Bairns, Fingers and Monkeys

There’s been a number of “firsts” on this trip. The first trip without making a single concrete block, the first time we’ve had two groups out at once, the first time I’ve felt the need to put a jacket on in the evening. And the first time we’ve had to saw a ring off a girl’s finger.

Tosh and I – occasionally accompanied by Dawn – continue our custom of sitting on the balcony of an evening and chewing the fat. Last night it got sufficiently cool and breezy that jackets had to be worn. So much for global warming.
As for the finger: Donnie had bought a small ring, made of some very hard local wood possibly ironwood. The kids had been trying it on and it stuck on Kelly’s finger. They tried all the normal approaches: shampoo or hand gel as a lubricant, running it under cold water and so on. I suggested dental floss, which is often successful, but none was to be had. Time for the Swiss Army Knife. Kelly and I braced her hand against a wall and Tosh started, using the metal saw as it is finer than the wood saw and Kelly reckoned she wanted to keep her knuckles. Ten minutes of careful sawing, wielding of the SAK pliers and a bit of muttered cursing accompanied by “ouch”es from Kelly and the operation was completed without damage to Kelly’s hand, but involving the destruction of Donnie’s ring. So Kelly should return with both hands intact, though one of Donnie’s friends may not get a present!

After the sports, there was a party in the Hall: it started about 3pm and continued late into the night. Gambian parties are not very different from Scottish ones, but what they lack in alcohol they make up for in volume. Two or three guys with a huge and powerful P.A. system blasted Afropop for nearly twelve hours and the remaining walls of Jericho must have rocked on their foundations. The room Tosh and I share overlooks the entrance to the Hall and the noise was quite astounding. The first few hours were open house, but sometime in the evening they started charging an entrance fee, so the security guard had a busy night trying to stop black bodies slipping over the walls to gain entrance in the unlit night. No wonder he was on at me this morning to bring him out a handheld spotlight next year!

The folk from Larbert arrived here about 3pm and looked white and shell-shocked after their long journey. They have been installed in the so-called Friendship Hotel for the next couple of nights while both groups are around, but are eating over here and there are two sittings for meals to accommodate the large numbers. I’m told that due to proximity to Falkirk, people from Larbert are often called “Bairns”. I think it’s a football thing. Anyway, after dinner, there were get-to-know-you games and the two groups began to mingle. Their rooms, though bigger, are more squalid and less characterful than ours. Judging by the remains of previous trysts in the Hotel, the rooms are sometimes used for more than Friendship.
The poor “Bairn bairns” had a lot of hanging around this morning whilst their teachers carried out the lengthy and tedious business that is often necessary at the start of a trip. Tosh reckons most of the bairns have brought Scottish money, which makes conversion to dalasi much more problematic. Sterling, Dollars and Euros are commonly changeable but other currencies really pose a problem. However, by 1pm most of the admin seems to have taken place and they’re off to the crocodiles at Katchikally before a late Gambian lunch.

Our group have also had a bit of hanging around as there’s not a lot of work remaining. Kelly has been using her artistic skills to repaint the “Challenging Young People Everywhere” sign at the front of Hall and it’s looking really good. Most of the rest painted their names on one of the large concrete benches in the schoolyard. The lack of power for most of this morning has been a benefit to me as we were able to concentrate on planning a structure for the planned new PIA website, rather than throwing ourselves into some ad hoc shambles that would be hard to maintain. The “official” PIA website – currently available by a link from the International Award website – has been hijacked by some Japanese company and is utterly useless. Various people in the UK have helped set up websites related to the PIA but are understandably unwilling to have the people here take them over. Therefore, a new website hosted by some branch of Gambia’s Ministry of Youth and Sport is planned. I have offered to help by setting up the basic design and sending it out with a group coming this summer, along with appropriate software so that Lamin in IT can maintain it. The text and photos will initially be created by Francis, the African VSO chap who’s here until August. It remains to be seen whether anybody actually keeps the site up to date, a vital part of a successful web presence.

This afternoon we’re going to Bijilo Monkey Park as Abuko has had its animals removed. After that, we will continue to Lamin Lodge: by dinner time, everybody should have had enough monkeys to last them a lifetime.

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