Although she’s not with us this year, Mrs Crippin of the IRA staff has been out here many times and is fondly remembered by the Gambians. She is universally known out here as “Aunty Pat” and for several years was followed around by an adoring chap whose name I will forebear to mention on grounds of tact and diplomacy as he is a complete waste of space and generally unpopular with the Scottish “regulars”. To be fair to the guy, although it goes against the grain, he seems to be liked by the younger Gambians. There’s no accounting for taste! This chap was sufficiently besotted that he persuaded his sister to name her baby after Pat: unfortunately his Gamblish ended up with the child being given the middle names of “Pat Crappin”, which caused some mirth when I had to stand in for Pat one year at the naming ceremony.

The reason I mention this is that the useless twit in question, who had left the PIA for a job in the local Council, has just been appointed Program Manager here. In other words he is now the overseer of the President’s Award Scheme and hence of Alasana, Jim Lowe, Rohey etc., a step I can only regard as retrograde. Yesterday he appeared for the first time and tried telling us what we had to do next. Needless to say, Tosh gave him the cold shoulder and made it clear that we had plans already agreed, had allocated our funds and were more or less going to ignore him. He passes his best wishes on to Pat and promises to give me his new email address so he can re-establish their one-sided relationship. Pat, if you read this, you have been warned!

Talking of funds, Gamscot have been good enough to agree to cover the extra cost for accommodation and food caused by the confusion over our departure date. Because of this, we will be able to fund the various improvements to the Hall.

Buba Jobe, a past student of the PIA, is expected to come today to do some cement mixing and block making. He is a big, tall guy with an Olympian physique and works like a machine. He is also a very impressive player of the djembe (the local type of drum), so Tosh yesterday bought one for the PIA in the hope that Buba Jobe can be prevailed upon to play. I well remember an evening a few years back where BJ spent a couple of hours non-stop drumming on two djembe (one held by an assistant). The sweat poured in bucket loads off BJ’s torso and the rhythms came and went driving the locals into frenzied dancing as we clumsily tried to match them in our up-tight and unsynchronised Western style. Usually, ten minutes of African drumming is enough for anyone (except Africans!) but BJ can cast a spell with his percussion.

The plan for today – I’m writing this after breakfast – mostly involves painting, though we will probably get a chance to do some block making, without which a trip out here would be incomplete. Piles of sand and cement are mixed by hand, shovelled into a mould, compacted, turned out and left to cure. Over the years we have made thousands and that’s no exaggeration. This afternoon we are going to go to Serrekunda market. This is a local market used by local people and not much visited by tourists, unlike the craft markets. You can buy anything from kitchen utensils cast from melted Coke tins to imitation Nokia mobile phones, from cloth to “fresh” but fly-blown fish, from shoes to cassettes. The market is huge – about the size of Inverness town centre – and a real shock to the system if you’ve not had a chance to acclimatise a bit. All five senses are assailed: jostled by shoppers, tugged at by stall-holders, drowned out by ghetto blasters and calls to prayer, eyes almost blinded by sunshine, bright clothing, glinting pots etc., submerged in the smells of sweat, fish and spices and tempted by the tastes of exotic fruit. You like it or loathe it and maybe both at the same time.

Abass has been busy recently making two lecterns for some government agency. Hand made in a mixture of plywood and mahogany, they are being spray painted by the auto-mechanics department. Tosh reckons their value in the UK would be £300-£400 each, but they get nothing like this for them over here.

I want to share some good news with you. I have discovered that I did, after all, bring a spare pair of underpants! I thought that, in my rather haphazard packing, I had none but those I was wearing when I left the UK. In case you’re having your breakfast, I’ll simply say that this little local difficulty has been alleviated by the wearing of swimming shorts and the rapid drying times available out here.

As you’ve probably gathered, it’s dusty here at this time of year. Combined with some cement dust, paint, and copious sweat, I suggest that parents invest in an extra large packet of Daz (other washing powders are available). Most of us have been doing some washing, but we’re more used to chucking clothes into a machine, closing the porthole and pressing a few buttons. The Morrison machine usually requires a quick back-heel to the door as well.

A group of us have been weeding between the onions this morning. I have promised not to be specific in case parents try to get their offspring to demonstrate this newfound skill in the garden at home.


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