The Big Bad Wolof

After uploading Tuesday’s blog, I was invited to visit Mr Salifu Kujabi and went with Saikou and Abass. Mr Kujabi is an older man, the original founder of the PIA. When I asked where he lived, the surprising answer was “London”, which turned out to be London Corner, an area near Serrekunda. It was an honour to be invited and we met him and his wife, with some members of the extended family. Mrs Kujabi had prepared Fish Bennachin (rice, fish, cassava and other vegetables). This was washed down with home-made baobab juice, which was delicious – so much so I accepted a second bottle.

We discussed management issues, etc. but for me the main interest – apart from the 5 kittens – was to be in a “real” Gambian house, or rather a ground floor flat. The power was still erratic, so we spent much of the evening by candlelight. To my eye there was something Victorian about the house which displayed a fondness for rather ornate, though basic, furniture. I also looked at the bookshelf which covered works on macro-economics, Reader’s Digest publications and at least one Bill Bryson.

By the time we left, it was dark and Abass insisted on accompanying me back to Bakau. On the way, we stopped briefly at Abass’ compound. This houses several families – his brothers & sisters, their spouses and children as well as several elderly relatives. There must have been at least fifteen small children, all of whom wanted to say hello and shake the hand of a toubab, grinning madly and giggling all the time.

By now it was well and truly dark, so the journey from Mr Kujabi’s house to the PIA was particularly fascinating. As so many of the houses have no electricity, and given the climate, life is lived in the street: people were cooking on charcoal, standing chatting, sitting on upturned crates and mingling at street corners. There was still a tremendous hustle and bustle: cars with and without lights, tailors sewing away in roadside shacks, people tinkering with cars, selling oranges, peanuts and other less identifiable items. The roads, such as they are, are pot-holed sand tracks: the headlights highlighting the rises, the dips thrown into dark shade. The sides of the roads have sewers and drains, mostly covered with concrete slabs, but with enough broken or missing pieces to make walking anywhere other than the road a hazard. On balance, I’d rather be bumped by an unlit car than fall into a sewer, but it’s a close thing.

The journey both ways was in crowded mini-buses, generally overloaded and unlikely to pass an MOT even if they weren’t. Travel through The Gambia at night is an experience in itself – but I guess most of urban Africa and Asia is much the same.

Today has seen an advance at the RPI – a second pump has been added to the water system. There’s still no water in my room, but I suppose it’s a step in the right direction.

I have just spent over an hour showing Mousa how to use Excel and, as I’m generally critical of him, I ought to say he picked it up pretty fast. We rattled through simple formulas (“formulae” is seen as old-fashioned these days), did some formatting and other standard stuff, but we covered a lot more ground than I dared hope. I say “hope” because I would like to avoid doing Spreadsheets every night from now to Sonia’s arrival.

None of this will be a great deal of help, though, until the new management provides him with a computer. There is talk of setting up a proper management information system, but someone – presumably the Gambian government  – will need to invest some money to do that. The PIA are understandably wary of having too much Government help as it would probably come with strings. Strings requiring efficiency etc. would be fine, but there is a fear of political interference.

Tomorrow I have been inveigled into helping the Maths teacher when he has the Automechanics class in. He wants something relevant to their main (Auto) course, so I’m thinking about ratios in gears, but goodness knows how that will go. I have refused to take them for two hours, but said I’d look in for the second half of the lesson. I am not a Maths teacher and have no mathematical expertise beyond simple arithmetic, but I have a funny feeling I know more than the poor Maths teacher in question. I lay no claims to being the perfect teacher and have plenty of disasters under my belt, but I feel he has a lot to learn in terms of classroom management.

This confusion of “s” and “sh” which I mentioned before still amuses me. Mousa has been talking excitedly about “shells” (cells) in a spreadsheet and teachers – the Maths chap in particular – go “ssss” like a snake to get attention.

Year 1 ESOL and I did some dictation today: I had made up a shortish version of “The 3 Little Pigs” (I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down etc.), without too much difficult vocabulary. I told them the story conversationally first, putting hard words on the board, but I still got stuff like “the big bird Wolof” (presumably the writer is a Mandinka) and “the litter pigs worked a long way”. There was amazing confusion between wolf (which we talked about first and I wrote on the board), roof and wood. This time I did manage to elicit some local fables. One I remember was “The hen and the cockroach” (cockroach lies around pretending to be ill then starts partying when the hen goes to work on the farm, when the hen finds out it’s been tricked, it eats the cockroach – that’s why hens still eat cockroaches apparently). I also discovered that “moose” (don’t know spelling) is Wolof for cat: my Wolof vocabulary almost doubled with that.

The ESOL class was mercifully curtailed by an assembly. I expected it to be in the Hall, but it was held in the yard to inform the pupils about the forthcoming InterHouse Sports (the word “Kunda” for a family compound is used for House in this sense too). I have been to one of these before, so to say I’m disappointed that I’ll have moved out to the relative luxury of the Sunset Beach by the 2nd April would be tactful but untrue. I think the IRA group will miss it too as they’ll be in Kerewan. No doubt Tosh, Pat, Mike and Malcolm will want to reschedule to be back in time for it.

Anyway, I’ve a few emails to send so I’d better stop. Incidentally, I’ve been very disappointed by the complete lack of appreciation of my Anglo-Wolof “joke”. I may have to subject you to my Anglo-Spanish one: you have been warned!


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