Thursday, 21 March 2013


The mango tree has been chopped,
Princess, among the remains of the mango tree

the water pipe has been fixed,

the tiles are back down,

the gates are ready and only have to be fixed so we have to arrange a morning for the guys to fix them as there is no way in the world that they’d be able to do it in the afternoon, there are far too many people crammed into the compound.

Everything is going as it should be and then Haddy announces that her outside shower block needs painting…
Arrrrrgh !!!
I’ve given up trying to persuade her that there really isn’t time for these ‘minor’ details to be fitted in, so I’m just going with the flow and trying to stay out of the way until I’m needed.

Fittings for dresses and hairdo’s are taking place all the time and, it would seem, everywhere. 

The food for the guests is arranged, and everybody knows who is doing what and, more to the point, where they are doing it.
Some will chop the vegetables, some will cook the chicken pieces, some will make the fish pies.
Everything now has a time and a place in the calendar.
The ‘Reception’ party for Sainabou has been arranged at the community centre where we filmed the band, and will include a disco.
The guys from the ‘Extended Family’ have arranged it all and paid for their ‘Sister’
It all seems to be coming together.

I keep trying to separate Mariama and Jalika from the rest to give them another go at recording and to teach Mariama the intricacies of the four-track but this is proving impossible.
There just isn’t enough time in the day, or night for that matter.

With all those now staying in the compound it’s getting to be a bit like the feeding of the five thousand.
You can’t move without tripping over something they have brought with them or a toddling child 
and your time is spent meeting and greeting the next arrival before tripping over their feet when you meet the next one.
In other words, it’s chaos.
But it’s a happy sort of chaos.

The twins are attracting ‘stalkers’ again.
Hassanatou has been followed home from college by a guy in a car who can’t think further than his dick.
The problem for him is that she knows…
So she reaches the compound gates, slips inside and tells her sister Housainatou who immediately switches clothes with her and steps outside.
At which point the guy stops her and tells her that she’s beautiful (True) and that he’s been watching her and has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her...
Bad move.
Housai', at home...Preparing the meal

‘But how can you have seen me when I’ve been at home all day’, asks Housai’ ?
‘No, I’ve been following you from…’
She calls across to the women sitting opposite selling their nuts, cakes and fruit ‘Will somebody tell this idiot that I’ve been at home all day and I’ve not been out of the compound, please ?’
‘She’s been at home all day’ they chorus.
‘No.  I’ve followed you from…’
Enough !
‘Would you please go away and leave me alone, I have never met or seen you before and you certainly do not know me…?’
At which point the ladies on the other side of the street all get up and ask Housai’ if there’s a problem ?
‘Yes’, she says… ‘He seems to think I’ve been out and he’s apparently followed me home, could you please help me to get rid of him ?’
The thing about the ladies selling the fruit opposite, which usually includes the Mother of my late friend Ebrima and her family is that if they are selling fruit then they tend to cut cut it with a rather large cutlass.
Those huge curved swords that you see in all the pirate films and the last thing that anybody needs is to have a very loud bunch of local women all shouting, gesticulating and waving a cutlass in front of your nose.
The noise of which will then attract their menfolk, who all like to witness a good argument.
So all the men start arriving to see what is happening, and when Hassanatou steps out in an identical outfit to her sister, the fun really begins…
Now there are two of them and the guy really doesn’t know what to do or where to look ?
It is pointed out to him that if he were to get back into his car and drive away then that is probably going to be his safest option, because failing that, there might be a spot of bother…
Within seconds he’s back in his car and gone and the men disperse back to what they were doing while the ladies sit back down and get on with selling their wares.
The twins just laugh their socks off.
Another one done and dusted.
Identical twins and beautiful with it they may be, but they have their own agendas and those agendas do not include early marriage and babies.
Finishing their college courses and then seeing a bit of the world perhaps ?
Anything else is secondary to that.
Besides, would you marry someone who didn’t even recognise you and mistook your sister for you ?
No chance.
Identical twins.
Safety in numbers…

Macumba from the band rings me and tells me that he’s got a rehearsal space at the side of the market in Banjul, right next to the beach.
Jally will DEFINITELY be appearing at this one and it’s scheduled for next week.
Haddy and I decide to book into the hotel again the night beforehand.
It will give her some peace and quiet after the wedding is over…
If the wedding is over ?
The way things are going I’m not sure that it ever will be ?
The pace is hotting up and the crescendo is on the horizon…
How’s that for a bunch of mixed metaphors ?
But I’m sure you get the picture.

It’s finally arrived…
Today is ‘Mosque Day’ and this afternoon the marriage contract becomes final and official and it’s also the day when I get to say my piece to everybody as the Father of the Bride.
I hope they’re listening, because I wouldn’t want to have to go through it twice ?
It’s nerve wracking.
All I can do is hope I don’t screw it up too much ?
A small snack beforehand and I’m ready…
Little 'Tapha & Bubacarr
Little ‘Tapha and Bubacarr are on hand as escorts, so…
In for a penny, and all that stuff.
First we have the service, and the kids do me proud.
No obvious mistakes as far as I can tell ?
‘Tapha Kebbeh has just arrived at my side.
He is going to be my translator in what is to follow.
The ‘Any other business ?’
The Marriage Contract.
I have to say it is a definite eye-opener.
The Imam and Buba’ Sainey are definitely doing their bit for our Sainabou, and I can only give you some idea of what I said as most of it went by in a blur.
That she is a good girl who has had food, shelter and clothing throughout her life, is an integral part of our family, is scrupulously honest and has never brought disrepute or shame on her house or her family, and has never been beaten, so if there are any thoughts along the line of starving her, dressing her in rags, kicking her out in the street or beating her at ANY time for ANY reason, then maybe we should call the whole thing
off ?
That definitely touched a nerve.
Ok, I’d been ‘coached’, but I’d been coached by experts.
Djibbi’s representatives now have to assure me and all the family’s friends (which includes the Imam) before the whole congregation, that none of that will ever occur.
This they attempt to do.
Finally it is settled and so is the date.
The ceremony will be on Sunday.
We are done and the bowl is sent around the congregation for donations.
I give my thanks to ‘Tapha Kebbeh who says he must leave now, but he’ll see me later, and besides, I will be in good hands with the two lads, who are both looking at me and smiling happily.
‘Uncle Chris, you did very well’
‘Did I ?   I was very nervous because it’s different in the UK’
‘No… You did well’
‘Tapha Kebbeh echoes them.
‘You did very well.  The Elders seem to be impressed…’
‘I tried… I got some of it from Buba’ Sainey, but your translating helped a lot and besides, I was ready for it’
‘It is done, now we can arrange for Sunday’
Thanks be to God.

I walked back up the street with the lads and one of the local schoolteachers who speaks English like a native.
It helps I suppose, that we both stop to light cigarettes at the same time.
‘Eeee… That was good… You did well’
‘Thank you… I tried… For Sainabou…’
‘The family will miss her’
‘I know…’
‘How is Haddy ?’
‘She’s good… Rushed off her feet with guests and such…’
‘It is the African way’
‘I know… I’ve been here a few times… Never for anything quite so important, though’
‘You are almost African’
‘I’ll never be that… The best I can do is try and understand… It is so different here and I have to think African’
‘You will, and you have done well today’
‘I didn’t want to let my family and friends down’
‘No… It was good… And these two…’
He gestures toward Little ‘Tapha and Bubacarr as we reach the compound.
‘These two taught you well’
‘They’re good kids…’
‘I know.  Give Haddy my regards and I will come to see her soon’
‘I will’
And off he went up the street as we opened the gates of the compound.
Home and safe.

‘How was it’ Asks Haddy, as the second bottle of beer from the now hidden private stash gurgles down my throat and the two lads do the same with their Coca-Colas ?
‘Ok, I think… These two were brilliant and so was ‘Tapha Kebbeh… I think I got it across ?’
Five minutes later she’s back and all smiles…
‘The elders wish to know, because you did so well, if you want to convert ?’
My jaw drops to ground in amazement.
‘Convert to what ?  If you are asking what I think you’re asking, then please remember that I don’t even consider myself a Christian, so ‘converting’ is not really me ’
‘Please tell them thanks for the offer, but no thanks, because then I can be free to worship in my own way.  I’m happy to respect others views but it’s not really for me.   I dislike fundamentalism in any religion because it only leads to intolerance, bigotry and hatred, so sorry… Can’t be done’
‘I did tell them that, but they wanted to make the offer’
‘Tell them thank you, I appreciate the offer, but I don’t feel I can take them up on it.  If I can be true to you and the kids and myself then I can be true to anything else… Even God. 
Do right to others and if it works out right, then they do right to you.
It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s what I believe. 
Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Black, White… They’re all just labels of intolerance designed by man…
Do you need one…  Do I… Do the kids…  
Surely we’re all just people ?   
Ok, rant over, now give us a kiss…’

One of the things I dislike most about the ‘Christian’ media in the UK is their insistence upon singling out ‘Muslims’ as a different form of species.
Harsh words ?
Think about it for a moment.
Is it any different to the way Catholics refer to Protestants and vice-versa ?
Is it different to the way Hindus refer to Muslims or Sikhs and vice-versa ?
One of the questions I get asked a lot when I’m out here by people who do not really know me, is am I going to get the children to convert ?
To become Christian ?
My answer will always start with a question.
Are the children happy ?
Have they been brought up to be honest, respectful of others, and to use the intelligence and skills that they were born with ?
If the answer is yes, which it is, then why in God’s name would I wish to change them ?
They are Muslim children.
They are quick, intelligent, have enquiring minds and they are happy, and I’m proud of them.
Who in their right mind would ever want to change that ?

So the next time somebody decides to badmouth Muslims, remember this, that there is good and bad in everybody.
That is the balance we all have to live with
You, me, and everybody else on this planet.
And when you generalise and lump every Muslim together for your own agendas, then remember those are my children you are badmouthing.
Normal children, who follow fashions, listen to music and who like a good film, and who want to learn so that they can do well in their lives, children whose hopes and aspirations are very much the same as your own children.
So please put the blame where it is due and leave the innocent out of it.
Failing that, you’re just another intolerant and bigoted shit-bag, and God knows, there are quite enough of those walking this planet.
I’m not suggesting people all become saints overnight, but please look at yourselves before you start looking at others.
As for the media, those who work in it have a responsibility to report the truth without bias.
Trouble is, without a victim or a scapegoat, the truth doesn’t sell ‘news’, does it ?
So what do we have propagated as normality ?
Hatred and prejudice, born of ignorance, and intolerance.
Open your eyes and ears, people…
The truth is out there but most of it is now hidden under a huge pile of rhetorical garbage.
I’ll finish this with the gospel according to Clinton (that’s George, not Bill)
‘Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow...’
Damn right !

We’re getting closer…
Tomorrow will be ‘Wedding Day Minus One’ as I’ve taken to calling it, and the compound is now full to overflowing.
There are now about twenty people staying over on the floor of the shops.
The strain it puts on everything else is immense, but we’ll cope.
It’s a case of having to.

I’ve just learned that we won’t see Djibbi throughout.
After the marriage ceremony which will be performed in the compound by the Imam, Sainabou will be going to the disco at the community centre with her bridesmaids and one maid of honour.
The other has to rejoin her college course.
Apparently I’m going, but Haddy isn’t ?
She’ll be staying at the compound looking after the guests.
When Sainabou leaves, she will be taken back to Fatim Kebbeh’s to change again before the car takes her to Djibbi.
It seems odd from a Western perspective not to include the bridegroom, but that’s the way it is done here.

Tonight the partying starts…

As darkness descends, the singing and dancing start up.
Rhythmically and sonically these ladies have it down.
One will start a song and the others will all join in, always accompanied by frantic dancing, Jola, Mandinka, or Fula’, it never seems to matter.
Mostly women, some children and a few men and it doesn’t stop until the early hours.
I’m tired…
Exhausted would be closer to the truth and what about Haddy, she must be on her last legs ?
One more day, and then the following day it’s all going to happen.
Now I really do understand the expression ‘In the eye of a hurricane’

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