Ants in my Pants

I’m sure there are more ants around this year. Sitting writing on the balcony or reading at the paint-flaked benches in the “garden”, you can’t escape the little pests. There are tiny little chaps who scurry about self-importantly and non-descript regimented khaki ones that suddenly catch the setting sun and turn out to have gloriously striking bulbous sapphire-coloured translucent rear ends. (Sorry, I don’t know the word for the bit of an ant posterior to its thorax. If there’s a vet reading this, or an entomologist…)
While I’m on about ants, lets mention some other animals. Anyone who has done even the minimum research on The Gambia will know it’s famed for its birds. Near the hotel/tourist area the other day, I could hardly turn round without tripping over a camera tripod. All right that’s an exaggeration, but the birdlife here is pretty amazing even without taking an early-morning tour with a guide, which I hope to do in the “holiday” phase of this trip.
Even from the PIA, you can see lots of interesting birds. There’s a sort of customised robin on LSD which has a bright red front, head etc. that hangs about. There are pigeons – close relations to the McPigeons of Scotland: my class didn’t know the word the other day, but my pigeon noises clarified the situation. You only have to sit still, quietly watching and you’ll see all sorts of birds even in semi squalid suburban Bakau. My favourites, though, are the vultures. Most of us will have seen the Disney “Jungle Books” with the Liverpudlian vultures (“What’ll we do?”, “I don’t know, what’ll we do?”): these birds, ungainly and ugly when they sit in a tree or on a telephone pole are a magnificent sight in the air. Three or four will catch a thermal and like Tosh in a glider go round and round circling, but more elegantly. They are much more common in built-up areas than in the country – presumably it’s easier to get something from a rubbish heap than wait for something to die in the open. I could lie on the ground and watch these birds all day.
Lizards are common, once the sun is up. There are economy models just six inches from head to tail tip and there are king-sized versions, at least twice as big, with crests and dewlaps like a cockerel. These may be two different species as the smaller examples are generally dusty grey, whilst the big ones are more yellowy and tend to bask regally on walls and vertical surfaces whilst the wee ones dart about, up and down trees, over concrete walls etc. and sometimes indulge in fights. At Kerewan, on previous occasions, the hottest part of the day has been spent lying on a bench under a mango tree watching lizards, and occasionally getting sidetracked to catch a glimpse of some bright red bird rustling away high up, possibly looking for ripe fruit or fresh lizard.
I will not stoop to talk about mosquitoes – all mosquitoes should be shot on sight. My festering, mosquito-bitten ankle is beginning to improve and the Band-Aid is just to keep the flies off – thanks very much for asking.
With the exception of mosquitoes (and midges, and wasps and a few others when I come to think about it), I quite like animals and will happily help lame dogs over stiles. So, I’m a little self-conscious and uneasy about having 5 wine bottles full of “snake poison” in my room as I write. It has a rather Jeyes’ fluid / creosotey smell about it, but you’ll understand that I’m not keen to investigate too much and haven’t taken the corks out of the bottles. These are to accompany us to Kerewan tomorrow: I’m not sure “encouraging the snake to migrate” is completely in harmony with “snake poison”, but as I’d run away if people started trying to spray me with cyanide I suppose the same may be true of snakes.
Less exotic, but just as interesting are the goats that wander the streets. The few schools I’ve visited all seem to keep the animals in the playground and they provide a small boost to school funds when sold to the local butcher.
I must add butterfish to my list of least favourite animals. I have no objection to them in their natural habitat, doing whatever butterfish do, but when battered and cooked a couple of hours earlier, allowed to become tepid and then served with cold chips and salad, they do tend to pall somewhat.
Gambians enjoy speeches. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll appreciate that I will happily waffle away for ages on paper – real or virtual – but whether you read it is entirely up to you. A Gambian with a captive audience will make a speech at the least provocation or shoehorn one in even if it’s not strictly necessary. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Islam when I say this, but I am sure the perfect Gambian afterlife would include not only the normal range of diversions but also regular opportunities to address a group hanging on your every word.
Anyway, it’s now just after 7:00pm and at home the Archers will be on. Here it is getting dark inside my room, it’s still hot and I have a pre-dawn start for Kerewan, so that sounds like an excuse for an early night. I just hope the water’s back on in time for a shower before I head off to North Bank Region tomorrow morning, and that I can distinguish between snake poison and bottled water in the middle of the night!
Dum-dee-dum-dee, dum-dee-dum, dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dum!
Good Night!


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