Thursday November 17th found me back in The Gambia again with four sewing machines and two solar dryers to deliver. It was very close to the elections and I thought this might affect my visit but as it turned out everything went smoothly – well almost! As I have mentioned before we can only use the government cars on weekends so we were up early and ready to go at 8.30 am on the first Saturday. We then got a phone call to say that there had been an accident and our pick-up had been damaged badly. There was nothing for it but to set out using private taxis. We were off to the North Bank to deliver four machines a hundred or so miles up the country. At the port we engaged a “push-push” to handle our overnight luggage and the machines on the ferry.
The push push
The crossing was fine but at the other side we had to negotiate a good price for the taxi to take us on the next part of our journey. The young man we engaged gave us a very good price and we set off. As we travelled the traffic on the road got less and less. Two hours later he said “Are we there yet?” It turned out that he had never been that far up country before. Another hour later we reached our first village where the women came out in force to greet us with waving branches, singing and lots of noise.
The village of No Kunda is very large and has two parts to it. Two of the machines were going to one half and two to the other. Altogether there were eighty compounds, probably housing more than 2,000 people. Many hundreds of men have left there to go to Europe and the village is top heavy with women.
We were shown three live chickens which were to be our dinner and then we did the handing over of the machines.
The peanut harvest
We told them we had to leave at three o’clock and we put out the machines ready but still nobody came. In the end they arrived at three, we had a short handing over, had another chicken dinner and then we left.
Villages in this area on the North Bank are very different to those on the South. There are very few cars. Men and boys ride horses or mules and yoked oxen carry people and goods around. There are no large towns near-by so the people have to be mainly self- sufficient.
As I said at the beginning it was election time and there was a very large opposition rally taking place on the North Bank near the port. We wanted to leave early because hundreds of people would be coming home across the river. Our driver had agreed to stay with us so we didn’t have to find a taxi back. (It would have been extremely difficult) Unfortunately we hadn’t gone more than twenty miles when the car broke down. There was nothing at all on the road but after a while an empty bush taxi came along. They kindly towed us to a man they knew who temporarily fixed it. We were so relieved, as we were aiming to get on the 7 o’clock ferry. At 6.50 we arrived at the port and saw the ferry pulling away. It was packed so they had set off early. We had to wait until it had gone and come back, two hours later. Ten-thirty saw us home rather exhausted and happy to be there.
Later in the week we went to visit the women’s garden in Marrakisa where we had given them three dryers a few years ago. We found two old ladies digging up sweet potatoes. The women there had decided to plant hundreds of these through the rainy season before the main planting of vegetables were sown. Unfortunately the rains were very poor and stopped completely at the beginning of October instead of at the end. They were throwing away most of the crop.
Our destination was Janoi, just outside Soma. The people we were staying with were so kind and helpful and the handing over went very well. Other women from far away villages kept turning up begging for dryers for their village. One lady told us they had been trying to track us down for two years. When Sarjo told her that we had a long waiting list she burst into tears.
We were staying the night in the Lady President’s compound so had plenty of time to look around their garden. It was very impressive with so many people, young and old, doing the watering and weeding.
Working in the garden
When I go out next time I have promised to bring the Women’s group two electric machines as they have electricity there.
Unfortunately, the dryer on the roof got damaged on route from an overhanging branch. Even though Soma is the largest town for miles it took a lot of looking before we found some tape to patch up the hole.
Late morning we arrived in Jom-Kunda, a village close to Kayabor, Sarjo’s village. As we arrived there was a large crowd of children holding flags by the side of the road. We wondered what was going on until we realised that it was our welcome. They sang a song of welcome and one of the pupils made a very nice speech. This was a Saturday afternoon and the children had been waiting all morning for us to come. They stayed all through the afternoon and danced with us after the handing over ceremony.
The school was opposite the celebration so I went with the teachers to look at it. I was shocked to see how basic it was. The furniture was falling to bits, there was hardly anything on the walls and no books were to be seen. I promised to help them out with some basic materials next time I come. They had put on a disco for us so we had a few dances and left them all enjoying themselves. The staff and children were so delightful I am looking forward to seeing them again next time.
This is about it. I intend to go again in March but am waiting to see what happens after the 19th January when the President should be stepping down. Let’s hope all goes well.
Sarjo is still working hard for the Charity. Our work is in great demand as more people now have mobile phones. Abi, Ousman, Dawda and the new daughter, Sheira, are all well.
The family, and Sarjo
Thank you for interest,
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.