Saturday, 24 September 2011

'Cause When Life Looks Like Easy Streets...'

Before we head out to Ocean Bay we’re going to visit the younger ones’ school.
Mariama had changed schools the previous year and instead of languishing at number forty-one down the class of fifty-five, she’s basically had the ‘kick up the arse chat’ from me.
She had one from her Mum as well, but mine was… Let’s say a little more pointed…
‘Mariama… You know what a contract is ?   
A contract is where the promotor who is booking the musicians gets the musicians to sign it to say how much the musician is going to be paid for doing the gig… You understand ?   It also says how much the promotor is going to take off your money for his expenses… So messing about in school when you are supposed to be learning how to count and how to read is pretty damn stupid if you want to be a musician…
How are you going to read what the promotor has written… How you gonna add it all up and read what he wrote ?
Because if you can’t do the mathematics and you can’t read the contract then you aren’t going to earn any money at all being a musician, so you may as well start studying to do something else because you’ll never be a successful musician… You’ll never earn any money. 
The promotor, the agent, and, if you’re any good, the management will take all your money and you will be left with none…
You understand what I’m talking about here ?’
A very solemn faced nod of affirmament.
‘You do… Whatcha gonna do about it, then ?
‘Oh well… I’ll let you think about that, but I’m serious, it’ll never happen unless YOU are prepared to put the work in…’

Jalika, on the other hand, is so shy and quiet that you wouldn’t think she was there half the time.
Admittedly this has a lot to do with the sadness of her childhood so far.
Jalika’s mother was Haddy’s eldest daughter Fatou’s best friend at school.
As soon as she left school, she fell pregnant with Jalika.
Unfortunately and tragically she died giving birth to her daughter.
For the first six years of her life Jalika had been brought up by her Mother's family, specifically her Grandparents, but now they couldn’t cope any more, and so Fatou had said no worries, we’ll take her.
No worries ?
Another girl ? 
And one who had been teased unmercifully by some of the local children about her not having a Mother…
This teasing had hurt her so much that she developed a way of stopping it as soon as it started…
She hit the main perpetrator.
She didn’t warn them, she just hit them and she only needed to do it the once.
It mattered not to Jalika that some of them were older and some were younger.
As far as she was concerned they were being spiteful and horrible and so she stopped it the only way she knew how.
Smack !
One little fist straight at the target, which in the majority of cases was approximately the same height, and another body bites the dust screaming with a bloodied mouth or nose.
Boy or girl, it mattered not a fig to Jalika.
Nobody had the right to impugn her Mother’s memory or to tease her about it, and if they were stupid enough to do so ?
Smack !
The same person rarely did it twice unless they were totally stupid or trying to get her into trouble.
It didn’t matter to Jalika, the result was always the same.
She’d take the trouble, but she wasn’t prepared to take their spite.
Smack !

So we were off to school to see their teachers...
Hopefully the kids wouldn’t feel too embarrassed when we turned up ?
The school system in The Gambia, rudimentary as it sometimes is, has one clear advantage over the British system.
Parents are encouraged to visit the school.
They don’t have to ring to make an appointment (although that would be a nice touch) they can just turn up in lesson time.
I’m not sure how it works with the senior children, but the juniors ?
Just turn up, tell the headmaster/mistress, and you’re sorted.

So what did we find out ?
That Mariama is actually making a bit of an effort.

Forty-first to eighth in her class (and first in French ?)
Something has definitely changed.
Whether the change in schools helped we don’t know, but Haddy suspects that might also have had something to do with it ?
And Jalika ?
In the twenties out of the usual fifty-five to sixty students in the class.
Sometimes painfully shy and not wanting to join in.
Always on the edge of what is going on.

Wanting to get involved sometimes, but holding herself back.
My heart goes out to the poor girl.
She’s just turned seven and she’s frightened of involvement.
I can certainly understand why ?
She’s a year behind the rest in the class, but she’s got the intelligence and ability to catch up.
She just needs the confidence.
Her life has just gone through a big shake-up.
Whatever Haddy and I do, she’s going to be feeling like a bit of an outsider for a time.
We’ll just have to show her that she’s included and not excluded, and THAT is going to be easier said than done…

Photographs of the classes which will be sent on, were taken with their teacher’s permission, and we’re off again…
A whole day of relaxation…
IF… Haddy can be persuaded to turn off her mobile ?
Ocean Bay Hotel at the top end of Bakau.
Ocean Bay is a four star hotel.
It has a programme for the guests who are looked after with an expertise and a lot of hard work, by Mr Kamara and his staff.
One day, when we can afford it, I’d like to spend some time there.
But in the meantime, I’ll take a ‘Pool’ ticket and avail myself of the swimming pool and their chefs on a daily basis.
It is a beautifully kept, landscaped and relaxing ‘escape’ as far as I am concerned, and I can ‘live’ next to, or in their pool, for as long as they’ll have us.
One of the positives of the way I look and dress when I’m in The Gambia is recognition and the hotel is a classic example.
Straight out to the ‘Pool office’ with my ticket and the guy gives us a big smile, welcomes us both back, hands us our towels for the sunloungers, and asks me if I’ve managed to give up smoking yet ?
No ?
Ok, he’ll bring me an ashtray.
Now THAT is service.

As I’ve mentioned previously, when you avail yourself of a pool ticket at Ocean Bay,  you get a voucher that entitles you to one hundred Dalasi off the price of a meal from the poolside restaurant.
That’s fine by me, because after discovering one of the joys of Ocean Bay’s cuisine, I’m sticking to it.
Food is food, but when it’s this good it’s something else and as far as hotels go, I’ve never had better.
I love this meal.
It has everything in taste that anyone could possibly want, and so recommendations go out to anybody and everybody.
If you are in the hotel, either staying as a guest or visiting, then try it.
You certainly won’t be disappointed.
Taste-bud heaven.

Prawns in Citrus Salsa.
I keep trying to make it at home but I can’t get close to it.
Oh well, one day if I keep practising ?

Haddy has the grilled fish in garlic sauce, which I know she enjoys, and we just kick back and while away the sunshine.

One day I’ll manage to get her in the pool but she’s resistant to water and swimming like most Gambians.
Maybe later when I can get the two little ones in ?
Mariama has been telling Jalika what fun it is, and so with a little trepidation Jalika is looking forward to her first go in the water later in the week.
They’ll both be armbanded up, but that’s for later.
The ‘phone starts going off the wall at about four in the afternoon and so we head back home.
Haddy has some meetings to organise and sort out with the women’s groups.
Oh well… It was nice while it lasted.
It turns out that’s not the only problem…
We’ve got a compound full of people and we’ve had a burst pipe.
Not good.
Everybody pitches in for dinner, and the rest of the digging out can wait until tomorrow.
What a cheek !
‘Baby’ Sarjo has turned up with Alagie, one of his friends, after telling him that because Uncle Chris and Naneh Kombo are back, and Uncle Chris has a digital camera then he’ll take our photographs…
You’ve got to hand it to the guy… He’s got the cheek of ‘Old Nick…’
Ok, say cheese…

The one member of the family who hasn’t been mentioned yet is getting herself ready for another night on the tiles, and this is causing much laughter and hilarity among the rest of us…
I refer, of course, to Princess… The family cat.

With about five or six ‘boyfriends’ in the local vicinity, her morals are being questioned rather a lot.
All I can say is ‘What a slapper !’
Her behaviour is definitely a bit suspect.
Find a quiet corner and flirt outrageously and then, at the top of her voice, consummate the ‘friendship…’
Princess, you’re a slut.
And if you wake me up tonight by having one on the roof you little madam, then you are going to be in serious trouble tomorrow morning, believe me…

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