Thursday the first of November saw me and my daughter, Claire, off to The Gambia. It was the first flight of the season with Thomas Cook airlines and it was packed. When we arrived in Banjul airport there was drumming and dancing to welcome us. Then later we found out it was for Prince Charles and not for us.
I had taken five sewing machines to Redcoat on 12th September to make sure they would be on time for us to deliver them to the villages but on that first Thursday, November first, we had heard nothing. We went to the ports on Friday to see what had happened and there they were – they had forgotten to phone us. It was too late by that time to get a government car and to let the villages know we were coming.
As we had a weekend to fill we decided to go to the monkey village. It was great fun with lots of good shots of us and monkeys. We also met the boss of ‘Green up Gambia’ who are a group of young people who are planting trees as well as trying to do something about the amazing amount of rubbish all over the place. (look them up on Facebook}
As it was our day off, we decided to go to Sanyang beach to get some fish and paddle in the sea. We saw six boats come in with only a handful of fish between them. The Chinese are trawling with their factory ships and taking all the catch. Fish is now much more expensive than it was.
Our ex-fisherman is now a taxi driver so on the Tuesday we hired him to take us to two villages past Soma to deliver the sewing machines. He had never been so far up country and found the gears a bit of the problem as it was a bit hilly there. We were staying the night in Soma so we dropped off our luggage and then carried on to Jappineh where the group were waiting for us. They saw us two years ago when we were delivering machines somewhere else and they have been patiently waiting since then. We handed over one shuttle and one electric. Then they sang a long song about the current state of affairs – lack of rain and the government that they feel has let them down.
When we come to these villages there are always women who come to ask for our help. Three came from different villages (one on a donkey cart) to tell us about their crops that were ready to harvest. All of them wanted dryers. We have so many people asking for these we try to be fair but when you hear their amazing problems it’s hard to say no.
The next morning we had time on our hands so we went to see a group near Soma where we went to four years ago. On our arrival we found them having their Wednesday meeting. They were so pleased to see us and told us all the things they have been doing with their machines – bed sheets, curtains and uniforms. They have a lady tailor who is teaching other young women to sew and they are bulk buying. Their next projects are tie & dye and buying chairs to rent out. This was a very good start to our day.
On our way to Jabisa Village near the river we took a detour to see the bridge that is being built over the Gambia River linking it to the North Bank. The many stalls selling goods will go when it opens, as the Ferry will probably go with it.
The road to this village was a nightmare. It was a single sand track with holes for four miles. When we arrived there were lots of children waiting to welcome us with songs and speeches. The place looked new but the children’s uniforms were in a poor state. I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t a very good handing over. The men tried to take over. A child was told to talk about wanting computers, laptops, table and chairs etc. We had to stop all this and confine our talk to the women, explaining that we were here to focus on them so they could develop their own business and help themselves.
The road to the village
Our greeting and the hand over.
On the way back we called in to the school at Jamakunda where Alan, one of our sponsors, gave money for tables and chairs. We were able to see them and to give needed supplies. Across the road we tried to see the Lady President to ask how the solar dryer was working. She was out but the women were able to tell us that it is working well. They are growing okra, tomatoes, sweet potatoes to dry and they have dried lots of mangos when they were in season.
We had two days rest before we were off again. In those two days we went to a naming ceremony, a wedding and a Jolla ladies evening.
This time, instead of giving dryers and machines, we thought it would be good to see as many villages as we could, to see how the projects were going. Our government driver arrived at 8.45 in the morning and we were away by 9.30. We stopped by in Bwiam to book our accommodation and to give the people of Karror (Sarjo’s sister’s village) two boxes of chicken legs, a sack of rice and copious vegetables for our feast that evening. We were to be celebrating Claire’s almost birthday in the evening. En-route we had a call from Setee saying he had a funeral to go to and couldn’t come. We then discovered he had arranged to have two villages meet us to discuss their needs without telling us. The first village had been waiting on the road since 10 o’clock and it was now 1pm. We were able to promise them a sewing machine, onion seeds, look into tie & dye and put them on the list for a dryer. They showed us their garden which needed fencing but we couldn’t do anything about that.
By now it was late in the afternoon and we were rushing to get back to Karorr for the evening. As we were speeding along the road we saw a group of people waving at us so we stopped and found that these were the other people Sette had arranged for us that morning. They wanted a drier, tie & dye and seeds.
Finally we got to Karorr just as it was getting dark. It was not how it was supposed to be as we couldn’t go round the village to see what was going on. What we DID see was rotting couscous, the same as last year and the year before. There wasn’t enough rain and the time it did rain there was so much of it it blew the plants down. I suggested they try sunflowers next year. The poultry business is doing well. They were waiting for the next batch which will be broilers and layers.
After dinner some of the sponsored children came and we had fun taking photographs. There was no dancing after all as there was a funeral that day.
The next day before we started on our way back we visited a shack along the road for coffee (three cups of coffee with condensed milk for 50p all together!) With that and a huge watermelon we’d been given we started for home.
Our task was to visit four more villages on the way. Three of them told us how the driers had helped them. The lady president of Kassang told us the dried mangos were amazing and that they grew okra, chillies, cassavas and tomatoes. They used the profit for fencing their garden.
The Lady President, who was sleeping out and guarding their recently harvested rice.
In Kataka they said they dried everything they could and now have enough money to make a tie & dye business.
We then headed for home, a lovely shower and a G&T.
Six of our sponsored children have finished their education now. Three of them have done well but the others did not pass. One of the reasons for failing was that the teachers have not been paid for some time now, so have not been there to teach. It is said that out of the 3000 pupils who took the Exam only 800 passed but I can’t verify that. We have decided not to carry on sponsoring children after this. When the present group leaves school, that will be the last.
Things in The Gambia are not in very good shape. Since there are no clean-up days anymore the place is filthy.
Rubbish Near Our House
The beach outside our house is packed with rubbish which floats in the water when the tide comes in. Fish for the poor people is in short supply. The mahogany trees are being shipped off to other countries. In our area crime is on the increase. Sarjo has had his chickens and goats stolen in the night more than once.
The good news is that Sarjo, Abie and their three amazing children are all well and happy. Sarjo works very hard for the charity sometimes receiving up to ten calls a day with women wanting dryers or machines. He puts them all on the list in turn but they often have to wait for up to a year. I have given Sarjo enough money for 14 dryers to be distributed in the next 4 months. Each one costs approximately £80 including the mahogany, solar plastic, the carpenter’s fee and the fuel to get there.
Thank you for reading this report and thank you also for all your support. We couldn’t do this without you.
PS Claire is taking over the website soon so it will be a bit different. Keep in touch.
PPS Just thought - If you can’t think of what to buy someone for Christmas a drying frame might be a good idea!!
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.