Monday, 19 July 2010

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.

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