On Thursday 20th March I was back in The Gambia for the first of my two yearly visits. Sarjo had everything in place for the first weekend when we were going to deliver solar dryers to two different villages on the North Bank. We had not travelled there for years as the ferry had a habit of breaking down in the middle of the river. I was assured that they had now installed a new engine.
Early Saturday morning the driver arrived. Sarjo had asked for a pick-up as the driers were already made up, rather than in kit form. When we got outside we had a shock as the car we had been given was a SUV which could only carry one frame with the back door open. In the end we had to take one on the Saturday, come home that evening and go back the next day with the other one.
Our first call was Sika Baduma, a village right on the river just past James Island. The country round there is full of wonderful old trees and the villages are few and far between. We went for miles without seeing a soul. The south bank is much more populated and far too many trees have been felled there.
At last we came to the village where the people were waiting to receive us with drumming and dancing. It was a wonderful welcome. This was the first time I had delivered a dryer as I usually only do the machines (hence the mistake concerning the car). It was a good meeting. The people were very excited as they had never seen anything like it before.
After the explanations of the dryer’s uses and all the things they could dry with it there was the handing over ceremony when we lifted it in the air. The mango season is starting now so it should be very well used.
It was nearly 6pm when we arrived at the ferry and the queue was very long. We were worried that we wouldn’t get on. We would have had to wait another hour for the next one. I’m afraid to say that we were so desperate to get home that we did something a bit naughty and managed to get the last place on the ferry. It was heaving. We were exhausted and so happy to be home.
Abi, Sarjo’s wife, had been staying in Brikama with her mother because she was expecting her third child. Sarjo and I had arranged to visit them on the Wednesday morning and then visit the women of Marrakisa in the afternoon to see how they were getting on with the dryers. When I woke up that morning Sarjo broke the news that Abi had delivered a baby girl in the middle of the night. We set off to bring them both home. Abi was very happy to see us as she had given birth in a single bed with another woman top to toe! The little girl is called Sheira and she weighed two and a half kg. She was expected in early April but turned up on 16th March. The tradition is that she had to stay in her room with her mother for one week until the naming ceremony the following Wednesday.
Two days later we were off again, this time with four sewing machines. It is getting harder to find good quality hand sewing machines so we only took four machines for two villages. Both were fairly near each other but were well over half way up the country in the Niamina East Division. As before we were met with singing and dancing and were shown into a very nice building which we were told was the court house. This was the big chief’s village.
The women enjoyed themselves with some very frantic dancing and then we were given breakfast of cow’s milk and couscous and shown our dinner (below).
As soon as we realised that we were having goat for lunch we knew that our plans for visiting two villages in one day were not going to go as we had hoped. It takes a long time to kill and cook a goat.
While we were waiting we looked round the village. At first glance it looked quite prosperous with lots of goats roaming around but when we saw inside some of the houses we realised that it was not. The goats all belonged to the Chief. One lady showed us her two small rooms with a dirt floor and two sagging beds with sacks for a mattress. She shared that with her seven children.
It was ages before the dinner arrived and we were very worried because we were due deliver the other machines before it got dark. When we got to the next village there was more drumming and dancing but unfortunately we had to do the handing over in the dark. It was very difficult. When it’s dark it is really dark.
We stayed in that village and had breakfast there the next morning.
Our last visit was to Karror – Sarjo’s sister’s village. This is the village I talked about in the report of December 2015. We had hoped to start a poultry business for broilers there but it turned out not to be practical. Near our house along the river in Fajikunda there is a very large egg producing farm. Before we went on trek we visited there. We were shown around by a very helpful young man who inspired us to start an egg producing business in Karror. He would be able to sell us everything we needed for the project. This seemed a much better idea than broilers. There is a market on the main road some way from the village where the eggs could be sold and it would give the villagers an easy way of getting protein.
The men and women of Karror were ready when we arrived and we started the meeting. They were very excited about the project. The men were happy to build the chicken house but we made it clear that the women would run the business. This didn’t go down so well but they had to agree. We walked around the village and found a good place for it to be built and I was told later that they started making the mud bricks the next day.
As I have said before, Karror hasn’t got a lot going for it – low water table, a shared women’s garden a mile away, problems with the weather etc. but it is a very friendly village. Its location in the south of Gambia means that it has had an influx of people running from South Senegal where the rebels are killing people indiscriminately. The government of The Gambia has helped some of these families by building them a row of houses in the village but recently two more families have turned up. We have found them both sponsors for the two children. One saw their father being shot and killed while he was harvesting peanuts and the other told me that when they heard the gun fire coming closer they ran, leaving everything behind. These children were at school in Senegal and are now able to continue their education in The Gambia.
Our two new children
On the whole it was a very good trip. I always think I will get more done than I actually do. Sarjo excelled himself over the organising of our treks which were very successful. Since I left he has been very busy sorting out the materials for the hen house. A lot of these have to be bought in the urban area and taken up to the village. He is also busy delivering solar driers to as many villages as possible as it is now mango season.
Thank you all for reading this report. Without you we could never consider projects like this which help so many people.
P.S. I have just heard from Sarjo that the hen house is finished and is looking very good. The villagers are so excited about the project and are waiting expectantly for the chicks. He is now about to sort that out. They should be up and running in a few weeks.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.