Wednesday, 20 March 2013


It’s Monday of the second week and Haddy and I are off to school.
She’d rung the headmistress and told her a few details and obviously intrigued her the previous week.
Mariama had gone in with photographs to show her friends and teacher and to show them what her Mum and Stepdad get up to every summer, and to ask him to pass them on to the headmistress to see before we picked them up on our visit.
The groundwork was done and now it’s Rhythms of The World time.
All the schools in the surrounding area of the festival which takes place annually in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, contribute banners and artwork that is shown all around the festival site and I needed a backdrop for The Arcadeclectic Stage.

So there we were, knocking on the headmistress’ door at five past nine in the morning after she'd managed to get all the pupils to their respective classrooms and I’d had a good look at the school rules which were typed up on a notice pinned to the reception wall.

Mariama had done her homework well.
The headmistress was up for it and she was going to ask all the children if they wanted to do such a thing ?
The only drawback was the fact it would have to be done after school and a teacher would have to be there to supervise the children, so could we possibly…
Of course.
When we left the headmistress' office we visited our children's classes, much to their disgust.

Ok, be honest, how many readers actually liked their parents coming into their classroom while they were at school ?
Not me that's for sure, and I don't think I'm alone, am I ?
That very same day the headmistress asked all the classes if they’d like to design and paint the backdrop ?
All children doing so would also have to contribute ten Dalasi each towards the paint costs as we’d already supplied the fabric.
She definitely wasn’t expecting literally half the children to volunteer.
Some dropped out after asking their parents for the ten Dalasi and being refused, but it was still heavily oversubscribed and so the two youngest classes which included Jalika, were dropped.
It seems we have a very unimpressed little girl, but there’s nothing she can do about it.

Approximately fifty children will be staying after school to design and paint it.
They have twelve days, and Haddy and I hope that it’s enough ?
Thankfully, we receive progress reports from Mariama after her stints at the paintbrushes…

Little ‘Tapha is a month older than Mariama, and doesn’t go to school as his parents and grandparents do not have the money for the fees.

He has decided that if that is the case then he should be ‘The Man’ and go out to work to support his family, and so sometime between seven and eight in the morning he’ll buy a block of ice, walk to our compound where he buys a box of water-bags (50)
smashes the ice,

and diligently fills a washing bucket with ice, water-bags, ice, water-bags, ice and water-bags, throwing any remaining ice on top,

before covering it all with a blanket and hoisting the full bucket to the top of his head then walking half a mile to Latrikunda where he sells the now chilled water to the taxi drivers and their passengers.
He does this three times a day, getting through 150 water bags and he stays out until he’s sold them all, finally arriving back at our compound where he stores his basket and blanket at about seven in the evening.

He’s a great little lad and I wish we could do more to help him.
The effort that he puts in on a daily basis just to earn a small pittance to keep his family in rice and fish money is so humbling to somebody from The West who is more used to throwing out wasted food.
Here in The Gambia you don’t waste it.
While we, in our society, should you not have a job, live on ‘benefits’.
State handouts.
Many of which are totally undeserved as a lot of those who receive them are those who wouldn’t lift a finger to even attempt to get a job.
Why should they when their benefit payments fund their lifestyles ?
It’s all very, very wrong but that’s the way of the world.
Everybody we know from the Imam, Buba’ Sainey, the women selling in the street and the shopkeepers over the road all admire his attitude.
They cannot do much for him but he definitely has their admiration and they all say the same thing…
If he could go to school then he’d be ten times more successful.
The acumen that businessmen need to survive, ‘Tapha has in spades.
Everything he can do to earn money in his twelve year old life, he does.
All he needs is a little help, but there is nobody with money to help him.
If anybody offered to pay for his schooling then his family would starve.
It’s Catch 22.
Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
But he’s cheerful enough and will do anything to help out his friends.
It’s soul-destroying and there is nothing we can do about it…

The days pass with meetings upon meetings upon meetings and they never seem to stop but at least the wedding arrangements are coming on apace.
Djibbi’s side have seen the light and have finally got past second gear.

More and more gifts are arriving until the bedroom floor looks like a shop’s stock room and it is decided to move them into one of the empty shops.

When this has been done they take up at least one quarter of the floor space and are piled two feet high.

Everybody except me is now going for fittings for their wedding outfits on a daily basis…

The Maids of Honour (Housainatou and Hassanatou)

Back: Ida & Mariama. Front: Jalika

The Bridesmaids (Mariama, Jalika and Ida)
The Bride’s Official Guardian (Fatim Kebbeh) and Sainabou,

Haddy & Sainabou

who as well as her wedding dress, will be wearing another four new outfits on her day.
She is now staying with Mustapha Kebbeh and his family in the care of his wife, Fatim, to keep her away from family, friends and suitors but we do all miss her around the compound.

Then there’s Sainabou’s Mum, 





and Awa, and that’s just immediate family.

The tailors of Fajikunda and Latrikunda are now sending messages back after one fitting as to who is needed next.
Mothers screaming at smaller sons and daughters ‘You are going for your fitting… NOW !’
More guests turning up on a daily basis, and I now think the whole village will be there at some point during the day.
How do I know this ?
Because they are all going back and forth to the tailors for their new outfits.
This wedding is going to be BIG.
No matter where you go in the village and the shopkeepers of Latrikunda, all the talk is of one thing...
Sainabou's wedding.

While all this is going on, the compound floor has had one quarter of it re-tiled.
We’ve suffered a fractured water pipe under the new tilings, which necessitates one of the large family shrubs on the outside wall getting cut down so the workmen can dig down to get at the pipe before re-tiling again when they’ve done.
The family mango tree has been chopped.
The new wrought iron compound gates have been ordered and started upon…
And arrangements have been made to fix a new roof.
Nothing too major, you understand ?
I’m filling the ant’s nest’s under the compound as the children are all getting bitten when they sit on the ground.

‘Tapha Kebbeh is to be my translator when I go to the mosque.
No problem.
His English is probably as good as mine.
I’ve never been in a mosque before, but that was just about to change.
Little ‘Tapha and his cousin Bubacarr have just told me that they will be taking me to the mosque today to make sure I get everything right on the day, and so they have taken it upon themselves to give me a run through.
Ok kids, let’s do it.
And down to the mosque we go.
It seems very like a Christian service without the hymns.
Prayers while standing, hands held in front of you palm upward to receive God’s blessing then kneeling and head to floor…
Just follow the others.
Obviously I’m a bit slower than everybody else but Little ‘Tapha just says ‘Do what I do, Uncle Chris’ and I make an attempt…
‘No… Head down’
Bang !
My forehead has just hit the floor with Little ‘Tapha’s helping hand at the back of my head.
‘Up, stand up…’
Bang !
He’s done it again.
Bang !
‘Hey ‘Taph’ don’t push me down so hard’
Bang !
Repeat about six times.
You’ve got to give the lad his due.
As a friend of the family he wanted me to get it right for Sainabou, and after head-butting the floor about six times I’m not likely to forget it.
When the service is over we walk outside to get back into our shoes.
‘Uncle Chris, you did very well.   When they have Sainabou’s service it will be the same but you will have to talk when they ask you questions…’
‘We will make sure you do it properly when you go…’
‘Thanks guys… I appreciate it.  Come on, let’s go and get a drink…’

Back to the compound to share three cans of ginger beer from the private stash.
Honestly, children have a much simpler way of showing you than adults.
They keep all the superfluous stuff out of it.
You just end up with a different type of headache…

In the evening we are visited by the Imam, elders and councillors again.
Haddy tells me that it was noted by the ‘congregation’ that I did very well at the mosque, and the two lads are singled out for praise by the Imam.
I’m glad because they deserve it.
I might have a bruise or two that I didn’t have yesterday, but what the hell ?
At least I now know what I have to do on the day.

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