Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It’s time to go back to The Gambia and I’ve managed to lose my Nicorette Inhalitor somewhere along the way.
This is a total bummer as what with patches and inhalitor I’d made a brave attempt at stopping smoking.
I’d only had two the previous day, which for me is near miracle status.
We’re joined on the trip by Haddy’s Uncle’s wine merchant, Sam, who runs a bar off the Serrakunda market and who has just delivered six bottles of the most gorgeous rioja, one of which we’d put to bed the night before.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a drop of wine and a good red at an affordable price is a good find these days, but Spanish reds used to leave me cold. I never did like them.
Probably because I was buying rubbish as opposed to the good stuff, but who can afford the good stuff nowadays ?
The rioja that Sam brought was wonderful.
He most definitely recommended it, and Sam seems to know a fair bit about a good red wine, so that’s something to explore when I get back to England.

The taxis are rapidly filling up as we get to the rank, but there are three of us now and with Sam as elder statesman as it were, we manage to grab four seats.
Sam is in the front passenger seat, and Haddy, the luggage and me are in the middle. It’s cramped, but not half as bad as it was on the way here.
I must admit I dozed through the outskirts of Dakar and began to take a bit of notice of my surroundings when the driver stopped to fill his water bottles.
We passed small villages with large churches, villages where the only dwellings were traditional grass huts, scrubland, salt flats… It’s all here if you look ?

The closer you get to The Gambia on the way back, the worse the road gets.
Potholes, bits washed out, bits being laid by heavy machinery…
Basically, whatever problem you can envisage driving through, you have to traverse ?
But finally we’re at the rank and getting out.
A quick stretch of the legs and we’re hailing a taxi to the border where we sail through customs and immigration for the ferry crossing.
When we took the ferry first thing in the morning it was chaos trying to get off it, but I’m a seasoned pro’ now… I know what’s coming…
What I wasn’t prepared for, was another Brit’, female this time, shoving me along on the narrow gangway toward the ticket collector.
After the second overbalancing act I knew it was deliberate so I just stopped, turned back and said ‘Don’t do it again, darlin’, I don’t push…’
Why did I waste my bloody time ?
She shoved me forward again, not that I was going anywhere in that crush, with the result that the heel of my para’ boot somehow managed to rake her leg from shin to foot…
I really don’t know how that occurred…
It must have been one of those unfortunate accidents you read about ?
But she ain’t pushing now.
Hmmm… Funny that ? We didn’t get charged extra for the suitcase, either.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind trip, but at least when we go back I’ll know the score for next time.

Back in The Gambia we are working out what we have to do in the few days we have left.
A trip to The British High Commission to register the wedding as it says to do on their website is the priority, but that involves a trip to Banjul to pick up our completed wedding documents which Pa has picked up for us, so we combine it with a trip to the market to give Hadim his present, which is now on it’s third continent as I’d imported a couple of copies of it.
Boy ! Was he surprised or what ?
One of the books I’d got Mariama was Planet Drum by Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer whose own interest in these things had turned into a couple of books and Planet Drum was the culmination of a lot of journeys into ‘sound’ from his own spiritual perspective and then asking other drummers around the world for their own feelings about it, and then doing a little detective work in museum’s archives, of his own.
Hence the mysticality and the spiritual quest to see if there was a link to all the drummers ?
Actually, I think he proves there is without a doubt.

Anyway, it fascinates Mariama, who still needs bits of it read to her at the moment, but is quite happy to look through it as a drum reference book at the same time.
Hadim had seen it at the compound and had gone through it from cover to cover, amazed that such a book had been written, and even more amazed that an American could have written the book in the first place, but glad that somebody had finally written down something that he already knew was true from within himself.
So Hadim was getting a copy of Planet Drum of his own.
You know what ?
It’s the little things, isn’t it ?
I just thought that of all the people I knew out in The Gambia, Hadim and Lamin out of all the people I knew, would understand why the book had been written and would understand why I wanted them to have their own copies of it, and so it proved.
Lamin would get his copy when we got back, but in the meantime, Hadim, and Badu his younger brother, have managed to invite themselves to the ‘spag’ bog’ that I’d be cooking that night…
It was OUR first ‘dinner party’.

The first time WE had ever invited anyone back to share our meal in The Gambia.
I mean, people had stayed with us, people had popped round and we’d fed them, but this really was a historic first.
When we finally saw them off it was nearly midnight and all the food had been eaten, all the ginger beer had been drunk… and all the neighbours were probably fed up with the sound of drums…
We’re going to get a pool ticket and relax at Ocean Bay tomorrow.

Famous last words… Relax at Ocean Bay tomorrow…
Our photographer, Batch, had popped the wedding photo’s round that morning so we could go through them in peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, wedding photo’s seemed to bring out laughter and shrieks in the compound, but having said that, at least seventy five per-cent of them are excellent and could hang in the wedding photographer’s hall of fame which is a huge relief to me as all we seem to get in the U.K. are stories of wedding photo’ disasters, so we were doing quite well on the relaxing front at Ocean Bay

and I’d even managed to get Haddy in the pool (which was another first) until about half past three, when her ‘phone went…
Fatou had collapsed at the beach bar and had been taken to hospital in Fagikunda by her Father…
It turns out when we get there that it’s malaria and it’s a pretty heavy dose.
Haddy cannot understand why she’s in hospital at Fagikunda, which is only a small building with very few facilities, when there are two more modern ones on the way from Sanyang that have been passed on the way ?
Fatou is on a drip when we arrive, and there are no mosquito nets whatsoever.
The room that she’s in, however, is infested with them.
I stayed for a couple of hours and then walked back to the compound with Mariama…
I couldn’t take any more of the mozzies that were dive-bombing all of us.
There is something going on… I can feel it.
Since all the hospital stays and drugs have to be paid for, Fatou’s father has put her in the cheapest one, expecting Haddy to drop everything and nurse her daughter, but Haddy is having none of that and something which reminds you of Vesuvius at Pompeii has just erupted… Followed by threats of court action if anything should happen to her daughter, and the upshot is, Fatou is being moved to a hospital WITH facilities, that afternoon.
I’d never seen malaria up close until then, but the shivering, vomiting and sweating scare the crap out of me.
That girl is seriously ill, and I mean serious.
Haddy sends the rest of the family home and will stay with her until later.
She finally gets home at nearly midnight… Exhausted.
The following morning we’re all off to visit her.
She’s slightly better, but it is only slight.
This one is going to take its toll.
They say they might discharge her in the afternoon, but I think she’ll have to get a lot better, first ?
Back at the compound, we are being besieged by visitors enquiring about Fatou’s health.
Lamin pops in, and that gives me a chance to give him his copy of the book also, and just like Hadim, he is really pleased with it and I’m glad I made the effort and paid the excess on Gatwick’s sodding baggage allowance (it’s still an insulting 20kg to every other main airport’s 30kg) to get them here.
These guys miss out on stuff like this, and apart from poverty there is no reason why they should ?
Both of them are drummers, both of them understand the mysticism and spirituality surrounding the drum and now both of them have a book which goes a fair old way toward explaining the thing that rules or governs the ‘Rhythm’ of their (and our) lives throughout the world.
It really is a ‘Planet Drum’ when you think about it ?
Fatou is being discharged this evening which pleases Haddy, unfortunately it is probably a couple of days too soon because as soon as she gets home the vomiting starts and the fever starts burning her up, again.
There is nothing we can do to help her until tomorrow and so Haddy, ‘Tufa and I hit the Chinese restaurant at Bakau for a last meal together before I have to go.

You know when they write restaurant menus and it’s not done in the native language but an approximate translation ?
‘Tufa orders (a) roasted chicken Chinese style which comes with fried rice on the side and with that he orders Gambian rice…

I’m a bit worried about the order as the waitress just keeps asking ‘You want
chicken ?’
Sure enough, when the orders turn up he’s got one whole roasted chicken with two huge portions of rice. One Chinese style and fried and the other Gambian style and bright red…
You couldn’t make that up, could you ?

He did manage to eat half of it, but the rest is going to have to come back with us so he can boast of having so much money he can afford to give food away to his friends…

I guess that’s the trouble when you’ve got three ‘wind up’s’ out together… One rubs off on the other…
Having said that, their food is quite good and reasonably priced, so that was a bonus.

It’s my last day and we shoot off to the High Commission with the marriage documents, where we are told we don’t have to register the wedding after all.
It says we do on their website, but the staff say we don’t and cannot understand why they have had so many enquiries recently ?
Then we are signed in and taken around the back to a small office to ask about Haddy staying on in The Gambia to get her two shops finished, and are told ‘No problem. Just apply for the visa when you are ready…’
When we return, we take Fatou to the local clinic for some injections of something that should stop the vomiting…
I hate to leave Haddy like this, but I have to catch a late afternoon flight back to the U.K. so I miss the twins and Sainabou, but the little monster is home as soon as school finishes if not sooner, and she comes with her mum to hug me goodbye…
Needless to say, there are tears.
Now it’s overpriced food at Luigi’s in the departure lounge at Banjul where the duty free has run out of tobacco, but I can get a good but way overpriced cheese and onion baguette…
I wonder if they’ve got any tequila ?

Being sat near the back of the aircraft, I got all four of the tobacco boxes from their duty free plus two bottles of tequila from the airport, so that’s me red-lighting it at Gatwick.
Hmmm… Did you know that passengers from The Gambia are now being classed as passengers from Jamaica, in that we are all suspected ‘drug mules’ until proven innocent ?
No ?
Neither did I until we’d landed.
The customs guys seemed to think it odd that a bloke dressed as I was, would actually go through red and declare overages.
I just told them while I was being prodded and scanned and all the rest and watching my poor suitcase being subjected to a severe unpacking, that it was immaterial where I went through, I was going to be stopped anyway.
I always am regardless of how I am dressed, so what’s the point in getting caught up in a queue in which, to be honest, I can’t be arsed, when I can have them all to myself in the red zone… and besides… Listen to that lot the other side of the barrier…
(Loud protestations of innocence or ignorance of regulations…)
Honestly… I just can’t be arsed…
They seemed to find it amusing and/or refreshing anyway, and I was waved off without any further ado.
I like the red-zone at Gatwick. You meet a much nicer breed of customs officer there.
Look… I am going to say this regardless…
If there is ever an airport authority worker or customs officer reading this ?
I (and I’m quite sure a lot of other people in this world, too) do not like being treated as arrogantly as some of you treat us…
Just remember it’s us who pay your wages when it comes to it, as without passengers you wouldn’t have your fucking job in the first place.
So if you cannot treat me as a human being, then you get no help whatsoever from me, and I will rip the piss unmercifully…
A female Asian officer tried it once in the green zone… Needless to say, she couldn’t win because I hadn’t brought anything whatsoever through, so what was the point of the exercise apart from showing herself up as a pig-ignorant arsehole ?
The guys in the red-zone are, to my experience, given that I always do it when I’m over, the most polite people in the whole airport complex.
I don’t know why that is, it just is ?
So thank you to those who do actually talk to me as if I were a human being.
It’s appreciated, guys.
(I bet that surprises ‘em)
But still… Why the hell do we put up with it ?
The rudeness and the arrogance of a lowly little worker in a uniform ?
Talking at us instead of to us ?
God knows I won’t.
Politeness costs nothing and is much more civilised, so if you can’t give me that then I suggest you just F*** O** !
(There you go… I’m being polite).

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