I’m glad to say that my latest visit to The Gambia in November was much more successful than the last time. My daughter, Claire, came with me as a birthday present and so we tried to make it a little bit of a holiday for her.
When I arrived it was so good to see the sewing machines neatly piled in the corner. They had arrived in good time.
The first day was sorting out and banking the project money for the next five months but the day after that we visited Tujering, a fishing village along the Atlantic coast. The catch was coming in and I have included some pictures below.
We can only get the government car at weekends so Sarjo had arranged with the driver to arrive at 9 o’clock on Friday 13th (Claire’s birthday) which he did! I have mentioned before about Karror village, where one of Sarjo’s sisters lives, and the plan was to hold Claire’s party there. This is one of the poorest villages in the country. It is very hard to grow vegetables there because the water table is very low. Their main crops are sweet corn and millet, which they grow in the rainy season, but this year they failed again. The rain was very late but when it did come it was so heavy the grain was spoilt. At that time Sarjo went to stay with his sister to get the feel of living there but after two days he was so hungry he came home. The people only had leaves to eat. I have thought long and hard of ways to help them and that is why I wanted to celebrate Claire’s birthday there.
We started off that morning by buying a sack of rice, a box of chicken legs, a litre of oil and lots of vegetables. The women of the village were all ready for us and the preparations began.
At about 4pm the food was nearly ready so we started the meeting. I had four ideas which needed to be discussed. Two months previously I had sent out money for four goats - three nannies and a billy. These went to Sarjo’s Aunt and the families of our two sponsored children there. My first idea was that when the goats gave birth, if there were two babies one would be given to another family and so on. They voted on this.
The second idea was a poultry business. I wasn’t too sure of this because if people are starving it would be very tempting to eat the birds.
Whilst we were walking around the village we saw lots of small hens with their baby chicks. I commented on this and was told that most of the chicks would be eaten by predators. This seemed such a waste and we formed the idea of providing pens for the chicks while they were young. Ensa, our friend who provides us with transport, had been telling us of a project to introduce a larger breed of cock to The Gambia which, when mated with the small Gambian hen, would produce larger chickens. This was the third idea and seemed better than the second.
Lastly we suggested that rather than keep growing millet in the rainy season they grew cassava instead. This crop grows when the season is right and stops when it isn’t. It’s very reliable and can be dried and pounded into bread, pancakes, porridge etc. They are going to try this.
The people were very happy with the meeting and we all sat down to a lovely meal. Afterwards the drummers came and everyone danced and was happy. The Karror women were the best dancers I have seen.
We spent the night in Bwiam Lodge where we found out that it was a surprise clean-up day the next day. In my last report the same thing happened. This was the second Saturday NOT the fourth. This meant we had to get up at 6.30 in the morning to get to our next village before the roads would be closed at 9am.
We had planned to hand over two lots of machines. The first village, Naneko, was a two hour drive away. The people there were of the Sarahule Tribe, fairly rare in The Gambia. We arrived at 9am and were made very welcome with breakfast of milk from the cow, couscous and ground peanuts. By 10 o’clock everyone had gathered at the meeting place ready to hand over the machines when they were told that it couldn’t go ahead as it was clean-up day and they should all be cleaning up their environment. This was a surprise for most of the people. The meeting was adjourned until after two o’clock prayers. (I have included some of the pictures we took whilst we were waiting).
When the meeting finally took place at 4pm about four hundred people attended. My speech had to be translated from English into Mandinka and then into Sarahule. They were all very well behaved and listened well and were extremely pleased with the machines. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before and they promised to make a good business with them. They made a big fuss of Claire.
It was getting dark by now and we set off to find accommodation for the night. The place that was found for us turned out to be basic in the extreme - best not to describe it. The next morning we were covered in bites.
The next village, Tankuler, was on the River Gambia. Unlike this country there are not many villages actually on the river. This is probably because there are so many tributaries around it. It took us an hour on a reasonably good road and another hour virtually on a track, to get there.
We hoped to start the handing over of machines straight after two o’clock prayers but the Alkalo, the Imam and various other men failed to turn up. The women during this time were still dancing. In the end we threatened to go as we had a long journey ahead of us. The handing over was a quick affair but the women were very grateful and promised to do their best to make a successful business.
It was dark by the time we got home and we were exhausted. The next day we rested.
The following day we paid a visit to the Poultry Advice Centre to find out about how to start a poultry business for broilers. We had thought to start with one hundred birds but the man we talked to said that would never make a profit. He suggested four hundred! The nearest large village to Karror is Bwiam. It made us laugh when he suggested that the Karror women should “get contracts from the restaurants of Bwiam” I have only seen a shack by the side of the road. We came away realising that this project would not work.
At the beginning of our stay three of the elders of our street (Mandina Street) came to say that they had arranged an evening of drumming in our honour on our last night. Thanks to Sarjo they have formed a very tight-knit community, making sure that the road is kept clean etc. They are making plans for litter bins to be put along the way. As I mentioned before, the President ordered this road to be built thanks to Sarjo organising things. They have met a few times now and he is well aware of our Charity.
On our last day our fisherman friend took us out in his boat among the mangroves. It was a nice peaceful end to our “holiday”.
Sarjo makes things very easy for me. He does all the organising and planning so all I have to do is raise the money. I have left enough for twelve solar driers. This, and the many villages asking for training in food preservation, will keep him busy until I go again in March. Abi and the two boys are well. Ousman is now seven and goes to school.
Thank you for reading this report. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.