Last Post?

This may be my last blog – at least for the meantime.

Tomorrow (Saturday) the IRA group heads off to Kerewan, due to return on Wednesday, and I move from the PIA into a hotel, to be joined by my wife Sonia late tomorrow night, assuming she doesn’t get lost en route! I may be able to get onto the Net if I come back over to the PIA later next week but, as ever, no news is good news.

Today has been another action-filled day, at least up until lunch. The automechanics classroom which some of the group painted a day or two back is being tiled by a local tiler. No laser levels etc. for him: just skilful work with a few dods of cement, some bits of broken tile and a long string ends up with a superbly level surface on which he cements the tiles. He’s the guy who did some rooms last year and produces an excellent finish. The room will look very different with the new floor and even better when Abass and his lads use the stuff the group bought to put up the wooden ceiling while the group’s in Kerewan.

Painting of the exterior of the RPI has gone on apace and it now looks superb – we are leaving some work for a group coming out in the summer. A perimeter wall round one side of the garden has been painted and looks so much better, the green plants showing up against it. The sign advertising the RPI, up to now hidden by a hedge, has been uprooted and concreted into place outside the wall, so it is visible from the road. The finishing touches to the paintwork in the restaurant have been done, with a beautifully neat and tidy skirting strip in red. Once the group get back, they will paint the windows of the restaurant and they hope, if money allows, to get some pictures for the walls.

I don’t want to go on about it, but it really is great to see so much work being done: Tosh was visibly moved by it all. Everyone in the group works hard and throws themself into any task – there are no shirkers, no skulkers in corners, no malingerers. Fingers crossed, so far no-one has had a significant stomach upset: a few have got a bit red in the sun, but nothing serious. The blondes are getting blonder, skin is getting browner, the freckles more numerous.

Lunch today was “Chicken Yassa” – basically char-grilled chicken with rice. The “Yassa” part is a spicy onion sauce which is actually very tasty.

The weather here has perked up, though our beach visit was still affected by a breeze. I agreed to mind the bags for a few minutes whilst the other staff went in the sea. I lay back on a lounger and the next I knew it was time to go home! Never mind, I’ll have plenty of beach etc. over the next 10 days or so.

Life in Kerewan is more demanding than in Bakau: toilets here are “Western”, out there they are considerably less amenable, a simple concrete base with a hole and two small plinths for your feet; some of the lads mixing cement here for the sign found it hot work, in Kerewan it will be harder due to both the larger quantities of cement and higher temperatures; here the beds are relatively comfortable and the rooms house two or three, out there everyone (bar two staff with hammocks) sleeps in the one room, on foam mattresses under a mosquito net, your own personal space delineated by the fine mesh. But it is an experience for them: the crossing on the ferry; the trip to James Island (now known as Kunta Kinte Island after the hero of Alex Hailey’s “Roots”); the constant presence of small children fascinated at the toubabs and their funny ways; the total absence of washing facilities other than standing semi-naked in a bucket and slopping water over yourself (still watched by small children); the water supply limited to one standpipe which is only on for a couple of periods in the day (though bottled drinking water is always on hand) and so on. Any gripes – and none have been voiced – about the conditions here disappear entirely when they are heading back and look forward to the relative luxury.

The group leave here in time for the 8:00am ferry – they have a letter of priority, so should not have to wait too long. I suppose I’ll get up to see them off. Internet access here at Bakau is very poor at present: only one computer in the lab seems to be getting on, though I have my trusty laptop and can usually plug it in somewhere. There is no computer access that I know of in Kerewan.

Anyway, that’s about it: over and out.

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