Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Fourth Gambian Experience Part Two (It's Stranger Than Known...)

Apparently there are two nursing mothers now ?
Apart from Ida with Omar, Pussy has had another four kittens that live on a cushion in the kitchen area with the result that she is always underfoot because she is always hungry unless she’s nursing them.
Mariama has already started causing problems with the drum she received for her birthday and has had it taken from her because otherwise nothing will ever get done at home including the washing up and her homework.
It now resides in Haddy’s bedroom and Mariama can only play it after her homework has been completed.
Apart from that she’s doing ok with it, but she really has to learn that she must do her homework first and that seven o’clock in the morning is certainly not the time to start playing it.
She’ll learn, I’m sure.
I’ve also given her a couple of books on drums and music.
The music one has pictures of musicians in, and mid 1970’s punks with Mohican styled hairdo’s are the thing that catches her eye.
‘What’s that ?’ she’d asked me, referring to the haircut, and so I’d told her…
The following day she’d undone all her braids much to her sisters disgust, as one of them has to put them in again and it takes hours, and given herself a Mohican which certainly got her noticed outside the compound.
The problem is, she’s revelling in it and now she’s become ‘the girl with the English hair…’
I can definitely foresee problems ahead.

It’s now Friday morning…
Haddy is seeing relatives off back to Senegal which involves an early morning trip to Banjul to catch the ferry over the water to Barra and then over the border, which means I’m having a late breakfast with the girls, who won’t be going to school this Friday because of examinations, so it’s beans in baguette for breakfast from the roadside market down the road as opposed to making anything myself and so when I’ve eaten and had that most important second cup of tea, I’ve just picked up the notebooks and gone outside to lean against the wall and write, leaving the twins and Sainabou in the compound…
They are already busy sorting out dinner for later.
I’m told it’s ‘Tou’, but I’m none the wiser as that’s a totally new one on me ?
Mariama’s year is not involved in school examinations and so, much to her annoyance, she’s had to go to school.

I’ve been there about five minutes and not really had anything specific to write, just confining it to ramblings and doodles when there is an almighty great clanging sound from the street to my right and shouts and screams and cries and yells, none of which I understand…
I understand what happened though.
Turns out one of the little ones from two compounds away had decided to cross the road without looking properly and had been sideswiped by a taxi.
I hope she’s ok as she’s a happy and friendly little soul, but she’s been picked up in another taxi and is off to hospital immediately with her Mum so there’s no hanging about waiting for an ambulance.
All anybody else can do now is wait for news.

To use a figure of speech, this is a ‘Cool place to sit’, here on the roadside, even though it’s bloody hot and if I even move a muscle I’m going to be in direct sunlight and get burnt to a crisp, but where I currently am is in the only bit of shade that side of the road possesses and I’m totally sunscreened up, which is the best I can do topside and my jeans are covering my legs…
The problem is feet.
If you spray them with sunscreen then it gets all over the inside of your sandal/slipper or whatever footwear you are using, and as soon as you walk a pace then you wipe off the top layer anyway but I’ll keep spraying every time I move…
It just seems safer that way ?
Getting burnt is painful anyway but burnt feet hurt like hell, so I’m being seriously careful.
The beauty of sitting here is the fact that anyone who wants to come up and greet me can do so without disturbing what is going on in the compound.
The two little’uns from over the road are coming over every five minutes to shake my hand and wish me good morning, so I’m quite aware that a bit of peace and quiet to write in is more than likely beyond me ?
I’ve tried, but it’s been sporadic.
The thing is, time when you are not really doing anything, seems to shoot past and it seems it’s only minutes later when the infants start coming home from school.
Some singly, but most in groups of twos, threes or fours ?
Some hold hands and some hold waists but they are a happy bunch and the vast majority of lads stop on their way past to shake hands or high five it with the toubab who is trying his best to write, while all the girls stop and shake hands and curtsey with their ‘Hi, how are you’s ?’ and the reply ‘I’m good, how are you’ ?
‘Fine’, and it is done.
These kids are so polite.
It’s like going back into another age.
It certainly doesn’t happen in the UK.
It couldn’t anyway…
You only have to speak to a child over there and some interfering social worker will have you charged with any amount of bullshit...
And as for taking a child’s picture ?
You could go to prison for that…
Even if it’s your own ?
The lunatics have definitely taken over the asylum.

Mariama and Ida have just appeared, so that means the juniors are now out and it’s past two o’clock.
One little girl has just enquired if I’m having to do homework for school too, because she always sees me writing ?
I guess it must look like that to some of the youngsters, especially as notebooks and pens and pencils are at a premium over here ?
It’s late afternoon when Haddy returns.
I’ve had a lazy day doing pretty much nothing and it looks like I might have a few more of those coming up ?
The little lass from down the road is back home with a couple of plasters and she’s ok…
A little bit battered and bruised, but no real harm done, which is certainly a relief.
Mariama has just discovered after doing her homework that Fatou has taken her drum out to the beach bar and so she can’t play it.
This has definitely not gone down too well, and words have been exchanged over the ‘phone including Mariama calling her eldest sister a thief…
As soon as Fatou returns Mariama goes for her, but it’s like an elephant swatting a gnat and she gets slapped from pillar to post all the while screaming that her sister is a thief, but she won’t back off or back down, she just stands there while Fatou batters her.
Finally, Haddy stops it and takes the drum.
A tearful Mariama is told never to call her sister a thief and an angry Fatou is told that she has to ask Mariama’s permission before she touches the drum in future, and she is certainly not allowed to take it to the beach any more without permission.
Neither of them seem overly happy with the decision but Haddy is in no mood for arguing, and so the decision is final and a form of peace breaks out.
I’m not sure it will last ?
I think the outcome is right, though…
It is Mariama’s drum and not the family’s drum.
I think Fatou should have asked.

The following day there is a women’s meeting in the compound.
It’s all to do with women’s general health and because Haddy is diabetic, she feels a responsibility of trying to keep her friends and neighbours completely checked out for all manner of ailments.
This involves a small monetary collection every week to enable them all to be checked over for all manner of things at the local clinic and as far as I can see, is a damn fine idea.
Tomorrow we’re back visiting bereaved relatives…
I’m not actually sure how much more visiting bereaved relatives I can take ?
Nothing seems to get resolved and we just sit there, although there is something going on which Haddy is getting annoyed about.
The problem is, she says there isn’t.
Trouble is… I know her better than that.
There is, but she doesn’t want to tell me or else she’s worried about telling me…
It’s one or the other ?
She has to go back again in the evening for a supposedly three hour visit which I’ve managed to beg off, but finally gets back in the early hours…
So I put my foot down…
No more visits, they’ll have to do without her or she’s going to be off sick with stress and all manner of complications…
Tomorrow she’s not going, and that’s bloody that !
They can do without her for a day or two, and if they can’t then they’d best think of what happens if she’s taken ill because they couldn’t have her then ?

It’s taken a week but I’ve finally got her to myself for a day, so hopefully I’ll find out what’s going on, but the best laid plans of mice and men and all that…
It just doesn’t work as expected and we get caught up in the bank for an hour and three quarters trying to change some travellers cheques.
Sod’s law says that the day I finally get her to myself is the only day during the week when I’m fifth in the queue to change them at an average time of fifteen minutes per person and to make matters worse we’re seen by a trainee who forgets to deduct the bank’s commission and so more frantic telephone calls between the bank and me to get me back there so they can rectify their mistake, and this is after we’ve ‘escaped’ to Ocean Bay out at Cape Point for a relaxing day by the pool…
It’s never ending…
If it’s not her being rung by relatives every five minutes then it’s me being rung by the bank…
Whatever happened to chilling out ?
Whatever happened to a holiday ?
A seriously pissed off me returns from the bank (again) and forgets to spray on any sunscreen…
See ?
That is what stress can do to you…
Sunburn fucking hurts.
Stupid stupid stupid…
We see Awa, Haddy’s daughter, and Mr Kamara the manager, who tells me that I’m looking a lot better, healthier and much more relaxed than I was in November…
I dunno about that, but it is nice to know ?
I don’t feel it though.
I feel decidedly rough.
This time I decide to change what I usually eat and go for the grilled Ladyfish with a mild salsa served with courgettes and green beans which is absolutely delicious…
Certainly up there with the prawns in citrus salsa which I usually eat when I’m at Ocean Bay.
That was the last thing I was actually going to be tasting for a little while.
When we got back to the compound I was feeling decidedly ill so I went to bed with Aftersun all over my back and soon began feeling worse with a sore throat and the usual runny nose…
This is not funny.
Summer colds are usually an absolute pain but summer colds when you have nothing much of your own to occupy yourself between nose blows are even worse…
The following day we’re due at Banjul to see Uncle Pa and some of the Afro Manding’ guys in the craft market and ‘Tufa has to try and sort out his driving licence so I try and make an effort…
Pilled up to the rafters with cold remedies and lemony Beechams sachets with extra vitamin C.
If it works then all well and good ?

Another day gone pear shaped…
The guy ‘Tufa has to see about his licence is out, as is Pa, and so we just hit the market where I order a Tama…
Ok… A Dun Dun then…
No ?
You’re going to have to get up to date with these things if you’re going to read this stuff, you know ?
A Talking Drum.
That’s the one where you hang it off your arm, beating it with the fingers of the arm it’s hanging off and a beater held in the other hand.
It’s where Tama (who make drum kits) got their name from, and it will be delivered to the compound tomorrow.
But I don’t know whether to give it to Mariama or to keep it for myself ?

Next day we’re back at Leybato with Fatou…
I’ve managed to piece together what is going on and I’m not a happy bunny, so Haddy and I are deep in conversation until a couple of lads from the next bar challenge us to a game of football.
That will have to wait as The Gambian under 17’s football squad is playing Algeria at lunchtime in the play offs for the semi-final of the Under 17’s African Nations Cup and from what I’ve seen of them so far, the ‘Young Scorpions’ have a reasonable chance of winning it.
These lads actually play as a team and have a fair bit of skill, so supporting them in their endeavour is actually a pleasure.
Getting any food out of the kitchen while the match is on though, is an impossibility…
Some things are much more important.
But finally The Young Scorpions beat Algeria 2-0 so they’re now through to the semi-finals and we can finally eat…
Football on the sand is something that you see other idiots doing, and which you immediately think ‘I can do better than that…’
Forget it !
It is one of the most strenuous tasks I’ve ever attempted… And I was trying to be the goalkeeper…
One. The sand slows you down all the time, and
Two. The sand is actually red hot and so burns your feet if you’re not used to it, and
Three. After five minutes you are totally knackered and tackling anybody for the ball
is more like an attempt on their lives rather than anything remotely related to sportsmanship or a game…
We all ended up screaming hysterically with laughter and I ended up buying both teams drinks…
Which I didn’t mind because it had been a bit of a laugh.
We got stopped by the ‘Immigration Patrol’ on the way back.
That was a first…
For me anyway.
Apparently there are a few people coming into the country who are not wanted…
It’s amazing really isn’t it ?
All that way to one of the poorest countries in Africa and they are suffering the same problems as the U.K…
Illegal immigrants and drugs.
Funny old world, isn’t it ?

I’d also finally unlocked the Haddy problem.
All the relatives had made their decision (without involving Haddy) that she was going to be the one to look after her Mum’s bereaved sister.
This has gone down like the proverbial bucket of cold sick at a birthday party and now she’s gone off on one…
Big time.
Absolutely not !
That was her answer.
People seem to forget when it’s convenient that she has already had to farm out her son to his stepmother’s family, the twins need money for university and courses as their schooling is now over, but Mariama’s still has to be paid for.
The shops she’s having built are only half finished as her money ran out, and there’s not enough room to swing a mouse in the compound, let alone poor old Pussy and they reckon they are foisting another one on Haddy ?
Where’s the money coming from to support that ?
No chance !
She’s having none of it.
The woman has a son in the U.S.A. and nobody has spoken to him yet, but Haddy is emphatic…
Regardless of what anybody else says, it’s not going to happen and as far as she’s concerned, that is that.
Needless to say, that decision has not gone down too well with the rest of the family who have just expected their youngest member (as opposed to the eldest) to put up and shut up…
Now it’s all out in the open I can understand her reticence, but she’s off again to another family meeting and she’s booked a taxi for the return journey in advance.
She will definitely not be staying to argue the point.

I’m finally getting to cook a meal this time out and have chosen to do an easy one…
I’m doing a Spaghetti Bolognese for about a dozen people.
Now the thing is…
Men don’t cook in The Gambia.
Cooking is a function that is done by women and so my attempts to co-opt the family in my attempt to make it are causing some incredulousness in the local male population and some laughter in the female…
Buggered if I care ?
I’ve got the bits, three platefuls of minced cow meat from the supermarket, enough tins of tomatoes to support an ordinary family for a week, tomato puree, basil, oregano, olive oil, onions and garlic…
Oh yes… I’ve got what I need…
The only thing now remaining is a crash course on how to cook it on a charcoal burner ?
I’ll let Haddy, and Sainabou, who is watching me like a hawk, do the onions and garlic chopping as they have a natural ability with the stuff that I can only dream of, and as for cooking the spaghetti over charcoal ?
That becomes their province as well, as Sainabou promises me it won’t stick to the pan while we await the thickening of the Bolognese sauce…
That girl certainly knows her onions… and a fair bit more besides when it comes to cookery.
Spaghetti is hard enough to cook right when you know your cooker, but when you don’t it is always quite hard to avoid a soggy mass…
It came out perfectly.
And the Bolognese didn’t turn out too badly, either.
Ho hum… What was that about male cooks ?
Family, neighbours who’d smelt it cooking, they all turned up and stuffed themselves to the gills…
I was gobsmacked, but the word had got around that I was ‘attempting to cook’ and so there was a lot of good natured ribbing about men’s abilities on that score…
Final result: Chris one and doubter’s nil and that’ll do nicely for me.
We even had to muscle in and get a small plate for Pussy who’d been looking forward to it as eagerly as any other gannet in the family or she’d have missed out totally.
There wasn’t even enough left for her to lick out the bowl before it got washed…
Now that must be regarded as a success ?
The electrics and the water have both gone off so there’s no television, it’s down to a battery operated computer to keep the sounds going.

First thing in the morning we’re off to Banjul to see if we can find some suitable material for a handmade shirt for me.
I’m looking for black which seems to be in short supply for what I want it for, but we do find a great black, white and faun piece which I’m quite pleased with, so we go for that.
Unfortunately we also get news that one of Pa’s sons has been killed in a car crash the previous evening and another is in intensive care…
This is now getting serious so we return to the compound feeling quite crushed and when we get there, I find my camera which I wear on my hip, has also been crushed whilst we were on the bus and is now broken…
One of the twins is going to take the Friday afternoon health meeting as I’m just staying at Haddy’s side and there is no way I’m leaving it.
That night we’re back with the family but Haddy’s Mum’s sister has heard from her son in the U.S.A. and he’s told her she’s not going anywhere, she’s staying where she is and he’ll send her money monthly, so there’s no pressure on Haddy anymore…
Just an innate sadness right now.

The following day is The President’s clean up day so we’re hanging around the compound, not that any of us want to do anything…
We all seem to be suffering right now, but tomorrow we’re going back to Leybato with Fatou.
Maybe a day on the beach will bring a few smiles, who knows ?
That evening we take the material for the shirt to the tailors, who promise me the finished article in 24 hours.
Blimey ! That quick.
Well, we tried… The family hit the beach and the kids hit the sea and we had a happy but muted day.
When we returned I had a brand new shirt waiting for me.
Brilliant !
I love it.
I’m definitely going to have to get hand made shirts in the future.
So much had happened in the two weeks I’d been there, and I’d certainly seen a different part of The Gambia.
Mariama is going to look after my Tama for me while I’m not there, and has my permission to play it or give it to one of her friends to play, but it is not to be taken out of the compound without my express permission.
I’m going to miss them all when I return…
Haddy is supposed to be coming to stay with me this summer.
Hopefully it will be a little happier than this trip to The Gambia ?

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