This was going to be a short account of my recent visit to The Gambia because it wasn’t very productive but it has grown!
After my terrible time in the ports last time I tried a different shipper to see if they would be better, as it didn’t involve collecting the machines at the ports but at a place in Bakau.
The six sewing machines I was to deliver to the villages were due to arrive in Banjul two weeks before I did. When I arrived on Thursday 12th of March they were not there. We had two treks planned but our handing over of machines was due to take place the following weekend so I wasn’t too worried. We had decided to visit Kayabor and Karror on the first weekend as we have seven sponsored children in these two villages and I had not been able to see some of them for a long time. One of Sarjo’s relations offered to take us in his 4X4 on that first Saturday and we were to have a day in each village. On Friday’s six o’clock news it was announced that the next day was to be a clean-up day. This meant that nobody without a pass could travel on the roads until 1.30pm as they had to clean up their environment. This usually happens on the last Saturday of the month so this was a complete surprise. In the afternoon we tried to get in contact with our driver but there was no answer. The next day was the same so in late morning we tried to catch a bus. We waited for over an hour and then gave up. (Probably a good thing as we would have had a big problem getting to the villages) Not a good start!
Waiting for the bus
I had been in The Gambia for a week and we were getting worried by now as the machines still hadn’t arrived. It was time to contact the three villages waiting for the machines to let them know the celebrations would not be taking place on the next two days as planned.
This was Thursday and we had arranged to deliver two solar driers to Marrakissa in early afternoon. We had given them one but there were three women’s groups sharing their large garden and there had been a few problems. As this village is fairly close to Brikama they have easy access for selling their surplus mangoes etc. so we thought they would make good use of them. We arrived at the place the frames were being stored to find they were locked inside. It took one hour before someone came with a key. During this time we had a call to say that the machines had eventually arrived and we needed to pick them up in Serekunda before 6pm. It was getting late by the time we reached the Lady President’s compound. She told us that the women were waiting for us in the garden but we couldn’t stay because of the machines. We off-loaded the frames, had a quick chat and then left. We arrived just in time to collect the machines.
Loading and delivering the frames
It was far too late to contact the villages and we had also cancelled the car for the Friday. Our new plan was to take the car to Kayabor and Karror early on the Saturday for the day to make up for last week’s disappointment.
Unforeseen circumstances meant that we didn’t set off until mid-day on Saturday. We had a chance to speak to some of our sponsored children in Kayabor but when we arrived in Karror we found that our three children there were at school having a sports day. I was very disappointed because one of those children was mine and I had been looking forward to having a good chat with her.
The next day, Sunday, went far better. The last time I was in The Gambia I visited Mandenary, a village not too far from us, to see how they were getting on with their machines and solar drier. (see November 2014) They wanted to show their appreciation for what we had given them so they had arranged with Sarjo to come over to our area for the day bringing with them their own food and drummers. It was to be a big occasion with all the people in our area of Fajikunda invited. When the neighbours heard the word “drumming” they became very excited and all the women who could afford it started planning their new costumes, all in the same material but in different styles. The tailor, who was working in our garden, made over thirty dresses in a week. At about midday about forty women from Mandenary turned up.
A group of women from each village had volunteered to do the cooking whilst the rest of them started the first round of dancing.
Preparing the lunch
After about an hour of dancing it was time for the meeting. The Imam and the other elders were called and after the prayers it began. A spokesman from the group told us that this was a new group that had not existed before we came along. When they heard that we were giving out sewing machines and solar driers they formed a group of about forty women. Not only has it brought them all together it has made them a very lucrative business. They thanked us for our help and gave me a very nice trouser suit in their colours. Their ambition now is to have a poultry business, selling chickens for meat. We will wait for the costings and think about it! One of our earliest projects in 2002 was a poultry business in Suware Kunda, north of the river. I understand on good authority that it is still going strong.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.