Friday, 25 July 2014


Apparently we will not be seeing Ida, Omar and baby Haddy over Tobaski as they will be going to stay with Amadou’s parents in their village.

Sibo with Ida Lee's baby Haddy
Ida has been showing us the dress that Amadou made for her, and I have to admit it is a beautiful garment and she looks stunning in it, but Amadou hasn’t had much luck recently.
His workshop had recently been burgled and many of his clients clothes had been taken, including the one he’d made for Ida, and so he’d had to start all over again, not just on hers but everybody else’s also.
The fact that a couple of his sowing machines went along with them is causing him some serious concern.
When he lays out the facts then you immediately realise that whoever did it knows his movements and so it is more likely to be somebody he knows.
It’s a sad reflection on a society that so far, hasn’t gone down the Western road.
It’s rife in the UK.
The local newspapers are all full of stories about people stealing from people they know, and now it seems to have started here ?
How sad is that ?
I’ll tell you what…
The bankers that caused the monetary collapse back in 2008 have one hell of a lot to answer for.
Once the problem filters down into countries like The Gambia, that’s when you realise the enormity of their crime.
People here had a struggling economy to start with, and being petrol based when the price of fuel goes up then the price of everything else goes up with it.
And when people without a safety net cannot afford basic food-stuffs to live on, then some will  resort to theft.
It’s happening all over the world but still nobody wants to prosecute those who caused it.
The thieves get prosecuted when caught but those who put them in the situation where theft is their only option will always walk away scot-free.
It’s not right and it never will be.
But these are the times we live in…
Corruption and graft permeate governments throughout the world.

It’s the day before Tobaski and we’re off to Killy. (Pronounced ‘Keely’)
I’ve done the journey before, but it’s quite a long drive and this time we’ve got a small truck and Kawsu, Hassanatou, Haddy and me are squeezed into the driver’s cab along with the driver.
In the back we’ve got five boxes of clothes that Haddy has managed to blag from people over here.
Basically, if they’ve got kids and even if they haven’t, we’re on the scrounge for all their outgrown clothes.
Adults stuff too, all is welcome although it has to be said, female clothing is preferred.
All they have to do is donate it and Haddy will pay to ship them to The Gambia.
So far there are eight boxes and a bag sitting in her unoccupied shop waiting for us to get there and donate to those who actually need something.
Now it’s time to get five boxes of assorted clothing out to Killy, where Osman, the head man of the village will get it out to all the villagers in the Killy locality.
Describing Killy ?
It’s quite a poor farming village is probably the easiest way of describing it ?
I have heard that they have recently got running water instead of having to draw it all from a well, but I don’t know if it’s true ? 
Anyway, it could also be described as in the interior of the country, just a short ride from The President’s village at Kanilai, and my wife owns some land there which she lets out to Ousman to grow things on.
Which, if he’s successful, Ousman will deliver a sackload of, to the kids, who will then barter whatever it is, locally, until they have a fair old swap session going on.
Let’s put it this way, it all helps.
So now the people of Killy are getting something back for helping out our family.
So what do you call it ?
Charity, as we know it, does not apply because a charity we definitely are not.
It all started when one of Haddy’s work colleagues said that her daughter was getting rid of a load of clothes that would fit the twins.
Then another one chipped in with some more for any babies she knew of, since her Granddaughter had grown out of them.
And so it had escalated…
Pretty soon we had a complete bedroom full of boxed and bagged clothing.
But look at it this way…
To a bunch of people that have very little in the first place if you think along the lines of a Western thought process, it’s all going to a good cause, so why not ?
So that’s where we were going.
Charities from the UK in The Gambia were small fry compared to Scandinavia who seem to donate a whole load more than anybody else.
Norway is probably the largest supporter in general charitable terms.
They run Rex Nursery School which is virtually next door to our compound, and where Haddy was once headmistress.
Bakau’s fire and rescue service has had a few older fire appliances donated from the UK and my friend Mark runs the charity who keep the school at Albreda/Juffereh going.
It’s called ‘Roots Nursery School’ and you can find him here… 
and all donations will be gratefully accepted.
Roots Nursery being situated in the village that produced Kunte Kinte, the hero of Alex Haley’s book about his ancestral line, ‘Roots’.
There are probably more, but those are the ones that I definitely know of ?
As for us, we’re targeting specifics.
Killy gets five boxes assorted and the village gets the other three, but Haddy decides where they are going and who gets what.
It’s only fair because she pays the shipping charges to get them out here.
The Gambia being like any other society…
If there is something going free then everybody wants something for nothing.
At least this way she gets to decide where it goes.
And any ‘chancers’ will get short thrift from her, I can tell you that.
She KNOWS where it’s most needed, because this is HER village and that is where it’ll be going.
Do you want to know what the most sought after items are ?
Larger sized brassierrres.
There seems to be no measuring process in The Gambia for breast size, and many of the women are larger and heavier  breasted than in the UK so larger sizes are prized for their comfort in fitting properly.
I mean we can talk about 32C or 38D (that’s large-ish by the way) but over in The Gambia it seems to be small, medium and large, so getting one that fits comfortably is an absolute Godsend to the womenfolk.
As a family, daughter Sainabou being a larger sized girl in the bust department, used to have serious problems getting one to fit her, so it’s a problem we are quite familiar with.
It’s a strange world when you think about it in those terms, isn’t it ?
Something all the women over here take for granted.
But over there it’s totally different.
A pretty, or striking motif on a t-shirt for teenagers.
Something the shops here and probably most of the places where you’re reading this are full of.
They’re not here.
Yes, you can buy t-shirts, but it’s that bit of difference that makes it ‘cool’, and a talking point, usually of envy, between the youth.
Haddy herself has been told that the t-shirts that she wears are not suitable for her, and that’s by the kids in her village.
Apparently she is too old to wear them ?
That attitude is swiftly curtailed by a clout around the side of a head if she can get them…
The fact that she’s probably been given it by one of the band members of whatever shirt she’s wearing doesn’t seem to cross their minds ?
My wife likes her music, so going to the local club and watching three or four bands is quite normal for her, but it doesn’t occur in The Gambia, even for the youth, so when you wear something quite striking it becomes a serious topic of conversation.
So far, nobody has hit on me for a Grateful Dead t-shirt, probably because most of the local kids can’t get their heads around the usual skull and roses motif’s, but Haddy’s been hit on quite a lot for her ‘Music Is My Weapon’ series, and also her Cropredy Festival t-shirts, so it’s definitely the sort of thing that goes down well with teenagers.
The thing is, it all helps.

When we finally reach Killy, there is nobody there.
Not literally, the old men and women and the youngsters are there but all the able-bodied are all working on The President’s farm at Kanilai.
So it’s the old women who greet us when we arrive.

Hassanatou and Haddy with Killy local
 Ousman isn’t there, and so we store all the boxes at his place before the drive back…

Part of Ousman's family
Haddy asks one of his wives to ask him to ring her when he becomes available again and that’s basically it.

Hassanatou and Kawsu

We will have spent about four hours in sweltering heat , all crammed into a truck cab.
We are however, given a chicken by Ousman's family for our efforts

Time to leave, this time with passengers... Note the chicken...

It’s a different world out there, and most people have no idea…
And that is a fact.

When we finally return, most of the day has gone.
I know one thing for certainty.
The first thing I’m going to do when we get in is to shower and have a beer unless somebody beats me to the shower…
It might end up being the other way around.

Haddy Sonko is at the compound when we return.
She is still totally committed to her artistic endeavours.

Haddy Sonko between twins
She has also grown from that young awkward teenage look into a pretty young lady.
This year I’d managed to get her some artists ‘oils’ either to paint or silk-screen with, and she seems very pleased to get them.
It’s not the sort of thing that you see much of in The Gambia, but what the hell, she’s a talented girl and there’s no reason to thwart her ambitions if you can nurture them, so any and all ‘art’ oriented supplies that we can get hold of are being sent her way
We have always said to her that we’ll help when we can, and if she can’t use the bits we send out then to please swap them with any of her artistic colleagues who might be able to use them, and this she has been doing.
She seems very pleased with the paints however, and that is enough for me.

The twins are pretty pissed off though.
Apparently their outfits are not going to be ready for tomorrow.
The local tailors who are doing them are way behind on the completion dates, despite having had them for the last three weeks.
And it’s not just the twins.
They are just two of many…
It would seem somebody has bitten off more than they can chew in the work department ?
Oh well, Tobaski tomorrow…
And it’s crunch time for me !!!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Honestly, the look on Hassanatou’s face was priceless, and the look on Jalika’s was just as good…
So, big hugs all round and we find out that everybody else is out.
Obviously Housai’ and Awa are at work and apparently Mariama is doing one of her after-school activities so she’s expected back at about five, but Ida Lee and Omar are about, and I even get a hug from the little monster.

Omar.  The little lad is growing fast...
Little ‘Tapha gives me a handshake and that’s it.
It’s not going to be all because as soon as we’d stepped out of the taxi the word was going out.
At least we can get the suitcases into the house before we’re trampled underfoot.
Mariama appears just after five.
Obviously she’s pleased to see us, but grumpy about being conned.
She’s the only one who didn’t know anything was going on because by now Housai’, Awa, Amadou and Sainabou have all received texts from their sister.
Amadou will be over tonight, and Sainabou with baby Adama will be over early tomorrow evening…

It’ll be the first time we’ll have seen our grandaughter.

The early part of the evening was spent greeting everybody and I don’t mind telling you, it leaves me totally knackered.
The fact that I’d now been up and awake for thirty six hours because I just cannot sleep on aircraft is beginning to take its toll and whether it’s considered rude or not, I just want to get my head down and sleep.
But finally, after being awake for about forty three hours, I manage to crawl into bed.
At least tomorrow is a Saturday and the little ones don’t have to go to school.

Now, we’ve got rather a lot to do in the three weeks that we’ve actually got here and they are as follows :
One.  Get the wooden panels sorted out on the patio under the roof because they have taken in so much water when the roof had holes in it that they are beginning to rot, and besides, they are a haven for mosquitoes so that is a definite.
Two.  Get some of the clothes that Haddy and I have been blagging off friends and sending out for the past year, to Killy village where Haddy owns a piece of land.
Three.  Sort out Tobaski.
Four.  Let Mariama and Jalika have a session when they are singing together without ANY interruptions, because at some point somebody is going to have to tell them if they are any good and I know for a fact that particular job is going to get delegated to me…
Five.  Find a day when we can all get out to Sanyang for a day at the beach with the ‘extended’ family.
Six.   Find a day when we can take the little ones swimming in a hotel pool in peace and quiet.
Seven.  Visit Macumba and Hadim on the market and finally give them the film of the two practice sessions which I’ve finally managed to extricate from ‘computer hell’.
Eight.  Visit Uncle Pa.
Nine.   Do all the other things that I’ve forgotten about.
Ten.   Visit all those people that my wife says we ought to…
Eleven.   Visit Gola Fortunate and give out the ‘Rhythms’ t-shirts to the winners of the school competition that we’ve instigated via Mariama and the headmistress.
Twelve.  Find a day when I can be left in peace to cook for the family… Yeah, right !
Chance would be a fine thing…
Isn’t that enough ?
I’ll tell you one thing, with only three weeks and running on Gambian time I’m still not sure if we’re going to get it all done, so let’s see what we can do, eh ?

First things first…
Ring Baddou.
Baddou is a carpenter and a pretty good one at that.
If anything needs to be done in wood then he’s the guy to ring.
That’s sorted.
He’ll be round to assess the job tomorrow.
Oh, and if you’ve been reading this on a regular basis then you’ll have seen a few pictures of his kids because Haddy and N’Dey are friends of Mariama and Jalika.

Baddou appears first thing in the morning, pulls a couple of the rotting bits down and makes a few calculations.
He’s got to do the whole porch area which runs the length of the house and one of the girls bedrooms.
Right, that’s sorted then.
The price is agreed and he’s been paid for the bits he’ll need which he’ll get today, and then start the job tomorrow.
He’ll be back for a visit with the family on Sunday.
Of course while he’s doing all this, the eight boxes of clothes we’ve blagged and sent out over the past year which are sitting on the floor of one of Haddy’s shops are going to have to wait.
Five of them are going to Killy, and the other three are to be shared out in the village but getting the whole kit and caboodle out so that they can be seen is an impossibility with all the dust flying about when the panels come down…
And I am reminded of that very apposite quote from Bob Dylan…
‘I accept chaos… I’m not sure if it accepts me…’
Or something like that, anyway ?
And then Hassanatou drops the big one…
‘Uncle Chris…’
‘Yes ?’
‘Sibo and Jalika have formed a group with Ida…’
‘Oh… My… God… Please tell me you’re joking ?’
‘No… Not joking… It’s true…’
‘Are they any good ?’
‘They won’t stop singing and drumming together…’
Oh well, I suppose it was to be expected given all the clues that they’d been throwing out on our last visit.
This is going to be interesting…
It’s not like Sibo to loan out her drums to anybody, so let’s wait and see.
Fore-warned is fore-armed as they say…
Not that I can bask in my new-found knowledge for more than an hour because it’s the first thing Mariama talks about when she finally gets her chores and homework done.
‘Uncle Chris, do you like One Direction ?’
‘No. They look pretty and all the little girls love them, but most of it is media hype.  I’m old enough to have seen it all before with other groups, and their songs aren’t very good…’
‘We like better songs…’
‘I hope so… What better songs ?’
‘Something Inside, Patriot, This Land, Hard Rain Falling, Woman is Smarter…’
‘Ok, but they’re not your songs, you are right though… They are better songs'. 
‘We want to sing songs like that’
‘You like songs which actually say something ?’
‘We like good songs…’
‘It’s not actually the same thing, you know ?  Songs that say things and good songs, but you’re on the right track at least… And where did you get all your song choices from ?’
(As if I didn’t know already ?)
‘We listened to all your cd’s…’
‘Ok… And what did you think when you listened to them ?’
‘They are good and there are lots of good songs on them…’
‘Ok… Let me have a think about it and hear you all together when we get a moment when you’re all free, but I warn you, I WILL be honest and if you’re rubbish then I will tell you…’
And that was the extent of the conversation.
I admire their spirit, but so far everybody out here involved in anything musical has said that they don’t do ‘Western’ songs.
They’ll do rap and reggae but they won’t touch anything from the rock, folk or country idioms.
I’ve never really understood that attitude except when doing traditional things from their own folk tradition, that I understand, but there are some songs from all those idioms that transcend all frontiers and barriers and if you think you can make somebody else’s song your own by putting your own feelings and spin on it, then why not ?
It’s not as if (From an African perspective) Youssou N’Dour hadn’t done it with Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom, and although most of the village hadn’t heard Bob’s original, they all knew Youssou’s version because it had been a huge hit all over the continent…
It’s a puzzle to be sure.
I suppose you could always break it down to a black and white thing but that is even more puzzling ?
Rap and ghetto living is understandable, but Reggae ?
Where does Rastafari fit in to an African Muslim perspective ?
It’s about as opposed as you’re going to get.
Unless it’s about the fame and the bling, the women and the drugs ?
And the power that comes along with all the above…
At least Reggae has a spiritual base, but Rap ???
Call me cynical by all means, but looking at some of the careers of some of the ‘artists’ involved, they are only famous for being in the newspapers week in and week out.
Yawn… Yawn… Yawn…
Justin Bieber being the classic example.
What a fuckin' twat !!!
If you’re supposed to be a ‘musician’ then prove it.
Celebrity status doesn’t cut it.
And our kids want to join this industry, AND buck the system as well ?
What can you do, except be there for them when it all comes apart…
But then the one thing I can say with any certainty is the fact that
One: They already have management.  Mum.
Two: They already have an accountant.  Big Sis'
Three: They already have two agents and road-managers who won’t take any crap from ANYBODY !!!  Me and other Big Sis'.
It’s a family affair, as Sly Stone once sang…
And Four… They already know what a good song is… And that helps when you are starting out, believe me…

So our first couple of days are spent hanging around the compound just greeting all the visitors and generally chilling out until it’s time to withdraw some money from the bank and then hit the supermarkets for some food.
Most of that will be canned things which we won’t have to worry about replacing after we’ve used them up, plus the usual bags of ‘minced cow meat’ which I’ll freeze until I do a spaghetti bolognese for the family… And whoever else gatecrashes the meal on the night.  
Some real cheese, as opposed to the triangles which the kids love, a few large potatoes (I have a cunning plan for later in the week…) and whatever herbs and spices that need replacing ?
Pasta and a few bags of vegetables and fruit plus a couple of bottles of wine and some cheap tobacco if they have any ?
Bearing in mind we are still officially at the end of the rainy season and some of the hotels haven’t opened yet, that is definitely a hope rather than a given.
It will mean if I can get them, that I can give a couple of pouches to Hadim and Slice.
Back in the compound Baddou and his helper are banging and crashing away like a couple of good’uns and there is sawdust mixed with the dust of ages everywhere.

You do your washing BEFORE you start playing... From left. Omar, Jalika, Sibo, Haddy, N'Dey with baby Amie and Haddy
On the Sunday we are to be joined by his family, although eldest daughter Haddy is not staying and will be visiting some of her friends for the day, but we get N’Dey and the little one, baby Amie.
If you click on the link below, it's about three and a half minutes continuous cut from about seventeen
minutes of the original film.
I just wanted to get some film down of the kids playing and dancing with lots of laughter and giggles...
And I definitely got that.

My wife has invited them all to celebrate Tobaski with us anyway, so we’ll be seeing them all again quite soon.
And because the office is close to the supermarkets, while we were out we stopped in to see Housai' at work.
That was interesting...
We've just totally turned down a marriage request for her twin sister. 
Absolutely no chance.
In fact if you dressed the pair of them the same then I'd be surprised if the guy can tell them apart ?

One thing Haddy and I agree on straight down the line, and that is, the kids are NOT for sale.
Haddy endured one horrendous marriage when she was younger because it was ‘arranged’ and there is no way I would ever let the kids go through that and neither will she.
When they get married it will be because THEY want to, and that’s it.
‘Was that guy for real ?’
‘Yes… He thinks that everybody would jump at the chance because he has money…  And some families would because of that…’
‘Do you think he got the message ?’
‘I think so...’
‘Hassa’s gonna laugh her socks off when she finds out…’
‘No… She will be angry… ‘
And you know what ?
When we got back and told her, she went ballistic !!!
Shouts, yells, definitely a few curses…
But finally she calmed down enough to say ‘Thank you, Uncle Chris…’
‘No problem… I thought the funniest bit was when your Mum and I both said ‘Dead Man Walking’ at the same time…’
‘He does not even know me’
‘I know, love… But that’s his loss and not yours.  He just thinks he can buy you with money…’
‘Aaaahh… It’s The Gambia…’
And she was right… 
It is The Gambia.
Resistant to change and women’s rights are near the bottom of the list.
But… And I mean this very seriously… Change will come.
It will be hard fought but it WILL come.
It is generally the women who have most of the common sense in most societies and The Gambia is no exception.
It has taken me quite a long time to get around to that idea, but when a man and a woman are sharing everything, hardships and good times, then things tend to get done a lot better than if it is just one gender making all the decisions.
Don’t ask me why that occurs, it just does.
And anyway, you live and you LEARN.
Maybe it’s because I come from a society where you pay lip-service to the idea that there is
equality even if we all know the reality is somewhat different ?
Who knows ?
But African society isn’t Western society and an African Muslim society certainly isn’t
It’s very different and it’s sometimes quite hard to get your head around some of it without criticizing it because some of the customs are totally alien to us in the West.
But, it’s not MY society, and when I’m here, I am here as a guest and that’s all.
I seem to fit in down in the village, I share the problems and I share the joys.
To those who know me, when I am there I am just another Fajikunda resident.
I might look a bit strange, compared to the average tourist let’s say, but I’m just Haddy’s husband and the children’s step-dad and I try and fit in as best I can, and I don’t criticize others unless something impinges upon the family or me personally.
When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do…
That’s the best advice I can give anybody.
If you do that then nobody can complain.
And the key to change is not criticism, it is understanding.
God, I wish some of the ‘visitors’ to my country would learn that.
If you don’t like it, then don’t come.
It is OUR country and not yours, so if you don’t like it then you can always FUCK OFF !
When you can finally say you understand then you can attempt to change things, but not before.
Ok, enough of this ‘soapbox’ shit…
Tobaski is supposed to be a joyful occasion so let’s get back to it.

That evening we had our first rain since we’d flown in, and when I say rain, I MEAN rain.
It bucketed down.
Eventually I went outside on the porch, ostensibly for a cigarette but I had taken the video camera with me.
What I wanted was just to show the power of the rain because Gambian storms aren’t much like those we have back in the UK, the only thing they have in common is the fact that you get very wet in both of them.
The force of the rain falling is the difference.
In the West we get storms and rain.
In the Gambia they are one hell of a lot more powerful.
For some reason the rain does not go with the wind ?
There is so much of it that it comes straight down vertically and that is what I wanted to capture.
I got about seven minutes of continuous footage anyway.
And although very dark, here's just under a minute of the best bit...

That will have to do.

We’ve got a free day, YIPPPPEEEEEEE !!!!
The African Village Hotel has not opened yet and so we make our way with Mariama and Jalika to spend a day at Ocean Bay where we can purchase a ‘pool’ ticket that lets me and the kids use the swimming pool all day.
Typically, they left their armbands in a taxi earlier in the year when they went to Sanyang but we have brought along a little blow up dinghy which we hope they’ll let us take in the water ?
Thankfully they do, probably because the place is not packed to the rafters being out of season currently, they also have a spare child’s rubber ring and one armband.

Jalika, bless her, can’t wait to get in the dinghy.
That definitely looks like fun to her.

And I only had to ask her the once not to smack Mariama with the paddle…
Mariama meanwhile, is in and out of the ring.
Attempting to swim without it she manages about three strokes without going glug-glug-glug but that’s three more than last time.

If we can get her to keep practicing in the children’s area then I’m quite sure she’ll be able to manage a complete width soon ?
Me ?
I’m doing the Moby Dick thing in the main pool.
I had lost a bit of weight since last time and was definitely feeling a bit better for it.
I’m still not completely happy weightwise, but I’m getting there.

We had a great day.
At one point Awa took the youngsters on a guided tour, including the suite where they put up Presidents of countries.
That impressed them.
But as usual, all too soon it’s time to go.
We’d been there for about seven hours in total and the time seems to have just rushed by.
I had hoped to have taken the kids to the small craft market but typically we ran out of time, so let’s get home and see what the evening brings ?

Actually we had a nice chilled evening listening to music in the compound.
There are loads of new albums on the computer and so I just stacked a few up and let them run.
This year I’d taken out the proper computer amplifier so we can actually get a bit of volume on it should we want it, but it’s not loud enough to disturb the neighbours, that’s the main thing.
Because it gets dark at about seven-thirty to eight o’clock we usually sit in the dusk to darkness with the house lights on, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see a thing outside.
The problems occur when we get a power cut and we get those on a regular basis, but not tonight…
Tonight was nice and calm and peaceful (compared to what it could have been like, let’s say…)
Jalika found herself a new favourite song to dance to, and that was a bit of a surprise to say the
least ?
I never know what it is about these kids ?
You can play them anything and if it’s got a beat that suits dancing then they’ll find it, and then they’ll fit their own moves into it.
The surprise, to me at least, is that the song in question comes from way back in the 1930’s and when Jalika started dancing I actually had the camera on.
That was pure fluke.
What happened when she started dancing was pure intuition from her.
If you watch as many old clips as I do of some of the ‘greats’ doing their thing, then you’ll be aware that when she was a lot younger, just a few years older than Jalika, the late June Carter who became the second and last Mrs Johnny Cash, used to dance when her mother Maybelle was playing in The Carter Family.
And Jalika was dancing to an old Carter Family tune.
The bit where she is straight upright and goes into a form of ‘tap’ is uncannily like the young June Carter used to do.

And since there is no way that our ten and very soon to be eleven year old out in The Gambia will ever have seen any clips of June, how weird is that ?
I just put it down to that ‘Old Weird America’ or conversely, that ‘Old Weird Gambia’ and if you have been reading this blog for a bit, then you’ll know we’ve been there before.
There are some things that I cannot even pretend to understand because they just ‘are’ and explaining them is useless and this was one of those times.
It’s unexplainable so let’s leave it at that.

It had been a really good day so let’s leave it there and see what tomorrow brings ?