Saturday, 23 August 2008

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.

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