A day of three halves

This morning started busily. One group set off to buy a kettle, another to buy cement and I went, with Tasmin and Beth, to Westfield. Westfield is the busiest part of The Gambia, traffic-wise: it has one of the few sections of dual carriageway, with another road running alongside and traffic going every which way. To get there, we walked a few hundred yards from the Centre and caught a bush taxi (decrepit minibus that runs a regular route at irregular times): price 7 dalasi (14p) each. I think the girls had expected I would also have a Gambian with us, but I felt it unnecessary as I’ve a bit of experience of the area. As we arrived in the heart of Westfield and got off the bus, I said to the girls “If you get any hassle when we’re walking along, you’re my wives” as I knew this was an almost guaranteed way to make amorous, lecherous Gambians back off. The girls looked askance at me and commented, reasonably enough, that there was quite an age difference: I tried to reassure them that this marriage was only a temporary expedient and that out here, age is no barrier. Elderly Gambian men often have much younger wives, though I suspect any man of my age with two such young wives would soon be pushing up the daisies! I wanted to get some more credit for Abass’ data card and we had been tasked to buy gloss paint, thinners (called “diluant” out here) and clothes pegs. We managed all these tasks well enough and took a taxi back. Pat’s group managed to track down a nice shiny kettle and Adrian’s group came back with two bags of cement. Work was soon under way: the gloss paint was used on the skirting in the IT suite, the cement was brought into service to anchor the washing line poles and the kettle came into its own at coffee time. So far, a successful morning. The Scottish-based charity Gamscot is partly funded by Gift Aid from groups like the IRA’s and over the last few years funds have been fed back to visiting groups to spend on various projects connected with the PIA. There has been absolutely no impropriety on the part of any of the Scots but, given justifiable concerns about the probity of previous senior management out here, there has been a tightening of control and greater emphasis on accountability. Gamscot now has a Gambian bank account and money can only be withdrawn with the joint signature of the Gamscot Chairman and the Gambian Chief Executive Sainey Drammeh. To make this more flexible, it was arranged with the bank that a letter from the Chairman would allow temporary signing rights to group leaders, such as Tosh. Today was the day this arrangement would be tested out: Tosh and Sainey headed off to the bank with the signed letter and the bank refused to allow a withdrawal! There were a number of reasons for this, but the one that I felt was most typical was that the account only had £900 or so pounds in it, but the letter said “up to £1000”. The bank said “how can you have £1000, when there’s only a £900 balance?”: they didn’t understand “up to”. It took 45 minutes’ waiting for Tosh and Sainey to be seen, then they were faced with this refusal. As I say, there were other reasons, but this one caught my interest. It’s not a disaster, as this is not “group” money as such, but a Gamscot “donation”. However, it’s a bit of a pain as we leave for Kerewan very early Monday morning and the banks are shut on Sundays. Tosh is planning to use extra group money in Kerewan in the hope that the problem can be resolved by the time we get back next Friday, if not, it’ll be rather a dampener on the last few days’ work. Such things are sent to try us. This afternoon, Tosh’s patience was tried again, when once more the minibuses booked for 3:30 “white man’s time” failed to turn up at the due time. However, the beach was lovely and not a crocodile in sight! And again no jellyfish. However the waves were very strong and when a “random” Gambian was knocked semi-senseless, it was decided that the risk assessment was “Yes, this is risky” and we withdrew to the sanctuary of the beachside bar and drank Cokes etc. Once back at the centre, some of the group set off to Bintou’s wedding and the rest of us decided to give the Apostle Claude and his “entertainment” a wide berth. I did a little weeding with Abass and we spotted a ripe cashew that had fallen out of a tree in the compound. In the UK we just see the nuts, but they actually form in a broad bean shaped shell on the end of a fruit that looks a bit like a small red apple. The taste of the fruit is odd: it seems to pucker up the mouth and leave it dry. Whilst not actually unpleasant, it is certainly an acquired taste which some of the group tried. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of enquiries at Tesco. Needless to say, the wedding was as chaotic as any other Gambian event: the minibuses were late, there were 90 minutes of waiting at the compound until things started. The band struck up and the lights fused. The bride was briefly spotted and then the group departed back for a late 9:30 tea. At least, those of us who didn’t go to the wedding got an excellent meal of barbecue-style chicken and chips. The late arrivals had the same, but colder. The Christian entertainment in the centre started at 5ish and finished four hours later: there was a lot of inspirational singing, with a silence that I can only assume was a sermon and prayers.

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