Saturday, 13 July 2013

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Thank you

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Easter celebrations

Easter in the Gambia is a much bigger celebration than in the UK, although it is a Muslim country. On Good Friday it's traditional to make 'nanimburo', a special drink made from milk, sugar, condensed milk, baobab powder, dried fruit and chopped apples and bananas. Apples are a real delicacy here, as they have to be imported, so people don't have them very often. The drink is delicious, and everyone makes as much as possible so it can be shared with family and friends. We gave some out to our neighbours, and Numo cycled to Lamin's mum in Marakissa to take some to her. When people visited, they often brought their own nanimburo in plastic bags, so we got through quite a lot over the weekend!

Because we have no fridge or freezer here, we had to buy the chicken for Easter lunch on the day. Again, chicken is a real treat, and we planned to have a BBQ and salad, as well as cooking some of the chicken with sauce. It gets very hot in Brikama, so we wanted to get there early, so we left just after 7:00 am. We drove to Gunjur, and then waited for the gelli-gelli to Brikama, which took a while as the police have started to impound vehicles where the road tax isn't paid. Officially everyone is supposed to renew their road tax on January 1st, but in practice we have to wait for an official announcement on the radio, and then most people leave it until the police start impounding vehicles (at the end of March!). Quite a lot of gelli-gelli drivers were keeping their vehicles off the road until they could afford to get them taxed, so transport was very limited.

However, eventually we got to Brikama, and whizzed around the market as quickly as possible (not easy, as it was very crowded), and got everything we needed in record time. By 9:30am we were already heading home. Once we got back, Saffie and Rose (Lamin's sister), got to work preparing the chicken, which Lamin then barbecued.

All the ingredients for a perfect salad
Saffie and Rose preparing the chicken

Lamin in charge of the BBQ!

The children enjoying drawing and colouring.

Neighbours and friends came to visit, including Yusufa who kept us all supplied with green tea, and Lamin's brother Sulieman brought palm wine.

Relaxing in the shade.

Our next-door neighbour 

Yusufa brewing ataya (green tea)

My own personal cup of palm wine.

Lamin with his brothers.

Pouring the palm wine!

We had the most delicious lunch of salad and chicken. There were so many of us we had to have several bowls, and the children even had their own.

Saffie and Rose serving out Easter lunch.

What a beautiful salad (and it tasted great too!)

The men eating lunch.

And not forgetting the children...
Even the chickens had their share!

And after lunch we relaxed in the shade and chatted (and some had a quick snooze!). We were visited by a British woman, a paediatric nurse, who has just arrived in the Gambia to work at the local clinic. Lamin has rigged up the CD player to run from a solar panel, so we had music to entertain us.

Saffie, taking a rare and well-earned rest!

And Rose settling down for a snooze.

Music was supplied by the CD player..

Linked to a solar panel.

Later, after dinner (more chicken and salad), we went down into Kartong, which is a border village by the river a few miles down the road.  There we had a few drinks at a friend's bar, and then went on to a dance in the church hall, where we were entertained local dancers and musicians.

All in all, it was a lovely relaxing day, when we were able to see lots of friends and family and celebrate together.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bakassouck Youths: A Visit from the Minister for Youth and Sport

The Bakassouck Youths Association had planned the Minister's visit down to the last detail, which had taken a lot of organising. They had planned a demonstration of how the soaps were made, followed by a meeting with several speeches, and then food. Numo (whose unofficial job description is 'Chief Organiser'!), had been running round frantically for the previous couple of weeks, and spent hours on the phone organising who was responsible for each job, liaising with the primary school to use the grounds, organising drummers and dancers to welcome the minister, and last but not least, arranging food and drink. We had agreed to arrive early on the Saturday morning to help, and Numo went off the day before as he had so much to do.

So quite early on the Saturday morning Lamin and I, together with Ish and Lamin's nephew Yankuba, got in the car to head for Darsilami. Yankuba was keen to drive so Lamin agreed and we set off. However, what we hadn't realised was that it was 'set-setel' that day. Set-setel is something that happens once a month on a Saturday, and on that day everyone is expected to turn out and clean up their local area e.g. cut back grass, pick up litter, and carry out general maintenance. Shops are closed, and no transport is allowed on the road between 9am and 1pm, because everyone is supposed to be out cleaning. In fact, in rural areas there is often little to do, but nevertheless, set-setel happens every month.

There is a regular police checkpoint at Gunjur, and we know the officers quite well (one even came and spent Christmas Day with us), but on this day there was a traffic officer from elsewhere. Very unimpressed that we were travelling when it was set-setel, he insisted that we drove the car into the nearby police station yard, and impounded it (and us!). He asked to see Lamin's documents, but Lamin had left them at home, and unlike the UK, there is no option to present them within a period of time – they need to be available immediately. So the men went into the police station to sort things out, and I sat in the car, wondering glumly if we would be fined. After a while Lamin came out and said we would need to wait there until 1:00 pm, so I should come and sit on the verandah at the front of the police station.

The local police were impeccably friendly and polite! One allowed Yankuba to use his bike to go and get Lamin's documents, whilst the others kept me supplied with green tea, oranges and lively conversation – they seemed a bit embarrassed at the enthusiasm of the traffic officer in impounding us! Lamin went off to get some bread and beans, as we hadn't had any breakfast, and we didn’t know when we would get anything else to eat (about 6:00 pm as it turned out!), and I chatted with the officers. When Lamin came back, they all suggested that Lamin took a photo of me with the officers – they said I could put it on the internet to show that I had been arrested!! They thought it was a great joke, but I told them my family would have a heart attack if I said I had been arrested, so I managed to put them off the idea!

Finally, at almost 1:00 pm, they let us go, but by now we were running very late, and the road from Siffoe to Darsilami is very poor. In fact, during the rainy season, Darsilami was cut off for several weeks as the road was washed away. However, the Minister was also running late, so when we arrived we did what we could to help everyone get ready. Gilbert, the president (who is Lamin's cousin) asked me to take lots of photos, as they weren't sure if the press were going to turn up, so I was happily trying to take as many as possible.

Making sure everything was prepared for the soap-making demonstration

The soap moulds ready and waiting

Heating the beeswax ready for making the soap

Gilbert the President of the Association checking everything is ready 

After a while, we went down to the main crossroads in the village to wait for the minister to arrive, together with the drummers, who were now getting concerned as they had another booking in Kololi and they were worried they would be late.

Setting off to meet the Minister

Some of the local characters!

The shop where the soap is sold

Eventually the Minister's convoy arrived, and the drummers and dancers escorted him through the village to the compound where the soap demonstration was arranged, stopping on the way to greet the alkalo, as is the custom.

Getting ready to greet the Minister

Accompanying the ministerial convoy through the village

There was quite a scrum of photographers, which made it a bit tricky for me to get photos, but the Minister spent a long time watching the demonstration, and asking lots of questions which Gilbert answered really well.

Gilbert explaining to the Minister all about the project

We then moved on to the school grounds, where tables and comfy armchairs had been put out for the minister, plus several other high up guests (e.g. the Forestry Minister, and presidents of local and regional youth groups). One of the villagers acted as host, introducing all the speeches in two languages and welcoming guests. (Meanwhile Lamin made an emergency dash with the car to Kololi with the drummers to get them to their next gig on time). The minister had brought gifts of rice, and said he was very impressed with how the association had developed the project and was also helping other groups.

The Master of Ceremonies introducing the next speaker

The Minister giving his speech

Once the speeches were over, the food was served. Gilbert wanted me to come and eat with the Minister's entourage (as a 'special guest!), so I found myself sitting with the Forestry minister and discussing both the project and his work. He was also impressed with the project, and how keen the young people were to make a success of it.

Once the Minister had left, we went back to the family compound at Jatta Kunda, which was teeming with people all eating benachin out of huge pots, and talking excitedly about the day. As it got dark, fires were lit and we sat around in groups. Two little girls took it upon themselves to teach me some Karoninka, much to everyone's amusement – I'm not sure if it was their teaching or my efforts which caused the most laughter! When most people had gone home the family gathered round one fire, and held an impromptu prayer meeting, when they thanked God for the day, and prayed for the further success of the project.

The press did come along, and later I was able to find a news report (read all about it here). The Youth Minister was so impressed with the project that he then arranged for the association to have a table at the Gambia International Trade Fair in Banjul, which ran for the whole of February!

However, as I lay in bed that night, I did think that there can't be too many people who spend the morning at the police station, and end up eating an meal with a government minister in the evening!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bakassouck Youths Bee Project Update

You may remember that last time I was here I wrote about the bee project being organised by the Bakassouck Youths Association. I was really interested to find out how the project is going, so Numo agreed to take me to Darsilami for the day to show me the hives and the area where they want to set up the training school.

I have never been to Darsilami before, although we have relatives who live there, and I have heard a lot about it. However, getting there by public transport is not easy as it's very remote – in fact, it is right on the border with Senegal, and the border is marked by a stick in the ground! We had to make an early start, walking to Gunjur, where we waited for a while to catch the gelli-gelli to Siffoe, the nearest village to Darsilami on the main road to Brikama. Once we reached Siffoe, we set off walking to Darsilami, a brisk walk of about two hours through the 'bush'. On the way we crossed over the most beautiful river, with lots of birdlife including pelicans and bee-eaters.
The road to Darsilami

The river on the way to Darsilami

Whilst I was at Darsilami, I was able to see the bee hives, most of which are now occupied. 

One of the beehives

Numo and a friend showing me how the hives are constructed

This is the entrance to the hive

You can see the honeycombs hanging down from the wooden sticks
The area where the hives are situated has to be shady

Then we walked through a very narrow path with vegetation reaching up over my head, to get to the field where they had been growing sesame to sell for a profit. Several of the young people had arrived to help with the harvesting, and a few children came along and joined in as well. However it was in the hot sun with no shade, so I wasn't able to help much – instead I did my usual trick of taking photos! The sesame was piled in a stack on top of a huge palm leaf to catch the seeds as they fell, and they agreed to come back the following week to collect the seeds.

Stacking the sesame stalks for drying

Harvesting the sesame

The seeds are already starting to fall on the palm leaf

The alkalo (village leader), of Darsilami has promised the group they can extend the field, and also they can have some land in the village for building their training centre. The group has already visited several other youth groups to train them in how to care for bees and make the products, but they have only charged expenses, not a fee for the actual training – they are keen to help other groups as much as possible.

That day the president and vice-president of the group had gone upriver to a national youth conference, which I later saw on the TV news, and from that conference came a very exciting development! The reps took some of their soaps, body creams and lip salves with them, and when the government minister for Youth & Sport saw them he was so impressed he wanted to come and see how the project was run. So a date was fixed for him to come and visit Darsilami to see for himself.

I had a great day at Darsilami, visiting friends and relatives as well as seeing how the bee project was running. In my next post I will tell you all about the minister's visit!

Friday, 8 March 2013

How to Make a Bed the Gambian Way

  1. Find a nice straight Thick Malina tree. Lamin has planted these trees specially as they grow very straight, and are very useful for cutting into planks etc. They are not easy to find in the Gambia, so Lamin planted his own.

  2. Tie a large stone to the end of a rope, and try to throw it over a high branch. Then you can pull the tree so that it falls in the right direction when it is felled. NB: This could take a long time, because you need a steady aim.

  1. After about half an hour of trying to throw the rope over the branch, give up and choose someone to climb the tree instead. Put a home-made ladder against the tree ready to climb.

  2. When you reach the top of the ladder, start climbing the tree, but make sure you hold on very tightly, because there is no safety net or rope to catch you if you fall.

  3. When you are nearly at the top of the tree, someone will throw the rope to you again. Ignore your friends when they tell you that people die falling out of trees! Catch the rope and loop it over a branch. (It was at this point I began to wonder whether I would end up photographing my brother-in-law Numo falling out of the tree, rather than the tree being felled!)

  4. Use an axe to chop away all round the base of the tree until just a narrow strip is left.

  5. Make sure there are some strong people pulling on the rope to direct the tree as it falls.

  6. But warn them that they will have to get out of the way quickly once the tree starts to topple, or they may get squashed!

  7. Stand well clear when the tree is falling – it is very heavy and falls faster than you might expect.

  8. Measure out the correct lengths for the planks along the trunk of the tree, and mark each length with an axe nick.

  9. Use the axe to chop the trunk into lengths, ready to transport to the sawmill to be made into planks.

  10. When the planks have been made, transport them home again, and store them safely. (You also have to hope that the termites will not start to eat them before they are used!).

  11. You will need a workbench to make the beds, so take some lengths of wood and prepare them carefully

  12. Use a handy tree to anchor your workbench securely. The tree will also give you shade so that you are not too hot when you are working.

  13. Use a generator to power an electric plane, so that you can make the sections of bed frame very smooth. Cut holes in the sections so that you can fit the frame together.

  14. Make the bed head and end by glueing the sections together. Allow the glue to dry before moving them

  15. Put the head and end somewhere nearby, so that they are easily accessible.

  16. Fit the frame together by using a hammer to gently knock the 'tongues' into the holes (sorry carpenters but I don't know the correct terminology!).

  17. Add a few nails for extra security.

  18. Saw some lengths of wood to fit to the frames as bed slat supports.

  19. Measure the depth carefully and attach them to the frame.

  20. Measure the width carefully and cut some flat planks to act as bed slats.

  21. Lay the bed slats across the width of the bed to ensure they fit without sliding around.

  22. Find a spare mattress, and test the bed for comfort (but try not to go to sleep!)

  23. Well even the photographer should have a chance to try out the finished item, shouldn't she?

We need to have new beds, because the termites have eaten all the old ones. The old ones were made out of palm branches, but we hope that because these beds are made out of malinas, they will last longer. Lamin has made sure that the malina trees are felled very carefully, so that they will regrow. It reminds me of coppicing that I have seen in English woodlands. When the tree sprouts new branches, Lamin will select two, and support them until they are growing straight up. He will then remove the other branches.

It is certainly a bit different from popping down to Ikea to get a new bed, but it actually feels very satisfying to see the whole process from start to finish.

On a more serious note, people do fall out of trees sometimes. A couple of weeks ago we went to visit the neighbours of Lamin's mother, who were in mourning. The father had no job, and had climbed a tree to try and harvest palm nuts for a family meal. However, he fell out and was killed. He had two wives and several children who now have no means of support except for the extended family. They were clearly distraught, and it brought home to me again how difficult life can be here for ordinary families struggling to feed their families.