Tons of Toubabs

Over the last few days there has been occasional talk from the PIA CEO Sainey Drammeh about us leaving on Wednesday and Tosh produced the evidence to show we’re booked here until Sunday. However, there is a group arriving from Larbert timed to tie in with our “Wed” departure. Needless to say, we have squatters’ rights and are not going away! The error is not Tosh’s – whether it’s confusion in Gamscot –the parent charity – or whether the error has crept in here is immaterial, but Wed. to Sun is going to be very crowded here! Perhaps the Larbert group can be routed early to Kerewan and the can certainly spend the first few nights in the Hall here at Bakau, so it’s not a major problem for us, though the kitchen staff here are going to be extra busy providing meals for 16 more toubabs and the Gambian counterparts. It’s all part of the experience.

I think I mentioned Banjuga’s swollen finger. It seems that despite having had clear instructions from the pharmacist about the importance of taking 4 Flucoccycillin (spelling?) spread out through each day, and despite having been provided with Ibuprofen from my medical kit, the silly lad has not been sticking to the proper regime and he seems surprised his finger is still swollen and sore.

Painting carries on apace today, but there are other activities too. Tosh has gone off to do financial stuff; a couple of kids, Dawn and Alasana are visiting a nursery school to hand over stationery etc.; three of our girls accompanied me to an English class, where we talked about Scotland and The Gambia then did (not me!) displays of Highland dancing and attempted (again, not me!) the sensual, hip-wiggling, frenetic dancing they go in for out here. I slipped out before anyone tried to get me to make a fool of myself.

This afternoon we plan going to the other nursery school – the one we visited yesterday to hand over the remaining goodies. After that, we’re going across the road to the Bakau Guest House which is an architectural curiosity furnished with a British Museum’s-worth of local artefacts. The other reason for going is to sit on their balcony that looks out over the fish market to watch the boats come in and unload. I first came across this attraction a couple of years ago when Sonia (Mrs M) and I had it recommended to us. The local boats – long, low, open craft high at bow and stern, though now adapted for outboard motors – are brightly coloured in primary colours. They roll in on the surf and once they are in about 5 feet of water, dozens of porters carrying empty plastic boxes wade or swim out to collect the catch. Back they come, boxes on heads, wading through the surf to deposit their loads on the shore. I think I described it before as “choreographed chaos” and I still can’t come up with a better description.

On Thursday the PIA plan a dinner in our honour, also to be attended by a few young Dutch guys who are here working on auto-mechanics (along with “flirting” with local girls – I could use a stronger word, but discretion is probably best).

On Wednesday, the PIA inter-house sports are due to take place. This will be the inevitable chaotic shambles that all Gambian events turn into. Timings go out the window. Ironically, waiting is not one of the sports. We have all been allocated a “Kunda” (= domestic, extended family compound = House). I’m in Mauve, though I’m so excited and committed about belonging that I’ve been telling everyone it’s Red. Competitive rivalry is already mounting amongst the Gambians, with cheering, whoops and derisive boos every time Red, Blue, Green or Mauve are mentioned. We will probably march to the sports field, some distance from here, preceded by a band. We had the long jump demonstrated by one of my Gambian girl students from last year: if she wears the same skirt on Wednesday as she did today, we have nothing to fear from her 18inch effort!

Although there is still work to do here, our thoughts are turning to recreational activities. Home visits are planned, with each of our counterparts taking three or four Scottish kids to their home for the day, to be followed by a beach barbecue, if funds allow. There is also the possibility of a day trip to the National Park at Abuko, followed by continuing to Lamin Lodge, where there will be more monkeys. This would be instead of the afternoon trip to “The Monkey Park” at Bijilo, not far from here. Bijilo is good, but this is a wee bit more of an adventure and Lamin Lodge is an amazing wooden structure on several levels right on the river, where meals such as shrimp omelettes have to be guarded from the marauding monkeys.

Donnie, one of our lads, who scraped his knee a few days ago playing football, is now fully recovered: it wasn’t serious, but it’s easy for these small wounds to become infected in this climate. Dawn’s Germoline and iodine have done the trick, however. Hugh also had a small scrape, but it presented no problem and was quickly healing. My arm is also fine – thanks for asking.

Tosh is now back from the bank and has been able to pass on money from Gamscot to pay for the complete refurbishment of the Hall, from interior painting, to new curtains to new roofing. We have also been able to pay for new internal mahogany doors at Kerewan, so we are really helping make a difference out here, which one of the main purposes for a trip like this. We’ve also heard that Emma – the Gamscot treasurer – is coming out for a holiday in a local hotel and is bringing money to rewire Abass’ workshop. Combine this with whatever the Larbert group manage (probably using the materials Tosh is getting for the Hall) and Penny Shepherd’s Aberdeenshire group do, and things are really going well.

I must stop now as I’ve been asked to pick up the computer training I was giving Malang (the Inn manager) last year. He is very keen and does apply what he has learned, so it’s worth the small effort involved.


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