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.

No comments:

Post a Comment