Out of the Furnace

If you haven’t read the post below this, you may want see it first.

1st April
My April Fool’s joke fell a bit flat as I was soon rumbled: they’re not a green as they’re cabbage-looking!
The trip to K. began with an earlyish start at 7:30 and, for those following us Google Earth, we went via Soma, the Farrafenni ferry and then back to K. On the way, we stopped for bananas in Soma and also bought oranges from a roadside seller. Out here, oranges are often sold by women at the side of the road: they are generally pre-peeled, with just the pith left on. Like selling hard-boiled eggs for the same price as raw, I’ve never really understood this. We were entertained while waiting for the ferry by a man with snakes: he posed for photos with them wrapped round his neck and also did some magic tricks. We had a snack lunch in Farafenni and arrived in K. about 3:30. On this stage of the journey, one of the minibuses suffered a burst tyre due to the heat and, perhaps, overloading: this set in motion a series of events that had a tragic ending: see my earlier post. In our 8 hour journey we had the same distance as Inverness to Stirling. The main difference was the steadily mounting heat. We were in two minibuses loaded to the gunwales with people, luggage, cooking equipment, paint and mattresses.
At 7:15pm we were told the evening meal was 15minutes away, but it didn’t appear until 10:00pm. This year, for the first time we stayed in the PIA’s new – unfinished centre – but it had an almost constant supply of working (as opposed to bottled drinking) water and was equipped with both a shower and “proper”toilets. Sheer luxury! The pupils all stayed in one of the rooms destined to be a workshop, but Tosh and I managed to attach our hammocks to the water tower and had a pleasant night under the stars.
2nd April
Breakfast time in K. depends on the arrival of the bread man: it was clear he’s doing well as he’s moved up from a pushbike to a motorcycle in the past year. As always, there were trips to get cement, reinforced iron bars for concrete pillars etc. A contracted painter had joined us on the trip – a genuine Gambian, he insists his professional name is “Roland Brush”. We also had plasterers and a tiler in attendance. The outside of the main block had to be sanded and painted, some internal walls needed demolished to provide doorways and work on both the main and side gateways was needed. So there were folk doing all these tasks, along with helping with digging bits of foundations, cooking, transplanting banana trees and other jobs.
One aspect of life in K. that gets on most people’s nerves is the constant presence of children in their dozens. They run around in bare feet over the rubble, shout “Toubab give me one bottle (of water)” and need constant watching in case they filch stuff. Shouting “Atcha” at the, accompanied by grimaces and the threatening waving of sticks has minimal impact. The Gambians with us were a bit more effective: presumably they know other words than “Shoo!” Abass – I think I mentioned him before – a reliable, thinking and intelligent tower of strength joined us and progress became a little less haphazard. Several apparently small bushes, but with huge root systems, had to be dug out as they were blocking the main gateway and we agreed to hire a contractor. Tosh admits he had visions of a man with tractor turning up and doing the job in half an hour: in fact three guys with spades and picks did the job and took two days. I don’t recall what they charged but it was a pittance. Lunch today was Domoda, which is beef in a peanut sauce accompanying rice. Puddings are unknown.
3rd April
Along with root contractors, there was more painting and the hanging of the main gates. This was a big job, made possible solely by manpower. The high, solid, black-painted, iron gates, made in the metalwork department in Bakau, consisted of 4 separate panels, so they can be opened in sections depending on need. The pillars at each end were still not in place so shuttering joinery, along with reinforcing bars for when the concrete was poured, all had to be contended with. The gates had to fit widthwise, line up with each other in all three planes and be held in place. There was lot of shouting confused instructions in Gamblish, but eventually all was deemed OK and the gates were propped up with some scrap mahogany posts for the concrete to be poured in. In the meantime, a “driveway” was created, levelled round the places where the bushes had been and outlined with white-painted stones. It all looks very fetching.
We were also visited by the PIA’s CEO Sainey Drammeh, the Admin Manager Saikou Nyassi and Vincent, a Kenyan VSO officer working here in Bakau. They were impressed by the progress made in just two days.
4th April
All of us except Tosh went to James Island (now Kunta Kinteh Island), the island in the Gambia where slaves were kept before being shipped out to the West. This is always a sobering experience as the local guide shows us round the ruins. There is also a museum at Albreda, the starting point for the crossing. The journey from K. is about 1½ hours each way and again the heat was considerable especially on the small open boat that took us across the river.
Back at K. the temperature was reckoned to be 40C. and even the village folk were complaining about the heat. The owner of the little shop up the road is reputed to fund two weeks every year in the Bahamas on the profits of IRA pupils and staff buying cold soft drinks!
Dinner was again pretty late – given we had an early start the next day. I munched my prawns and fish with a mixture of enjoyment and apprehension as I had been struck down for two or three days a year or two back after a similar meal. At least the food this meal this year was cooked and eaten in a short time – last time I had “simps” out here, they had sat around in high temperatures for several hours after cooking. I’m glad to say that no-one was struck down with Banjul belly.
5th April
We got up at 5:00am and due to sterling work by the group we were ready for the return by just after six. Given that it was dark with no light other than head torches, this was a superb effort. The journey back to Bakau retraced the way out. On the ferry, I had a narrow escape when my arm was caught between the deckrail and a huge metal stanchion marking the end of the pier. Luckily, all that happened was I lost some skin from my elbow, but another few millimetres and I might have had a smashed elbow or lost my arm altogether. And I could blame no-one but myself as I should know better than have my arm over the rail as we left harbour.
Further along the road we had another blow out on the same bus as before, thus continuing the series of mischances that I referred to earlier and which I won’t detail again.
A subdued group set off for the beach at about 4:00pm, the hot sunny skies seeming pleasantly cool after the furnace of K. Our evening meal was Spaghetti Bolognaise a la Gambia and very nice too.

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