In the corner of my eye a young girl is learning to jump rope for the first time. She stops prematurely and runs desperately for cover knowing all eyes were on her. It is not long before she finds the courage to return. She removes her head wrap almost embarrassed that she showed everyone her vulnerable side in the first place. Not this time however, she is determined to show us how she views her new challenge. She is quietly focused on the rotating apparatus swaying backwards and forward in rhythm, waiting for that moment to leap. The silence is unbelievable not even a car or a motorbike can be heard, we are all in awe of this moment and all willing her to do well. She leans back for the final time before disappearing into the rope's playground, the dirt from her calloused feet barely have a chance to settle on the ground before discovering that she has made it. Her efforts are applauded but more importantly she is delighted with her new discovery. If she tries she will succeed.
Why are we here?
We are going for a drive to the National Youth Centre in Basse. The market on route is vibrant, there are plenty of children steering donkey carts, chopping wood, carrying water home and repairing tyre walls for motorbikes. I wonder what part of the day will they get to play? This is the reason we are here.
The first stop on the way is breakfast.
I say Naka Subaseh (Oollof) good morning to the locals from the open back truck we are riding on. The sun is on our backs and it feels good to have the air blowing a cooling breeze onto our faces. Subonda Bengadeh (Mandinka) how is the morning? Children are running along the side of the vehicles with huge smiles shouting Toubab in unison. Toubab Toubab Toubab (pronounced tou bar). I am amused by the term and ask Souso, our driver, what they mean? He says they are calling for the attention of our white friends.
11:30am - The Great Abdourrahman
It did not take long for me to finish breakfast this morning I was eager to get to work. I noticed a young man prepare to sit next to me. We are having breakfast in a really tiny hut with very little natural light, there is no electricity in this building. But we are relaxed and even enjoying this new environment. What more do you need to have breakfast other than a table and bench?
I turned to acknowledge this young man's presence and was greeted with words in his native tongue. I nodded although I have to admit I had no idea what he was saying. I thought I had heard English words and asked him to repeat as I listened with extra care. My guide Souso was once again on hand to interpret having spotted my apparent difficulty. The young man had said that he hoped I hadn't felt like my breakfast was finished because there was his to share also. I returned my attention to him about to politely decline the offer to find he had already broken his bread ready to hand it to me beckoning me to eat. He had a bowl of beans on the table to go with the Tapalapa. Who am I to decline? We spent the next ten minutes in silence eating together a moment I will never forget. I recalled my childhood days when my brother and I used to fight over food. His name none other than the Great Abdurrahman.
Make our mark
We have a huge task ahead. Having already visited the site we know that the building has not begun. I am pleased because it means we can make our mark here. The creativity in this group is amazing. It is a common misconception to believe that a country needs great money and resources to develop locally. Great innovative ideas and the synergistic effort of the Basse people will demonstrate this notion to great effect.
We compiled a list of the items we needed to get started and headed into the village. Let the negotiations begin. Wheel barrow, shovels, paint and brushes, rope, tractor tyres, protective gloves, charcoal sticks were at the top of our list. Local children and young men who lived nearby were also invited to help the cause.
Task One Make the environment as safe as possible for bare footed children - clear the yard of all glass, debris and other hazardous material.
Task Two Make the environment an attractive and colourful play area - paint the great wall.
Defeats the purpose
Everyone is working tirelessly there is no stopping now, except for a water break. We use our teeth to pierce a small hole in these pint sized plastic bags carrying fresh cold water. A simple squeeze and you have this wonderful spray of water looping into your mouth. There is a commotion and the girls are running and screaming. Well there were no rules saying that we couldn't use the water for other devices such as water fights. There is a mad water frenzy and I do not expect to lose it is probably a good thing I didn't start with the paint it defeats the purpose of being here.
We are pleased with the day’s work and return to the hotel, where the children are waiting patiently.
Boys lost the battle.
We sit on the porch watching the children skipping playfully. The boys are certainly mischievous tonight having snatched the skipping rope from the girls. I think they were feeling left out and needed their attention. It does not matter what country in the world we travel to, the experience of children are the same. In a swift and defiant move, one of the older girls flew in to deliver a telling blow even waving an authoritative finger at the boys about the consequences of their actions. The boys dare not try that again this time they have lost the battle. I wonder if they have lost the war.
Chalk and trees
We decided it was time to bring the magic chalk out to play. The children abandoned everything they were doing, it was like a stampede of elephants. We made a dash for the trees in the hope that we were able to climb to safety. No luck. It was apparent that chalk and trees was the perfect icebreaker.
Up until now we had kept a safe distance allowing the children to get a natural feel for us as newbies to their home. We got them to start drawing their shapes on to the trees. It was a great exercise, one that they loved. This was the moment I could take our games to the next level. Sensing that they were game for some fun I recovered all the chalk and ran into the distance closely followed by the young elephants.
17:00pm - A Single Plate
There is a new way to enjoy food. It is a symbol of the new family we have forged made up of Mandinkas, Fulas, Oollofs, Welsh and English. This time we are all to eat from a single plate.
Beyond the stars
I am fully nourished and pleased that the day has been productive throughout. One thing we do not have the privilege of seeing in London is a full complement of stars, I can see the Big bear, Orion’s belt and the North Star. What better way to end the day.