When Jo and Sarah were little we had a book, by Shirley Hughes I think, that included the line “A day by the sea is the best kind of day!” Reading that with a child tucked up in her beddy-byes, I used to doubt the accuracy of it as I thought of wind-swept, cold and rainy visits to Nairn, Findhorn etc. , as well as my childhood trips to Elie and Gullane in my woollen swimming trunks. But Shirley Hughes must have been thinking of The Gambia!
However, I’m getting ahead of myself.
After lunch, I was accompanied by Rohey and Sadibou to Serrekunda market where we put my mobile in to get unlocked so I could get cheap calls in The Gambia, rather than O2’s extortionate roaming rates. I mustn’t spoil the excitement, so if you don’t want to know the result, look away now.
They couldn’t unlock it, but at least didn’t charge me, so a nil-nil draw I suppose.
In between putting in the phone and collecting it (beware of spoiler coming up…) still locked, we went to Palma Rima beach, where I’ve been many a time before. We sat at Jula’s beach bar, where I’ve sat many a time before. I had a Julbrew, which I’ve had many a time before. “The thing is” – to quote Sonia’s favourite phrase – it never palls. The waves were smaller than usual, but the water was just as warm, the sky just as hazy a blue, the temperature just as pleasant, the itinerant salesmen perhaps a little less persuasive…
It was a time to reminisce – thinking of Laurence playing the djembe drums as he jammed with a bunch of tourist-focussed musical chancers – his life to be cut short so soon afterwards, Big Al’s jellyfish stings so much worse than anyone else’s, the “Banjul belly” we all had one year after eating the lettuce at an otherwise brilliant evening of dining al fresco, dancing and fire-eating (just watched the last part!) and rubbing charcoal ash onto Karen’s legs as a local antidote to another jelly-fish attack (I just watched that bit as well!)
After our abortive return to collect the mobile, Sadibou left us and Rohey and I came back to the PIA. All our journeys today were in the communal minibus style of transport and each trip cost GmD7 per person (20p for those of you without an exchange rate table to hand). Catch Stagecoach doing that, though my OAP’s pass to Glasgow for 50p is admittedly good value when you add in the free IrnBru, sandwiches and shortbread! True, we were packed in like sardines. True, we had to sit and wait until the vehicle had enough passengers to merit departure. True, the vehicle wouldn’t pass an MOT – one of them had built-in air-conditioning in the form of holes in the floor, but there’s nothing to beat them and compared with taxis they are so cheap!
On the journey back, Rohey and I chatted about life in general and the PIA in particular. These volunteers get nothing from week to week – they even have to pay their transport to come to work. Once a year, under the old management, they got a hand-out at Eid (Muslim festival which I hope I’ve spelled correctly) of GmD250 – about £7 – exactly the price of the large towel I bought in the market today. Their philosophy is “If I wasn’t doing this, there’d be nothing else for me – at least I’m doing something useful and I may get a staff job out of it”. I feel heartily sorry for them – some of them have been in this position for several years – they still live with their parents (admittedly not uncommon over here), can’t afford to get married, can’t afford to better themselves… Before returning home, Rohey ate half my meal – at my invitation – but had no money to get back (GmD 7 – 20p), so I gave her GmD50 (£1.30) so she’d have something to get to her unpaid work for the rest of the week. The PIA is short of money, the new management structure may be more amenable to paying them something, and it can’t afford to lose these dedicated and talented ambassadors, but apparently can’t afford to pay them either.
I had a bit of a shock to the system today: Aunty Cole brought me some marking to do! I briefly considered asking her why she thought I made the move from English teaching to IT in the first place, but rejected the idea. There are only a handful of students in the class and they had two short exercises to do. One involved substituting “nice” in 10 sentences with a word chosen from a list of 10 alternatives (fine, courteous, fragrant, enjoyable, smart, well-behaved, refreshing etc.). How do you explain to a Mandinka speaker that though “John is a clever boy” is perfectly acceptable, it’s wrong because you need “clever” for “Father had a clever idea”, so it has to be “John is a well-behaved boy”? The other exercise, using the correct form of “we’re/were/wear” etc. in multi-gap sentences was almost as problematic when you throw “they’re / their / there” and “its/it’s” into the mix. I must think of a better way of doing this. Answers on a postcard please – they shouldn’t involve any technology beyond a pencil and paper or chalk and blackboard.