Monday, 15 February 2010

I AM in Gambia - Day Two

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Day Two in Gambia

We met the children in the National Stadium of Banjul, the home of Gambia's national football team.

The children and young people gathered to shake hands. They have Muslim names: Samba, Ebrima, Mouloudumi, and Malal. The older boys are well versed in greeting tourists. Very charming and complimentary, they certainly know their sterling. Dalasi or jewellery will not go amiss either. Unfortunately I do not wear jewellery. I have little to give in that respect. Probably a good thing, they are not afraid to ask. Dalasi is the currency in Gambia.

Glue and Cotton
On the ferry we met some shoe shiners and menders. I remember as a child my grandfather's strict instructions were to clean and polish his shoes for work. My brother and I became skilled polishers. However, these men are better equipped; they also know how to mend shoes with glue and cotton. It is quite a handy technique for mothers and fathers whose children wreck their shoes on the first day of school. I have been told the cotton reacts to the glue to become like sticky tar, quite a remarkable adhesive I guess.


We arrive at the north bank region at Barra from the ferry.

I am African

The people greet us from all sides with smiles, waves and handshakes. We have taxi drivers, women and young girls who perfectly balance fruits and nuts on their heads. This is not the Cadburys kind.

I converse with a few gentleman of the Gambia. They say welcome to Africa my African brother this is your home. I say to them Abaraka and Jerrajeff which means thank you in Mandinka and Oollof respectively. There are at least five tribes in Banjul alone. I thank them for welcoming me as their own.

Bumpy Ride

We have a 250 mile drive to the next ferry port. The whole journey to the region of Basse is expected to take 8 hours.

I have been told the roads are bumpy and rough. I have been to Trinidad and Jamaica so I am accustomed to these road conditions or am I? I can say with absolute certainty that I have never experienced roads as difficult to drive on as the ones I am experiencing here. It may be necessary for smaller cars to provide helmets. I am in the back seat and I have been thrown everywhere barring out the window. I am enjoying this ride it forces you to find a seated rhythm as I notice I and my colleague are the only ones moving in the car.

Not only are the roads rough but it was also expected for the houses to be half built. The beautiful thing is it has not distracted the children at all! In fact, they play in these half built houses and on dilapidated roads in a way that allows their imaginations to complete the picture. I can see them playing in their palaces and on those world class football pitches.


Some of the older children wearing blue uniform are now returning from school, the younger children are on the side of the road selling Nana, a bush plant used for tea. I have been given Tapalapa, a bread like baguette. For now there is nothing else I require I already have a two litre bottle of water. This side of the river is indeed hotter than the city of Banjul.

Stop or I will Shoot - Kunte Kinte

We were stopped at a checkpoint by a soldier holding what appeared to be an AK47 his finger non chalantly poised on the trigger. Our lives are at his mercy. He does not acknowledge the salutes of our officials in the car and instead inspects the vehicle with the authority he was given. There is little expression on his face and his focus undeterred. After a few moments he relaxes and motions for us to move on as his attention turns to the car behind. Holding a loaded firearm he is ready to initiate the first rule of engagement: Stop or I will shoot.

As we leave the checkpoint I am told this is the home of Kunte Kinte.

Inspired driver

A picture of President Obama hangs from where the rear view mirror is supposed to be. While the driver looks forward to a new direction Obama ensures everyone is still following behind. The driver is accustomed to the night and the bumpy road and I am certain he will deliver us safely.


Flip Flops

We have arrived in Basse and were shown our rooms at the hotel.

I am wearing flip flops for the first time since childhood. It was bought for 25 Dalasi so I can use in the shower. I immediately remembered why I disliked them as a child, the plastic between the toes is uncomfortable.

We are here

There are 7 of us, 3 women from Wales Freia, Jane and Lidia. Bernard from Kent with Graeme and Vince from London.

The journey has been a long one taking the best part of a day. That does not deter us we go to a local restaurant in the village to eat and drink. We are here in Basse finally.

I AM in Gambia - Day One

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Gambia.

Our plane arrived in Banjul at 3pm in the

The moment stepping off the plane signalled a statement of intent: We will work in 35 degrees of sunshine.

There is no time difference beteween Gamb
ia and the UK. This is the first time I have stepped off the plane not expecting any jet lag. Maybe the UK are running on Gambian time and not the other way round.

No sooner had I emerged from customs, I heard someone call out Mr Jackman. I turned to find a good friend whom I know back home. What are the odds? I knew she was in Gambia but I also know the population is 1.6 million!

The Gambians have welcomed me as their own. When asked my name, I replied Alexander.
Aha 'Alexander the Great!' they shouted.