Monkey Business

Wednesday was a busy and productive day. One of the pleasures of being out here with a group is that you get involved in one job and completely forget there’s another bunch working somewhere else: a tour round later makes you believe in miracles.

The RPI restaurant was given a complete coat of orange paint and now looks very good: there may be some touching up required, but it looks so much brighter and cleaner though there is quite a lot of scrubbing with wire wool required to bring the floor tiles back up to a paint-free state. While this was going on, Pat had a group emptying, cleaning and painting a class room which now looks pretty good. Tosh went off to get supplies and came back with seventy-one  boxes of ceramic tiles for the classroom floor, shovels for cement mixing, tile cement, ceiling panels for two classrooms, more paint and various other smaller items. The tiler has been booked for Friday, so that the “IRA classroom” will be finished by the time the group head off to Kerewan on Saturday.

We had Chicken Bennachin for lunch:  chiicken with rice and vegetables. Some daring, or foolhardy, souls ignored the warning about steering clear of the chillis and the rest of us had fun watching the results. I don’t know what the Mandinka for “schadenfreude” is.

Simple arithmetic is not a strong point out here and when transport arrived it was no real surprise that there were more passengers than even the elastic local transport laws would permit, let alone any UK risk assessment. Eventually a passing taxi was called into service and we headed off to the Monkey Park at Bijilo – about fifteen minutes away. There was an argument between our Gambian leaders and the local police when we approached the park as we had not stopped off at the Tourist Security Unit to get passes for the transport. On this occasion, the police won and we had to retrace our tracks, collect the necessary paperwork and then return along the official road rather than the dirt track we had followed.

Once in, there was no shortage of monkeys around the park. It’s great to walk through one of the few remaining areas of forest: great palms, exotic looking trees, fancy birds with big beaks, brightly coloured feathers and raucous calls. And no shortage of monkeys. There are two varieties of them out there: red colobus, which are slightly more timid, and simple run-of-the-mill monkeys, which cluster round and look quite endearing. Despite signs saying “Don’t feed the monkeys”, it’s clear that people do as the monkeys quickly lose interest in humans without food, but they clamber happily on branches over the path, run along behind you and scamper ahead, sometimes with babies on their backs.

Happily monkyed-out we headed back to the RPI to find power off in the lab and rice pudding for tea. It was pretty solid, sweet and with more sugar, jam and condensed milk available. I enjoyed mine and the pudding-misser was delighted as well! Apparently the Gambians are getting tired of bread. As well as that, the rain started again and it’s still quite chilly as I write this on Thursday at breakfast. Tosh and Pat are wearing their fleeces and I’ve got a light top on as well.

Today is election day, but I’m not going to sit up late and watch the results come in.


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