Saturday, 13 September 2014


Time is getting on…
There aren’t that many days left before we’re going to have to leave again.
We’ve booked the last weekend for a day at Sanyang on the beach because most of the gang are free at the same time.
As it is currently, most of our time is spent at the compound with Haddy trying to get her bits sorted out, which, true to form is the usual two steps forward and one step back routine.
You get given a name and which office they are in, but they are usually out and it involves an awful lot of sitting around and waiting…
Still, she’s used to it.
I, on the other hand, am not.
Truth be told it drives me nuts, but we’re getting there slowly.
So there we were, just sitting in the compound one morning at around ten o’clock after breakfast and this little lad opened the gate and came in…
I looked at him, looked back toward Haddy and then turned and had another look…
Is it ?
It has to be because he’s a dead-ringer for his Father.
Samsidine ?
I spoke his name and there was the trace of a smile in his otherwise solemn look.
And I was out of my chair and shaking his hand before offering him my seat.
It turns out that he was back over the road living with his Grandparents.
My late friend Ebrima’s widow who was now working on a market stall, was going to settle down again with her current partner and so she had kept their daughter Amie with her and let Samsidine go to his Grandparents.
Apparently he’d been there for most of the Tobaski break but had not ventured over to see us, possibly, from what we were able to ascertain, through a bit of shyness at his new surroundings and family.
But he was here now, that was the main thing.
The last time we’d seen him he was a few months old sitting in his Mother’s lap, but now he was a big four year old.
Is it really that long ?
Time only seems to show its face through the ages of the children.
They get older and they grow.
Shit !
If I’d known he was over the road, I’d have gone over to meet him, but who knew ?
If our lot knew then they hadn’t let on but we’d find out later, what was important was that he was here now.
Haddy was the perfect hostess, putting him at his ease and when he left to go back after about an hour, I said I’d take him.
So we walked over the road, me holding his little hand until we got back to his compound…
‘Hey… Samsidine, you’ve brought Uncle Chris…’
And I got the handshakes and the hugs from Ebrima’s brothers and Mother.
So I sat and ate nuts, which it seemed everybody was shelling, for ten minutes while they all chatted away.
One thing I can say with certainty is that they were all glad to have him there.
Obviously it was going to be one more mouth to feed, but that didn’t matter.
What mattered most was that he was back with them.
His Father had died when he was a couple of months old and his extended family had been unhappy about his Mother taking him, but he’d returned.
Nobody knew if it was going to be forever, but at that moment it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that he was back.
I asked his family to please tell Samsidine that he would always be welcome at our compound, as would his sister if she was visiting, and I got up to leave.
And it wasn’t only me holding the emotions in check, we were all doing it.
If I made it back over the road without breaking down in tears it was going to be a miracle…
At least I managed to get to the front gate before going inside and sitting by myself for a couple of minutes just to compose myself.
What is it with this place ?
Back in the UK nobody shows any real emotion at all.
It’s like it’s hidden under a veneer of respectability and composure, but here, in The Gambia, it’s on the surface and it doesn’t need much to bring it to a head.
I’m glad he’s back.
I don’t really know why, apart from the fact that he’s brought a bit of happiness to his own family.
I suspect it’s something to do with the fact that his Father was my friend and I know how much he wanted a son of his own, but I couldn’t really tell you ?
All I know is that there is something between us.
A bond of some description.
Whatever it is, it’s there.
And however much I may screw up in this life, I know I have to try to be there for him if I’m called upon to do so.
Ebou’, you old pirate… Wherever you are in the next world, no promises my friend, but I’ll do what I can.
And we didn’t take a single photograph to commemorate the occasion...

It’s early afternoon and Yama has turned up with baby Awa and N’Dey.
Everybody, me included, is sitting in the compound shelling nuts or making wonjor.

Wonjor is a drink, for them as haven’t a clue what I’m on about. 

Hassa' stirring the wonjor
It is made from the flower of the sorrel plant which you soak or boil and then add to a powder mix, you then mix it with sugar and water and let it settle.

Me, Tony and Hassa' straining the wonjor

Strain it through muslin, and then bottle it.

It turns out Hassanatou has a thriving small business selling it.
One small bottle for five dalasi and a bigger one for thirty.
All she uses are empty water bottles which she religiously washes out every morning.
The most popular are those that have been in our freezer for a while, as the colder it is, the more refreshing it is.
It tastes like a thicker and sweeter blackcurrant cordial when added to water and a couple of bottles downed in the heat will certainly re-charge the batteries somewhat. 

As for the nuts, you can’t step anywhere without crunching another couple of shells underfoot.
They are literally everywhere.

At some point in the proceedings Haddy and I are going to have to hit the supermarkets at Westfield as I won’t be able to obtain the things I need locally, so mid-way through the afternoon we shoot off to do some shopping.
Basically I need English food.
Not because I’m pining for it, but because I still have that leg of lamb in the freezer and I now know what I’m going to do with it.
It was a toss-up between English or Indian and because the Indian recipe needs a forty eight hour marinade, I have decided against it.
So, English it is.
The Uncle Chris meal for this year’s trip is going to be roast lamb, roast potatoes and as much English type vegetables as I can get from the supermarkets, along with mint sauce.
Classically English, instead of my usual foreign stuff and tomorrow is going to be the day.
I’m a bit worried about having to cook the whole lot over charcoal, but the family are pretty good on the guesswork as to how hot and how long and so we’re going to give it a go…
Brilliant !!!
I’ve got some green beans and carrots for the veg’.
The green beans were seriously ‘premium price’ but what the hell ?
Of course I also stocked up on the usual things like cat food for Princess, tinned tomatoes, tinned spinach, a few cans of milk and sardines because the supermarkets are cheaper than locally, spaghetti, cheese, chicken frankfurters, Julbrew, Guinness, Fanta, Vimto and ginger beer…
You know… All the essentials…
And now we’re damn near out of money again.
I’m not surprised because the actual cost of living has really gone up over here.
It’s frightening, looking at the prices and thinking back to what we used to pay ?
One day we’ll actually guage the right amount to get from the bank.
Obviously we didn’t withdraw enough this time, and so one of us will have to go back tomorrow as the trip to Sanyang is on the horizon and we’ll need a bit for our contribution towards that.

Did I say that the cost of living has gone up ?
I did, didn’t I ?
What I hadn’t expected was what came next.
Because we can only get over once or possibly twice a year, there is a lot that we never hear about.
There are a lot more grumblings from the general population as to what is going on, and probably rightfully so.
The general consensus of opinion is that their government has, to put it mildly, lost the plot and people are beginning to complain because it is impacting upon them.
How much is it impacting upon them ?
Well, there is no work because there is no investment in the country for a start, and this is beginning to hit some of the people that we know.
I found that out when Yama came out of the house in floods of tears followed by a very grim looking Haddy, and so obviously I asked her what was going on ?
It turns out that the job she had given Baddou was their ‘lifesaver’ as they were about to be evicted from their compound for non-payment of rent.
So the money that Baddou had made from the job had literally gone on paying the rent up to date.
The fact that they and the children hadn’t eaten in four days was another problem…
Which is obviously why they let their Haddy go to a friend’s for Tobaski.
If the kids can be ‘shared out’ then they can survive another day.
And it’s not like Baddou is lazy, he’s not, and he’s a bloody good carpenter to boot.
Christ !!!
It’s no wonder that some of them see Europe as the bloody promised land.
I haven’t had a raise for four years because of the banking bastards so I know a little bit about the causes, but the effects ?
The effects in Europe are bad, the effects in the UK are bad, but the effects of the banking crash in Africa is just fucking obscene…
It doesn’t help cursing the bankers and their fucking ancestors but it makes me feel a bit better so you’re gonna have to live with it, and if it upsets you then it’s just tough shit !!!
Those banking bastards who caused all this should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives, their goods and houses should be taken from them and sold, and any money made from the sale should be given to those who now need it most, and that’s a fact.
Of course it will never happen, but the thought is there.
At least the US is attempting to put some of them behind bars, but back in the UK we just give them knighthoods… He said, sarcastically…

‘Ok, so what are we gonna do ?’
‘I don’t know…’
‘How about if we give them a box of stuff for Fagikunda, that’ll get them some money as they’ll be able to sell what’s in it… Plus, there’s the stuff we just bought from the supermarket, they can have some of that plus a few of our reserves ?’
‘Are you sure ?’
‘Yeah, I’m sure… I’ve got two hundred dalasi left in my pocket so they can have that as well… We’ve got to go back to the bank tomorrow, anyway…’
'Thank you... I love you...'
'Come on darlin', what did I do ?'

And that was pretty much the extent of the conversation between us.

I mean, what the fuck can you do ?
We can’t keep the population fed.
It's as much as we can do sometimes to keep the children fed.
We’re just two people who happened to be in the right place at the right time to sort out a problem within our family, but we can’t do it forever.
And what if it happens again, what are we supposed to do then ?
Most people on this planet have a little bit of pride within themselves and find it difficult to even ask for help.
It’s difficult.
I’ve been there, done it and bought the bloody t-shirt on that one, so I know a little bit about what I’m talking about.
It’s hard to ask for help.
It shouldn’t be, but it is because it implies a weakness, and people do not want to be thought of as weak.
And most people can understand that.
But the alternative ?
What’s the alternative ?
Shame ?
Do me a favour…
If you can help then help, and if you can’t then get the fuck out of the way and let somebody else help instead.
But it’s easier said than done, isn’t it ?
Easy answers are not an option because a quick fix is like sticking a plaster on a cut artery.
It’ll slow the flow for about five minutes but then what are you gonna do ?
It doesn’t bear thinking about.

And so Yama rang Baddou who came over by taxi which we paid for, and he was basically pretty choked up.
We’ve asked the taxi driver to call back in about an hour for their return trip and in the meantime I’m going through the family reserve as far as food is concerned, and Haddy is going through her three remaining boxes to sort out some stuff for Yama and some stuff for Ousman in Killy. 
They’ve got half our vegetables including the potatoes, all the spaghetti, all the canned stuff we can spare, the frozen chicken frankfurters’, salt, pepper, rice, basically anything we thought would help them get through it ?
At least some of that will give them a form of stew tonight.
It’s not a perfect arrangement but it’s the only one we’ve got.
Plus, they’ve got whatever money we had in our pockets.
Yama is in tears when they leave and Baddou wasn’t too far behind her.
He grasped my hand and mumbled something about me being a good man and I just hugged him tighter…
‘We do what we can, mate…  We just do what we can…’
Poor old N’Dey is going through it.
The look on her face says it all.
No wonder she never looked happy any time we saw her, the poor thing was starving.
And having to eat on a permanently empty stomach couldn’t have done her a lot of good.
And then, just like that they were back in the taxi with a box of foodstuff and a box of clothing, and gone.
Haddy will ring them tomorrow morning to make sure they’re alright.

It had been a strange day.
I was emotionally fucked and I think that’s the right way of expressing it ?
First you’re up and then you’re down and there’s no happy medium and the rest of the family look wrung out, too.
It can’t have been easy for any of them, especially Mariama and Jalika.
It’s the sort of thing that scars kids, and if they keep it bottled up it will colour their ideas and ideals for years.
They KNOW the children involved.
And at their age the ‘What if it was me’ worry comes in like a battering ram.
Looking back, you think to yourself could you have done anything else, but you know the answer before you’ve even asked the question ?
You couldn’t.
I don’t even know whether we did the right thing by doing what we did ?
I do know that given the circumstances if it happened again then I’d probably do the self-same thing.
Whatever ?
Everybody has to make up their own minds on this one.
I know that I personally don’t feel that good about it.
I feel angry.
But that’s a ‘blame’ thing.
And I blame those that let this sort of thing happen and then walk away from it.
Face it.
Everybody knows what I’m talking about here…
‘Cause it sure as shit ain’t rocket science, is it ?

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