After a few days’ sightseeing and introducing Sonia to the varied delights of Gambian life, on Friday afternoon we walked along the beach to meet up with the IRA group at Jula’s bar. The weather was great, the sea just right for fun: big waves of warm water to dive through and a lazy African sun with straw parasols for protection. I was greeted like a long lost friend by the kids, which was super, and I heard about all their hard work at Kerewan. They went flat out and made 22 cement bags’ worth of concrete blocks in one day and reached a similar target on the others. There were lots of stories and the afternoon on the beach was great: later we moved into the back of Jula’s, where there is a bit of a “garden” and had a meal, accompanied by wild drumming and even wilder dancing. When the group prepared to leave, Sonia and I wandered back along the deserted beach which was clearly lit by the shining full moon…
Today, Saturday, the two of us headed off to the PIA and did a little light paint scraping on the window panes etc. whilst Tosh and Abass hung some pictures the group had bought for the walls of the restaurant. The rest of the group were at the Craft Market in Banjul, eventually arriving back with djembes (drums), cloth, carvings and various other mementos. Nothing significant can happen in The Gambia without speeches, so after a dinner of chicken bennachin (chicken and fried rice) there was a going-away ceremony with lots of orations, a few songs and a certificate for all. Sonia and I said our farewells to the group, though we will be seeing some of the PIA folk tomorrow when we meet up with Rohey for a trip to Serrekunda market – an experience not to be missed.
The group leave here tonight and fly back to Manchester before a long bus journey to Inverness: lucky old us, we don’t leave until Wednesday!
I am very pleased to say that this trip which Tosh, Pat, Malcolm and Mike have organised has been a great success: I won’t steal their thunder by listing all they have done, but I would like to repeat something I said before. Every single one of the IRA kids has been brilliant: unfailingly pleasant, hard-working and enthusiastic. I know that for many of them this will be a life-changing experience, a new view of the world and a new appreciation of their place in it. Even as long ago as last year, we had concerns about the lack of real progress at the PIA and Tosh had agreed to take the trip on for one year to see if things improved. There is now a new management board with a dynamic chairwoman, some of the old deadwood has already been lopped and I know that more pruning will take place in the near future, there are plans for new income generation and although not all will go according to plan, I believe a turning point has been navigated: Tosh is already thinking about next year’s trip and things are looking up.