Loose Ends

12th April
Yesterday was an interesting one. The group split up and went to the counterparts’ homes. This is always an eye-opener; generally there are dozens of small kids belonging to uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and second (or third, even fourth) wives. Hospitality is a significant part of the local culture and chickens will have been killed, extra fish bought etc. to extend a welcome to the visiting toubabs. Tosh stayed behind to keep an eye on Ross, who was suffering from our first dose of Banjul belly (now fully recovered).

Dawn and I went with Alasana to visit the recently wedded Rohey and Saikou in their newly rented house. This is in a very quiet kunda which is only inhabited by them and their almost childless landlord’s family. Along with three other guests, we sat or squatted and ate barracuda and rice out of communal bowls on the floor. The house is sparsely furnished and the three piece suite they have is on loan from Saikou’s family. Apart from a bed, fridge and some cooking utensils traditionally donated by the bride’s mother they have virtually nothing.

At four we assembled at Oscar’s Beach Bar at Palma Rima. In previous years this has been called “Jula’s Bar”, but is now under new management. The waves were bigger than earlier in the stay and we had a good, though increasingly windy and chilly time. At 8:00 there was barbecue behind the bar and we were fed royally for GmD275 per head (about £5) and were glad of the log fire blazing away in the yard as some of the group had ignored, or forgotten, Tosh’s advice to take warm clothes. One highlight was to meet the parents of Isatou (known as Ida) who is a fifth year pupil at the IRA. Dawn teaches Ida French and Ida’s grandfather, Fred Short, had been a teacher at the school. I knew Fred well and also met his wife Mary, now both deceased, so we had plenty in common to chat about. Ida’s Dad is Gambian, though he spent a long time in Edinburgh running a successful international nightclub. Ida’s Mum has worked with various charities out here and is now employed by the American Embassy. Dawn is spending today at Ida’s parents’ house. It is indeed a small world.

Today is our last full one in the country, so we are trying to finish off various jobs this morning with a “free” – probably beach-based – afternoon. Currently, at 9:45am, it’s rather cool with a breeze and full cloud-cover: it may be a useful start to acclimatising to Inverness’s climate!

The Hall is to host a Christian wedding today, so that may be interesting to observe. It is good to see the Hall being used for revenue-generating events. According to Malang, the Restaurant and Hall Manager, there are currently three or four such lets a month. When the Hall is finally refurbished – a fairly short-term target – we can only hope that it is kept in good nick in the longer term.

Shannon was feeling a bit poorly today. She had a headache, but no other symptoms: “Doctor” Doug has prescribed water, more water, rest and paracetamol. She has been told to stay on her bed and not feel bad about not working. I expect a full recovery in the course of the day: Tosh reckons she’s suffering from shopping withdrawal!

Talking of Tosh, he’s just back from the local version of B&Q with a brand new, top of the range, bright yellow welding machine for Kerewan. This is a gift from the pupils of the IRA, not via Gamscot, and Tosh will look at getting a picture of the presentation into the Inverness Courier on the group’s return.
I have discovered the power is now off, so I’m writing this on battery power. It’s unlikely the eventual return of power will restart the wi-fi network, but I may get this posted from an Internet cafe, if I go on a mango hunt for “her indoors” as Les Dawson would have said.

Saturday just after lunch (2:45) Power is still off.
The sun has finally broken through and the temperature is climbing, so I’m back to shorts. We have just discovered there is an International Football Match – Gambia v Senegal – on this afternoon at the National Stadium just across the road from the PIA. A couple of the boys fancy attending, so they are going with Alasana and the Scorpions Club (the national supporters’ club). There is not much interest in the beach, but the rest fancy going back up the road to the craft market. Shannon has made a full recovery after following the Doc’s advice and feels up to a little light shopping! Tosh hankers to go back to “B&Q” and Dawn is still out. Even though I’m not a great fan of shopping, I have about as much interest in football as I have in Morris Dancing, Petit Point or Ballroom Dancing, so I’m quite happy to accompany the craft market group.

Twenty four hours from now we’ll be in the departure lounge, Insha’Allah. I know I say this almost every year, but only because it’s true: the group have been superb. They have worked hard, mingled good-naturedly, accepting the various cultural differences and the manifold deprivations of life out here. They are a credit to their parents and the school. They should come back to their families with a clearer view of their place in the world, a better understanding of different people and different cultures and the realisation that there is more to travel than 10 days in Ibiza. Their gratitude for reliable power, clean tap water and a wider variety of food may vanish in a few days but it will still be lodged somewhere in their psyches and, with luck, it will resurface in the years to come. I don’t want to sound too pious about this, so I’ll end by saying they are proud of their tans and smiled in a superior fashion when the Dulux-white Larbert group first arrived!

Sunday 13th
Flew out of Banjul with some mixed emotions on most parts. Away from Manchester before midnight.
Monday 14th
Arrived IRA around 8am. I counted the kids out. I counted the kids back. 15 each way. Over to you again.



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