Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Fourth Gambian Experience Part One. (Eight Miles High... And When You Touchdown...)

Photo's from the top:-
Omar and Mum Ida.
Pussy's new family (again).
2x Omar

It’s the middle of February and I’m literally freezing my tits off at work because it’s so cold and I’ve got no protection against it apart from yet another layer of clothing which is beginning to cause me grief as moving is becoming difficult.
Everything I can buy thermal wise, I’ve got.
Socks, underwear, shirts, plus thick sweaters and when I say I’ve got everything, I mean everything.
But… According to my erstwhile and so called manager I have to wear the Council’s sodding green uniform jacket over the top of everything topside and it won’t fit over a fleece lined leather jacket which is definitely the warmest thing I possess and which he, in his undoubted wisdom, has decreed I cannot wear over the green jacket.
Of course if it fitted me the other way round I would have done it but it doesn’t and because my job involves walking and not driving about on a quadbike or somesuch vehicle, I apparently, do not qualify for any of the Council’s cold weather clothing.
It is apparently ok for me to keel over with hypothermia which I’ve managed to do twice previously and which he knows about, but actually taking serious notice of what is a life or death problem for me would seem to be beyond him.
It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually implemented their own Council’s rules and regulations regarding staff health as supplied to all members of staff in the handbook we are all given when we join as opposed to just paying lip service to it, but that is only done when it is convenient for them…
Fuck everyone else !
You know what their reason was for not allowing me the clothing ?
If they give it to me then everyone might want some ?
Yep !
That was it… The official reason.
I’ve had fifty two years of getting used to what I could do, and three years since the heart attack to get used to what I now can’t do, and despite me telling them about it (as I am supposed to do according to their own staff handbook) when anything affects my health, their idea of my health and safety is to ignore it totally because it is not convenient for them…
Health and safety ?
Yeah, right !
And that’s not even including the fact that they’ve decided that I’ve got to start work a half hour before anyone else because somebody else made a mistake and when I complained about it as the job I’d already done had to be repeated for a second day running, the whole thing got dumped on me because a colleague had recently been promoted and decided NOT to back me up.
I use the word loosely.
Telling the truth wouldn’t have hurt him and it might even have done the bloody department some good, but it’s so much easier to dump on someone else… Isn’t it ?
Now the pills I have to take to survive are kicking back.
One is fighting another in the early hours and is causing me serious aggravation.
You can fool them for maybe a couple of days if you can shovel food in at the right times but the constancy of having to do it on a weekly basis is making me ill with cramps and knots that seem to twist your stomach into agonies that those uncaring bastards couldn’t even dream about.
Oh well… What goes around comes around, as they say…
But I do have eleven days holiday to come which has to be taken before the end of March, and so with that in mind I wandered into the local travel agents thinking maybe I can afford another week away with Haddy in The Gambia ?

Maria, the blonde girl behind the counter, immediately looks up while she’s serving another customer, excuses herself, and asks me if I’ve come in about The Gambia again and when I say yes, asks me to ‘Hang on until she’s finished with her customer because she thinks she’s got some very good news for me…?’
Sounds ok to me so I’ll hang on…
It was definitely worth the fifteen minute wait.
As soon as she’s finished packing them off to Mexico or the Dominican Republic or wherever it was they ended up going to she’s on the ‘phone to check prices, asks if it’s the usual flight only ? and then tells me that she can get me over there for three hundred and twenty four quid for fourteen days…
It was six hundred and something for seven days in November when we went out to do the gigs.
We check the calendar…
What with weekends and all, if I fly out on the seventeenth of March I can fit the fourteen day break into my eleven days.
Great !
Step outside to ring Haddy who immediately says yes.
Now all I have to do is book the time off at work.
The following day they let me take an early lunch break and I shoot off down the town to book it. Done.
I’m going.

When Joy and I flew out back in November she had been in touch with a guy named Mark who runs a charity organisation named Roots Nursery thinking that it might have something to do with the Roots Nursery School at Fajikunda ?
It doesn’t.
There are a lot of Roots Nursery charities apparently, most of whom are capitalising on the book by Alex Haley, and let’s face it, it did put The Gambia on the map, but the one Mark looks after is in Albreda and Juffreh where Alex Haley’s Kunta Kinte ancestor is reckoned to have come from, and I’d visited it with Haddy on my first trip out.
There are some photo’s attached further back in the blog in 2008 if you want to go back that far ?
So I rang Mark and found out that he was flying on the same day as me but his team of three were only going to be out there for seven days.
We can however, meet up at Gatwick before the flight which is the usual 7.50am-ish job.
It’s a horrible time to fly in one respect, as having to get to Gatwick for that time in the morning with the earlier check in times, means leaving home at about 2.30am if you want a clear run on the M.25 ?
If you leave it until later and the early morning work traffic has started then one accident on the M.25 could blow out your holiday so it’s a good idea to get there and hang about for the extra hour rather than rush it.
Oh well, at least there were no problems at Gatwick apart from me being two kilos over the baggage limit…
To be honest I’d cut down and cut down but I’d got all Mariama’s drumming cd’s, a couple of bits for Haddy and some clothes for the girls and Amadou and I couldn’t cut anymore so I paid the excess but I did manage to blag myself an aisle seat on the flight.
20 kilos is a very light allowance anyway and damn near every other airport has a 30 kilo baggage allowance, but not our wonderful Gatwick however.
They’re still stuck in the dark ages.
I’m stopped at the passport control stop and search as usual, and as usual they go through the electrics in the luggage…
Yes, it’s a laptop… That’s a minidisk recorder… They’re the extension speakers for the minidisk or the computer… That wire connects to this, that wire connects to that, I’ll fire the mutha’ up so you can listen if you like ?
No ? Ok, thank you…
I only had to take my boots off twice this time so that was a plus but finally I’m in departures and buying the usual duty free.
Some tobacco for Ebrima and Lamin and a bottle of brandy for Haddy and that’s it…
Find a strong black coffee to help keep me awake for the next crucial couple of hours until I’m on the plane, and text Mark to say that I’m here.
Thirty minutes later he rings and says they’re in MacDonalds, second table to the left and we meet and greet…
The more I do this stuff, the more I realise that there really are some selfless people in this world who will put themselves out to help others if they can, and Mark and his two companions all fit the bill.
They raise money in England to help a small community of people a couple of thousand miles away and they do it because they want to and they have the abilities to do so.
My mate Bernie http://www.morewriting.co.uk/user/306 who writes a pretty nifty set of words himself, and who has been an aid worker in Africa reckons that Africa’s problems can only be solved by the Africans.
I would agree with that but sometimes people only need a sort of leg-up to the next rung on the ladder and that is what Mark and his team are supplying.
The leg-up… and whichever set of Gods you believe in, thank him or them for those who get off their arses and actually do something worthwhile to help.
And all this from one holiday and a paid trip to the village on a package holiday ?
You’ve got to have some sort of admiration for somebody as selfless as that.
It’s just a shame that governments of countries don’t feel the same way about it.
Oh yeah, they’ll donate money in aid to poorer countries if they think they might get something out of it, but in general terms the real work is done by people like Mark who do actually make a difference by going into a community and finding out what they actually need as opposed to the money going into some scheme that might benefit somebody if you’re lucky but looks really good on paper.
The village of Albreda is on the river and is in a severe malarial zone and so apart from anything else, they are supplying one thousand mosquito nets for all the schoolchildren of the village.
Anybody who hasn’t visited anywhere where Malaria is a serious problem wouldn’t have a clue as to why that is so important but Malaria is a killer disease and it could be eradicated, but only if people start with the basics and the basics are literally a mosquito net costing about two and a half to three pounds, English.
Less than twenty cigarettes.
So I’m asking… Is it not worth that to save a child’s life or to save them from what can be a terribly debilitating disease ?
I know what my answer is, but you’ll all have to think about your own ?
Anyway, let’s cut the sermon because I’m sure you really don’t want to read it ?
We get our seats on the plane, I’m in the middle and they’re right at the back so that’s a good excuse for a walkabout for all four of us.
The batteries on the computer died before I had a chance to show them the photo’s and there was a really crap movie starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman titled ‘Australia’ which couldn’t decide if it wanted to be ‘Red River’ (Or ‘Lonesome Dove’ for those in their twenties and thirties) or ‘Pearl Harbour’ and all set in the land of Oz…
(That’s Oz as in Oz-tralia, mate).
Christ ! You could have made three good films for what they must have spent on
that one…
Or even sponsored a few of the starving kids around the world for a few
years ?
Face it, if they’d done that then the makers might have ended up with a better return on their investment ?
I got pulled over at Banjul for the first time and they went through the luggage.
I think they were looking for mobile phones if I got the gist of the woman being searched next to me ?
But I’m clean, I’ve got the two allowed only and that’s that.
Which meant I managed to miss saying goodbye to Mark and his crew, but I can text him later on when we get in…
Except there isn’t a we…
‘Tufa is there to greet me as usual, but there’s no Haddy.
‘Tufa tells me what’s going on while we’re driving back to the compound.
Apparently, Haddy’s elder sister’s husband had just died of cancer earlier that morning and so she was with the family and she will see me later on, but closer to tonight.
I was told about six pm but she finally turned up at eleven looking completely exhausted.
Had I been looked after ?
Of course…
I’d turned up at the gate and the guys had grabbed my case to take in and that was it, hugs from Mariama, the twins, Sainabou, Little Ida, Neighbour Ida, Ida’s Mum… The works.
Oh yes, I’d been looked after, fed, the lot.
Eldest daughter Fatou who I’d known in England had returned from her new beach bar at about eight…
What new beach bar ?
Things were definitely happening around the compound, and then finally Haddy had got back and started to explain to me the workings of a family vigil.
It’s not with the body but with the bereaved, and the whole extended family turn up and eat and drink them out of house and home.
That’s a brutally frank way of putting it because whatever money the family have left after a breadwinner (In this case) has died, is frittered away on food and drink leaving the poor bereaved soul worse off money wise than before, and then the extended immediate family decide who is to take in the bereaved or are they to stay in their own compound or house, whatever ?
After having it explained, I have to admit that it’s a system that doesn’t sit too well with me.
What a waste.
But here in The Gambia it is the tradition in both Muslim and Christian households, the only difference being that the Muslims end it in twenty five days and the Christians in forty.
Forty days ?
Believe it.
Haddy explains that she has other people staying as well for some of the family’s relatives were in Senegal and they’ve come over to be here at this sad time.
Hey… Slow down… Go To Bed… I was up all night last night, had a six hour flight and I’m not sure I can manage another all-nighter ?
Come on, love… I’m exhausted, you’re exhausted, try and get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning…

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