The naming of Gambians

Gambian names are mostly strange to our ears: Lamin Njie, Fatoumata Drammeh, Abdoulie Bah, Ramoudoulie Nyassi etc. But some may seem comical as well: I’ve always liked the name “Angelic”, which obviously belongs to a Christian, for example. Today I met Seedy Fatty. I know that because he had his staff badge on. I’ve come across the surname often enough out here, but this was the first time that I’ve come across Seedy as a name.

Last night’s meal was very enjoyable: we went to a Dutch-owned restaurant near Palma Rima beach where they served a buffet. The place was very much mid-range and we sat outside under rope lights and ate acceptable food. There was a good ethnic mix, with quite a few Dutch as well as locals. A Gambian guy who used to work at PIA but left before my involvement began, turned up. A real wheeler-dealer Del boy (“Innit?”) now living on the Isle of Wight, he ships second hand furniture and old lorry engines out to The Gambia for resale. Peter and he started a conversation about sharing a container from the UK and got into details that seemed far too convoluted and time-critical for any arrangement involving a Gambian. I hope that doesn’t sound racist in any way, but accuracy in timing, keeping appointments punctually and, dare I say it, reliability are not generally strong traits of the Gambian character. Add to that the vagaries of the tramp steamer transport and I’d say it’s a no-goer.

After my brief Powerpoint presentation – still to be delivered as I write this – there will be House Meetings for the school sports. I think these will be held tomorrow Saturday in the Stadium and I’ve to join the purple team! I think my involvement is merely as encouragement, so I won’t need my running shoes. I’ve been to one of these events before, dear Reader, and it was dire in the extreme. Hot, dusty, boring, incomprehensible, disorganised … the list could continue. With any luck I’ll get Banjul Belly before tomorrow. If not, I’ll bring you some details in a day or two.

Speaking of this Powerpoint thing, the projector that I’ve been using is currently locked in Saikou’s room and he’s not here, as he’s waving Peter Fleet off. Also not here is the spare key. I hope the problem will be solved in the next fifteen minutes, or it’ll hardly be an auspicious start to a series of lessons based on using presentation software with a projector!


Well, despite frenetic last minute attempts, the projector remained locked away so my class of about 15 had to watch a quick demo of Powerpoint clustered round the laptop. Mind you, they’re used to that sort of thing. The last slide of my presentation centred on what Miss Lowe and I would do and what we’d expect in return, in terms of commitment, practice etc. They have all signed up for the sessions and the first is a week today.

I’m not sure why I’ve taken to calling Mariama by the formal title of “Miss Lowe”: the girls call her that and I suppose it’s stuck. I asked her today about why it’s Miss Lowe but Aunty Cole: the honorific “Aunty” only comes with age, but Mariama couldn’t specify when. She made it clear however that I would count as “Uncle” and, disappointingly for my ego, showed no surprise when I told her some Gambians used to call me “Grandaddy” at one stage a few years back.

I must correct an error that crept in earlier: the sports are not tomorrow but at some time in the future. In fact tomorrow I’ve been invited to the beach again, this time by Joseph who teaches here. He’s a nice guy: I just hope there’s no hidden agenda: he may want to tell me the price of school fees, or tell me in detail about his wife’s need to fund a life-saving operation. It is terrible how you (alright, I) can become cynical. I have a lot of good friends here and we value the friendship for its own sake, not for the financial aspect. It’s also true, unfortunately, that some Gambians see an opportunity to milk a “toubab” (white man) for a thousand dalasi or two. I have no reason to suspect this of Joseph and don’t think, if the information I have is true, that he’s even married – at least not yet.

It’s tempting fate, but it looks as though “Engine No 11” at Gamlec (Gamtric? NAWEC?) has been duct-taped together again as there were no power outages yesterday and so far none today.

Dodgy engines make me think of Gambian vehicles, which fall into two distinct groups: official and the rest. Official comprises all Ministerial vehicles and all the NGO cars such as UNICEF, WHO etc. as well as various European charities. The rest is what’s left. They are supremely easy to tell apart: official cars are clean – often white – with tinted windows and are carefully maintained. The rest are generally falling apart, smokey with cracked windscreens, suspect tyres etc.

Rohey turned up this afternoon and started telling me how she needed to get pills for her mother. I thought, “Here we go again” but was quite wrong: she was merely apologising for being unable to take me to the beach as she had this chore to do.

I spent a couple of hours this evening with Abass doing some desultory weeding as we chatted. We discussed Islam, Judaism and Christianity and I commented that when a group splits, they can be worse enemies than with strangers. I’m not expressing that well, but there’s much more history of dissent and strife amongst Muslims, Jews and Christians than between any of them and Hindus, for example. Our discussions range over a wide variety of topics and working in the onions is no real chore in the warmth of the evening with such conversation and long friendly silences.

Anyway: rant alert. The Internet is incredibly bad tonight. I get about 1 minute of very very slow access and then I’m cut off and have to start again. Various family members have emailed me attachments etc. and I simply can’t see any of them. Trying to email is almost as bad. I write these blogs in Word and then cut and paste them onto WordPress, but even that is very unreliable.

I’ll try to post this tonight, but may have to wait until Saturday am.



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