It seems ages ago since my last visit to The Gambia and I should have written this report much sooner. The visit in March was very successful with everything going to plan. Peter, my husband, came with me this time to do a bit of bird watching whilst on our treks.
I planned to visit the villages where we had delivered the machines in December to see how they were doing. The first stop was to Gunjur, not too far away, and then on to a lodge in Marakissa where we were to stay overnight for some bird watching. We got to Gunjur at about 11am on the first Sunday but many of the women were getting ready for a naming ceremony so it was a rather short visit. They told us the machine business they had started was going well and they had made a small profit. Quite a few of them were learning to sew. Unfortunately there was nothing to see drying on their solar dryer but they assured us they had been using it. Their garden was looking very well but overall we were a bit disappointed with the visit.
We had booked a local taxi to take us to Gunjur and then on to Marakissa where our driver would leave us. There are very few road signs in The Gambia so we had to ask the way from the local people. We were directed to an unmade road and told to go straight. As we travelled along, the "road" got narrower and narrower until it was more like a footpath through the bush. It also forked a few times. The car was being scratched by the scrub and there was no habitation or anyone to ask. After half an hour of this we were so relieved when suddenly a newly built tarmacked road appeared in front of us.
The overnight stay was very good and we saw lots of birds.
In the morning we were met by the Lady President of the women's group at Marakissa and we had a half an hour walk to their garden in the heat. Their produce was exceptionally good and we promised that Sarjo and his team would come back in May and train them in whatever they need. They will also get a solar dryer for their mangoes. When we left they dug up lots and lots of sweet potatoes for us to take home. Things went downhill after that as we stood for an hour in the heat waiting for a bush taxi to bring us back.
The next few days were spent trying to sort out National Insurance Contributions for Sarjo's pension and a trip around the mangroves in our fisherman's dug-out. It was lovely experience and we also ended up with a large pile of assorted shell fish for supper.
The next day we set off for a three day trip to deliver some sewing machines. Barry, our driver from last time, turned up half an hour early which was a good start.
Our first stop was to Nema, a village close to Tendaba Camp (famous for its bird watching) where we intended to stay the night. We had a big welcome with an unusual conceran, a mythical figure, leading the dancing. The most amazing thing about this village was the amount of children there were. None of us had ever seen so many in one place before. The women were very happy with their sewing machines and presented Peter and myself with some very nice Gambian clothes. They dressed me up as a bride going to her marriage!!
Peter and Sarjo got up early the next morning for an hours bird watching and then we were off further up river to Jassong, where we delivered two machines last time. We were very impressed by their garden then when we visited and it was lovely to see it again at a different time of year.
Our next stop was to Dankunda, a village a long way from the main road and rather isolated. The area Chief lived here and the meeting was held in his compound. He was an extremely nice man and the people were rather serious and listened very well. They should do well with their sewing machine business as it is so far from anywhere.
We spent the night at the Agriculture Department's Camp near Soma. The Director made us very welcome and was interested in our solar drying project. He agreed to accompany Sarjo on his next trek to the North Bank to learn more about it. Early the next morning whilst bird watching we came across a women's garden that caught our attention. It was the best garden we had ever seen. They had been given helpful advice from the Agriculture people and it showed. Like many others the problem is what to do with the produce when everything comes at once. We told them about our dryers and they were extremely interested so we have put them on the list.
We arrived at Sintet around eleven o'clock and were able to wander around the vegetable garden before the meeting. This was the village that didn't have any seeds due to a bad rainy season (see Dec. 2013 report). We promised them at that time we would give them a dryer because of the amazing amount of mangoes they would be having. It has since been delivered and we were pleased to see it being used to good advantage in its own fenced off area.
Our meeting went well and we were told that a large group of women were being taught how to sew. They have decided to concentrate on this before they set up their business. We were also told that there were two other women's groups in the same village who were keen to have solar dryers. As they had attended our meetings we decided to help them as soon as we could.
We had one more village to see. Bintang had a frame some months ago so we called in to see how they were doing. Unfortunately there had just been a death and they were preparing for the funeral. They showed us the frame with some vegetables on but it was not appropriate to stay too long. All these frames will come into their own as soon as the mangoes start ripening in May.
We arrived back at the house that Sunday evening completely exhausted and flew home the next day. The visit had been very successful and Sarjo had arranged things very well. I left enough money for fifteen solar dryers.
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Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.