The beginning of the year was a difficult time in The Gambia with the problem of the last President refusing to stand down. Sarjo and his family were frightened enough to leave our house and find a safer place up country with his sister. For me it was also difficult because I couldn’t get a flight. In March I usually take all the money needed for the next seven months for the Charity’s projects. At the last minute Thomas Cook put on an extra flight, as things were back to normal by then. Peter, my husband, was coming with me this time as he is a keen birdwatcher. Usually I book a flight so as to have two weekends to deliver the sewing machines and solar dryers but this flight was for ten days from Tuesday to Thursday so we only had one.
The machines were due to arrive in Banjul ten days before we arrived but when we got there they hadn’t come. We were told they would be docking on Wednesday. That would have been fine as we were to start our trek early on Friday morning but when we phoned to find out what was happening we were told the ship was in but there wasn’t room for it to dock. It took two days before the six machines were out. We arrived at the docks on the Friday morning at ten o’clock (even though they said the boxes were not there) and there they were. We were so glad to see them. It then took until three in the afternoon before they were released. Customs took almost two hours to sign twenty signatures before we could take the goods.
We raced back home, undid the boxes and set off at 4.30. It was dark by the time we reached Soma, nearly half way up The Gambia. When I was there last delivering a solar dryer, I promised the lady president I would give her two electric sewing machines as they had electricity there. It was too late to have a proper handing over so we chatted to all the people who had come to see us. We were then escorted to the house where we were to spend the night. It was a huge mansion with “doric columns” all over the place. The rooms were enormous. The lady who lived there had a husband working in America. Unfortunately there was no electricity, the toilet was broken and there was no running water – we were given a bucket! Not a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we officially handed over the machines and were given some lovely clothes. It was quite difficult to get away but we did go to look at the women’s garden. It was full of vegetables and as before there were many people, old and young, watering the crops. Their problem was the fencing that has started to break in places. We are thinking of helping them with this.
Our next handing over was a village not too far away from this one. They had been expecting us much earlier but it was a very nice welcome. As you know we mainly work with women’s groups but on these occasions the men usually come too. They like to give advice to the ladies as to how to run their business. This group were completely different. There were no men at all, no prayers and hardly any children. Everybody listened well and promised to make a good business from the machines. They laughed a lot and danced a lot and were very grateful.
We spent the night in a lodge nearby. It looked good from the outside but things were not so good on the inside. There was a bathroom but no running water – another bucket! It could have been worse. The next morning we needed to get off early and amazingly an old lady arrived at 8.30 with bread and boiled eggs. That was a good start to the day.
We set off early as we were going to Kayabor, Sarjo’s village, the school in Foni Bondali where we visited last time and Karorr, his sister’s village. It has been a long time since I have been to Kayabor where six of our sponsored children live.
When we got there we found the men and boys digging a trench across the village. Apparently a man had come and offered to give them a borehole and running water for each compound in exchange for five large mahogany trees. It was sad to see these beautiful trees lying there but I hope that having running water will help to alleviate the health problems they have been having. We were able to talk to all our sponsored children – two of them will be graduating next year.
The school was our next stop. We should have been there on the Friday instead of being at the ports, so we weren’t expecting any children as it was a Sunday. It was an absolute surprise when we found them waiting for us with speeches and a choir singing a special song of welcome (in two parts). We had promised them educational posters, pens etc. and they were very happy with these. The children were the best behaved ones I have ever met. I hope to help them more in the future.
Our last visit was to Karorr, where we have five sponsored children and a poultry project. We were pleased to see the chicks were getting fatter and everything was going well. Since our visit ninety five out of the hundred survived and half of them were sold locally at a good price. They turned out to be very large and heavy. Sarjo’s sister came to him with the rest and they sold them at a higher price on our local market. This project has brought the whole village together. After this they will be on their own (with a bit of Sarjo’s help.) They are going to start again with another hundred chicks and then possibly go into egg production as well. I hope this will be a turning point for this village. It deserves it.
On the following Tuesday were went to the North Bank for a day to deliver two more sewing machines. We can’t get government cars during the week so Sette’s son took us in his. (Sette always comes with us as he was an outreach worker before retiring and knows most of the Gambia) We were due to take off early but the clutch on the car was playing up. Two hours later than planned they arrived at our house to pick us up. We missed the earlier ferry and didn’t get to Bali until 2pm.
The road to Bali
The village was close to the Senegal border and a very long way from the main road. We were met with singing and dancing as we arrived into the village and immediately given “breakfast”, as it had been prepared. The speeches were good as was the drumming and dancing. Then we had lunch and it was time to go. Before we went we talked with a man who wanted to show us their amazing vegetable garden. He told us that people from the village had to keep watch day and night to keep the animals from eating the crops. The fences were not fit for purpose. We promised to help if possible.
On the way back the clutch in the car got worse and worse and by the time we had nearly reached the ferry the driver was having to start the car in gear. He realised that manoeuvring a car in that condition on and off a ferry was not realistic and found a garage a mile or so from the terminal. Not your average sort of garage in a building with lots of equipment – this was in the open with a jack and a limited number of spanners. But the mechanic knew what he was doing, identified the fault (a new hydraulic piston washer needed). Amazingly, a spare-part shop was nearby (although it was well disguised), a new washer bought and fitted and an hour or so later we were back on the road.
It was dark by the time we reached the ferry. As we waited for the boat we were near three shepherds from North Senegal and about fifty sheep and goats. One of the rams was enormous, the size of a small calf.. The men were taking the animals to Abouko to sell. Everyone was amazed at the size of this ram and a passenger on the ferry bought it for £600. When we docked we saw him walking off with it on a piece of string.
The huge ram
The next day we went to visit Ensa in his office and told him about the problem with the garden at Bali. He immediately contacted the nearest outreach worker to that village and told him to give them a form to fill in stating their needs. Ensa is in charge of a European Charity similar to DIFID which helps women’s groups with wells, bore-holes and fencing etc. Let’s hope they will get their fencing. It can’t be very nice wandering around every night chasing animals away.
Our solar dryers are still in great demand. I left money for fourteen of them.
This is all the Charity news. Between treks we managed quite a bit of bird watching. Sarjo has now got a pair of binoculars. He is very good at spotting birds and identifying them. The family are doing well. Ousman is very intelligent and doing well at school and Dawda will be going soon. Sarah had her first birthday while we were there. She is lovely – always singing, running around, falling over and trying to talk.
Thank you all for reading this report.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.