This is a rather belated report of my latest visit to The Gambia in November which was rather exhausting but very productive. It is hard for me to make these twice yearly reports interesting as I do the same sort of thing every time I go, which is to deliver sewing machines.
This time we delivered the machines to the shippers in Crawley at the end of September so as to be extra sure they would be there when I arrived. It turned out that they didn't put them on the next boat but the one after and when I got there on Monday 10th of November they were not there. Sarjo had arranged for us to deliver the six machines to three women’s groups a long way up river near Georgetown. Everything was in place and the driver had been instructed to arrive at nine o'clock the following Friday morning. We were told on the Tuesday that the boxes were there, so we set off straight away. It took three taxis to get to the ports in Banjul but when we got there they told us "yes they ARE there but they are still in the ship. We don’t know when they'll be out." It was a very stressful few days. In the end the call came at eleven o'clock on the Thursday morning to say that they had been unloaded. We set off immediately. I won't even try to tell you how horrible and frustrating the rest of the day was, going backwards and forwards, waiting to get signatures etc. At 4.20pm the boxes still hadn't been checked and signed off when the lady customs officer started to get ready for going home. Our whole trek seemed to be in jeopardy. I rushed into her office and explained about the hundreds of women who would be so disappointed if their programmes had to be cancelled. She kindly signed them off without looking inside. We were very grateful but it still took us another hour before we got them and us out of the ports. It took half an hour to find a large enough taxi and we got home at 7pm, exhausted.
Our first meeting was very interesting. Most "handing overs" are very similar. There are usually drummers and lots of dancing by the women. Then the Imam says a prayer and a local man introduces us. Setti, the outreach worker, gives a speech about our charity then I talk about some of the successful businesses that have been set up by other women's groups. This is to give them a few ideas. Sarjo then tells them how to look after the machines. After this the men start to talk, telling the women what they should be doing. Eventually we hand over the machines to the Lady President of the group who gives them to the Secretary and so on. The slight difference with this group was that the men wanted to be involved in the project. After the handing over a very strong lady spoke out to say that if the men got involved in it there would be no profit. This was going to be for the women only. There was muttered agreement among the ladies. The men then got up and walked out. I have great hopes for this women’s group.
Handing over the machines
Sarjo and I had been expecting to be staying the night in someone's house but we found out that there was a government place where we could stay. (I was quite relieved.) We were shown to our rooms, which were very basic - no electricity and no running water, just a bucket. During the night, which was very hot, we found we were sharing it with various small creatures. Neither of us got much sleep.
A very kind man in the village provided us with breakfast on both mornings we were there. It consisted of warm milk straight from the cow, couscous and sugar.
Sorting the corn
We were heading for a ferry to take us across the River Gambia to the north bank. The boat only took three cars at a time and it was lovely just waiting for it to come and get us. It was so peaceful.
The River Gambia and the ferry
As we approached Barajal, our next village, we could see a group of women ready to meet us and drum us in. We were told later that someone had just died that morning and the programme that had been prepared for us would be smaller and shorter. This meant we had time to spare so after the meeting we decided to go and see the famous standing stones at Wassu. None of the Gambians had seen them before and neither had I so it was a treat for all of us.
Then we went on to Georgetown where the slaves were kept before they were shipped away. We were shown the place where the men, women and children were kept manacled in terrible condition, packed all together with not enough room to stand upright. It was horrible!
To make up for this rather unpleasant experience we spent a few hours later on star gazing as it was a beautiful clear night with lots of stars and no pollution.
And so to bed with the small creatures!
The next day was Sunday and our plan was to hand over the last machines and leave by 2 o'clock so that we could call in at Sarjo's village Kayaborr and Karror where quite a few of our sponsored children are. This last group were not far away so we thought our plans would work. We didn’t anticipate how much the word had got around about our visit. Just as we were about to start the meeting we were told that another group had gathered close by and wanted to talk to us. They had heard about the solar driers we provide and wanted one. I told them they could have one in March when I came next. The list is huge already but I couldn’t say "no" and we needed to get to the other meeting. All went well and to plan. Afterward two women came up to us because they, too, wanted a solar drier for their village. They had walked for two hours and crossed the river to come and see us in forty degrees heat. We promised one for them, too, and gave them money for a donkey cart to take them back.
Drummers and dancers
At this point everything was on time and going well but then we realised that the women cooking our lunch had only just killed the chicken. Time ticked by and I was getting anxious because our plan wasn't going to work. It would have been rude to just go because of the chicken. Eventually we set off after three. We had to bypass Kayaborr where we were to pick up letters from the sponsored children and rush on to Karorr where we had rice, presents and clothing to deliver for three of our sponsored children. It was getting dark by then and we were getting worried about being out on the main road after dark. It is a very fast road now but donkey carts don't have lights and when trucks break down, which they often do, they turn their lights off. Lots of accidents have happened but thankfully not for us. It was late by the time we got back, very exhausted but happy to be home after a successful trek.
The rest of the time I was there involved sorting out a pension for Sarjo. It has become mandatory to provide social security arrangements for all employees so now Sarjo can look forward to a pension when he retires. Needless to say this took rather a long time.
We also had enough time to visit two projects we started some time ago. The Mandinari women were given two sewing machines four years ago and we went to see how they were getting on. We met the lady president at her home and she updated us. They make clothes for many people in the village and use the money they earn for buying cooking pots and any other things that are needed. They have also bought a job lot of plastic chairs which they rent out for naming ceremonies and funerals.
On another day we went to the garden at Marakissa where we visited last year. (See report for March 2014.) They have had a real success with their solar drier. We walked through their garden and the ground was full of okra. They decided to grow so much more than before because it is very popular and now they can dry it and sell the surplus. Their biggest problem is that there are three women’s groups in the area and they all want to use it. They have asked for two more to solve the problem. I will sort this out soon.
Sarjo and the family in our garden
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.