I have recently returned from The Gambia, I worked with GIG and stayed at Sandele I thought it was time I got round to actually doing some volunteering myself instead of just writing about other people doing it! I had previously volunteered in South African and had become hooked on this volunteering lark and it was just a matter of saving the pennies and booking a month off work.
I have written a series of blogs from Nigel is off to volunteer in The Gambia in the summer to goodbye to The Gambia which I think give an honest account of the joys and frustrations of being a volunteer.
The blogs start with my preparations and end with my return, and although it`s not in the blog I did make it home and on time!
I received an email from Kate with some information on the Gambia in general and the GIG (Gambia is good) program which is a pro-poor fresh produce marketing company set up to enable local farmers to sell directly to local hotels, restaurants and supermarkets.
At the moment I am not sure what my volunteer placements will involve but as time passes and the local community understand my skills and what I can do an appropriate placement will be found for me.
It was decided last year that the Gambia would be a good place for me to volunteer but it`s not until now that we need to sort out my placement.
The thing is I have done my CRB check and I am frantically saving up my money but it was only when I received the email from Kate that it really dawned on me what I have let myself in for!
I had volunteered once before with people and places, 4 years ago, and you would think I would be cool with the prospect of doing it again, but that doesn`t stop the butterflies, and the worrying, and the anticipation!
Received another email from Kate outlining the things I need to do i.e. doctors note, insurance etc and she forwarded reports from previous volunteers. Although they did tasks such as I.T, teaching and admin, which are not my areas of expertise, it gave me an idea of the work being done in The Gambia.
Finding out that there are frequent power outages and everything runs on African time was no surprise, I had volunteered in South Africa after all!
Received an email from Kate giving me an idea of what I will be doing in the Gambia, it seems that I will be helping expand the poultry section among other things. I have a background of working in the poultry industry but as I left 11 years ago I am a bit rusty! And of course working for a large commercial company in England is slightly different to working in the Gambia!
I also received some feedback from a volunteer who is currently working with GIG (Gambia is good) and from Kelly at GIG who said “He will be really challenged by ‘people who can’t or won’t do their job properly’ and still having to act patience on it!!” of course I have experience of this from volunteering in South Africa so I will have to remember how to bite my tongue!
Since receiving the email from Kate I have been doing some research online to find out as much as I can about GIG, how it was set up, the charities involved and what the future plans are for the enterprise.
Of course volunteering is not just about the work I will do in the Gambia, it`s also about finding out as much as I can before I go so that I can spend my time profitably. A month is a very short time to achieve anything but it`s all about continuing the work of previous volunteers and handing over to the next people to volunteer.
I received another email from Kate on Sunday with two reports from previous volunteers.
One report was quite relevant to me as the volunteer had helped build chicken sheds and repair a donkey cart, the sort of projects I will probably be involved with.
Kate also said……….
“Both volunteers stayed in the Safari Garden Hotel in Fajara, but this will no longer be available from the beginning of next month. Geri and Maurice, owner-managers, have understandably decided that they need to concentrate their efforts and resources on the Sandele project.”
Which is a shame because I had heard from Sallie that a lot of volunteers from different companies stay there and it would be nice to share experiences, plus the pool looked quite inviting after a hard days work!
I paid a visit to my doctor this morning to get a letter for Kate confirming that I was OK to work in The Gambia, apparently I am not going to pop my clogs anytime soon, which is reassuring!
I just have the anti-malaria tablets and any jabs I need to look forward to.
One thing I picked up from a previous volunteer is that his mobile did not work with the local sim card; perhaps he had not unlocked his phone? I made this mistake when I went to South Africa so I will make sure I take a cheap unlocked phone with me as well as my main mobile.
Well that`s my travel insurance and flights booked, the flight bookings were a bit of a challenge as there are only two airlines flying to The Gambia from England during our summer.
One airline only flies on Tuesdays so that would limit my options of when to travel so I went with Air Maroc who fly most days, it just means I have to go via Casablanca which means a longer journey.
The really galling part is that 45% of the flight costs are in tax! Presumably our government think that if you can afford to fly abroad on holiday you can afford the taxes, well that doesn`t work when you are trying to volunteer on a budget!
At least the travel insurance was easy as I usedonlinetravelinsurance who are mentioned in the people and places blog.
The other thing I have sorted out is the purchase of a Utag digital dog tag, the idea of this is that you wear a dog tag or bracelet and it is a USB that can be inserted into any computer, and it contains all of your emergency contact details and medical information which can be accessed in case of an emergency.
There is also the option of including encrypted documents that only you have access to with a password, so I scanned my passport, insurance documents and flight E-ticket into my computer and loaded it onto the Utag so if god forbid I lost any of them I have a copy.
Maybe a bit belt and braces but the thought of losing any documents whilst abroad sends cold shivers down my spine! Oh by the way I have no connection with Utag just think it`s a good idea.
So it`s just a meningitis jab at the doctors next week to look forward too and we are nearly there.
I received an email from Kate on Friday with news from the GIG project in The Gambia
“There have been changes, Nigel, which is why I have been somewhat on the quiet side recently. I wanted to ensure that we had adequate explanations and information for you before I wrote. The GiG Farm site has been closed – which was a surprise to everyone, including Bev who was there at the time”
“I have attached her most recent report for you which was written since the Farm’s enforced closure and relocation.
We understand that Kelly is working hard on identifying appropriate sites and ways forward for GiG and the farm, but at present, it sounds as though the new farm location may be someway up country, either in one location or with its work divided among several locations … unfortunately, this uncertainty has caused us all to re-think your one placement.
But – we’ve done it, and I know that Mariama and the team have found the best ‘new’ project for your placement!
Please see the attached information about your ‘new’ project profile. N.B. although the project profile is named Lamin Fish Farm, you will see that the family farm has developed to involve far more than fish. At the moment, GiG is using the Fish Farm as an alternative for farm excursions. The farm has strong links with Kelly and GiG”
This just goes to show that you need to be flexible when volunteering! Anything can change at a moments notice and when on the placement you have to think on your feet.
The Lamin fish farm looks interesting they not only breed and market ornamental fish and fish for food but they have expanded into small scale poultry production and they produce tropical rainforest plants and have a flower garden.
The gardens are open to the public and some of their products are supplied to local restaurants, supermarkets and the public so I think there will be plenty for me to be involved in.
As I know where I will be working I have printed out an information sheet and put it up in the staff room at the school where I work as a caretaker, I have asked for donations of pens, pencils, crayons etc from staff and I am hoping that I can get some old footballs to take (deflated of course!)
I am flying with Air Maroc and they have a generous baggage allowance of two 23kg bags and as I managed with one bag when I volunteered in South Africa this means I can take a bag full of donations.
Firstly, sending money to the Gambia via the IBAN code that banks use to transfer money is difficult! I sent my placement money to Faces and places, the people and places partner in the Gambia, and it was returned to my bank 10 days later!
This was either because my bank, the Gambian bank, or both have got something wrong, maybe the IBAN number has changed. So Adama one of the partners’ in the Gambia will try to sort this out on his return home (currently in the UK) the unflappable Sallie said not to worry it will be sorted out.
So on to my placement, I spoke to Adama on the phone this morning and I will be helping to build a dry food store at the Sandele resort and helping to relocate farming equipment to the new GIG farm site.
Hopefully I will spend a lot of time at Sandele, as you can see from the pictures it is awesome! In fact when speaking to Sallie this morning she said she had only spent two days there and I was a jammy so and so (or words to that effect!) if I was staying there
“Gamspirit Limited is the company that operates Sandele Bay Eco-Retreat. It is a small, vibrant organisation at the forefront of responsible tourism development – development that benefits local people. The Foundation operates along ethical, ecological and sustainable lines, which are the key values of Gamspirit’s directors, Geri Mitchell and Maurice Phillips.
Gamspirit works very closely with the local village, Kartong, and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that benefits the village and its people. The key features of the MOU are:
• The Sandele Bay Eco-Retreat is on land owned by the people of Kartong.
• At the end of 25 years the land and whatever is built on it will revert to the village.
• At least 70% of all Gamspirit employees will be drawn from Kartong.
• A proportion of Gamspirit’s profits will be paid to support village development activities
The Eco-Retreat has been built to stunning designs, using environmentally friendly construction techniques, and employs local craftsmen and materials sourced from the surrounding area. The first lodges and the Eco-Retreat restaurant opened in November 2007”
Which all sounds brilliant and I know it will be tough as a volunteer in The Gambia but someone’s got to do it!
I am sure there will be more information to come from The Gambia and I will update the blog when there is.
Yesterday I received a document from Kate entitled “Program for Volunteer” which sets out my activities in The Gambia.I didn`t expect to be helping with the construction of a composting toilet but then I am used to being up to my neck in it!!
And no this is not a picture of a toilet at Sandele!, but one of the lodges.
I will also be helping with a biogas installation, moving the poultry houses to Sifoe and maintenance of the structures and general poultry training for the Kafo members. I am a bit rusty on poultry keeping as I haven`t worked on a poultry farm for 12 years and that was a commercial unit so I think a bit of research is called for.
Apparently at the weekends I have the opportunity to rest or a site visit, well I don`t do resting when I volunteer but I would like to see some of The Gambia and if I am staying at Sandele I sure there wil be plenty to do there at the weekends. Or maybe I could try a canoe trip down the Gambian river, although I am not sure about Hippos and crocidiles!
I also need to see if I can buy a cheap new bicycle because I am not going to miss the chance to cycle around The Gambia.
Well only 23 days to go before I am in The Gambia, not that I am counting!
Earlier today I was in the process of writing my final blog before I flew to The Gambia when I received an email from Air Maroc informing me that my return flight from The Gambia had been cancelled, panic!!
So I had to find out my new flight details which meant a return to Heathrow instead of Gatwick, a 6 hour stop-over in Casablanca instead of an hour (anyone have any ideas what to do in Casablanca for 6 hours!) Subsequent re-booking of my coach home arriving in Norwich at midnight, an hour journey home and starting work at 8am!! Oh joy!
They say travel broadens the mind; it also gives you a headache!
But despite all of this I am still excited about my volunteering and of course very nervous, although Kate of people and places said she would be worried if a volunteer wasn`t nervous.
I have collected a large bag full of donations for the schools in the Gambia, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners etc and in conversation with my Mother earlier I have been booked to do two PowerPoint presentations! One to her local youth group and one to her church group, and I haven`t even been to The Gambia yet!
I have also volunteered to do a PowerPoint presentation in The Gambia, which is quite a surprise as Sallie recently described me as “pathologically shy”
Four years ago I would not have dreamt of doing this but when I volunteered in South Africa, Marnie, the local partner, asked me to do a PowerPoint presentation and so it started. Marnie it`s all your fault!
Well only four more sleeps to go!
Have just recieved this email from Nigel who has finally arrived in The Gambia nearly 50 hours late!
Flight delays and adventures!
Royal Air Maroc mmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!! It is 6.35pm on Monday 25th of July and I should now be on a plane to Casablanca but it has been delayed for 2 hours, so by the time I leave Casablanca for Banjul in the Gambia I should arrive at Banjul airport at about 4am on Tuesday!
So apart from delaying my return flight, Air Maroc have delayed my outgoing flight as well, oh joy! And as I am in the departure lounge I can`t even have a cigar for about the next 8 hours!
So here I am in the Atlas Almohades hotel in downtown Casablanca, when I left Heathrow late yesterday evening Air Maroc forgot to mention that there was no connecting flight to The Gambia until Wednesday evening at 10.30pm!
Not being able to speak French or Arabic, last night (this morning!) was a bit fraught! Spent an hour and a half waiting for my cases only to find out they would be put on tomorrows flight, hopefully!, spent ages at passport control and then ages trying to find out what happens next.
Finally got to bed at 4.15 am and now having had breakfast have been assured by the hotel that Royal Air Maroc are paying, text Kate with details of new flight so all I need to do now is change some sterling into Moroccan whatever’s! And the hotel said they would send someone out to get me a travel plug.
Of course I didn`t bring a travel plug with me as you don’t need one in The Gambia! My phone is running out of charge but netbook is OK at the moment.
11.15 Am.I ventured out to get the plug myself and bought two t shirts, well this is Casablanca and you’ve got to barter!
Had a coffee in the hotel bar with Roberto and Lewis, they were both delayed the same as me and are leaving an hour earlier than me tomorrow.
Roberto is Spanish and speaks French, Italian and very good English, learnt in Scotland! Go figure! Lewis is from Venezuela but now lives in Spain.
They both work in technology and have spent the last month taking 17 different flights throughout Africa!! The phrase TIA, This Is Africa, said with a shrug of the shoulders, cropped up more than once!
Out on the town last night with Alberto and Lewis and tried a hash Pipe, I have seen people smoke them in films but never tried it. I hasten to add it only had tobacco in it!
The tobacco is mixed with mint and is very mellow, not at all like I thought.
Everyone in Casablanca seems to smoke them, including to my surprise Women, but then this is a very liberal Muslim society as evidenced by the way a lot of the women dress, let’s just say a lot of window shopping went on last night! Sorry if that sounds sexist but I still have a pulse!!
Finally picked up from the hotel to catch my flight, I was due to leave at 7pm but went on the earlier shuttle bus at 6.30pm, this bus was supposed to arrive at 6pm!
Took off from Casablanca airport at 11.30pm to fly to The Gambia via Guinea! Well this is Air Maroc.
Landed at Guinea at 3.10am whereupon most of the people left the flight, the cleaners arrived to work around us remaining passengers and we were told to check our hand luggage was still there, presumably in case some departing passengers had taken it. A new lot of passengers boarded for Casablanca and we took off at 4am.
Finally we land at Banjul airport about 52 hours after departing Heathrow, funnily enough everyone I have spoken to over the last two days will not be using Royal Air Maroc again!!
Now the process of trying to find my bags which I am certain must have been lost after two days in Casablanca airport, transfer to Gambia flight, stopping at Guinea, and then finally Banjul. But to my great surprise they are there and intact. I just had to explain to some of the customs guys what was in my red roll top bag! I explained that it was full of pens, pencils, crayons etc. and was for school children in The Gambia, they said “we need pens” and “the children come after their fathers” nice try!!
Picked up from airport and taken to Safari gardens hotel, finally hit the sack at 6.50am, oh well I am finally in The Gambia, next time I visit I think it will be easier and quicker to ride my motorbike down through Spain and across the Sahara!
here is the second email from Nigel
Safari Gardens hotel in the Gambia
Thursday 28th Boy is it hot and humid; I was warned that it was the rainy season, talk about betty swollocks! I awoke at 9.30am (since found out this is 8.30am!) after about two and a half hours sleep, had a cold shower, no electric!! And then had breakfast outside as the rain had stopped.
Made friends with the local cat, or is it the other way round? Whilst eating a breakfast of bread, fried egg, banana and melon. Different from my usual cornflakes but delicious, especially after washing it down with three cups of tea, well I am English and we have to keep up our standards you know! Did I mention I brought a travel kettle and a month’s supply of Yorkshire tea bags with me! Whilst eating my breakfast I was fascinated with the small red finches making a racket in a huge coconut tree near my table, I know The Gambia is famed for its bird life but I didn’t expect it to be quite this close!
As I write this it is 10.50am and I am awaiting the arrival of Adama from faces and places with whom I will sort what my volunteering jobs will be and I think he will give me an idea of where everything is in The Gambia. I have just had lunch, local fish with prawn sauce and rice absolutely delicious with a large bottle of mineral water it came to £6.50 which is reasonable but I wouldn`t spend that much each day on lunch. It just made a nice change from airline food and eating in the Safari Gardens hotel is a very special experience, surrounded by bamboo, coconut and mango trees and watching small lizards and the abundant birdlife. Just glad I wasn`t under one of the mango trees as a fruit fell out of it with an almighty thump.
I was joined after lunch by my new found friend; she was shooed away when I was eating lunch!
Adama came to see me and he said that he will give me orientation in the country, show me the banks and sort out my sim card tomorrow, of course this should have been done on Wednesday but I wasn`t here! I will transfer to Sandele on Saturday, 3 days later than planned, Adama said I could transfer on Saturday or Sunday and I thought Saturday was best. Nothing to do with me itching to see the place after all I have heard and read about it!I know Sallie is jealous of the fact that I will be spending time there and I am sure that she has no influence over Air Maroc but I can`t help feeling that she has been casting some spells whilst stirring her cauldron!
After a siesta earlier I am going to have some food at the Safari Garden, to be honest I haven`t done anything today just chilled out after my recent adventures. Getting used to taking my daily malaria pill and dousing myself in anti-malaria spray and I am drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. One of the staff who works here said it`s hot so if he`s feeling the heat imagine what it`s like for a pale Englishman! Oh well after eating plenty of fresh fruit, fish and rice and with the humidity I should be a few pounds lighter when I go home!
The electricity has been off most of the day but is back on now, one of the guys who works here said the national grid is turned off during storms to protect the electricity cable from lightning strikes, there have been a few rumbles of thunder and light rain here but maybe other areas are worst affected.
Time for food and then an early night so that I can hit the ground running tomorrow.
2.45pm Friday 29th
Adama picked me up this morning and took me to Serakunda and Banjul to have a look around and withdraw some money. Also went to the GIG farm project and met the guys there. As I write this I am still damp from the pool at Safari Gardens, tough life as a volunteer but someone has to do it!
Transferring to Sandele at 5pm which I am REALLY looking forward to.
I think I`ve died and gone to heaven!
Words can`t express how wonderful this place is, I know I am a volunteer who is supposed to be working but this just seems like a holiday at the moment, because of my delayed arrival the plans for my work have gone to pot but I promise to be working on Monday!
Whilst leaning over my veranda this morning I Spoke to some boys, they were carrying large machetes’ and cutting down a fruit the name of which escapes me, they asked me about England and told me about their school which they love to go to.
So that’s young kids carrying large machetes’ who love school, not England then!!
I crawled out of my pit at 8.30am after a great night’s sleep, I left the fan going besides my bed for a cool breeze and I was dead to the world. It was cool when I got out of bed but soon warmed up and as I write this at 4.30pm I am trying not to drip on the keyboard!
When I got up this morning I noticed some red marks underneath my arm and thought they were mossy bites despite all my precautions but when I spoke to Geri she said they were probably ant bites as they were crawling over the arms of the chairs at dinner last night, Geri said that she keeps her feet off the floor and arms off the chairs at dinner, lesson learnt.
Whilst drinking a cuppa outside I saw what looked like an otter in the grass and this was later confirmed by Geri who has seen her with ten kits.
I am not a beach bum but the call of the ocean is too loud here, so a dip after breakfast, then lunch and then off to the snake farm.
Met with Adama at 5pm to sort out my placement and I start work at Sifoe farm tomorrow to help with the construction of a composting toilet.
It will be nice to finally start work; I have already received an email from Sallie asking if I will EVER get any work done!
The rains arrive in Africa
Monday 1st August
Everyone here has been complaining about the lack of rain as the farmers need it desperately and I said don`t worry I start work on Monday so it will rain then, guess what? It has started raining!!
Not heavy African rain just a few showers but as Musa my helper (more on him later) had started on digging a hole for the bio-gas installation it was a pain.
We had marked out the hole for a large plastic tank that has to be sunk into the ground and stared digging when it rained so we took a break but when we tried again the clay soil was too heavy to dig so we left it. There should be two men digging the hole for us but they did not turn up so we made a start, hopefully they will be here tomorrow.
Before we could start the hole we had to extract the plastic tank from a 20 foot long container and wouldn`t you know it, it was buried at the back, so by the time we had removed it and another tank plus tools an hour had gone by and I had lost about 5 litres in sweat!
Musa is a young lad of 27 and he lives with his Auntie as his father died when he was one year old and his Mother died when he was fourteen. He worked at the previous GIG farmyard and my volunteer donation is paying for his wages so that he can help me whilst I am here and also his accommodation so that he can be near work.
Musa is the expert on Bio-Gas installations as he did one at the last farm so in reality I am the helper!!
He is a very nice lad and a hard worker, which is all the more surprising as for Muslims Ramadan started today and this means no food or water till this evening, they cannot even swallow their own saliva.
So tomorrow we carry on where we left off, hopefully with some men to dig the hole and no rain.
Domoda, land crabs and a big hole
Tuesday 2nd August
The Domoda in the title is the name of a meal we ate last night, it`s rice and fish with peanut sauce served in a large bowl, everyone sits around the bowl and eats with their right hand (very important this!) spoons were supplied but I resisted using one so I ended up wearing most of it!
The land crab joined us after our meal; there are loads around at this time of year apparently, the local kitten showed a keen interest but fortunately thought better of it!
The hole has finally been dug, Musa and myself started on it this morning and another guy joined us later and between the three of us we managed to dig a hole 1.6 metres deep by 1.3 metres in diameter, in damp clay, in horrendous heat and humidity.
As soon as the materials arrive on site we will line the hole with cement and put a large plastic container in it. This will have a pipe fitted to it to enable it to be filled with rotting vegetable’s which will produce methane that will be stored in another tank and used for cooking in the kitchen at Sifoe farmyard.It will be interesting to see how it all comes together as I am no expert as this sort of technology, but Musa is and he has been trying to explain it all to me.
Tomorrow being Wednesday I will get the chance to meet the all the guys who work at the GIG farmyard as this is the day they all work together instead of on their own farms. Of course this should have happened last week but I wasn`t here
Two wifes, fifteen kids and still smiling
Wednesday 3rd August
The title refers to Kausu Sanneh who I spoke to at the GIG farmyard today, Musa is staying in his compound while he works with me.
Kausu is referred to as Pa Kausu because he is an older man, his youngest child is one year old and the oldest is thirty years old, don`t know his age but with two wives and fifteen kids he doesn’t look whatever age he is!
I asked if he had a TV and he does but the electrical supply is bad around here so if there is no TV I think he has other things to do!
When he found out I had no wife or kids he offered to find me a wife before I return to England but I politely declined!
Today I, Musa, Buda and Kausu dug another hole for the tank that will hold the gas and we dug small trenches to lay the pipes in. There wasn`t anything else we could do today as we are waiting for delivery of some cement and piping, let’s hope it`s here tomorrow.
Today (Wednesday) is the day that the local farmers come to work at the GIG farmyard, most of them are women and they look stunning in there brightly coloured clothing, I don`t know how they do it as I look a wreck in this heat. One lady on leaving strapped her baby to her back with a cloth picked up a bundle of fire wood and then a bucket and strolled off balancing the wood on her head!
Frankly African women make men look like wimps, bet Sallie will love that one!
Spent quite a bit of time talking to the ladies, a few of whom speak English, one greeted me in Mandinka and I said the same back to her, with each word she said I repeated it, I got away with it for a while until she asked my name and I said the same thing at which point everyone laughed!
Languages are not my strong point and with two main languages here, Mandinka and Wolof which language to speak to whom is giving me a headache! But it`s mostly Mandinka and Salaam Aleikum which in Arabic means “peace be with you seems to work with everyone.
Frustration – heat and marriage offers
Thursday 4th August
Sallie closed an email to me with “PS how you coping with heat? And are you enjoying yourself?”
Frustrating day today as we are waiting for materials to work with so we did sweet FA all day! Will be bending Adamas ear tomorrow!!
Heat = Beatty Swollocks!! Knew it would be hot and humid so I am just getting on with it, one bonus is that the sea temp is about 27c and never drops below 23c apparently!
Difficult to get my head around the different languages spoken and it seems difficult for the Gambians to get their head around a man of 52 with no wife or kids and no intention of having any!
Geri reckons they will have found me a wife before I leave, no chance.
Despite the frustrations of today it`s a wonderful country, friendly people, great kids, wonderful hosts in Geri and Maurice and incredible wildlife although hearing about the puff adder seen on the beach the other day has made me wary of where I walk and the beetle walking up my leg at 6.30am yesterday got me out of bed rather sharpish!
At the GIG farmyard today Kaddy the farm secretary went and cut me a fresh mango to eat and even gave me a bucket of water to wash it in, says it all really.
Her Mother who is the vice president said to Musa it is good to see a white man from England come here to help us as it encourages people to help at the farm, so I have to remind myself that despite the frustrations I am doing good just by being here, I worked that out after my stint in South Africa.
PS the travel nurse who advised me about my time in The Gambia would have had a heart attack seeing me eating the mango, straight off the tree, washed in local tap water and then peeled with my pen knife and my hands weren`t that clean either, haven`t died yet though!
Nothing to do and doing nothing
Friday 5th August
I was supposed to go to the GIG farm this morning for three hours but there is no point as the gravel, sand and cement did not turn up yesterday but I am assured by Adama it will be there on Monday, I hope so!
I spent this morning on the beach but was interrupted by a bumster; they tout for trade and try to get you to give them money. He asked for some money so that he could break his fast tonight but got short shrift from me, I asked him to leave me alone and had to get quite insistent in the end.
The problem is it`s fairly easy to see what they are up to but when in Fajara I got caught for a few Delashi on the way to a restaurant in Fajara by a guy called Lamin who is very plausible, he knows you name where you work and the people you work with and you think he knows you, of course being in a strange country you are not sure if you have met him before.
The worst part is he is as described to me by Geri when he caught out other people near Sandele!! And I still fell for it! Unfortunately this has caused me to mistrust some Gambians when they say hello, the people I know and work with are OK.
Katie who works with Concern Universal (a charity that works with GIG) said don`t feel bad about it as she got caught by the same guy the first couple of weeks she was here.
Anyway the evening had a more cheerful end as I attended a birthday party for American anthropologist called Cecil who has lived in South Africa for 29 years.
He is researching the design of local stoves hoping to develop an improved model which doesn`t use as much fuel and when you consider that the average Gambian spends nearly two thirds of their food cost on fuel you can understand how important this is.
Cecil is staying at Safari Gardens tonight as I am and then tomorrow we go to Sandele visiting a few projects on the way.
Paper, stoves and more delays
Sunday 7th August
On Saturday I, Cecil, Adama, Katie and a few other interested people visited a paper recycling plant, a farm project and the GIG farm at Siffoe and then all went to Sandele for a discussion led by Cecil on the relative merits of local stoves and how to improve their design.
It was a very interesting discussion and Cecil is a great orator with vast knowledge of indigenous people.
The paper re-cycling place was of great interest to me, the group that work there collect old newspapers, books and even telephone directories, turn them into pulp and then make new sheets of paper which they bind into books, even making their own covers out of old pieces of fabric.
Today (Sunday) I had breakfast, went for a long walk on the beach and nearly melted in the heat, had lunch and then went to the local village of Kartong with Maurice, Cecil and one of the staff from Sandele to look at his stove which was a very good design.
Kartong is a lovely village between the sea and a river, most of the fishing is done by the Senegalese and some other people but not by many Gambians as they consider fishing beneath them!
Adama told me yesterday that the materials had still not arrived at the GIG farmyard so there is no point going to work tomorrow! So I am going to do some souvenir shopping and then help Geri empty a container of stuff that has been stored at Sandele.
Souvenirs, heat and a randy tortoise
Monday 8th August
I couldn`t work at the GIG farm today because the materials have yet to arrive which is I believe because of a cash flow problem, so I went souvenir shopping at Brikama and then on to Serrekunda for a bank machine.
Being driven through the awful traffic in Serrakunda in the middle of the day in horrendous heat and humidity has to be experienced to truly know the meaning of hell.
Then it was back to Sandele for lunch and then off to Geri`s new place to help sort out the contents of a container stored there with some of Geri`s and Maurice’s possessions when they moved in.
Although not strictly part of my volunteer work I hate to be idle and Geri and Maurice are such wonderful hosts and are so passionate about the local people I just wanted to help them in any way I could.
We had emptied a lot of stuff out of the container and were sorting through it when Geri said beware of their pet giant tortoise that was near my feet as he needed a mate and would probably try to hump me! Well that`s a sentence I never thought I would write!
It has finally started to rain but it’s quite gentle at the moment so definitely not African rain, there was an almighty thunderstorm the other evening which helped clear the air so we need another, but not tomorrow when I am working!
Tuesday 9th August
Turned up at GIG farm at about 9.20am and found that sand and gravel had been delivered but that was all, no cement or other materials, Musa told me that Dan the farm manager said the rest of the materials would arrive at 10, yeah and I`m a china man!
Van arrived at 2pm so another day wasted although to cheer me up slightly the van contained a Canadian called Bakery Jatta who is an expert on building bio gas installation’s, firstly he said the hole wasn`t deep enough so it`s out with the shovels again tomorrow! And then he showed me how to make sure the hole was perfectly round and of the correct size and I gleaned a bit more information about how it all works and fits together.
So tomorrow we have materials and some knowledge of what we are doing, he says hopefully!
It`s a bit cooler now as it rained heavily all last night and only stopped at about 9am this morning so everything has been well watered which will cheer up the farmers.
Wednesday 10th August
The title says it all! But at least today we made a lot of progress.
Dan the GIG farm manager turned up on his motorbike and on the back was Bakery Jatta the Canadian I spoke about in my last blog, obviously Bakery is not his own name but one given to him by the Gambians, he has lived here for 27 years and knows how to get the Gambians to do jobs his way, and not with subtlety! But they all know and respect him.
So today the hole for the bio gas was deepened by 50cm and made perfectly round so the next job is to plaster it which Dan is going to arrange with one of the guys that works at GIG. Dan and I also spoke about tidying up the kitchen area so that it is more hygienic, so he will get some of the guys to put a layer of cement on the floor and then we will embed broken floor tiles into it to create a mosaic, sort of!
And finally Kelly who is the overall manager in charge of GIG wants a urine diverting composting toilet built, at the moment Kelly is at home in the Netherlands so I can`t speak to her about it and funnily enough I am not an expert! But there are composting toilets here at Sandele just not urine collecting ones so some internet searching is called for, so that`s my homework for tonight.
I have arranged with Dan to meet up on Saturday morning to look at the poultry sheds stored at Kelly’s place (I can hear Sallie cheering from here!) we are going to see if there is any way to improve the design and try to make them termite proof.
Of course today all the local farmers meet at Sifoe to work at the farm and some of them attended a course on tree planting, as usual the ladies looked stunning in their brightly coloured dresses and they all have a great sense of humour so the place is filled with laughter.
I think we can conclude that I had a great day!
PS Dan gave me a lift on his bike up to the main road, the last time I rode pillion was about 30 years ago!!
Chicken coops and ovens
Saturday 13th August
Yesterday at the GIG farm the tiling around the ovens was finished, Buba did a lot of it because he is a good plasterer and I learned a lot from watching him which just goes to prove that volunteers learn as many skills from the community as they pass on.
The guy who was plastering the walls of the large hole for the bio gas container had difficulty getting the second coat of cement to stick as the previous coat was too thick in places, the reason it was too thick was because too much mud had been removed from the walls, this was the consequence of not following Bakery`s instructions on how to check the roundness of the hole!
Before the plasterer left on Thursday he also cemented the floor, this was done whilst I was elsewhere so I couldn`t do anything about it and of course it rained on Thursday night so you can guess the first job on Friday morning, yes bailing out the water that had collected!
Monday is a bank holiday but me and Buba are going to tile the floor in the kitchen and maybe finish off on Tuesday and then on Wednesday I am hoping that one of the chicken coops will be delivered.
I went to Kelly`s home with Dan this morning and had a look at the chicken coops that are stored there to see if we could come up with a plan to raise them off the floor to prevent termite damage, one of the coops had already been wrecked by termites so we are going to build a base one breeze block high with a corrugated tin cover bent over to stop rats and we will paint the blocks with lime to discourage termites and if they do climb the block at least you can see they are getting to the wood.
On my way back from Kelly`s I stopped in Brikama for a haircut, it was a bit radical but who needs hair in this heat! I was a bit concerned when the barber picked up the clippers and then proceeded to twist bare wires together to connect the trimmer to a small generator and was even more concerned when he used s razor blade, clean I might add, to trim around the hair line!
On the way back to Sandele beside the road through Gunjul is a sign that says Gunjul is twinned with Marlborough in Wiltshire which is a coincidence as that`s my old stamping ground!
Cement and haircuts
Yesterday I got back home (Sandele) at 5.40pm so it was a long day, the hole for the bio gas was plastered with cement and most of the tiles on the kitchen floor were laid.
We finished plastering the hole today and laid the rest of the tiles on the kitchen floor so apart from grouting the tiles on the floor and around the cooker the kitchen is finished.
It was nice to have all the materials we needed so that we could get on with the jobs, the first couple of weeks here were frustrating because of lack of materials due to cash flow problems which were probably not helped by the absence of Kelly the GIG manager.
Tomorrow I hope that one of the chicken coops arrives so that I can put it up on blocks to prevent termite damage, if that works OK there will be an example for the other coops.
Only three more working days left and I fly back to blighty at 3.10am on Sunday, Air Maroc permitting of course!.
After spending three weeks here The Gambia and it`s people are getting under my skin and as much as I am yearning for fish and chips I will miss the place, but not the bumsters! Who are a real pain on the beach.
I emailed Sallie a picture of the new hairdo yesterday and she replied “ooer Nigel you do look a little like something out of an Oliver Stone movie!!!!!” and Geri here at Sandele said I look like a convict, I understand they will both soon be taking up posts as diplomats!
Rain stopped play for a while Thursday 18th August 9.34am
We are sitting out of the rain in Pa Kausu compound (he of the two wife’s and fifteen kids) this is where Musa is staying and we stopped here to pick up two bags of cement, Omar my driver has gone off to Brikama to try and find an alternator belt for the car, one broke yesterday and the replacement was only temporary and wasn`t tight enough to charge the battery so we had to bump start the car this morning.
We finished off a few jobs yesterday and the chicken coop arrived at 1.30pm so we unloaded and put it in position, all we need now is for the rain to stop so that we can lay the blocks.
Considering it`s the rainy season this is the only time we had to stop work since I have been here.
Yesterday when I was helping Buba finish off some cementing he said to me “my sister is getting married next week do you want to come? “I said I couldn`t as I was leaving on Sunday.
I was very touched by Buba`s offer and had had a lump in my throat when I thought about it on the way home.
I have sorted out my Gambian wife, one of the GIG ladies said that when I had finished for the day I should go home with her and did I have room in my luggage to take her home, this was all said with a twinkle in her eye so I think she was joking!
The other evening Geri gave a good explanation of the difference between Europeans and Gambians; in Europe our lives revolve around work, if asked how our day has been we will talk about work whereas to a Gambian their family and community are the most important thing in their lives, if asked how was your day work is the last thing they mention.
You have to understand this if you want to work with Gambians and maybe they have their priorities right and we are wrong! It`s all about compromise if you want to work together.
As I walk past the compounds during the day the kids greet me with “tobab” white man, and the other day a little girl said to me “how are you?” so I replied “I`m fine, how are you?” she looked at me with a puzzled expression as she knew the greeting but didn`t understand the response!
So the rain stopped after a few hours and the blocks to put the chicken coops on were laid so tomorrow I will put some sheets of corrugated iron on them to stop pest climbing up into the sheds.
And so the end is near
Friday 19th August
This morning I cut some corrugated iron to fit the top of the blocks and then we placed the chicken coop on the blocks and placed the corrugated iron between the blocks and the coop, the corrugated iron is there to stop pests climbing into the coop and if the blocks are painted with lime, which we don`t have at the moment, that should deter the termites.
The corrugated iron here is about a third of the thickness of that we have in England and when cutting it I had to be very careful as the cut edges were like a razor.
So when I finished it was goodbye to Musa, Buba and Kaddy and the journey back to Sandele for the last time, I transfer to Safari Gardens in Fajara tomorrow and will meet Kelly the GIG manager for a catch up meeting and then I catch the flight back to England at 3.10am on Sunday , Air Maroc allowing of course!
Goodbye to The Gambia
It`s 12.45pm and I am writing this in Safari Gardens, it`s raining steadily which it has been doing since about 7pm last night, it`s ironic that we should have so much rain on my last day here when the weather has been so good for the last three and a half weeks, but then they do say the sun only shines on the righteous!
Adama picked me up from Sandele and we dropped in at Concern universals office to meet the staff and say goodbye, Kelly was there and it was our first and last meeting.
The guys gave me a present of a picture of an African village which will now take pride of place on my living room wall, I also received a present of a Gambian shirt (very funky!) from the community at the GIG farm, it was all very touching and I just about managed to keep it together.
Unknown to me we were supposed to meet some of the community at the GIG farm in Sifoe this morning but because of the constant rain and flooding it was not possible, probably just as well or I really would have lost it!
I know how I would feel on my departure after volunteering in South Africa but it doesn`t make it any easier and I know that I want to come back to The Gambia as I do South Africa, now how long would it take to ride my motorbike from Northern Spain to The Gambia? Got to be quicker than a certain airline I could mention!
Adama is scheduled to pick me up at about midnight and my flight leaves Banjul at 3.10am, so I will leave The Gambia a few pounds lighter due to the heat and humidity, a lot browner and with less hair than I arrived with! Oh and a few mossy bite scars!
I received this email from Kelly Smeets of Concern Universal on my return home.