First Post at Last!

IRA Enterprise – Lieutenant’s Log, Stardate 29-3-2014, 0615

Despite the rather tardy arrival of the starship D&E, the crew boarded efficiently and take-off occurred on schedule at 0200 hours. The vessel soon reached warp factor 9 and as we approached Englandshire, our first stop was at Abington at 0520 hours. On the journey, the space cadets mostly slept whilst the staff, thankfully barring the pilot, dozed fitfully.

In previous years, Mrs M helped fundraising for trips like this by baking carrot cake which sold in the staffroom at 50p per slice: a meagre portion of somewhat inferior cake at Abington sold for 2.29 Altarian dollars. Our current ETA at Manchester is 0830. I was relieved to discover that in a moment of stupidity before leaving home base I had misinterpreted 1335 as just after 3.30, so we will have two hours’ less waiting time there than I had feared.

Stardate 29-3-2014, 0845

Lancaster Services: I’d heard that Moto Services are about the worst on the motorway network. I can now confirm that. We had a brief stop as there was time aplenty and I managed to get a Times and Telegraph. I chucked away about 75% of them – Property, Gardening, Sport etc – but kept all the bits with crosswords, so I’m happy. Some of the space cadets seem to be enjoying the trip so much that they didn’t bother leaving the bus (sorry, coach), even preferring to use the onboard loo. There’s nought as queer as folk, as they say in these parts.

Stardate 29-3-2014 1100

All at Manchester, tired but happy (at least I am)! Just finished a “full” breakfast, though Dawn’s Eggs Benedict was spoiled by not having salmon. Looks as though everything’s going suspiciously well: all through Check In and Security. However, looks as though our plane is going to be delayed by 20 minutes – not too bad in the scheme of things.

 

Apologies for the lateness of this post: despite Manchester having a public access network, I failed to log into it so…

Bakau 0042 30th March

Our flight out was long, but uneventful. We arrived more or less on time, around 2030, and got through the arrival formalities without difficulty. Our welcoming committee were waiting, though surprised to see me, as the news of the personnel change hadn’t got through. Donna and I travelled with Sainey Drammeh (Chief Exec. of PIA) in his car whilst Tosh, befitting his role as group leader, travelled in the minibus with the kids. It was good to arrive at the Rhun Palm Inn (RPI), where Tosh and I were delighted to see the new security measures in place, particularly the beautiful stout bedroom doors in mahogany that the IRA had funded last year. These, combined with strong locks, mean we are safer and more secure than ever before. This welcome development means I feel happy to try to get the RPI into the Rough Guides etc. I have never felt able to do this before due to the insecurity of the old doors.

We got ourselves installed and were provided with very welcome sausage, eggs, beans and salad, followed by slightly less welcome speeches of welcome. After that, we spent time putting up mozzy nets etc. We sat around for a brief period, talking over plans for the week and then hit the hay. As I type, Tosh is snoring on my right, though I plan to get my own back later.

More tomorrow / later today. Don’t forget to put your clocks forward: something that doesn’t happen out here as Gambia follows GMT (Gambia Maybe Time).

30th March 1830 GMT

Still not managed to connect to the Internet: there is a wifi signal in parts of the PIA compound but, it being Sunday, the IT teacher isn’t around and I’ve failed to find out the password. However, let’s not dwell on my problems!

Today has been a good day. Breakfast was at 9:00ish, but the whole group – was awake early. The amplified call to prayer was responsible for my call from slumber and the others were equally prompt. The man sent out to get jam hadn’t returned so our tapalapa (locally-produced handmade bread) had to make do with butter and lots of coffee. Tosh and Alasana (one of the youth leaders) headed off to the black market to change money and I took the group round the compound for an orientation. We were also joined, through the morning by our “counterparts” – Gambian youths who are doing the local version of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. There are only four of them this year so even I should manage to remember their names – a task made easier by the fact that the two girls are both called “Isatou”. The non-Gambian-sounding, but very local, Jim Lowe led some singing including the execrable, but all-pervading local song with a chorus of “Na-na-na-naah” – if you’ve ever been in The Gambia you’ll have heard it. I asked about the meaning of the words and it’s apparently admonishing married women not to disappoint their families. When Tosh returned with a rucksack full of Dalasi we briefly considered absconding to a posh hotel and leaving the kids to their own devices for the next fortnight, but decided that might not go down too well. Instead, all of us: 18 “toubabs” (local word for white people”, Gambian counter parts and Jim Lowe all headed off to Katchikally – a 15 minute walk – to have a look at a fascinating museum of local artefacts, musical instruments, ritual masks, details of circumcision ceremonies etc. and to pat crocodiles. The croc is called “Charley”, but is in fact not the same beast from day to day, let alone year to year. Most of the group gingerly patted the hideous reptile, who was a bit more mobile than in some years. There were a hundred crocs of all sizes in the sacred pool, which is still used for rituals, blessing infertile women etc. We also saw the tree – could it be a banyan? – with huge recess-forming buttress roots where boys were/are traditionally circumcised. Since I had my Swiss Army knife, I offered to demonstrate with Dylan’s permission, but he seemed to be unwilling.

Lunch – generally eaten at about 2:00pm – was Bennachin, a sort of fried rice and chunks of “beef”, accompanied by “garden eggs” (aubergines), bitter tomatoes, carrots and cabbage. It was popular and filled a substantial gap. We warned the innocent to be wary of the fiery chillies that were also provided. At 3:00 we set off, two minibus loads of us, to the beach. This proved very popular and I think all the kids went in, though the Isatous sat demurely on sun loungers. The tide was far out on the gently shelving beach, so the waves weren’t as large as they often are, but the water was warm and we dried in minutes when we came out.

This day of unalloyed hedonism has been a good introduction to the area: the squalor of the semi-urban area where the crocodile pool is, an introduction to the mini-market up the road from the PIA – a destination the kids can reach unaided, if they are in groups of three or four and a drive through the more touristy area on our way to the beach.

Tomorrow the work starts: it looks as though the order of the day – or even the fortnight – will be painting.

Today’s “Gambia Experience”: Tosh was called by two of the girls who complained their toilet cistern wasn’t refilling. Nothing unusual in that, you may say, as out here that’s not at all out of the ordinary. However, when he opened the cistern lid to investigate, it turned out there was a frog swimming in the water. As Tosh commented: not a very good choice for an aquarium as you couldn’t see in!

Footnote: previous IRA visitors will be interested to know that Rohey and Saikou, who married recently – seem to be happy and well, also grateful for the one or two presents we delivered on your behalves. We also met Sambou and a host of other weell-kent faces, including the lady who magically appears as soon as we do to flog tatty “jewellery” at inflated prices. You’ll also be interested to know that there are definite signs of recent progress being maintained: the new management is undoubtedly a change for the better.

A Foolproof Plan

Monday 31st March

I write this with the full expectation of getting on to the ‘Net: a foolproof plan – what can possibly go wrong?

Tomorrow we are going to Kerewan, coming back on Saturday. As we have to avoid the Barra ferry we’re doing Africa the long way round and going via Farafenni. It’s a longer journey in terms of miles, but not much longer in terms of hours as the road on the South Bank is good and the Farafenni ferry (try saying that after a packet of wine gums) is quieter than our usual.

The result is that we’ll be out of communication for a week probably, though I should be able to get onto the ‘Net when we get back.

If you hear panicky news from the group about a coup in Gambia, fear not as tomorrow is April Fool’s Day.

Again, apologies for the lack of news so far, but you’re maybe getting a flavour of the little local difficulties that we meet. Sorry, I should have said “interesting challenges”. Bye for now.

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