Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Six (We're Having A Party... Everybody's Swinging...).

Photo's from the top:-
All shots from the wedding reception.
The bride is in the second to last in the middle in the green dress, but someone stuck an arm out...

Is it morning ?
It must be, I can see sunlight.
Half past eight...
I wonder what I've missed apart from the Mullah, the chickens and the hot water ?
Oh well, I'm getting used to cold showers.
Dry off, drag on some clean clothes and venture outside...
Everybody else is still asleep so quietly, quietly does it... open the compound gate and go outside with trusty paper and pen and prop myself against the wall to write a few more notes.
With the best will in the world, this isn't working.
I think everyone else in the village apart from a few teenagers and late to bed youngsters are up and about, and most of them are stopping to talk to me.
'Good morning Uncle 'Chrees'
'I/we really liked your poem about the children and The Gambia...'
'Thank you for your poem about the children and The Gambia'
'You did a poem about Mariama and she's in my class at school'
'That was a lovely thing you wrote about the children...'
Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Thank you everyone who stopped by that morning and said all those positive things...
Truth be told, it set me up for the rest of the day.
I tried to capture something about the two kids and the country in a short, simple little piece and if I succeeded then all well and good.
The only criteria for judging these things is always other people's reactions and it's difficult when you're writing about people that the whole village know...
I mean what if I'd got it wrong ?
I'd been happy with it after I'd written it and apart from one word change it had not been altered in any way, shape or form which is usually a good indication, but you still have that nagging worry that you might have messed up, especially since a. They are only children, b. They are not my children, and c. I'm writing it from the perspective of an outsider who has maybe caught a glimpse of something through the chinks of light that sometimes come your way. But should children be the future of a country then The Gambia will probably be in safe hands if these two ever got hold of it ?
Safe, but probably a bit noisier if Mariama has anything to do with it.
The beauty of the pair of them is in the balances between them as Ida is the quieter one of the pair but should you put them together then they level each other out like a perfectly balanced set of scales... It's just that the decibel level goes up somewhat and more mischief is likely to happen around you.
Don't get me wrong, they're not naughty in the sense that we would use the word in the West, but they are both nine years old and they can both be as lively a handful as any other nine year old can be.
It's just when you put them together then the liveliness factor is louder than the sum of it's parts.
I haven't heard anything from the guys about the money yet and I know I'm going to, so I hope Haddy mentioned it to them because that worry shouldn't be on their backs along with everything else, so I make a mental note to ask her when she wakes up.
There had been some talk last night while I was dj-ing of going to a wedding or somesuch with Sainey tonight, but I'm still reasonably clueless as to what that is about so I must find out about that too ?
Aha... A lifeform...
Haddy is up.
"Good morning... Did you sleep well ?"
"Yes thanks... I slept... Which was more than I did the night before so I think I'm awake now and ready for anything... So long as it doesn't involve any work, thought, or me getting up off my backside to do anything other than eat and drink, I'll be fine... "
She grinned because she knows me too well.
I'd worked with her in England for four years as a colleague and partner, so she should do.
"Have you let the guys know about the money yet ?"
"Kawsu knows, and there is a meeting here at eleven"
"Good... Now what's this thing about Sainey and a wedding ?"
Apparently, Sainey has invited Joy and I to be his guests at a wedding reception held tonight where he will be playing with his band... and can we take some pictures of them playing ?
I'll find out from Joy when she surfaces but I can't see that happening any time soon as that girl could sleep for England when she's tired, and she must be all of that.
Come eleven o'clock we'd breakfasted, the kids are all up and the gang's all here, so can I come in for the meeting ?
Kawsu starts it off..."Chris, Haddy has told us of what you have done and..."
He'd stopped because I'd held my hand up.
"Ok... Look, I only want to say this once without going over it forever... You didn't make any money for the club but it was a brave attempt.
I think, with hindsight obviously, that you bit off a bit more than you could chew when you went for the money but it's an honest mistake to make when you do this sort of thing... I've done it myself so I know what it's like... All I want to say about the money is that you must think about it as a donation to the cause... If I hadn't believed in it then I wouldn't be here anyway so just think of it as a donation to the cause and if you haven't lost anything then you've gained some knowledge and experience for free.
You guy's have no spare money. I know that, but that's all it is... Money.
It may seem important but it's not really.
Happiness, being straight with my friends and peace of mind are a lot more important to me than money, and since you guys are my friends, just take it and welcome to it as I can always earn some more...
I've got to earn some more because I want to come back and do it again... smaller venue and better p.a's next time though, guys..."
And I grinned...
(Please God let the grin cut through the solemnity of the occasion. These people take this stuff very seriously and whilst I understand that and respect it, I don't want there to be any feeling of obligation on their part because it's money)
It's only money"
They all seemed to rise as one.
"Thank you, Chris"
" 's all right, mate... No problem... Anybody going past Right Price at Westfield today please see me before the trip and pick up some money for some ginger beer, thanks ?"
And that is how it ended.
I know it was a huge big deal for them, me getting them out of the hole but they're my friends so why not ?
I also know they are going to feel a bit embarrassed about it but I hope they don't and it passes soon.
There is no spare money in this country so if I can help with what is really a couple of weeks of me working overtime to pay for it, then why not ?
I do overtime damn near every week to pay for some of the finer things in life like jetting off to see Haddy and the kids in The Gambia, a few musical bits and bobs (and my cats tuna treats... Why has the price of tunafish gone up so much... Anyone know ?) so I'm hardly going to miss a couple of weeks of it, but that's the difference between the two countries.
I can do that in England but they can't do it in The Gambia.
All The Gambia has is peanuts and cotton and with the trade tariffs and the Chinese monopolising the cotton trade currently (and making some pretty shoddy crap items... We're talking really cheap and really crap t-shirts which fall apart on the second wash and shapeless jeans and shirts which don't fit anybody properly...) it's no wonder they don't have a stronger economy.
There is always tourism but that's a double edged sword (Torremelinos and Club 18-30 anyone ?)
especially for a predominently Moslem country.
I don't want to see that here and I don't reckon they do, either.
Yes, the money it brings in would be good, but picking drunks up out of the nearest gutter would create a definitely bad impression to any normal tourist let alone a native of the country who just might feel that their country's hospitality was being abused, so I think that's a no-goer, too.
The country is already high on the twitcher's list of places to go and it's not too far down the league for fishing either, so keen bird watchers and fishermen already know about the place but too few others.
It seems to be full of missionary types, the odd charity worker or two and some second homer's as far as whiteface goes, and apart from the tourists very few others, and yet it's peaceful, parts of it are beautiful, the local food is ok, the hotel and restaurant food is very good and the people are great, so what's not to like ?
Ok, it doesn't have a bar at every corner and apart from the hotels and some of the restaurants you can't buy alcohol, but is that really a problem ?
No, it's not really, is it ?
It can be a bit difficult to get around but most of the hotels hire out bicycles, or you can taxi (reasonable) or minibus sort of taxi in a 4 x 4 which most of the locals do as it's cheaper than a taxi.
Ok, that's an experience I wouldn't recommend to any elderly or infirm ladies or gents as it takes a little bit of getting used to, but everybody should try it at least once.
The expression 'rammed' springs to mind.
Or crammed to overflowing...
Something along those lines, anyway.
I've been pressed into service to go and buy the meat for our main meal from the local market as apparently we're having palm oil stew which I've never had before so that's a first, and Mariama has been pressed into service to guide me even though I know where to go, so we walk down together, she holding my hand to make sure I don't get into trouble or fall over or something, so I take the opportunity to ask a question that has been at the back of my mind for nearly a year and I know is at the back of her mother's...
"Mariama, what do you want to be when you get bigger ? I know about the twins, but what about you, what do you want to do ?"
I got the supercilious look that children reserve for adults that ask questions that are going to be unanswered, and so I persisted...
"Come on, Mariama... How can I even attempt to help if I don't know... Come on, you can tell me... You know that you can be anything you want to be, you just have to work hard at school to get it, that's all"
She looked up at me with her big brown eyes as if to say maybe I can trust you with the answer and then she answered the question...
"A musician..."
Ooops... No wonder she'd kept that quiet.
"Ok... That's not a bad thing to want to be... What sort of musician would you like to be... ?"
And there's me thinking along Western lines such as a guitarist or pianist or even saxophonist ?
"A drummer..."
Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrgh !
"A drummer eh... What sort of drummer ?"
"A Mandinka drummer"
"Ok... Well that's probably not impossible... I'm sure there are courses for musicians at some universities... I know there's one in America in Berkeley in California, and I'm certain there's one in England but I really don't know about The Gambia, I do know someone who will, though"
"I want to be the best Mandinka drummer in The Gambia"
Now you're talking...
"So why stop at The Gambia, why not the best in the world ?"
"That as well..."
Blimey ! She doesn't want much, does she ?
"Ok... We'll see what we can do... You know that you have to make sure you get all your school work done before you do any drumming, don't you ? You have to have something to fall back upon just in case it doesn't happen for any reason like accidents or illness..."
"I want to be a drummer..."
"Ok, little 'un, we'll see what we can do..."
And all the while I'm thinking that there's going to be a few difficulties, not the least of which is the fact that in The Gambia I haven't heard of a single female drummer... I'm definitely going to have to find out, and quick, but if that's what she wants to be then why not ? A musician is an honourable profession near enough everywhere in the world but it's bloody hard work and I should know... I've worked with them on and off stage with only one break since 1971.
No sleep, bad food and the temptations are endless, but if you have a talent for the instrument and are reasonably good and you can keep it together then you'll make it, although how far you go is usually with very few exceptions, in the lap of the Gods.
Right... We're here...
Just in time to see the last portion of meat on the stall being sold to the woman in front of us.
Oh well... and back we traipse to the compound.
"Why a drummer... Have you always known you wanted to be a drummer ?"
"Ok, so long as you're sure ?"
I think this news is going to have to wait a little before it's imparted...
"Haddy, we missed it by one customer, they'd sold out to the lady in front"
A taxi is called for as we're now going uptown to the market on the main road and as soon as we get out Mariama leads me up a dead end with no butcher's stall in it.
"It must be the next one" she says, as we reverse our steps.
If there's anybody who wants to know what a crowded market is like in The Gambia then think along the lines of 'no room to swing a cat' and totally claustrophobic...
We got halfway back down the passage when we (and the two ladies in front of us) met a wheelbarrow coming in the other direction toward us...
This poses a slight problem in that there is only room for one person or the wheelbarrow, going in any direction.
After the recriminations have died down it is decided that every able bodied gent in the vicinity is going to have to help lift the two ladies over the wheelbarrow and guess who the second nearest bloke is ?
It took five of us but we managed it with both ladies shrieking as they were lifted over, then I lifted Mariama over into the bloke pushing the wheelbarrow's arms and because I'm wearing trousers, managed to get around and over it by myself, somehow.
After looking back at the queue waiting to get over I wished the bloke luck and he grinned back... "It happens, man"
It surely does...
The second passage off the market was the right one and so we waited patiently in the queue until it was our turn and I lifted Mariama up so she could give the butcher our order.
"Ah... I know this one... And what would you like today, Mariama ? I enjoyed what you did on stage... It was very different to Gambian music"
"Thank you... It's very different to most English music, too"
"Half a kilo of b'iftek and a kilo of meat and bone"
"Ok... What's it for ?"
"Palm oil stew"
"Right... I've put a little extra in... Tell your mother to set another place, I'll be round to help eat it"
"Thank you"
"Cheers my friend, and thanks for liking us"
"No problem... I enjoyed it"
And we made our way slowly back through the teeming crowd.
"So... Is that one of your boyfriends, Mariama ?"
"No... One of Saina's"
Right... Taxi back and relax before dropping the bombshell on her mother is, I think, the order of the day.
When I got back I asked Haddy about the butcher who had obviously known Mariama...
Apparently he was one of Sainabou's boyfriends and he and Mariama definitely knew each other...
What had happened was Haddy had been sold some boney meat when she wanted steak and so Mariama had taken it back and flung it at the butcher... all the while calling his honesty into question at the top of her voice so everyone in the market could hear her...
The meat was changed and an apology was issued and they'd never taken Mariama lightly since.
The mind just out and out boggles...

Joy turns up just after midday...
"You ok ?"
"Yes thanks... I had the most wonderful sleep..."
"Good, so you're feeling fit then ?"
"Why... What's happening ?"
"Apparently we're off to a wedding reception tonight with Sainey's band, if you want to go, that is ? But I have no intention of working at anything today... It's Sunday and I'm going to be totally lazy all day"
"I'm with you on that... Besides you said from Sunday it's our holiday time"
"Right !"
"So what's this about a wedding, then ?"
And so I told her everything I currently knew which was only the bare details but it was enough...
We're going.
Sainey is coming to pick us up later as the reception is the other side of Fajikunda...
The other side of the main road anyway, and I've never really been over that side apart from the butchers in the market, a couple of the shops and the pharmacy.
There's some beer left in the refrigerator and so long as we don't go mad on it we should be ok for tonight.
Stick a quarter of a lime down the neck of the bottle and drink the beer through the lime and you have the original lager and lime and very refreshing it is, too.
Julbrew, the local beer is about 4.7 on the alcohol scale.
It's not strong for a lager beer but it does have a taste as opposed to some of the designer dreck that they drink in England and a lump of lime tranforms it perfectly, although the taste isn't bad for a guy who used to drink lager all the time when he was younger.
After lunch 'Tufa turns up with a dozen ginger beers which are even better in this heat so I peel off enough money to pay for them and give it to Haddy who has probably paid for them anyway (she had) Then he brings in another six bottles of beer and some ice lollies for the kids.
Haddy, you little darling... You thought of everything.
One bottle of Julbrew costs 25 dalasi in the supermarket or 30-35 in a hotel or restaurant and the going rate right now is 37 dalasi to one English pound so it's a better price here than in England that's for sure, and truth be told it tastes so much better than some I could mention...
Fosters anyone ?
How anyone, including a continent full of Australians can enjoy that insipid pee is beyond serious comprehension ?
A nice lazy afternoon just hanging out and doing nothing except shooting the breeze and eating and drinking... Ah this is the life.
I think I'll wait until there's nobody else around to impart the news of her youngest daughter's aspirations to Haddy.
Sainey appears at about five o'clock in a 4 x 4 which Joy and I scramble into and we're off again... The reception is being held about three quarters of a mile into the warren of tracks that comprise the roads the other side of the main road through to Banjul.
The first thing you notice are the amount of holes in the tracks that would definitely constitute an amazing obstacle course for a normal car, but being in a 4 x 4 means you can (just about) be safe as the car traverses the occasional hole at an angle of about 45 degrees.
There is some moaning going on in The Gambia about the state of the roads (tracks) but if the country doesn't have the money to instigate the road building programme that it needs, what can you do ?
Slow and steady and eventually these things will occur. That much I'm sure of and I've only been here three times.
It's no good wanting it done immediately. It'll happen, I'm sure of that but it's a long term thing.
There is no instant solution.
The Gambian President has earmarked it as a ten to twelve year job or so I read in the newspapers, but I reckon the way things are with the world's economies going down all around the globe, he'll be lucky if he brings it in at fifteen but it is a worthwhile project so I certainly wish him luck and it'll certainly help their tourist industry when it's done.
It will also help to keep down the problems caused by malaria as those holes fill with water during the rainy season and those little buggers are a menace to everyone's health, so stopping some of them breeding in the stagnant holes will be a lifesaver for some.
Right... All out, we're there...
Sainey manages to get us safely through the throng where chairs have been thoughtfully provided for us old 'uns.
Mine is next to the stage left main speaker and Joy's is inside of it next to Sainey who's going to be sitting to play his electric guitar as opposed to his acoustic for most of the night.
The rest of the musicians are all drummers and percussionists apart from the two female and one male singers, although one of the drummers is also well versed on the guitar.
This, as they say, is going to be interesting...
The speaker connection is two bare wires stuck into a microphone connection socket which comes out every time a child barges their way through while all the adults step over it, so I move my chair even closer to the speaker...
Interesting... and painfully loud, but the guy behind the desk seems to know what he's doing which after what we'd been through, was nice to see.
I've noticed that musicians here like playing with the treble fully up as well as the bass.
The bass I can handle better than the treble which affects my one eared tinnitus badly and tonight was no exception and it was exacerbated by Joy blowing her whistle that she takes to the Notting Hill carnival every year.
You know what ?
That Sainey can't half rock !
His electric style is totally different from his acoustic.
That African rolling rhythm just isn't there when he plays electric.
It's more akin to the sort of heavy metal blues style like... trying to think for a minute... the late Jeff Healey maybe, or Gary Moore... Somebody like that.
The drummers are uniformly great and as for the singers ?
Jeez, I've never seen a couple of lasses work so hard on stage.
They never stopped moving, either singing or dancing for at least five to six hours and no slow stuff either...
Breakneck tempo after breakneck tempo...
They motored.
As darkness falls I know I'm in trouble and the longer it goes on, the worse it's going to get.
The bride, who appears after the gifts are shown to everybody at twilight, is without a doubt one of the most absolutely beautiful women I've ever seen in my life, and that's a fact.
She looked absolutely stunning... or to use an oft used English expression, drop-dead gorgeous...
A very pretty girl.
Unfortunately, she, like the musicians, never stood still long enough to get a good picture so you'll just have to take my word for it. I tried so often to get her in the frame but either somebody got in the way or she was moving too fast, dancing.
The reception lasted until 10.30pm when the live music outside permit ran out, so that's when it stopped and the dj took over, and in near total darkness and in near total deafness, I tried to make Joy understand that a. I couldn't hear a word, and b. Unless we ring Haddy I've no idea how we are going to find our way back to the main road ?
Half an hour of trying to contact somebody and Joy finally gets through, gives the phone to Sainey who tells her where we are approximately, and poor old 'Tufa is despatched to pick us up. Apparently they were trying to contact us but we must have been in a dead reception area as neither Joy or I had anything register on our phones, and neither had Sainey.
I'll be glad to get back... Total silence is what I now need or I'm screwed.
The noises, whistles, pops and white noise in my right ear sounds like an aeroplane engine when it screams down the runway for takeoff and it's bloody painful when it gets to that state.
I need sleep and maybe the tinnitus won't be as bad in the morning ?
But before I go, I call Haddy over for a word and holding my right ear shut so that the working one gets all the help it can get, I drop the bombshell...
"I found out what Mariama wants to be when she grows up..."
"Did you ? She's never told anyone to my knowledge"
"I asked her on the way to the market..."
"Oh please tell me... What is it ?"
"A musician"
"A musician ? What sort of musician ?"
"A drummer. She wants to be the best Mandinka drummer in the world..."
I saw the eyes widen and the jaw drop, but luckily I was nearly totally deaf at that point so I didn't really hear the "Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh !"
"That's funny... That's what I said when she told me, too"

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