Signed, Disgruntled of Bakau

Today was my second staff Powerpoint session and I reminded Mariama Lowe, the young IT teacher, at breakfast. As noon approached, I looked for her but she was nowhere to be seen. About half a dozen folk turned up for their practical session and some of them had even decided what their topic was going to be as I had requested. I had a hot two hour session with them and called a halt at 2:00. I almost immediately bumped into Mariama, who had apparently decided to go to Banjul. Not only had she not let me know when I saw her at breakfast, nor had she come looking for me when she got back, but she had made no attempt to get in touch by mobile to update me. I was a bit tetchy about it, and I feel quite justified! Later she asked me to smile, so she would know I wasn’t angry: she had to make do with a grim rictus. I mentioned the other day that reliability wasn’t a strong Gambian trait and this just goes to back that up: even if she didn’t have my mobile details, she could have rung any number of other people, even assuming the Banjul trip was important enough to break an agreement. I’ve struck her off my Christmas card list.

Painting is going on apace today: the iron railings and banisters are shining black again, my room has been painted, and there’s a bit of other exterior work. I really hope I’ll get back into my room tonight not because it’s better than anywhere else but because my suitcase is currently stuffed with my belongings and dumped in another room and I’m getting a bit sick of having to rummage to find things. I suspect this “in transit” situation may last another night, though, as the cleaners stripped my bed and they finished work a few hours ago.

Reading back over those last two paragraphs, I sound really grumpy. I’m not really (at least, no more than usual) and must try to remember “sometimes you’re the windscreen, sometimes you’re the bug”. Today I’m the bug!

Oh, and the power’s off again.

Later

Well, I’ll be sleeping in another room tonight as my room has still to be redded up after the painting. Let’s hope it’s not the mosquito-ridden one the soon-to-be-newlyweds had a week or two back. Malang has promised to “bomb the houses” (i.e. spray the rooms) tomorrow and I think he’s pretty reliable (unlike Miss Lowe!).

I’m looking forward to seeing the IRA group tomorrow – they touch down at half past two in the afternoon. The Inn will seem very noisy with them all here and I’ll lose my splendid isolation, but tant pis.

The much hyped school sports occur tomorrow – I’m really hoping the imminent arrival of the group will be the ideal excuse. Amie Sowe, home science teacher, has been slaving away baking cakes today with a squad of her students helping. Given the generally poor level of equipment, it’s a mammoth task: she’s made literally dozens of cakes; piles of potatoes have been peeled etc. Last year, Tosh’s group bought her department a new gas-fired five ring cooker and oven which is certainly a great benefit in a situation like this. Just as well it’s running on Calor gas, as the power was off for a couple of hours during the baking process. This activity is partly for the sports, partly for the wedding of Bintou which takes place this weekend. I was asked to donate something for the sports, so gave a small financial consideration. Abass gave a goat: this wasn’t a prize, you understand, but it will be (maybe already has been) slaughtered and cooked.

If you are considering spending any significant time out here, it’s definitely worth investing in a locally-sourced mobile phone, such as my knock-off Nokia, as you can ring the UK for a mere pittance. I’ve just had three or four minutes chatting to Sonia for about £1.30, which must compare favourably with a British phone provider. Last year I tried to get my phone unlocked out here – there are almost as many phone unlockers as there are hairdressers, Internet cafes, welders and cement sellers – but had no success.

Talking of these small traders, there are a lot of small start-ups of these sorts out here: you wonder how many of them can make much money. Corner shops in the UK are often owned by first or second generation Pakistanis who work all hours and provide an important local service: here it’s Lebanese who seem to have the entrepreneurial spirit and run what my father would have called “Johnny A’Things” – general purpose stores selling phone credit, mouse traps, soap, boiled sweets (which you can buy singly if you wish rather than by the packet), pots, kitchen utensils etc.

That makes me think about how the majority of the kitchen pots and pans are made. There is a flourishing market in used soft drinks cans etc. which are melted down by artisans over charcoal fires and then poured into moulds. The resulting colanders, ladles, spoons, pots etc. are then sold in the market. The only things that seem to be wasted in The Gambia are the ubiquitous plastic bags – generally black with a calendar printed on one side and a map of Africa on the other – which blow around in the wind, making the place unsightly. Last year, in a dull moment, I counted 70-something on the verge opposite the Centre. From time to time someone may collect enough – or they may be carried by a windy eddy into a corner – to burn, as happened last week resulting in my smelly clean washing. It is a struggle here to avoid being given a plastic bag in a shop: it seems almost compulsory. Maybe a start-up business could make paper bags, or even “bags for life”, before the whole country disappears under a tidal wave of grotty black plastic.

I’m conscious that the last day or two’s blogs haven’t been as “sparkling” as I’d have liked, but what do you expect for free? I will try to keep going when the group is here, but maybe I’ll find something better to do with my time. And you’ll find something better to do with yours.

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