Nearly famous!

I better start with one of the greatest excitements of my life so far: I got to shake the hand of the American Ambassador to The Gambia! Now that the PIA is putting its house in order, they are keen to (re)establish links with possible sponsors in other (rich) countries, so they made an appointment at the USA embassy and this was the return visit. I suggested they try some of the Commonwealth countries – Canada, Australia etc. which I feel would be much better suited to The Gambia as well as having the Award link. Naturally, I left this comment until after the Ambassador had gone!

His Excellency – we didn’t get onto surname terms, let alone first names, but I imagine he might be called Bud, possibly Bud Weiser – came in during my first stint of teaching here. I was in with Ms Lowe’s Year 1 IT class of 5 girls (though one was absent, so only 80% attendance) and we threw ourselves into Word with great abandon. Lessons here are long – 3 hrs slated for today – but the Ambassador’s visit made it even longer as the student break was postponed until after the visit. When this news was imparted to the girls, one asked: “Why can we not go out? We are not sexy!” This seems to have been a reference to the fact they were all wearing the school uniform of long black skirt and white blouse.

There is a high percentage of pupils in school dress. I saw three little tots walking hand in hand along the dusty side of the road to school this morning: these unsupervised little single-figure-aged girls were dressed in a matching school uniform of headscarves, blouses and skirts. Almost all of the PIA students wear the uniform and at each end of the school day the road is thronged with variously-uniformed kids on their way home. The uniforms are nearly always simple: a blouse and skirt / trousers, with the school badge printed on a bit of cloth and sewn to the breast pocket. I must be getting broody as I always smile to myself when I see a wee Gambian girl, childish face all concentrating on some game, her head in the headscarf. There are very few women here who wear the burka or even the hijab.

When I go up to the Internet Cafe, I’ll try to post a few pictures. Those of you have been here may notice a few changes.

The frontage is still in good shape after last year’s efforts. The removal of the gazebo-veranda thing is a mixed blessing: one no longer needs to worry about being guillotined by a sheet of corrugated iron slaloming off the roof, but the cool shade and seats were sometimes welcome. So instead of seeing a tumbledown structure covered in creepers and flowers, you’ll have to put up with a view of the vertically-challenged water tower.

Abass has planted a larger area with onions and it’s great to see the ground being used.

You can see the IT lab (not the classroom) is out of action, but one of Roddy’s group – they’re still here – is helping today and there are hopes of progress.

The restaurant, which might need a new layout when a group arrives, still looks good in the gloss paint, and a lot airier with fewer tables, the demolition of “reception”, new louvres (which I’ve spotted being cleaned), the soft drinks fridge etc. Not in this picture, but still around is an old glass-fronted TV cabinet, complete with TV. The broadcast fare is a little improved on last year, with more global current affairs but also plenty from the “Panorama Action” channel (catchphrase “Take the Attention”) which shows a steady stream of terrible action movies – these are usually originally in English of the incomprehensible muttered asides variety, popular in the cheaper American films, and the Arabic subtitles are of no help. Even so, you can see the plots are ludicrous. Then there are the Indian ones… The tv is on less continuously than before and I have yet to try out the one on the landing / lounge.

There is now a fridge on the landing and it’s still hanging on grimly to life. It may not be a great machine, but it does a reasonable job. When the new broom arrived in the Inn / Hotel, he must have been given a big rubber stamp probably used for marking international containers, because everything – including the fridge – is stamped along the lines of PIA/MOT/001  105

Anyway, I must head off to the Internet cafe.

Well, that didn’t take long. I should have suspected something when I passed the grubby little place I couldn’t use a day or two ago (“Internet not working”) which had its generator going outside. My marginally upmarket place didn’t have a generator. But that’s only a good thing when the mains power is on, which in this case it wasn’t. I headed back to the first, generator-powered concrete blockhouse but the diesel fumes billowing through the door and the roaring of the generator reverberating off the concrete walls were too much and I slipped away.

Diesel is in very short supply here, as is petrol, and prices have rocketed. There is adverse comment even in the pro-Government newspaper: taxi drivers are being driven out of business, thus adding a second impetus to fare rises from those who carry on. And of course all sorts of other businesses are affected. I don’t know why there’s a shortage of fuel, but no doubt it’s some knock-on effect of something that happened somewhere else in the wold. For the first time, I came across another newspaper the other day and it follows a very different line from the “Observer” which is the main sheet.

On my first morning here, as I sat in the Accounts class I watched a wren-sized bird with a wicked-looking beak constantly flutter against the glazing of the window. I assumed it was trying to catch insects or something, but when it happened again today, one of the girls reminded me the glass is reflective and the poor wee burdie was doomed to fight itself for the rest of its life, unless it flew in another direction. I should say that classrooms are not normally glazed, but they do tend to treat IT rooms differently due to the dust. I think the reflective glass is to deter burglars as much as keep the room cool. Though any burglar desperate enough to steal one of those computers would need to consider going straight.

I’ve started spotting the lizards again, after a day or two. Whether they were on holiday or I just wasn’t tuned in to them, I don’t know, but today one clung to the classroom inside wall, bold as you like, finally dashing to the safety of the roofspace when I got too close. This prompted a conversation about native animals here and in Scotland. One of the girls told me there are 42 different species of snake in the country, but only six (or was it 15?) are poisonous. I remembered the snake Alasana and I had set off to despatch last year: it had cast its skin and seeing that up close suggested Alasana’s eye-rolling when he said: “it’s b-i-g” wasn’t out of place. I should add for the consolation of nature-lovers that the intention was to make it move out the container it had taken over, rather than kill it. We used a local version of Jeye’s fluid.

By the way, I’ve updated the list of Gambian People on one of the other pages.


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