Tuesday, 20 March 2012


We awake to a leisurely breakfast on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the sea.
There isn’t a cloud on the horizon so it looks like being a nice day.
Breakfast consists of a mixture of the following…
Just take what you wish from the counter and enjoy.
Tea, coffee or fruit juice ?
A cereal of some description, which looks suspiciously like Corn Flakes to me ?
Sliced bread of the French stick variety, with real butter and/or marmalade.
Hard boiled eggs.
A selection of fresh fruit.
Thin slices of mild cheese.
And right at the end of the line there is Harriet, ready to make you one of the best fresh omelettes that you have ever tasted, with a mixture of onion, tomato, cheese, ham, pepper, chilli, or whatever else is to hand ?

Harriet wants to learn to cook more ‘foreign’ dishes, so I’ve promised her a bunch of recipes for next time we come out.
If I stick to those where she can obtain the ingredients reasonably easily in The Gambia then she can’t really go too far wrong.
After all, if I can cook them then anyone can.
The little ones are due to join us at about ten thirty and so we’re actually up and about, grabbing a couple of sun-loungers near the swimming pool and just hanging around for ‘Tufa to deliver them, which he does, reasonably on time, too…

Oh boy !
Have we got an excited pair or what ?
One of the problems that the African Village Hotel has, is that a couple of years ago one of the guest’s kids who couldn’t swim, was messing about where he shouldn’t, being un-supervised by his drunken loud-mouthed idiot of a mother, and he fell in the deep end of the pool…
The mother couldn’t swim, and since it was officially after-hours for the pool’s use, the hotel’s manager dived in, in his best hotel suit, to save the child.
Both mother and child were then asked to leave the hotel.
After all, who needs guests like that, anyway ?
Would you believe Haddy knew the person concerned and I’d also met her, but in my case once was definitely enough.
(And I’ll certainly guarantee the ‘loud-mouthed idiot’ phrase)
I’ll leave her name out of it, but she’s one of those benefit scrounging lazy bitches that you tend to read about in The Daily Mail, and she lives in Hatfield !!!
It had taken us a bit of persuading, as far as the hotel’s management was concerned, to allow us to bring Jalika and Mariama up there for a swim, but when I told them that when they were in the water, I’d be in the water, then that would be ok.
Honestly, the damage that people do when they are totally irresponsible ???
It affects everybody else from that moment on, but do they give a damn ?
It’s never happened yet…
The two girls were in their element as soon as they hit the water.
They’d both got armbands on and as soon as Jalika realised they were the things keeping her above the water, she was off and running…

(Actually that should be ‘off and swimming’, shouldn’t it ?)
I’m not even going to even try and describe the day.
I’ll just let a few pictures do it for me…
We stopped for lunch and two big-eyed girls had a burger and chips each.
Whoops !
Whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs, then ?
Too much…

Break for a walk down to the beach and then back to the pool.
Finally, when Jalika had pushed herself to the limit and was still refusing to come out despite her shivering, I had to go in again and literally drag them out to dry them…
Yeah… I reckon today was a success.
They’d done something few of their friends had done.
They’d both kept their confidence in the water, and the transition in Jalika from shy little girl (after ten minutes) to long distance Olympic swimmer (after thirty minutes) was amazing.
I don’t know what Mariama had told her about being in the water, but whatever it was, it had certainly done the trick ?
Jalika had accomplished in thirty minutes what it had taken Mariama half a day to achieve.

Nice one.
You can’t help but feel proud of the pair of them.
When ‘Tufa  came to pick them up at about five, we bundled two very tired but two very happy little girls inside the car.
They’d sleep well, tonight.
Now for a drink and a bit of relaxing…
We might as well, it’s our last night at the hotel.
The band, from Guinea-Bisau, were actually quite good, even though their whole set was geared towards tourists.
I was actually buying drinks at the bar when I felt the tap on my shoulder…
Oh bollocks !!!
Why me ?
The bands have a nasty habit of getting guests to join in with them, and guess who the first person they’d chosen was ?
Oh well, in for a penny…
If you’re going to look a complete twat, then who better to do it in front of than your wife, eh ?

I was the first of many that night…
Haddy, just took the photographs.
She told me afterwards, that it was one of the funniest things that she had seen and that she
wanted a record of it.
So much for loyalty…

Next morning we had our last breakfast on the terrace and packed up to leave…
I always have mixed feelings when I leave the African Village.
It’s such a nice and friendly hotel.
No hassle, no pressure, and so far in the years I’ve been staying there, no real times when I’ve wanted to be somewhere else.
I don’t know about you, but I reckon that’s the mark of a damn good hotel ?
Maybe next year, guys ?

Back to the compound, and we’ve got visitors…
And more visitors… And yet more visitors…
Two and a half days left, and still so much to do.
Who knows where the time goes ?
We probably need a couple of months out here to manage to get everything sorted, but that’ll never happen… Well, not yet anyway.
Haddy’s got her final meeting tomorrow afternoon and that will be in the compound. We’ve still got to see Fatou Manta (Ebrima’s wife) and she is expected at her late husband’s compound tomorrow.
I still need a chat with Lamin (Slice) about Mariama’s musical education…
It never stops, but it’s all on Gambian time, which bears no relation whatsoever to the real world of schedules and things we have to adheer to, like flight times as an example…
Oh well, whatever ?
Karma is karma and you can’t change it.

That night in front of the television, the inevitable happens again…
Mariama and Jalika are laying in front of it watching The Wizard of Oz which, whilst agreeing that it’s an absolute classic and transcends time and space, is still an odd choice as favourite film for a West African eleven year old girl.
Omar has been let in again providing he behaves himself and the lounge is, as usual, chock-full of kids and yakking women.
Floor and chair space is at a definite minimum.
So Omar decides he’s going to sit on Mariama who wriggles away from him and deposits him on the floor.
Next he decides to do the same to Jalika who swats him off as if he were a troublesome fly…
Omar looks around, thinks nobody is looking, and promptly sinks his fingers into the back of Jalika’s right calf muscle and twists…
The sound effects machine then goes into action in the following order…
Smack !
And all this takes place in an absolute nano-second.
Impressive ?
Definitely !
Omar has landed on the lap of ‘Tapha, one of the young lads, who is sitting in the nearest chair watching the television, with a very impressive split lip which is beginning to gush claret…
The most amazing thing of all however, is the fact that from Jalika to Moustapha is a distance of about a metre and a half and he was travelling upwards all the way…
‘Tapha, to say the least, is, to use a slang expression, ‘gobsmacked’, and also slightly upset that somebody else’s child is spurting blood all over his clothes.
But on the other hand he's not quite as gobsmacked as Omar...
Jalika, on the other hand, is back lying on her stomach in front of the television, watching The Wizard of Oz… 
The whole lounge literally erupts with noise.
Ida is called in to collect a bleeding and screaming Omar.
Haddy is yelling at her to get him out of her house and to keep him under control. ‘Tapha is complaining about the blood all over his shirt and everybody else is looking around and asking their nearest neighbour what just occurred ?
The guilty party is ignoring everything and watching the wizard make a fool of himself from behind the screen (It’s the bit where Dorothy discovers that the Wizard isn’t all he’s cracked up to be).
Mariama, laying next to her, is asking people if they couldn’t be a little quieter as she can’t hear the television…
The answer to which is a resounding ‘NO’ so she gets up and turns the television off in total disgust, all the while complaining that it is ‘children’s time’ in front of the television and all this noise is quite wrong because children can’t hear it…
Oh God !   Here we go again…
I cannot help but think at this moment that the only way for Jalika to turn over, sit up, hit Omar, and then turn over and lay back down again facing the television is more akin to the most amazing elasticated body.
You try it.
Lay on your stomach resting on your forearms, then turn over and sit up.
Launch a ‘pretend’ punch and then turn over and lay back down on your stomach.
It takes a while to accomplish, doesn’t it ?
Yet Jalika managed to do it without (it seems) anybody but me (who was standing in the doorway) seeing her do it (and I can bear witness to the fact that it was totally instantaneous) in less than half a second ?
Little Miss ‘Ali’ strikes again.
It’s going to be hard enough with a female drummer in the family without adding a female boxer to the mix…

Haddy asked me when we finally got to bed what had happened, although she was reasonably close in her guess ?
‘Omar was spiteful to Jalika, pinched the back of her leg so Jalika hit him… Bloody impressive punch though… He must have flown four and a half feet before he landed on ‘Tapha…’
‘Eeeee… That child…’
‘Personally I think Omar got what was coming to him…’
‘But Jalika must learn she cannot hit everybody…’
‘She doesn’t, love… She just hits people if they’re spiteful… Don’t worry, she’ll calm down… Mind you, I can’t wait to see the state of Omar’s mouth in the morning…’

Know what ?
I don’t give a good Goddamn how that last bit reads ?
There’s too much bullying in this world, and anybody who stands up against it, even an eight year old child, is gonna get my vote and support every time, and even more so if she’s up against a culture that says a man or boy holds domination over any female.
That is not right, has never been right, and although things are changing slowly, the change to total equality between the sexes cannot come soon enough and that is a fact.
Now I need some kip, it’s been a long and trying day.

It’s morning… I know it is because I can hear ‘Mosque Man’ calling the faithful and it’s still dark so I’ve managed to wake for the first call…
Bummer !
Oh well, see if there’s any hot water left in yesterday’s flask for a cup of tea…
I can hear the kids stirring so I’m especially quiet.
It doesn’t do any good with Haddy, she wakes as soon as I stir…
Two cups of just about drinkable tea, coming up.

Breakfast first, and then await the call that Fatou Manta has arrived with the two children…
She has come back to arrange the transportation of her late husband Ebrima’s few possessions to her parental compound on the other side of Latrikunda.
She has also decided to end the period of grieving.
This isn’t going down too well with Ebrima’s family, but it is her right to do so.
It also means that apart from Tobaski and Keretai, the two main Islamic thanksgiving festivals, their Grandmother will probably not be seeing them.
It’s sad, but it is just a fact of life here.
Fatou Manta has the choice whether to stay in her late husband’s compound or to leave and go back home to her own parental one, and she has decided to go.
It really is as simple as that, and no blame can be attached to her.
We take a few photo’s of the three of them after meeting little Samsidine for the first time.

Ami has her ‘serious’ face on, as if she knows that it’s a time to be sombre, and there is a definite sadness in the air.
I leave Fatou Manta a copy of ‘Ebrima’s Song’, the thing I wrote about her husband’s and my thoughts, and she is overcome with grief, crying on my shoulder before going back inside to try and dry her tears.
Both Haddy and I know it’s time to go.
Ebrima’s brothers are close to tears and there are hugs all round.
The times they are a-changing and they will never be the same again, and I return to the compound with one hell of a lump in my throat.
It’s one thing to lose somebody close to you, but when you lose one of your ‘Brothers in Arms’ then the wrench seems harder to take somehow ?
Rock On, brother…
There’s probably a Muslim expression for what I want to say but I don’t know it, so Rock On brother, it is… For now.

Lunch is a muted affair as the ladies of the Fajikunda Women’s Society start arriving and grabbing the few seats in the compound.
There has to be a share out of the saved funds as it has been decided to wind-up one association before those who wish to, start up another one.
The only problem we now have is the constant noise from the women, who seem to all want to talk (or in most cases shout) at the same time.

Jeezus !   I’ve been to quieter rock gigs.
I reckon even Motorhead would get overpowered by this lot ?
The meeting goes on… And on… And on…
Haddy had promised faithfully to end it before five o’clock, after the kids have come home from school, but by five thirty although some have gone home, it is still happening, and even though there are less of them, nobody has thought to turn down the volume knob…
Right… Time for a bit of guerrilla work…
‘Ok, Mariama… Get your drums out…’
Within five minutes she is esconced behind her instruments and everything is ready for her first ‘photo shoot’ with her drums.
Jalika is positioned in front of her and behind me facing toward anybody trying to gatecrash the session with orders to ‘hit, and hit hard’ anybody trying to get between the photographer (me) and Mariama (and that includes Omar whose bottom lip is twice the size it was yesterday…)
I just count her off and she starts playing about a minute on each drum or piece of percussion.
Everything is going fine until the compound is invaded by four members of the local youth (average age fourteen to sixteen) who seem to think they can join in and then make off with the drums.
Jalika is screaming at them and currently outdoing the women in the centre of the compound who are competing with Mariama who hasn’t stopped playing.
I’m fending off two at a time, including the seeming leader who has his eyes on Mariama’s Tama (talking drum) and it is at this point that Jalika’s fist manages to connect…
One loud yell later and I’ve got the little scrote by the throat and he’s about to get the hardest ‘nutting’ he’s ever had in his miserable life, when finally the women take an interest and after one yell by Haddy, they all go into action…
‘Bye kids…
Christ !  Did they move or did they move ?
Jalika has managed to get in a second blow to the one I was holding, and considering her size as against his, you can only imagine where it connected…
Gangstas, my arse !
The biggest one has just been given a total roundhouse ‘nutcracker’ by the fist of an eight year-old girl, and the way he folded up I know he’ll be feeling the effects of it for a little while.
‘Darling they are only children, you can’t hit them…’
‘Sod that !
They’re thieves and they get what’s coming to them… One of them did…’
‘Please say you didn’t hit him…’
‘Ok… I didn’t hit him, but please don’t ask Jalika the same question…’
Haddy translates, and there are a lot of admiring comments about ‘little Jalika’ accompanied by big smiles all around.
That little shit is definitely going to be off the self-abuse for a couple of days.
Mariama is still playing… A big smile on her face, so I just keep shooting until I’ve taken about forty shots in all.
Ok… Job done.
Now we await the ‘fall out’ from the invasion.
Since we’ve still got about twenty women here the youths are all identified, and as they leave, the women make it plain that certain people’s parents will be informed of what occurred…
Nice one.
Hopefully that’ll teach them not to ever try it again ?
The thing is, if they’d got out with one of the drums, then the resulting ‘hue and cry’ could have got them beaten to death because the drums are all marked.
Mariama’s name is burnt into the inside of all of them.
They take a dim view of thieves round here, and if they’re caught before the police get them, then the people who catch them do tend to beat them to within an inch of their miserable lives with whatever implement is to hand…
It’s a system that seems to work.

Later that evening Mariama goes through the shots I took.
She seems pleased but just a little embarrassed, so I show her how to delete the ones she doesn’t like and when she’s finished she’s kept just under half of what I shot.

These, she is pleased with.
Job done.
It’s been a funny old day…
Personally, I’m half deaf with the constant noise from the women…
I’m not kidding, those forty-odd ladies could have outdone The Who at Charlton circa about 1972 when they clocked up 120decibels (and believe me, that was LOUD).
Time for a beer… Or two…
Or maybe more ?
Ok, at least five, then.
And now it’s time to chill…

Our last morning and ‘Slice’ has popped round after the children have gone to school.
Apparently Mariama is getting reasonable reports from the local musicians who are only too pleased to outplay a little girl who they take to be ‘playing at it’ until she lets rip herself…
They think they are going to be able to sneer but she keeps proving them wrong and then they just have to play themselves out of it, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.
Oh well, they’ll learn…

He tells me that her baby ballafon is a barrier and if I could possibly get her a full sized one then he could teach her the chords on it.
Hmmm… I hadn’t even thought of that ?
Good idea though, so I suppose I’ll have to look around and see who’s got what ?
He has also heard that Mariama has been heard to utter the words ‘I could be a singer…’ and he hopes I’ll dissuade her. ?
The reason being that there are thousands of kids in The Gambia who want to be singers and very few succeed.
If she sticks to the drums then by the time she’s old enough then she SHOULD always be in work.
Not necessarily as a gigging musician, but certainly teaching tourists when there are no gigs.
He’s right of course… That’s something else I hadn’t thought of.

Just before we are due to leave for the airport we shoot over the road to take pictures of the new Mum and her daughter, who have just been discharged…
Wow !  She is tiny.

But she just sleeps on through as Haddy snaps away, and then the dreaded phone call…
‘Tufa is here to take us to the airport.
I could have done without the thieving cunt on their security squad who lifted my lighter, telling me I can’t smoke on the ‘plane…
Yes, I know that, Shithead… But I can smoke at Luigi’s outside whilst having a coffee and a roll while waiting for my flight and I can certainly smoke when I leave Gatwick…
And only because it was a refillable one.
I fucking hate those bastards who abuse their position, so I suggest Mr President, if you want to keep the tourists rolling into The Gambia, then you curtail the behaviour of thieving cunts like the one who STOLE MY CIGARETTE LIGHTER.
Apart from that, no problem…
Just a sadness that we were leaving again.
A six hour flight followed by the queue for the usual problem of getting Haddy through Gatwick’s immigration control…
‘Are you travelling with your husband ?’
‘Yes, he’s the man that’s been standing over there waiting for me for the last three quarters of an hour with a very fucked-off look on his face, and who is making sarcastic remarks to the rest of your staff…’
You always know when you’re back in Britain… The fucking beaurocracy goes into overdrive.
Just read the fucking passport, dipstick… It says she is entitled to be here.
Finally she's through and now it's baggage reclaim and a trip to the 'Red Zone' where we are actually treated courteously.
'Yes, I'm way over on tobacco because it's got to last me until our next projected trip in November and I'm over on alcohol by one bottle of tequila...'
A quick rummage through the baggage and we're done.
Thing is, you can hear those who didn't declare anything protesting their innocence through the screens, both
Brit's and Gambians alike.
With the Senegalese importing cannabis into The Gambia like it's the promised land, everybody is now a suspected drug mule when flying back, so if I'm over then I'll take the red zone thank you very much.
It's much less of a problem than getting caught, and besides, the staff are much more polite... 
It’s always freezing cold at Gatwick when you finally get through.
Now all we have is a midnight drive on the M.25 with the variable speed limit signs left on, despite the fact there is no traffic…
Life couldn’t get better than that, could it ?

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