Wednesday, 28 July 2010

When First Into This Country A Stranger I Came...

It’s five o’clock and the local mosque is calling…
And I’m just dozing back off to sleep when…
Omigod !
It’s another one… And it’s right in my ear and it sounds awful.
This guy’s speaker system cannot cope with what he’s putting through it and is distorting like crazy.
He’s got it turned up to the max, which causes maximum distortion so you cannot actually hear anything resembling a word let alone a call to prayer.
All you can hear is distorted noise.
I wish he’d learn something about sound dynamics and turn down slightly, then we wouldn’t be suffering the distorted racket that he’s inflicting upon all and sundry.
Please use a bit of common sense and then the calling would be clearer and I wouldn’t be writing this and if anybody wishes to take it as a criticism ?
It is !

A speaker system which copes with amplification would suit a lot better than a couple of tannoy speakers and a cheap microphone, believe me.
When I mentioned it later I’m told it is the building opposite…
Ouch !

Oh well, we’re awake now, so hit the shower and get dressed for breakfast.
One full length French stick and a few Kraft Dairylea cheese triangles with black coffee for me, and chocolate for Haddy and we’re off for a walk along the beach which is less than a quarter of a mile away.

Wow !
What a beach !
Golden sands stretching out to the sea.

It’s a bit like the beach at Frinton in the U.K. but a hell of a lot bigger, and with a lot more flies.

You know what lets it down ?
The litter.
Some of it has obviously been collected and is piled high in mounds, giving off the overripe aroma of the local town dump, and it really is such a shame.
It’s a wonderful natural resource to attract tourist investment and litter is dropped all over it…

That, of course, attracts even more of the flies.
I’d wondered, because wherever we went, either in the house or out of the house, we were always fighting them off.
They look like Bluebottles with bright red heads, and are absolutely revolting.
I reckon Beelzebub lives in Dakar, and I kid you not.

We walked for about half a mile through the haze along the sand dodging the litter and then we saw something that made both of us angry…
An adult male has caught a seagull which he’s tied a piece of fishing line to…
Every time he lets the bird fly off, it comes crashing down on the sand when the line tightens.
What a bastard !
You know what ?
If there is a God and that sonofabitch meets him, then I only hope God does the same to him as he’s doing to that bird.
That would really be justice.
You could understand it if it were kids doing it.
It still wouldn’t be nice, but you could understand them doing it.
But an adult about thirty years old ?
No !
That’s just nastiness personified.
It spoils the walk for both of us, so we returned to the house where all the lads are on their computers logged on to the internet.
I showed them my myspace page and they clicked on one of the local band links…
Now that IS strange.
Here I am in French speaking Senegal in West Africa and the C.C. Smugglers are blasting out of the computer’s speakers…
Not only that, but the guys are totally enjoying the music that they’re listening to, which according to one of them is nothing whatsoever like the music in Senegal (True) but it’s certainly being enjoyed, as feet are tapping and fingers and hands are drumming on tables and they go through the songs on the widget at least three times…
I’ll have to tell them they made a hit in Senegal when I get back.
Trouble is, knowing Richie he’ll want to come out and play a gig for them the following week and I’m not really sure that Senegal is quite ready for that lot, yet ?
Still… Stranger things have happened so it’s something to ponder.
They’ve certainly made a hit with Aunt Rose’s sons.
Here’s a link if you want to check them out ?

We spend the rest of the day hanging around the house (or maybe it’s a villa, I’m not quite sure ?) checking out the garden in the central courtyard and me getting to know the family and the local area and shops.

The weather is very humid and although the sun comes out occasionally the weather feels oppressive.
Maybe a good storm will clear the air ?

The following day we’re up and ready to go to the market in the centre of the city to buy a few bits and pieces like clothes for me, maybe ?
Well, that’s the idea.
However, first things first…
I need to change some travellers cheques so we head for the banks…
We seem to have hit a problem ?
None of the banks want to change the cheques as they are in pounds sterling and they’re only prepared to change dollars and euros…
So much for Gordon Brown rescuing the economy !!!
Did my bank warn me ?
No it did not, but it’s possible that it doesn’t know ?
Believe me, it will when I get back…
Eight well known world wide banks refused point blank to change up sterling travellers cheques until finally, just on the off chance, we tried the Bank of Senegal…
Ninth time lucky ?
Well I have to admit I wasn’t confident but the guy behind the counter asks for my passport, checks the amount on his computer and I’ve got money…
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Bank of Senegal.
If I lived here I’d bank with you guys, no sweat.
As for the rest and their multi-national global connections ?
Fuck ‘em !
They’re useless.

Now I’ve managed to get the money out of the bank I’ve got to hold onto it, and the ‘Opportunistas’ are following us all through the market…
They might as well call ‘fresh fish’ as I stick out like a sore thumb down there, so thank the Lord we’ve got Jeano with us.
One persistent sod is shadowing me everywhere and making signals to one of his mates who is shadowing us on the other side of the street and he’s making signals to another guy behind the one shadowing me…
Confused ?
Don’t be.
They’re after ripping us off.
It gets to the point where I stop suddenly and turn and ask if I can help him ?
He says he can help me, but ‘non merci’ is not having any effect whatsoever, and after about five of those I’m getting seriously pissed off.
He’s still making signals to his mates though, and now even Haddy can see what is occurring.
Right ! Politeness goes out the window from here on in.
If he does it again I’m just going to have to tell him loudly to fuck off and eat ‘merde’.
Jeano stops at a t-shirt stall and asks the guy if he knows where so and so is ?
Turns out that the guy he’s asked about has gone for a break but he’s due back anytime, so I start perusing the stock and pick out an African motif black job for my stage partner, Joy, back in the U.K.
When Jeano’s mate appears, Jeano lays out the problem and the guy just points at five of these pests and motions them away.
Five ?
Christ ! I’m losing my touch. I only clocked three of them.
It doesn’t work though because they are still following us, albeit at more of a distance and so Jeano takes us into a small indoor shopping mall…
That cures it.
They’re not allowed in.
There’s a little unit upstairs though…

I’ve just spent about £60 on a shirt, and believe me I’ve never done that before but it’s beautiful.
It’s a black number with white piping round the edges and it’s going to look great on stage. An Italian designer job that the guy wanted £75 for, but we managed to get him to come down a bit.
I tried on a couple of t-shirts too, but he didn’t have my size which was a shame.
Right… Back to the t-shirt stall to ask his mate about African clothes for me.
The shadows are still hanging about outside but it looks like they’ve got another mark in their sights right now, so we shoot off quickly and thankfully they miss us in the crowd.
Jeano’s mate says he thinks he knows a place that might help and so he’ll come with us this time.
It’s off the main drag and quite murky inside but the clothes look great.
This time I let Haddy do the talking but they’re having trouble with ‘Noir’ and ‘Bleu’.
I have to go through every colour imaginable until finally I get a black and white off the peg African suit and a really beautiful linen shirt which Haddy insists I buy, even though it costs as much as the suit.
Mind you, she does seem to know what suits style wise and I really do like it, so that’s me spent up but pleased as punch by what I’ve bought.
The tension in that market, though ?
Knowing you are a ‘mark’ for every cheapskate con artist and bag snatcher is a palpable, physical thing and it’s exhausting.
Time for a taxi back home, methinks…

When we get back Aunt Rose has cooked creamed mashed potatoes with roasted lamb and it’s delicious, and then her husband brings out the red wine…
I’m told I woke up for the evening meal and then went to bed again waking at 4.00am totally slept out, but it has obviously done me some good because I cannot feel any tension inside whatsoever…
For a guy who’s had one heart attack and who lives on nervous energy, it feels great.

The next morning I left Haddy nattering to Aunt Rose and went shopping with Ngani, one of the girls, who is taking me to the fruit and veg’ market as none of the local shops stock what I need.
I’m short of mint and yoghurt for the dip I’m going to make.
The problem is, West Africa seems to have a sweet tooth and I can only get sweetened yoghurt. Nobody has any plain so I’m going to have to improvise on a home made Riata with lots of lemon or lime juice to cut the sweetness and hope it all approximates out ?
If I’d had the time I’d have made my own, but unfortunately the time is creeping on.
We finally get the sprigs of mint at the far end of the market…
Now all I need is access to the kitchen, but what with Aunt Rose and Celestine, the maid and cook, I’m not having a lot of luck.
Now the thing is… Aunt Rose can cook.
I can cook, but not like Aunt Rose can cook.
Like me she’s completely self taught, but unlike me, she has the confidence to just cook for the sake of it and she’s brilliant.
She completely took over Fatou’s kitchen for the wedding reception and so why she needs a cook like Celestine, who can also cook a lot better than I can, is beyond me ?
So the kitchen is their turf and me wanting access, even if it’s just to make a simple dip, is causing some grief.
Finally though, I get access to the chopping board and knife for half an hour.
Success of a kind, though…
It’s a bit sweeter than it ought to be, but Aunt Rose pronounces it ‘Tres Bon’ and Celestine sticks her finger in it, licks it clean and then does it again.
She’s smiling now.
Ok, leave it in the refrigerator for a few hours topped with black pepper and it’ll be ready for those watching the football tonight for a Pringle dip-athon…

That afternoon I went swimming with another of Aunt Rose’ sons…
Now it’s a nice enough beach and the sea looks good.
The waves are only about eighteen inches high but you don’t see too many people swimming in it…
I was about to find out why ?
There I was, happily swimming away, when a big wave shot me shoreward…
And the suction took me back out.
Farther out than I’d started from.
Then it happened again…
Then I got hit by the cross currents… Left… Right…
I was getting hit from all over, so I arrowed in toward the shore…
And promptly got sucked back out again.
This ain’t good.
Ok… Sideways… Pull and kick.
And again.
Turn the other way and do the same again…
I’m moving forward but it’s very slow.
Look at the ring on my finger and keep on pulling…
Turn on the other side and do it again…
And again…
And again…
And again…
Finally I got to a place where I could stand up so I literally threw myself forward toward the shore…
I’m now waist deep but I’ve no strength left and I can’t even walk through the suction…
One foot and then the other…
Keep moving…
Just get out of this bloody water…
I made it, although how I don’t really know, and collapsed onto my towel with my heart pounding, every muscle in my body screaming for mercy and shaking like a leaf in the wind…
No fucking way am I ever going out there again.
I’ve never been so scared of water in my life as at that moment.
I’ve been in rough stuff and I’ve been in currents but this one takes the biscuit for the complete all in one bastard.
It was playing with me, and the logical outcome would have been my carcass being dragged from the water somewhere up the coast if I hadn’t come straight in, and I nearly didn’t manage that.
All that got me through was me thinking that I’d just got married to a wonderful lady who I love like crazy and we haven’t even started a life together yet…
Listen God, if that was a test then you win mate, no contest.
How I walked back I don’t know ?
I was ready to collapse at any second.
So there’s a warning for you…
The beach at Dakar looks good and the sea looks like fun…
It ain’t.
It’s psychotic and it could kill you.
That’s me cured from swimming at Dakar, folks…
It’s knee high paddling or nothing from here on in.

Watching the football that night and stuffing Pringles and dip revived me somewhat which was nice… As was the meal Aunt Rose had prepared...

And when Manchester City had finally stuck four past Chelsea I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.
Sorry ‘Tufa but when I get back I just might remind you of tonight’s scoreline ?
Unfortunately I’d decided to go with beer that night and Senegalese beer is as close to watery piss as watery piss is…

Quite honestly I’d have shot the horse !

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Travel broadens the mind (and loosens the wallet...)

Tomorrow our honeymoon starts officially in Dakar, Senegal, at Haddy’s Aunt and Uncle’s place and we have to catch the early morning ferry at 7.00am to take us from Banjul to Barra and then walk over the border where we’ll either be getting a bus (if we’re lucky) or a taxi to Dakar.
It’s a five hour journey by road so I’m not exactly looking forward to it.

After a maximum of three hours sleep we’re up again, showered, dressed and ringing ‘Tufa to take us to Banjul…
God I’m tired...
So there we are, happily driving down the dual carriageway heading toward Banjul when we’re stopped at an army checkpoint and we all have to vacate the vehicle…
Oh, look… A suitcase… It must be full of… clothes ?
Sorry to disappoint you guys, but it wasn’t us you were after.
As Haddy is going through the case with the guy in charge, the other one asks me why we are on the road at that time in the morning ?
I just tell him it’s the start of our honeymoon and we got married two days ago which causes him to grin and ask where we are going, so I tell him Senegal… We’re going to stay with Haddy’s Aunt Rose and her Uncle.
He smiles, and says that is a good thing as I am acting like a proper Gambian man by visiting family…
Then he calls to the other one who is still going through the case and they apologise for stopping us and hope we understand, and then say we can go.
As we get back in the car I ask the friendly one what they have been searching for ?
Drugs or money.
It’s always drugs or money, or illegals or guns, or a variation of the four and apparently early morning is a good time to do a stop and search…
More people are caught.
I wish him luck and goodbye, and we’re off again.
It’s taken just under twenty minutes so there’s going to be a queue for the ferry and we’re going to be stuck in it, and that’s only if they have tickets left ?
As soon as we arrive at the docks ‘Tufa barges into the queue for tickets and returns ten minutes later with two…
Nice one, ‘Tuf’.

Now… I was under the impression that Moslems prided themselves on being polite…
I dunno where I got that idea from ?
If you take a ferry ride from Banjul to Barra, then you are going to find and experience the exact opposite…
In fact, I’d like to warn any reader thinking that they might like to take that journey one day…
Get your elbows sharpened by a professional before you even attempt it.
Never wear sandals. Stick to boots and preferably those with steel toe-caps…
That’s a word or two to the wise.
There will be those who think I’m exaggerating ?
But they are idiots, so we’ll discount them immediately and just concentrate on those with a small modicum of common sense.
Look… You don’t believe me ?
Do what you like. It’s immaterial to me but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you…

Getting on was bad enough.
Staying on was cramped and uncomfortable…
But getting off ?
That’s when you need a few things that you’ll probably have forgotten to bring otherwise…
Like a cattle prod or a Taser ?
I mean I’ve been in queue’s trying to get off or out of places and things, but even I was not prepared for this…
All stampede together and the Devil take the hindmost.
Absolute mayhem !
A moving juggernaut of people stepping, pushing and trampling on anyone who might be impeding their progress or who might actually be in front of them.
Bloody Hell !
That was an eye opener… And there’s me, the obvious foreigner trying to remain polite…
That lasted until the gouging bastard who collected the tickets told us we had to pay for the suitcase…
(We’d already checked that we didn’t)
But it made no difference to that thieving bastard… He was going to gouge us because I was white and so obviously had money…
It wouldn't be so bad if he'd gone for everybody else who carried one but he didn't...
Just us.
I don’t know what Haddy called him, but I hope it insulted his parentage right back to the dog that bore him ?
We paid the thieving cunt just so we could get off but it really fucking rankled.
People talk about the corruption in Africa, but it’s so ingrained into the psyche that any and every chance is taken to do it.
Trouble is, most of the people you meet are scrupulously honest and pride themselves on it, but where you have someone in a position of lowly authority that's where you find that the main chance is going to be taken... and we were.
One day an honest man will step up and unfortunately will probably be silenced by the mob that will hound him for even suggesting that the practice is stopped…
Either that, or he’ll be ‘silenced’.
Make of that what you will…
I really don’t think I’ve got to draw you a picture ?

Finally, we’re off to the taxi rank to get us to the border crossing which we make in good time, passports stamped on both sides and we’re in Senegal where we’ve managed to miss all the buses, so it’s a taxi ride to Dakar…
Seven of us plus luggage crammed into what we Brit’s once called a station wagon along with the dust and the flies for the next five hours.
Let me say this for the record…
When I was younger I did some crazy things when trying to get from A to B when travelling, but this was the craziest of all…
Never again.
Never, ever again.
If we have to do the return trip the same way then we pay for an invisible man to share our seating and pay for three instead of two but I will NEVER travel like that again.
So let it be written, so let it be done.

We are only stopped once on the journey at a police checkpoint to make sure everything is as it should be ?
The poor guy who’s moving a television hasn’t got the right documentation or maybe he hasn’t paid the duty ?
Either way, it’s a forty minute stop which is a relief (in more ways than one) to all the other travellers and not just me.
It gives us a chance to shake off the muscle cramps and stretch out legs at least, and sample the soft drinks of Senegal which as far as Fanta is concerned, is uniformly foul.
It certainly doesn’t taste like Fanta does in the U.K. or even in The Gambia.
It’s just soda water with E-numbers in it and no fruit taste whatsoever.
It’s horrible.
Finally we get to Dakar, which is probably as big as London from N.W. whatever to S.E whatever… Dakar is BIG.
Now we have to get a taxi to Aunt Rose’s which we accomplish in about fifteen minutes plus a journey time of maybe another twenty five ?
And we’re there…
Finally we’re there.
It’s totally different to The Gambia.
The architecture is more Arabic or maybe I should call it French Colonial ?
Anybody wanting to make a film about Beirut or Algeria or the middle east of twenty years ago, could film here without too much trouble.
As soon as we’ve unpacked our suitcases we are presented with plates of garlic- cooked lamb with fries and salad followed by watermelon that doesn’t taste like watery pulp, and bananas.
Truth to tell, all we both want to do is sleep.
Either the innocent or the damned isn’t going to matter one iota right now, so as soon as is polite, we make our excuses and…

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eid Al Adha or The Tobaski Festival

We wake up to Eid Al Adha…
The Tobaski Festival.
For those who have never experienced one, it is one of the Muslim celebratory days and is a public holiday apart from essential workers needed to keep the infrastructure going.
Ok… Tobaski…
Tobaski is a sacrificial feast day to commemorate God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ismail.
All married men and/or heads of households are expected to buy a sheep (or goat, cow, chicken, or whatever they can afford) and sacrifice it, cook it and give most of it away to those less fortunate than themselves, and then feed their family with the remainder.

It is literally a day for sharing whatever you have been able to afford and the whole country turns into one gi-normous barbecue.
All normal people can enjoy Tobaski...
Notice I said normal.
If there are a bunch of you holidaying in the country and some are vegetarian or vegan, then it's probably a good idea to have them locked in their hotel rooms so you don't hear their whineing...

Everybody, male and female alike dresses up in their finest clothes and that includes all the children who run around begging small coins from every adult they see to buy ice creams and sweets with so make sure you have lots of small denomination coins in your pockets because you are definitely going to need them.

Parents and extended family are visited and I’m quite surprised it can all be fitted into one day.
It really is one countrywide party.

All the hotel workers seem to know about us now, as the word seems to have got round that we got married yesterday, so we are literally inundated with congratulations and kind words by the few staff that have had to come in.
The gardeners, the maids, the cleaners, the kitchen girls and the chef, the desk guys… Even the lad in the hotel shop closes for three minutes to come round and offer us his congratulations…
Know what ?
When something like that occurs, it completely chokes you up.
It choked me up, anyway.
Even Ousman, our head of security, who is having to work all through the day offers his dalasi worth, and I’m going to repeat his, because I think it is worth repeating…
Actually he says I didn’t do too badly if I had to pick a Jola to marry…
But he’s smiling when he says it behind those ubiquitous shades, which is probably just as well because Haddy will never let him get away with saying anything like that, but then he says, addressing me…
‘If you find a woman… A good woman… One with love in her heart… Then you hold onto her as they are worth more than riches or money…’
I know the quote is accurate because I asked him to repeat it and I had my ‘phone on record…
Aaaahhh Ousman… You big softie, you…
But you know what ?
He’s right.
Sage advice from my Serer friend, and I intend to do just that…
In fact he’s so right that I gave him a big hug after he’d said it.
Ok, we’re both big softies…

Looking around at that moment, it strikes me that most of the staff are out of uniform…
Ousman for instance is in a dark yellow outfit with gold piping.
Even in his uniform he has a certain √©lan with his shades on, but in this outfit, shades included, he’s something else.
The waitresses, the maids, they all look absolutely stunning, and the whole hotel is an absolute riot of colour.
There will be absolutely nothing open today so we lounge around the hotel totally relaxed until the evening.
Pat decides to go out to give us some time together.
He’s taken his cameras but he’s a big boy now and hopefully he doesn’t need his big brother to hold his hand ?
Apparently, the sheep has been bought on my behalf for the compound and is being cooked while we wait.
I don’t know how many of the hotel staff cannot get back to their families on this day so between us we work out that we can feed at least four including Ousman, who is having to work all day, and the old man who looks after the gardens, so we make a couple of ‘phone calls…
‘Tufa will be doing the delivery run, later.
Ousman has a wife and son, and the old man is on his own, so that’s four portions going to good homes.
I have no idea how it’s going to be served up, but Haddy tells me that tin foil is fine and it will include rice and vegetables too.
When it comes to it, Ousman is amazed that we’d done it, but as Haddy said…
‘Even beggars and Serer’s have to eat…’ at which he laughs because he knows she’s just got him back for his ‘Jola’ jibe earlier.
Honestly… The pair of them never stop winding each other up.
The old gardener is a lovely man and he definitely knows his way around a garden, so when Haddy tells him that since he is working, we know he will not have been able to get anything for himself, so please accept this small offering from us for Tobaski, he is quite overcome and has to sit down.

He definitely wasn’t expecting that…
Small offering ? It was in a cardboard box the size of a shoebox !
But he’s worth it.
He really is a lovely old guy, and when I first met him and asked about some of the plants that I didn’t know, he took me literally all around the hotel showing me loads of things I’d never come across before.
His English is very basic, and my Wolof was non-existent at that time and is not that much better now, but somehow we conversed about the plants and he was surprised when at the end of my first trip out I told him he had taught me so much that I would have to put it into practice when I got back to the U.K.

Pat gets back in the early afternoon after nearly walking to the other end of Bakau.
Apparently he was stopped and greeted all the way by those who recognised him from the hotel and loads more besides, who are amazed that he kept asking questions about the country, about Tobaski, about everything he thought he might get an answer to, actually…
They all wanted to know about the wedding so it seemed like an information swap to him, but he also got invited back to a couple of compounds for Tobaski.
He turned them down with regret (thankfully) but thanked everybody for their kindness in such a way that it totally disarmed any questions about his American(Mid Atlantic) accent.
(Please remember that Muslims and Americans are not actually getting on too well around the world at this point… They keep killing each other…)

He’s a newspaper editor in real life and so with that journalistic background it comes easily to him but they didn’t know that, and he says he got some great pictures…

Late afternoon and we’re ready to go, so we say our goodbyes to the staff still there, and ‘Tufa collects us to take us home.
This is so strange because officially I’m now head of the household…
But the kids are the kids and so we’re not really aware of any difference, as there really isn’t any.

In the Gambia in the vast majority of things I will always defer to Haddy.

Mariama has got friends round already,

and we start to receive our first guests officially…

I also have to take a picture of my first (cooked) sheep’s head to commemorate it…
Yeeeeuuuk !

Sainabou and the twins have all been invited out,

so they are seriously dressed up, and when we finally get back to the hotel it is past midnight.
I could definitely do this again.

A White Wedding Reception

As soon as we’re all out of the car we get the confetti thrown over us by the welcoming committee…

Except it’s not confetti as we know it in the West, it’s sweets.
Bombarded with toffees…
What a great idea ?
There’s certainly less litter because everybody picks them up and eats them…
Fatou, Sainabou and the others have done an amazing job of decorating the tables under the canopies outside, but before we are allowed to sit we pose for more photo’s with the complete family, or as many as we can get that aren’t cutting chips and filleting fish or sticking chickens in ovens.

There is one obvious place in the middle for the bride and groom and thankfully there are no toasts or speeches.
The sun is out, the beach is nearly deserted, and all in all it looks like being a lovely day…
Apparently, because everybody was up early, we’re all getting a light repast before the party starts in earnest and that is fine by me because for some reason I’ve got hunger pangs… and I’m not the only one.
So there we are… It’s about eleven in the morning and I’ve just demolished the first two bottles of Julbrew, the local beer, which isn’t at all bad by the way, Haddy’s got her tonic water, Mariama and Ida are on the Vimto, and brother Pat is sticking to Fanta.
The new drink that the twins have discovered is one of those Malt things that we can buy at any corner shop or supermarket, but it’s new to The Gambia and it seems to have caught on in a big way amongst the youth.
‘Tufa sticks to Cocktail, which I find undrinkable but which he drinks all the time.
Apart from that there are a few more beers and a few Coca-Cola’s scattered around the guest’s tables.

Looking around it’s an amazingly colourful affair and we’ve got four different countries represented also.

Aunt Rose and a couple of the others from Senegal, Pat from the U.S.A. me from the U.K. and the rest from The Gambia.

I clocked a look at one of our driver’s t-shirts.
You know what it said ?
NON Alamigration Clandestine…
Which works out pretty much as No Illegal Immigration.
I’d probably get arrested for incitement to something or other if I wore that in the
U.K. but it says something that even here they are suffering from it.
There are a few women there whose job is to bless the bride and groom and the wedding.

They sing and chant and play a curious percussion instrument that actually sounds like a muted triangle and every time they do this, the bride and groom have to give them money for the blessing…
I get through the first of them with what I have in my pockets but Haddy warns me that it’s probably going to happen again later, so just as a joke I suggest to Haddy that if she got the girls to do it outside Banjul Justice Registry they’d make an absolute fortune…
A couple of them can carry a tune, too.
Badu is there from Banjul Craft Market and he’s made us a special carving… Of a couple making love.

When it’s unwrapped from the bag it provokes shrieks of laughter from most of the women and Haddy is in absolute hysterics.
Hassanatou and Husainatou have got changed from their wedding outfits to help out in the kitchen and more guests keep appearing having managed the four taxi ride’s they need to get here, and I certainly recognise some of Mariama’s friends from the compound among the smaller ones.
The only things missing that I can see are the bumster dogs, so I ask Fatou where they went ?
Apparently the mother dog had puppies and a snake had gone for them while they were being nursed.
The mother dog and two out of three of her larger previous litter had fought off the snake but all had been bitten and died.
So when they heard the tiny puppies crying they had to call the vet in and he took away the little ones.
I know the tourist brochures say don’t pet the wild dogs but that family were part and parcel of the bar from day one, so it’s a bit sad.
They were always so friendly, to me at least, and I’m going to miss them being around.
There are two dogs hanging about, but I don’t recognise the black one and the brown one doesn’t recognise me, so maybe they are new arrivals, too ?

Right… I’ve now abandoned Haddy and got my kit off and gone swimming with at least four or five of the little ones before dinner is served.
What a wonderful feeling in that water…
It’s absolutely chaotic with four or five children hanging off me when the surf and the waves break but they love it so I don’t begrudge them their fun.
Very few people in The Gambia can actually swim, most of them are taught to stay well away from water when they are young in case they drown, so trying to give these little ones a bit of confidence in the water, especially when they get a face full of wave is something that I think is quite worthwhile.
Respect the water.
Respect its power.
It will let you play, but never take it for granted, as that is when you find you have difficulties.
You know that saying ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ ?
I actually felt like that.
It is the first day of the rest of my life… and it’s a pretty good day, too.

When it’s time for food, Haddy gets to pass the platefuls out to the guests.

We’ve got Fish Benechin or Chicken Benechin or a mixture of both and there are mountains of it.

I bet it all gets eaten, though.

Pat gets the family lecture from the old man about his obligations to the family now that his brother is part and parcel of it, and thankfully takes it all in seriously,

and after we’ve finished eating I collect all the leftover meat bones, pile them all up on a paper plate, and take them over to the dogs but the older brown one isn’t in sight and the black one is very suspicious, so I just move off into the dunes and put down the plate.
They’ll come eventually.
They get left to forage by their owners if they manage to survive the beatings or the stones thrown at them, which doesn’t sit too well with me, so guidebooks be damned, I won’t be party to starving them.
Besides, they keep the place free from rats.
Hey ! Look at that… It’s cake time…

And we’ve got cards too…

And we’re being blessed again… and we have to keep paying until they think we’ve paid enough…
Awa has just arrived.

She’s had to work the early shift at the hotel, but she’s finally here and thoughtfully has changed up two or three hundred dalasi into five dalasi notes…
What a little darling that lass is ?
We were blessed four times in all and that can be an expensive business.

Finally it all comes to an end, and we’re back in the cars for our return trip to the hotel and the village.
When we get let out at the hotel we get a serious ribbing from the guys outside who have all waited around to see the English bloke in African dress and the bride who they never caught sight of this morning, so I just think ‘Sod it ! I’m not changing.
Why bother ? I’m in The Gambia’
So we just sit in the bar area by the pool in our wedding outfits, turning the tourist’s heads and watching the evening’s cabaret by a group of musicians and dancers from Guinea who I thought were one of the best things I’d seen at the hotel.
I finally asked Haddy about the reasons for her choice in venue and guests and she explains that if we’d held the reception at the compound then it would have cost about ten times the amount, and I have to remember that for an occasion like that, the whole village would have come through the compound gates at some time during the day and politeness dictates that you offer them food…
I think maybe you’d have to be a Lebanese supermarket owner to afford that out here, so now I know, I think she definitely made the right decisions ?
She got as many as she could within the budget we’d allocated.
It was enough.

A White Wedding 26th November 2009

It must be six o’clock because the bloody alarm has just gone off…
I didn’t sleep that well and I’m knackered.
I think I’ve had about eight hours in the last forty eight and it’s not doing me any favours…
The butterflies in my stomach have just turned into a longing for it all to be over and done with.
Still… that’s probably a bit unfair ?
Please let it all go off without a hitch.
‘Tufa is supposed to be picking us up outside the hotel at eight which means a seriously early breakfast before showering and climbing into my suit.
Thirty minutes later there is still no sign of him but the traffic is appallingly heavy so I ring Haddy just in case, but she assures me he’s on his way…
Guess we’ll just have to wait then ?
We spend the time outside with the hotel’s security guys and a few of the locals who have small shop type outlets in the vicinity.
Ousman’s not about as he’s got the later shift, and all the guys say he’s got to see this, so please wear it when we come back to the hotel tonight.
They all seem to be impressed with the suits so that’s a plus until one guy asks if it’s a Muslim wedding, and am I here to convert because I’m wearing Muslim clothes ?
S’funny… Everybody in the country wears this type of get up apart from the obvious tourists, including Pa and he’s a Christian, so I just tell him my wife picked them and in that I’ll defer to her, but no, it isn’t a Muslim wedding and whilst I’m happy to believe, it isn’t a Christian one either.
He seems to think I should be one or the other and I suppose I could have told him I was a Buddhist or a Pagan or any damn thing but I just tell him that fundamentalists in any religion let everybody down and if Tony Blair and George W. Bush consider themselves Christians then to please leave me out ‘cause I’m definitely not one of them, and thankfully that seems to do the trick and he leaves us to it.
Finally, after what seems an eternity of butterflies in my stomach and chain smoking like a good’un, ‘Tufa turns up and we’re off.
I realise that I didn’t remind Haddy about the rings because they are safer at her place and then realised I can’t do anything about it anyway.
If she forgets them we’ll have to borrow a couple, it’s as easy as that.
Finally we’ve arrived back at the Justice Registry and I’m rolling cigarettes like mad now.
A five minute wait and she’s here… and she looks absolutely stunning.

A simple white top with purple braiding on the front, a pretty headdress and trousers that definitely fit her… and she’s remembered the rings…
Which I immediately pass over to Pat for safe keeping.
Mariama and Ida look absolutely beautiful in their matching cream bridesmaids outfits with their small headdresses.

Can I relax now ?
Can I hell !
It’s never going to happen. Well it might ? But not necessarily today.
We wait upstairs for the affair to begin.

Pat is taking pictures of all and sundry with three different cameras, we’ve got the official Justice Registry guy doing it too, plus a lad who’s videoing proceedings for Batch, our official photographer, who has to wait downstairs as he’s on the official guy’s patch as it were.
One of the things I do notice is that I’m the only white guy marrying a black girl.
All the others are black guys marrying white women.
I wonder what the percentage is ?
I’ll ask somebody later.
The service is short and we all get our lines right (Aren’t cue cards a good idea ?)

so nobody makes a mistake, and after our vows and the rings and witnessing and kissing the bride (I really liked that bit) we’re off downstairs for more pictures and to wait for the cars that are taking us all out to Fatou at Leybato Sunrise, Sanyang.
Oh wow ! There’s loads of women downstairs that I recognise from the village and only one twin. The other must be with Sainabou and Fatou out at Leybato doing women’s stuff… like food…

There are a few outside that I didn’t expect.
Jally from the village and Badu from the market and quite a few that I recognise but can’t put names to, but they are all happy for Haddy and me, and that’s the main thing.
We are all family here.
Ebrima’s stepfather, who has three wives himself, has forsaken the mosque to be with us today but then he was one I expected.

I’m going to have to ask Haddy how she made the cut as far as those who are coming to the reception or wedding breakfast or whatever it’s called in The Gambia, because I haven’t the faintest idea ?
We’ve managed to cram everybody into two cars and an enormous people carrier and we only have one stop to make on the way to pick up Haddy’s son Amadou who couldn’t make it to the ceremony.
It’s a fair old ride to Sanyang from Banjul but there is method in the madness as you’ll find out later.

A White Wedding Minus Two 24th November 2009

You’d think the closer I got to the wedding the more tense and stressed I’d be, but after the last eight months it’s all going away, dissipating in the sun and the friends I’d made in The Gambia ?

The journey out was uneventful.
The usual drive down to Gatwick in the early hours followed by the interminable wait for the flight to be called and all the while drinking enough Costa black coffee, which is horrible by the way and also Costa fortune, especially at airports, to try and keep the caffeine levels up to keep me awake.
Trouble is, it just makes me want to piss.
Brother Pat turned up after the flight had been called, after staying in the Hilton across the road so we did actually manage to get seats together on the flight.
He tried a couple of times to stick the barbs in but thankfully packed it in after one warning shot.
Shit !
I’m tense enough before a flight that slapping down my younger brother seemed a reasonable solution to stress busting.
Thankfully he heeded the warning and from that moment the needling stopped.
I really don’t know why he bothers ?
Maybe he thinks he has to compete…
Who knows ?
But it’s puerile, facile and all the rest, so hopefully it will stay hidden away ?
Haddy won’t put up with it anyway, and she knows I have a short fuse when it comes to that sort of thing so it’s best it goes.
The flight was ok.
Six hours of shite on the flight’s entertainment system so I didn’t bother.
I needed sleep, but try as I might it didn’t happen.
I got close but then they brought round dinner, so go figure ?
We finally got in and through customs and immigration and I tapped some dickhead on the shoulder as we went through and told him to do up the zips on his backpack or he was going to lose his wallet which was hanging out of it but as usual I just got told to mind my own…
Suit yourself sunshine… Fucked if I care what happens to it ?
There she is…
And ‘Tufa, and the bloke who lives in the village and works at the airport…
Jeez… A real welcoming committee…
Well, it’s finally happening.
Bring it on !

We spend the next three hours eating and trying on clothes.
My wedding suit is white and Pat has also got one the same which I had no knowledge of as he’s packed a thin polyester number for the wedding, but no, we’re both going African apparently for the ceremony.
The other bits we need we can pick up from Banjul market tomorrow.
Finally, hours later than everybody else, we check into the hotel…
And all the staff seem to know why we’re there, too…
The word has definitely gone around.

I have a nine o’clock appointment with Haddy at the Justice Registry in Banjul on the following day to go through some forms and then on to see Pa whose car we are borrowing, and then we’re just going to mooch around looking for the things we need.

So get this…
There we are, the four of us, me, Haddy, Brother Pat and ‘Tufa walking down the main drag of Banjul which is absolutely teeming with people, and one of ‘Tufa’s mates taps him up and asks him if that idiot is with us ?
What idiot ?

The complete fucking moron who is walking gaily along taking pictures of all and sundry with an unzipped backpack on his back…
My idiot brother.
Nice one !

Here we are in the middle of what can only be described as Bandit Country and the stupid sod hasn’t taken in anything I’ve previously said.
Doh !
Listening with your ears shut and your mouth open is not something I’d recommend in a country, no, scotch that, in a continent that you’ve never taken a single step in before yesterday.
God help us !
At least when ‘Tufa pointed it out to him he was suitably chastened and moved it to his front, but honestly…
Why do I bother ?
We saw Hadim and Badu in the market, and the lady who sold me my blue elephant shirt back in March, and blow me, she recognises me, as does little ‘Messi’s dad.
Apparently his little lad is still listening to the music and songs playing in his head and still dancing everywhere.
I reckon he’ll grow up wanting to be a musician ?
Aaaaahhhh… Truth to tell I’m glad to be back.
We bought hats to complete our wedding outfits from the main market and that did us,
although trying to explain why I will not wear anything with red piping on it seemed to flummox the guy until I spat on the ground and made the ‘evil eye’ sign and said Manchester United…
He got it then.
Rummaged for a couple of minutes and came out with a pack with light blue piping...
Now you’re talking.
So now it’s back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation by the pool before we're picked up by 'Tufa for a meal at Haddy's later in the evening before the big day tomorrow.
Guess what ?
Hey Pat... Look at the food in the pot.
That's sweet potato, that's cassava, that's cabbage, the snot coloured thing is bitter tomato and don't touch that red thing 'cos it's a chilli and it'll be hotter than the fires of hell...
So without taking a blind bit of notice of anything I said, Mr Know-it-all forks up the red one and happily sticks it in his mouth...
What a dickhead !
He'll learn... The hard way perhaps, but he'll learn...
Oh what fun.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The More We Walk Together Love, The Better We'll Agree (Cropredy 2009 Part Two)

The Buzzcocks were playing before Steve Winwood on the Thursday night.
Haddy and I had leisurely unpacked everything and sorted out the tent's innards, stuck some food on and eaten it and then hit the festival with Annie, whose other half Shakey, had opted for the pub along with the vast majority of our lot.

The three of us finally get in to the site for the act before The Buzzcocks and head for our usual spot, which is already occupied so we re-site a little further back than normal but it’s no problem really.

The whole crowd are wondering about The Buzzcocks as this is the first time ever that anything remotely resembling a punk band excepting maybe 3 Daft Monkeys who are more punk folk and who were on last year, and who I’ve actually put on myself and supported, have ever played Cropredy, so everybody is looking forward to it…
Some with expectations of brilliance (They have been getting good reviews for their gigs recently) and some with total trepidation as punk is and was definitely not their scene, but I’m here to say that Messrs Diggle and Co blew a storming set which was definitely just what the doctor ordered.
I will freely admit that they were never my favourite band back then, but bloody hell ! Did they go for it or what ?
Haddy’s out of her chair and bouncing up and down with the rest of the fifteen thousand odd bodies…
Definitely a bracing start to our festival and midway through the set we get ‘phone calls to say the majority of the rest of our gang are at the top of the crowd and in deference to James who is only five, will stay there and meet us back at the tents when the night is over.

The Buzzcocks finally hit their last number and they are off and gone to resounding applause from the crowd.
Definitely a left field booking success for the predominantly folkie bunch from Fairport.
I’m seriously impressed.
Annie quite liked them anyway, but it’s my first time seeing them live.
They came, they played and they conquered and they definitely made a few friends that night.
Good on ‘em.
Now it’s time for Steve Winwood…
Now this is no secret but I’m actually old enough to remember him from the days of The Spencer Davis Group, let alone Traffic, Blind Faith and the solo years.
He’s always been someone that as a musician I’ve admired, but more from a distance.
I own a couple of Spencer Davis albums, about six Traffic albums, Blind Faith and a couple of solo’s and even an oddball outfit named ‘Go’ with Japanese percussion maestro Stomu Yamash’ta is in the old vinyl collection somewhere, and I have the distinct feeling that he’s going to do a form of Winwood’s hits from here, there and everywhere tonight ?
He’s finishing the night so there’s no point in doing all new stuff as most of the crowd would just walk as it’s getting distinctly chilly round about now.

Hey !
What can you say ?
He’s bloody majestic !
All the well known tracks are included, but not ‘Hole In My Shoe’ and thank the Lord for that.
Forty Thousand Headmen, Can’t Find My Way Home, Keep On Running and a great cover of the Blues Brothers Gimme Some Lovin’
(Only joking… I know it’s a Spencer Davis Track sung by Stevie… But everybody seems to know The Blues Brothers version… Is there anybody who hasn’t seen that film ?)
A couple of tracks from his solo years and a couple of new ones and as he hits his encore we decide to move to avoid the crush when he finishes…
Annie thinks he’s a bit jazzy, but it’s just that basic Hammond sound that he gets from his organ and so it’s me and Haddy for Winwood, and Annie for the Buzzcocks as far as favourites from Thursday night are concerned.
We’re on field seven at the back of the stage and it’s a bit of a trek over the canal and round the bend to the field, but we’re all buzzing from the Buzzcocks and Steve Winwood so it’s not a problem.
Get back, have a snack and a warm drink and get your head down for the following day…
Hmmm… The look on Haddy’s face as she crawls into the tent for her first night under canvas is a right picture…

It’s cold and it’s damp (well it would be, we’re in the middle of a field in Oxfordshire) and we’re both awake and she’s freezing and it’s three o’clock in the morning…
Snuggle up closer, change positions, get up and make a cup of tea, leg it to the loo’s and back, snuggle down again…
I’m going to get her a ‘hoodie’ of some description tomorrow, as warm ears and head usually equals warmer body.
It worked for me a couple of years ago when I forgot my leather jacket.
When I wake it’s morning and past eight o’clock which is unusual for me as I usually wake there at about six when the church bells chime, but at least I feel I’ve had a rest so I crawl out and attempt to start breakfast…
Cook tomatoes, veggie bacon rashers and fried egg on two doorsteps with steaming cup of tea…
That’ll set us up.
Miss Grumpy sticks her head out of the tent…

The smell of fried food has got to her and she’s definitely happier with that in her stomach, and the sky is looking good, too…
It could be warming up ?
I bloody hope so.
It was quite damp and chilly last night.
First things first after breakfast…
Hit the queue (and I mean queue) for the showers…
She’s nicked my t-shirt that my brother sent me from the U.S.A. but I don’t mind because she looks better in it than I do.

The only two acts I’m really interested in today are John Jorgenson who used to be in The Hellecasters with Jerry Donahue and obviously Richard Thompson who’s topping the bill and ending the night, so as soon as we can, we dump our stuff on site in our usual spot and leave Annie to guard them as she’s happy doing her knitting (Totally Rock’n’Roll is our Annie) and listening to all the folkie acts.
Seeing as it’s Haddy’s first time here, we are going walkabout around the village so that she can get some photographs of the places that she’s seen on some of the cd sleeves.
We’ll be back for John Jorgenson though… I definitely want to catch him.

We had a lovely walk round without any pressure or rush, taking pictures left, right and centre.
The weather held quite well, and it seems to be getting warmer by the hour so that’s a bonus.
We bought the hoodie so now she should be ok for tonight, and a couple more bits and bobs besides, and then it was time to make our way back for another pit stop before we hit the site for Jorgenson.
It’s definitely getting warmer.
Because he’s predominantly instrumental I think I was the only one out of our bunch who appreciated J.J. ?

He was a bit ‘jazzy’ for everybody else, but then as Haddy pointed out, he is definitely a master of his instrument.
Sod it ! Lets go shopping on site.
I want that Richard Thompson box set and let’s see what other music there is going cheap ?
A couple of Tim Buckley’s, a Beach Boys and a Box set ain’t a bad add to the collection, and Haddy hit the t-shirt tent for a Fairport Cropredy 2009 top and a child’s size Cropredy 2009 sleeveless for Mariama back in The Gambia…
Yep… We are definitely doing ok.
Now I’m going to enjoy a Guinness… Or maybe two or three ?
I rarely drink these days because I always need the car, so being safe on site is a definite bonus and I can have a couple of beers.
Haddy doesn’t drink anything stronger than brandy ??????
In fact apart from the occasional brandy, I’ve never known her to drink alcohol, although she did taste a drop of my Bushmills when I took a bottle to The Gambia and pronounced it ‘alright’, so she’s on the tonic water which she enjoys anyway and although I couldn’t find it last night, I know I’ve a flask full of tequila somewhere in the boot of the car just in case it gets chilly tonight ?
I’ll find it when I nip back to make up some rolls for later.

Right. Flask found and rolls made and back to the site to stuff them and then wait for Mr Thompson.
We’re all looking forward to his set and he certainly doesn’t disappoint.

He’s playing acoustic and solo and his very dry humoured introductions and songs completely captivate Haddy who pronounces him the best thing she’s ever heard…
That’s a bonus.

Then he brings on his daughter Kami, and they duet for a while before he storms the final few numbers.
If Stevie Winwood was majestic what’s the adjective to describe Richard Thompson ?
Absolutely fucking brilliant might come close but it’s not close enough ?
Knockout !
Maybe ?
The best I’ve seen him in years and how can anything top that ?
Right… Let’s get back to the tent and warm up with those bowls of chilli that I’d prepared earlier before settling down for the night…

It’s Saturday… Fairport day… and it didn’t rain in Richard’s set as it traditionally does…
Showers or boot fair ?
Showers win out so it’s back to queueing I’m afraid, but we’re closer to the front this time…

Hit the site as soon as they open it at half past ten and get comfortable…
It’s Richard Digance time and now we’ve got a whole bunch of nutters doing the Digance Bog-Roll Morris…

You have to see it to believe it !
Haddy is in absolute hysterics at this point.

Well… She’s never been to an English Folk Music Festival before, so what do you expect ?

We’re all wondering what Nik Kershaw is going to be like as he’s on soon but the next highlight is definitely Dreadzone.
Reggae and rap and a bit political and definitely danceable to the max…
Nice one guys, and perfect for the middle of the afternoon.
Nik Kershaw is a surprise… Albeit a pleasant one.

I wasn’t looking forward to him but a couple of our younger members were, and he’s got a nice line in self-deprecating humour.
I actually enjoyed him, so that was a bonus.

Fairport Convention hit the stage at nine and they’re going to play us out to the end and they hit the stage running.
This isn’t a band that’s feeling tired, this is a band that’s still got something relevant to say.

Haddy’s finally seeing a band that has given her and her family out in The Gambia a lot of pleasure musically, and they don’t disappoint her (or anyone else for that matter) but at round about ten after they’ve been on an hour, they wind down their set and make an introduction…
Now I did say at the beginning of this piece that I’m writing, that there was a special guest and we, and by that I mean pretty much the whole crowd, are on tenterhooks, because we just don’t know what is going to happen ?
The guy is virtually coming out of a self-imposed musical exile that he sent himself into and while it is fair to say that pretty much everybody here is on his side, world events have a nasty habit of informing opinion and world events have definitely interfered with this guy’s life, but they introduce him anyway…
Ladies and gentlemen please give a warm Cropredy welcome to Mr Yusuf Islam…
And the first thing he gets is a five minute standing ovation.
The former Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam is playing his first festival date in thirty odd, years.
They’ve got Pat Donaldson back too, so the usual suspects are all on stage from the time of his classic hits.
Everybody is screaming for the hits but he has no intention of playing them as that part of his life is over. Two new numbers, one from his first Islamic release and one from his new one and two oldie album tracks.
He ended with Peace Train.

It was a perfect mini-set and the crowd rises as one to cheer him…
Amazing !
You just had to be there, I guess ?
Haddy, although not a Muslim herself but coming from a Muslim country is virtually moved to tears, but I have to say the majority of the crowd, even this old cynic, felt it too…
Amazing !
And then we’re back with Fairport who storm into the next portion of the set finally hitting Matty Groves and then encoring with Meet On The Ledge and Haddy is singing along with all the rest, but then she knows these songs…
Now she’s seen them performed and she wants more.

Fairport have a habit of doing that.
It’s disarming, but you always want to come back.
We’ve bounced and danced our socks off…
We’re all going to sleep well tonight, before the journey home tomorrow.
In Haddy’s opinion Richard Thompson is a musician who obviously sits at God’s right hand…
You can tell she was reasonably impressed, can’t you ?
And Fairport ?
Well, they were Fairport and she wants to come back next year to see them again.
As for Mr Islam ?
Well she’s got something to tell ‘Lamin the Drum’ when she finally returns, as Lamin is the Cat Stevens fan back in Fagikunda, and the fact that she’s seen him perform and the obvious love from the crowd toward a Muslim performer is something that Lamin is going to relish.
He’s always said that musicians are different to ordinary people and a different set of rules apply, so that this Muslim vs Christian (Or America) war that seems to have erupted around the world would never have occurred if people learned that music is more important and can inform politics and not the other way round.
I like Lamin, he’s a cool dude… smart too (and an absolutely amazing drummer).

When we return home we’ve got things to do…
The house needs new carpets throughout, and a lot of stuff needs throwing out that has accumulated over the years because things are going to change in November…
Unfortunately while we are waiting for the carpets to be delivered, Haddy trips while going upstairs and manages to twist her ankle and scald her leg at the same time…
Her break is going to have to be cut short, but it can’t be helped…
I’ll be seeing her again in November when we’re finally tying the knot and getting married…