddy and Fatou N'jai.
Relaxing at Cape Point Hotel
Swimming pool at Cape Point Hotel.
It's pouring down and I want you in...
Mum, you said I needed a wash...

So… We’re through the madness of just trying to get your cases through the throng of those who want to carry it for you (for money-what else ?) and we’re in the car and moving out of the airport towards Fagikunda.
It’s a different car from last time.
Last time Haddy borrowed her cousin Pa’s spare one but this time it’s a white Peugeot and we’re making good time.
Actually it’s only about twenty minutes to Haddy’s place from the airport but there are puddles everywhere and she tells me about the rain which has come down so hard that they apparently lost five compounds washed out in the village as they were made of clay bricks and not the usual breezeblocks.
Now that is heavy rain, but then this is the rainy season and I suppose I’m going to have to get used to it…
Wish I could get used to the humidity though ?
It’s bad enough in England but it’s ten times worse here and the fact that I’ve been up all night isn’t helping at all because I’m definitely beginning to flag somewhat and I’m definitely going to need an early night.
Still, we get parked up outside the compound and I’m immediately accosted and greeted by some who remember me from last time…
Blimey ! There seem to be hundreds of them, but then a face I know…
And with a big grin on her face Mariama just jumps up at me and I give her a huge hug, swinging her around while she hangs on for dear life and then I am in and safe behind the compound walls for a few minutes at least.
The twins are there, Sainabou is there, Neighbour Ida is there…
I give them all a big hug.
It seems like old times.

I’ve flown in on a public holiday.
Apparently the President has been doing the rounds and so there have been processions past his podium all day with the result that there is absolutely nothing open that you need… Like a bank for instance.
The Gambian currency is what our banks in England call a ‘closed currency’ which means that you can’t get any dalasi in England and so I need a bank to change some of my travellers cheques because I have nothing else so all those who turn up at the compound to beg for money because they have heard I’m coming back are out of luck.
I try and explain about travellers cheques and getting them cashed but I might just as well be talking quantum physics to this lot and so Haddy has to try and do it.
I recognise a couple of the beggars from my last trip but as Haddy says, If you give them five dalasi then they will ask why they can’t have ten so don’t bother and let her deal with it.
The thing is, as Haddy emphatically says… They are fit adults and they could probably find jobs should they want to ?
It is a brutal realisation that the argument is the same one we use about dole scroungers in England.
The difference being that here there is no dole and so they exist on the handouts of others and one particular bloke at the local petrol station gets up Haddy’s nose so much that she actually gets out of the car to berate him while all the time he’s gesturing to me in the back saying that I should pay him money because I’m white and rich or rich and white…
Well I’ve got news for you mate…
I’m white and that’s it.
Rich, as far as money goes, is beyond me.
Anyway, she’s having a right go at him for being rude and impolite, and also because he doesn’t look as if he’s in any way disabled or ill and he doesn’t look too poor either compared to some of the locals down her way who don’t even have two beans to rub together but who are going to get by if it kills them to do so.
These people have a fierce pride here that I picked up on when I arrived on my first trip but I didn’t really see in action and if somebody is prepared to try then they are given a fair bit of respect and support even if they should fail, but those who just beg are, depending on their obvious circumstances, mostly given a couple of dalasi if they are not taking the mick.
Those like the guy at the petrol station are just told not to be so lazy and to get a job if they want money ?
I wonder where I’ve heard that before ?
The heat and the humidity are beginning to get to me.
It is thirty four degrees outside and thirty two degrees of humidity and the rain is falling.
You can’t move without the sweat pouring out of you and because this is the rainy season the mosquitoes are out in force.
There are only so many cold showers you can take in the day when the water keeps being turned off and the electric the same.
I don’t know how they work these things but Haddy’s area of Fajikunda keeps having their power cut off and yet other areas manage to keep theirs all the time.
It’s annoying as it also cuts her two electric fans off.

It pours down with rain that night and on into the morning and then I’m told that we’re off to a naming ceremony again this afternoon.
This is a serious case of déjà vu because exactly the same thing happened to me the last time I was here.
So, with a warning not to take anything too valuable with me just in case some of the local youth are tempted, we set off down the street. I’ve got my camera tied in a little camera case on my belt and that isn’t moving. This time I want it with me as I lost out on a few natural pic’s last time through not having it with me.
I must remember to ask Haddy why I should beware this time when she never mentioned it last time I was here ?
Am I a target because I’ve come back and so far seem to be accepted as a person and not just a tourist by some of the locals…
Who knows ?
Anyway, the rain has stopped so down the road we go.
As we get to the compound Haddy tells me that I will be sitting with the guys as usual.
Usual ?
I’ve only ever done this once before in my life and that felt a bit weird to my western ways with no women involved so I don’t really think of it as usual to me, however to them it’s perfectly normal.
I’m introduced to a whole bunch of guys, two of whom are holding Djembes (That’s a type of drum for those who haven’t a clue ?) and another is boiling the small kettle on an even smaller charcoal burner while the reggae blares from somebody’s sound system in the background.
The same questions are asked as last time.
Where do I live ? Is it near London ? Do I like The Gambia ? Was it right I’d been before ? How did I know Haddy ? and the first cup of delicious mint tea is passed to me…
Now you’re talking.
The two guys whose names I remember are Moses and Lamin.
Moses was a really nice guy whom I’d never met before and he was holding a djembe that he passed back to Lamin as the conversation progressed, and then started praising his friend';s dexterity on the drum.
Lamin is altogether quieter and knows what he wants to say but it’s what he says and the way he says it that makes the difference.
I know Lamin.
I’ve never met him before in my life before that day, but I know him.
Apart from the fact that he’s a musician that they think quite highly of, and I just write a bit we could almost be the same person a continent apart.
I know this man.
I’ve known him all my life even though we’d never met.
I’m not a fisherman but I’ll try and get the meaning of what I’m trying to impart here a little bit easier to understand.
I am told by people who go fishing that the art of a good session is in going with a friend who appreciates silence and doesn’t want to talk all the time, and yet you can ask any question needed with just the one word should you need to, and whole conversations can be accomplished within a couple of words maybe a couple of hours apart.
Lamin has that quality and I’m certain it’s in him and to be honest I could sit there for hours and listen to him and we wouldn’t need to physically speak...
(Yeah, I know… I’m going a bit ‘weird’ on you, but it’s not really so just try and understand) It’s a quality I recognise pretty much immediately.
Call it strange, call it weird, call it whatever you like, but it’s there and there’s nothing whatsoever I can do about it.
So we start conversing and musically and lyrically this guy knows his stuff.
In a world full of pretenders Lamin is the real deal.
He doesn’t just know his stuff, he ‘feels’ it and that’s how I know him, and hopefully he knows me.
We don’t need any more than that.
The conversation has probably lost everybody else so we just look at each other and smile and slowly between the pair of us we bring it back to the general, it’s so much easier if everybody is involved. This is a family party after all.
Haddy comes over bearing a little tiny one and this time I ask the name and whether I can get a picture ?
Yes, she says, and poses with little’un whose given name is Fatou N'jai…
So thank you Fatou.
Thank you for allowing me to come to your special naming day party because I met you and you’re special because you represent the future when hopefully you will not make the mistakes of the past, and because were it not for you I might not have met Lamin.
I have to admit the guy making the tea is an absolute artist. Those four foot pourings from the kettle or glass held at the top of his upraised arm into the second glass are being accomplished without spilling a drop and he’s been making it, handing it around (Most of us have finished our second glasses already) since I sat down.
It has been a really nice afternoon and when Haddy ‘rescues’ me I’m in two minds as to ask for longer but knowing her there is probably a reason behind it so I stand and make my apologies for having to leave them, shaking hands all around and having to promise that I’ll be back to finish any and all still extant conversations which I’ll happily do.
No problem.
Apparently the girls are going out and so she’s going back to the compound…
We’ll also have something to eat.
Food ?
I’d forgotten all about that but I suddenly realise I’m hungry so lead on MacDuff…

It takes all of three days to get anything cashed at the bank and when I finally manage I immediately decide to have a spend up in one of the supermarkets.
I bought a couple of packs of ‘minced cow meat’ (That’s beef to you) some oregano and basil, tomato paste, olive oil, a few tins of tomatoes and some spaghetti for me to make the family a proper spaghetti bolognaise.
This is going to be interesting as there are no chillis in it and I’ve not eaten much in The Gambia that doesn’t have a chilli or two hidden in it somewhere and I’ve certainly never cooked it on a charcoal burner before…
This is going to be interesting… But when we get back the girls have cooked something for us anyway so into the freezer it goes for tomorrow.

The following day we head out to Cape Point to use the hotel’s swimming pool, which, for a small payment of 200 dalasi (about a fiver) I can apparently do.
The purchase of a pool ticket also entitles us to 100 dalasi off the price of a meal if we eat or order in the poolside restaurant so that is something else we take advantage of.
When we get there we are met by a guy who takes us through to see the manager.
Apparently Haddy’s ‘sort of’ adopted daughter Awa works at the hotel (adopted daughter… That’s new ?) so if you can imagine me in jeans, t-shirt and bandana walking into reception where all these besuited hard geezers are sitting…
The President of Guinea has been staying there and is just checking out (It’s a posh hotel) hence the hard men and they are looking at me like I’m some sort of freak…
(Which I’m happy to admit to anyway).
The one thing I don’t look like is a tourist.
I just look different and they can’t seem to get their heads round it.
Oh well, that’s their problem.
We just sit and order a coffee until the manager is free which he is within fifteen minutes.
Apparently Haddy’s ‘adopted’ daughter is married and is doing really well at the hotel according to the manager who doesn’t look like the sort of guy to indulge in flannel, so I think you can take that as a given.
We have a little chat and he asks us if we’d like to be shown around the hotel as neither of us have been here before ?
Then he makes an internal call and guess who our guide is… Not only that, we are going to start the tour at the suite the President was staying in, which is, to say the least, quite luxurious.
Now think of two floors, lounges, small kitchen and television room downstairs, two double bedrooms upstairs and bathrooms everywhere…
Yep, it’s definitely quite posh and I can understand why they felt a President would happily stay in it.
I would have, had I got the money to spend.
We end up meeting and greeting far more staff than I can remember the names of and finally the tour is up and Awa goes back to work and we go to the pool.
While I’m swimming I start feeling that irritating tickle at the back of my throat and I know that I’m going down with a cold.
Bugger !
That’s the last thing I need in this humidity.
Still, the fried king prawn with salad (twice) takes me somewhere else for about half an hour but I can now feel the beginnings of a sore throat and my nose is beginning to snuffle…
Sod it !
At five pm ‘Tufa comes over to pick us up and now we have another problem…
Apparently President Jammeh is in the area officially again to open a new police station and so all the traffic is being squeezed down two lanes on the same side of the carriageway… and it’s rush hour.
Great !
A twenty minute drive that takes two hours and by the time we get back we’re both knackered and I’m beginning to suffer from a cold which in this humidity is more than just a pain in the arse, it’s downright uncomfortable.
Oh well, no cooking for me tonight, either.
Then the electricity goes off and we’re looking for candles to actually light the compound so that people can actually see in front of their noses while the rain that had started halfway through our journey back from the hotel looks like it’s come back for good.
The following day my cold is beginning to come out and in the rain and sweltering humidity I actually feel quite awful.
It rains all day.
Because she’s been playing outside in the street Mariama has got a little dusty and so she digs out a large plastic tub and in her one piece swimsuit in the middle of the loudest, thunderingest and lightningest storm you can imagine, proceeds to soap herself up while the rainwater fills the tub in minutes.
This is definitely not a summer shower.
As soon as her mum realises what she is doing she is called in but singing away to herself quite happily and poking her tongue out at me she either doesn’t hear a word or doesn’t want to hear a word and carries on as if nothing untoward is occurring.
She’s mad that girl…
Totally barmy.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Second Gambian Experience (A Prologue).

Well, here we are again, back from The Gambia with a second set of adventures, a rotten cold and a severe case of what the locals call ‘Banjul Belly’ and believe me, you really don’t want to know what that does to you but I can tell you this…
It ain’t nice.
But before we go flying off to warmer (and much wetter) climes here are two public service announcement concerning Gatwick Airport.

I arrived at 3.00am. Not my favourite time of day but then I had to get my car into one of the carparks and the directions weren't brilliant by any means but I found it eventually and took their courtesy coach to the airport.
At that time in the morning there's not a lot of activity on the check in desks so I just kept looking at the Monarch one and finally, at about 5.00am a young lady sits down and starts taking off her jacket so immediately I move into position and ask when I can check my luggage ?
About 6.00am, the young lady says in what sounds like a charming French accent.
So I asked her if there was any chance she could just weigh me now so I know how much I have to jettison before I fly, bearing in mind what the queues are going to be like later ?
Certainly, she said. Just put the big one on and... 'Oh no... That's perfectly alright, and now the hand luggage ?
That's a little over. Take out a couple of kilo's and switch them to the big case and you'll be perfect...'
I dump the small one into the hand baggage basket to check for size and she grins as it drops straight down...
Thanks very much says I, immediately moving out of the way to leave her in peace while I make the necessary luggage adjustments.
An hour later I'm back at her desk.
Any chance yet ?
Apparently my flight is delayed by 30 mins and so no, not yet, but if I just hang on a mo' she will make a telephone call...
Ok, no problem, she'll take them now.
Brilliant !
I can actually go to the loo without trying to manoevre a 20kilo suitcase in with me.

Now try this...

You know what ?
I’ve discovered why you get those signs everywhere.
You know the ones… Those things that say you cannot argue and cannot be rude to the staff even though they’re talking complete bollocks and lying through their teeth because otherwise they won’t let you do what you’ve paid for, waited for, queued for, argued for and all the rest, and that if you do, they can have you arrested and charged...
You’ve only got to hang out at Gatwick Airport for any length of time to work out the reason.
It’s ‘cause some of the people they and the airlines employ are so fucking crap at their jobs that they have to tell you lies to justify their complete and utter shiteness at doing the job in the first place.
I had to spend five and a half hours there from 3.00am in the morning to 8.30am and you would not believe the arguments I overheard, all of which sounded perfectly reasonable to me, between members of the public who only want to travel, and airport and airline staff who seem to have been taught a method of deliberately making your flight an absolute misery.
Consider this for a moment…
A guy is arguing loudly with a Chinese looking bloke in an airline uniform whose command of the English language is about as good as it gets when one has caught the boat train from Beijing…
Anyway, this ‘argumentative’ bloke has booked his flight online through the net and he has it all written down on three or four sheets of paper that he’s printed off and which basically says that yes, he has booked a seat with extra leg room for his wife who wears a neckbrace and who cannot sit properly and all this has been confirmed and what is more, he has got it all written down and printed off in writing.
Ol’ Chino’ on the other hand is telling the guy that the seat with all the extra leg room has been taken by another passenger this morning and that this particular airline don’t use 747’s anymore (which they did when the booking was made) and so therefore the guy’s wife is totally bolloxed because there is only one seat suitable and someone else has been given it and it cannot now be changed.
‘Course, matey boy with the wife with a bad back is beginning to swear a bit now because this supercilious, condescending and patronising twat, whose English is about as good as my totally non-existent Chinese is getting really pissed off with being called a fucking useless twat, which I might point out, he undoubtedly is.
I mean, face it… The guy has been hired as a flak-catcher, and he’s crap at it.
He couldn’t even catch a cold.
After all, it’s not the passenger’s fault that the company have changed the bloody aeroplane after he’s booked the flight, paid the excess charge for his wife’s comfort, got his letters confirming it all, and all done in good faith but in the last two months since the booking was taken the company have changed the aeroplane and now want to weasel out of any and all contracts and agreements because they managed to overlook his booking and what is more, he’s got all the paperwork to prove it.
So was it really necessary to call security to have the bloke and his disabled wife carted off into the ubiquitous little room where they will probably be warned if not charged for his so called abusive behaviour which was actually not abusive but truthful ?
Even calling a fucking useless little twat, a fucking useless little twat is not abusive if there can be shown any honesty in the comment and Christ almighty… You’d have had a difficult job proving that there wasn’t in this case.
Hey Guys… If you employ competent staff who can actually speak and understand English as opposed to these fuckin’ useless morons who don’t and who weasel out of any and all responsibility for doing their jobs properly, then take it from me this shit doesn’t happen. But if you are going to employ useless fuckwits who cannot even understand the language of the country that they are actually supposed to be working in, then no amount of signs on walls and no amount of warnings, arrests or anything else for that matter is going to make one fucking iota’s difference to the problem and make the travelling public less abusive.

Face it. When your service is that shite you deserve problems (actually you deserve to go bust and the sooner the better).
and whilst I understand the need for security you just make problems for yourselves.
Was it really necessary for me to take my boots off three times to go through the scanners and metal detectors ?
Surely once is enough ?
Twice possibly if the staff get the ribbon in the wrong place for the queues (It happened to me) but three fucking times ?
And as for their ludicrous twenty kilo baggage allowance ?
You’ve had long enough to sort it out.
Everybody else has, so why not Gatwick ?
So there you have it.
The complete contrast between the way I was treated on the Monarch desk and the way this other guy and his wife were treated on a different flight, and I overheard about four more 'horrors' while I was waiting for my flight to be called.
To be honest I hope the lass on the Monarch desk was in the majority but I do seriously have my doubts.
I could tell you the other four problems also but what would be the point apart from to highlight a problem that we already know exists ?
Those signs go up because service is either crap or non-existent, and that's a fact.
It's what the useless hide behind.

So... twenty minutes late we fly out of Gatwick and I'm off to The Gambia again.
Six hour flights take six hours and that time does not go quickly but at least I've got an aisle seat so I can move my legs occaisionally.
I've done the duty free so there's a bottle of brandy for Haddy and a bottle of Jamesons for me plus a ten pack of Amber Leaf tobacco which I know is going to be eaten up as presents to some of the locals but what the hell ! They were all so nice to me last time I was there so I don't really mind in the least.
Aeroplane food is an aquired taste and I'm not the greatest fan but it's hot and the coffee is reasonable so I just settle down with my poetry book that I'm finally going to get to review now that Rhythms Of The World is over and done with.
Actually I'm lucky in that the book holds my attention and I'm still reading and re-reading bits when the 'fasten your seatbelts' sign comes up as we are about to land.
Christ ! Look at all that water...
Haddy told me it had been raining there (We're slap bang in the middle of their rainy season) but I wasn't prepared for that.
This is The Gambia in Africa for God's sake.
It's one of the fallacies that people in the west don't cotton onto that some African countries do get quite a lot of rainfall and The Gambia is one of them.
All we tend to see are pictures of starving kids from the Sub-Saharan regions, but that ain't Africa, that's just part of Africa.
It is definitely a continent of extremes.
But we're down and awaiting the coach from the plane to the terminal which is maybe 75 metres away, and then we're through immigration and awaiting luggage retrieval.
An official looking bloke taps me on the shoulder and tells me that there is a beautiful young lady waiting for me and I have to admit I looked but could see nobody even resembling his description.
At last my case appears and I walk through into the heat of the Gambian afternoon and there she is... and 'Tufa, bless him, my Chelsea mad driver from the last trip.
It feels strange... It's like coming home.