I hope you recognise me!

Last night, with the other residents cooking food on the balcony on a traditional mini-barbecue-hibachi sort of thing, I had a brief lie down on my bed. Before I knew it, I’d been asleep for about six hours. I turned over and slept until seven. I seem to waken up at seven regularly without any artificial assistance.

When I emerged from my room, the young Gambian / Swedish couple were asleep on the lounge / landing: her on the sofa, him on the floor. Naturally they woke up when I came in. The two of them had been driven from their room by mosquitoes. He is as thin as a rake. Intrigued about their background, I asked if he was a student. “Me?” he asked, surprised, “No, I’m a taxi driver at one of the hotels and she is my lady. She is Swedish. Today we are getting married.” This news explains a lot. Incidentally, hotel rooms seem to be called “houses” out here and the Swedish girl wasn’t husky-voiced. One more wedding and we’ll need a funeral.

I think they have left now. The groom came back upstairs: “I have forgotten my chickens” and took a small bag from the fridge, then they disappeared. The third guy had a bike. The bride and groom, looking exactly the same as yesterday, walked beside him, carrying a couple of plastic bags with their possessions. Swedish she may well be, but her ancestors were clearly African or possibly Asian.

Talking of marriage, Angelic is back at work today. She says they spent their honeymoon in a hotel and she is happy: “Oh Yes. No more lonely.”

Joseph teaches English and has obviously been wondering why I wasn’t working with him: I explained that it wasn’t my decision. I was just going where I was put. I’ve never quite understood why the school here teaches both ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages, I think) and good old common or garden English and I gained the impression that Joseph is unsure too. Aunty Cole is really a teacher of Office Practice, apparently, though it is certainly true that her students – who are also Mariama Lowe’s students – certainly need to improve their fluency.

I’m beginning to feel a bit redundant. Not being timetabled until 12:00 today, yesterday I offered to join Joseph’s class this morning but today it transpired that there is some sort of sports practice and Joseph had to go to the stadium to organise facilities or something. I went upstairs to the Inn and spent an hour knocking up a wee mail merge exercise for the Year 1s. Not something they really need to know in detail, but nevertheless I reckoned it might be useful if the girls end up working in offices. Much to my chagrin, when I went downstairs to take the class, it turned out there is no proper school today as they’ve all gone to the sports practice for the whole of the school day! This is an example of the problems in getting to the bottom of things here. You are only told the answer to what you ask: there is no extra information that might be relevant. When Joseph and Aunty referred to the sports practice today, neither of them made it clear that all pupils were involved all day. Maybe it seemed obvious to them.

Gamblish – bear in mind that’s my term for it – is a funny mix. They often use lots of long “difficult” words: –ism, -ment, -isation for example, but get the simple stuff wrong. It’s hard to know whether to describe it as “wrong” or just a local variant of an international language, but to me it’s simply “nae richt”! There are also sounds in English that aren’t found in local languages, so they are difficult for Gambians to say. Gambian Muslims go to the “mocks” for example, rather than the “mosque” Combine all these factors with cultural elements – such as a desire to please by saying yes, an unwillingness to admit they don’t understand etc. – and throw in a Scottish accent: you will see that despite sharing a common language there is plenty of scope for misunderstanding.

A bit like a Sassenach listening to Gaelic, you pick up a lot of English words when listening to local languages. “Because” is such a common one that I wonder if that concept doesn’t appear in Wolof etc.

Like back in the UK, end of term here brings out all the “extras”: students have sat their exams and have mostly got their marks back, so a group is to be sent to clean out the IT lab and get it ready for refurbishment. The sports are coming up. So is graduation.

Graduation is a big thing here, judging by previous years. The students who are about to leave after having finished courses get dolled up in academic dress. The gowns look the real thing, but the mortar boards are homemade: a black skull cap with a piece of card covered in black cloth sewn to the top. The result is that the mortar boards flop and roll on the students’ heads in an amusing manner. It seems such an alien thing for Gambians to do, but they certainly like ceremony and speeches. I suppose that’s part of their oral tradition.

Lamin the Net has been the go-ahead to get his exterior wireless router, but the particular model he is looking for is unavailable here at the moment. After a few emails and texts Tosh, who will be here in just over a week with the rest of the Inverness contingent, is trying to source something suitable from the UK and bring it with him. If that all works, we should have fast Internet access all over the campus and into the Rhun Palm Inn. Notice the should: it’s not will!

Anyway, I’m free today so I think I’ll try the delights and connectivity of the Internet cafe, in case Abass’ data card proves unreliable. You may get more later, depending.


Immediately after writing the previous paragraph I noticed my laptop was running on battery, so the power’s off and remains so. There was little point going to the Internet cafe as it was probably affected as well. (Abass later confirmed my decision was sensible. The power came on after tea, just in time for the Archers.)

I went back to reading. Nothing literary, just a selection I stuck on my ageing pre-Kindle Sony reader. Lee Collins, Michael Connelly, James Patterson: just American thrillers. Good holiday reading!

Last year, when Sonia was out here, we were out for a meal and an ex-pat recommended going to “The Bakau Guest House” not far from here. The recommendation was not for the food or drink but for the rather curious nature of the building and the superb view of the fish coming in between about 4 and 5pm. It was a great suggestion and Sonia and I enjoyed our visit, sipping a drink and looking down from the balcony on what I described as “choreographed chaos” as the boats came in and were unloaded. I went back today and enjoyed it almost as much, the only downside being Sonia wasn’t there. I must suggest it as a short trip for the Inverness group.

Just as I was approaching The Bakau Guest House I was accosted an old friend. “Hello, I hope you recognise me? I’m Lamin, the security guard from the hotel” He greeted me as a long lost friend with a big wave and smiles. But once bitten… This is a trick that seems to have appeared in just the last couple of years. If you think about it, it’s quite clever: Lamin is the commonest first name in the Gambia, so your hotel will very likely have a security guard called Lamin. The “security guard” bit implies honesty and reliability without being one of the staff you’d have a lot of contact with. The “hope you recognised me” bit plays on feelings of guilt and general uptightness that many tourists have about not finding it easy to differentiate one black person from another and also on the desire not to give offence. I’d lay a dalasi to a butut that if he had had the opportunity, he would have told me he was going to get married tomorrow and was trying to buy some food for the wedding. That’s what I fell for once before.


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