Going Dutch

Well, today has been more productive. Although there have been no classes again, I have helped various people, mostly on computer-based problems. Abass was preparing a budget in Word but wanted some help with saving work. Jim Lowe collared me to edit some letters which needed translation from Gamblish to English. This then led to looking at dozens of photographs of his expeditions: a bit tedious but it showed local participants planting trees, renovating a school etc. Jim’s report on his work demonstrated that there are lots of young Gambians involved in the Award Scheme, which is really encouraging.

Tosh has decided – very sensibly – not to risk bringing out a wireless router that may not meet the specifications that Lamin the Net is looking for. I keep telling anyone who will listen – mainly Alasana – that I am not the leader of the IRA group and that I can’t take decisions that may not suit Tosh and the rest of the group. One area of contention is the provision of meals during the stay: Tosh wants breakfast, snack lunch and main evening meal, but the Gambians seem to want breakfast and two main meals. The current proposal is that while at Bakau, the Scots and Gambian counterparts follow Tosh’s plan, but while at Kerewan the Gambian proposal is followed. The justification for this is that “it’s too hot not to have lunch at Kerewan” and “the group will need extra food as they will be working hard”. This seems to me like a good compromise, but I keep stressing that I’m not empowered to make that sort of decision on behalf of the group.

Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, there is a bit of a buzz in the PIA now that the group’s arrival is only a week or so away. A leaky toilet in one bedroom has been sorted and there is a bit more hustle and bustle as the date approaches. I have no doubt the Scottish group are also getting excited. I am enjoying my stay here, but it will also be good to see some of my old friends and acquaintances – both staff and pupil.

I’ve just met a couple of Dutchmen who are leading a group of their student mechanics. They have driven from Holland through Europe and then NW Africa – a three week journey – and now the students are doing official placements in garages in the area. A few are in the PIA, others in areas such as Casamance, which is on the Southern Gambia / Senegal border. There are some political problems in that area, with Casamance wanting independence from Senegal, but one of the Dutch guys says most of the dissent is between “rebels” and the government. Their charity “Go For Africa” apparently has a good name in this part of the world, so the Dutch students are deemed pretty safe. However, they are not travelling at night – a sensible precaution in most parts of the continent unless you happen to have a Sherman tank – in case of robbery. What an adventure for the young mechanics: maintaining vehicles through the Sahara, avoiding becoming stuck in sand, dodging the odd land-mined area and then living here! One of the leaders said that Casamance is a bit more “African” than here: I think that tells a story by itself!

At lunchtime I got the full works: rice, fish in a sauce etc. I couldn’t eat much of it: too much for me. However, I did get a chance to quiz Joseph about the timetable for the next week or so and consulted more widely to get the whole picture. My diary is filling up a bit, so I’m going to include it here for the benefit of those who come after me, but even cast iron plans in The Gambia are a bit flexible!

Wed 20th                   Abass and I buy paint etc. for the IT lab

Thu 21st                     Revised date for staff Powerpoint lesson

Fri 22nd                       Early morning, Saikou and I start our road trip round the country. I’m looking forward to this, but I may change my opinion if I have to spend hours with five of us squeezed on a three seater bench in an over hot bush taxi with exhaust pouring in through a hole in the floor. During these days anyone who wants to tell me my Premium Bond has won a vast amount will have to text or phone.

Mon 25th                   Arrive back from road trip. Heats for school sports

Tue 26th                     School sports, Talent Show in evening. My heart bleeds for the IRA group who will miss these delights. I’d happily give up my place so one of them could go, but noblesse oblige

Wed 27th                   IRA group arrives in afternoon

Thu 28th                     School closing ceremony

Mon 1st April            IRA group (and I?) leave for Kerewan

Tue 2nd                       Preparations for final graduation ceremony on 13th April – probably no impact on IRA group

Sat 6th                        Return from Kerewan

Wed 10th                   IRA group and I depart, by different flights


Another pleasant interlude chatting with Abass while weeding: it’s coming to be a highlight of the day and I think he feels the same. We discuss religion, politics, social issues etc: tonight started with whether or not the dowry system pertains in Scotland and moved on to teenage pregnancy, child care etc. Always interesting to hear another point of view though we often end up, despite our different starting points, finding that we agree.



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