Tuesday, 17 April 2012

As in true Gambian style, well perhaps that’s a bit unfair, our trip to Banjul for our resident permits was cancelled at the last minute as the immigrations department had not received the vouchers from finance for us!! So another trip to the kombos beckons in the not too distant future.

However, Gambia has gone Taiwan crazy in the kombos. Gambian and Taiwanese flags strung up to every lamp post and cross roads. Pictures of President Jammeh and President Ma also attached to aforesaid lamp posts. Billboards welcoming President Ma to The Gambia prominently displayed along the main routes from the airport. You may wonder what this is all about. Well, President Ma made a state visit to The Gambia last week. Taiwan are investing millions, if not billions, into The Gambia and funding all sorts of educational and various other projects. One of which some VSO volunteers are working on, but that’s a whole other fiasco...sorry, story! I just happened to come out of a cafe onto Kairaba Avenue, think Great Western Road and you get the idea how busy it is, at 5pm to find it deserted. The road had been closed to traffic with police and army lining the street and telling people to keep back. Soon enough President Jammeh passed by accompanied by President Ma, standing up through the sun roof waving to those watching in the street. It took several minutes for the convoy to pass by. First we had the secret service, through whose open doors I glimpsed some AK47s lying on the back seat. Then came the press cars, fit to burst with TV cameras and photographers, followed by motorcycle outriders with President Jammeh behind. I got it on video, but it’s blink or miss it stuff. Look out for him dressed in his obligatory white! After the presidential convoy, came gellis full of APRC t-shirted occupants. I think every gelli in the kombos had been hired out just to follow him. The procession of these gellis must have lasted at least 5 minutes if not more.  It was quite a sight...not sure I could see many buses following Cameron on a state visit! Quite enough excitement for one day I think!

video


Now I am back to the hot of Basse....and boy is it hot up here! I left Banjul on the first ferry at 7am and got straight into a sept-plas at Barra.........7 hours later I arrived in Basse! The exciting news is that the tarmac road has now reached Basse, you’re not allowed to drive on it yet....but it’s come!!! No more bone rattling, head knocking dirt roads to contend with soon!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Well I managed to get back to Basse from the bush with only getting slightly lost. It was good to finally be able to visit schools on my own. The only problem was that as the Easter Holidays were looming there was not many lessons going on and the schools I visited were on end of term tests, but the less said about them the better!!

The holidays came early due to the parliamentary elections and the President declaring the Thursday of the election and the Friday after public holidays....not sure I can imagine Cameron doing that! Anyway, Basse had been going election rally crazy in the lead up. A lot of political rallies were being held, including a very significant one in the education offices. Basse was one of the few constituencies to be contested, the rest only having the ruling APRC candidate as the only candidate. In Basse, the local party’s choice and peoples’ favourite to be candidate for Basse was overruled by the President and the incumbent chosen instead. The  decided to run as an independent and there was a huge meeting at the education office to try and persuade him not to run. However, he decided to ignore this and run anyway. So Basse went election crazy with rallies and marches all over the place. Ultimately, he won so Basse is not in the hands of the ruling party anymore. Around my village, cheers came up from around the neighbouring compound when the results were announced. The elections results show was also very strange. No visual graphics or Swing-o-meter. Just various people sitting around a studio giving the results first in English, then Mandinka, then Wolof, then Fula and then in a further 3 languages!

The following Saturday, the winning candidate had a procession through Basse to say thank you to the people for electing him. It was quite surreal...first there were horses and donkeys, then motorcycles, then trucks and jeeps riding past with people cheering and waving. It was quite a sight, sadly I’d left my camera at home! A Gambian I’d been speaking to was asking how our candidates thanked us for electing them, he was quite surprised when I said we didn’t really celebrate like this. “Oh I suppose you write letters of congratulations to the candidate then!” he replied......I’m sure some people must. I don’t know any but there must be!!

Now it’s the holidays and I am down in kombos, relaxing by the beach and spending an absolute fortune. In the few days I’ve been here I’ve spent about as much as I do in a whole month in Basse!! First I must tell you about my journey down. Ok so Basse is only 2 or 3 hundred miles from the coast. Beth, a fellow volunteer in Janjanbureh, and I decided to travel together for the first time. I was to go to hers on Tuesday. I went to get the gelli at a reasonable time in the morning. Some might say stupidly, I got into an empty gelli to JJB. Others would probably say the same...I waited for 3 hours for the gelli to leave! They have no timetables and only leave when they are full, so the rule of thumb is never get into an empty gelli. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way! So I left my house about 8.30am and got to JJB (60 miles away) at about 2pm! The next day we were going to get the bus to the kombos. However, as we were walking towards the stop it drove past us, full to burst! Instead we got a sept-plas, the only way to travel in this country. They are estate cars with 3 extra seats squeezed into the boot. They ply the North Bank road, up and down from Barra to Basse. Barra is usually where the problems begin. This is the ferry terminal to Banjul. It can apparently be hit or miss. Beth and I were very lucky and arrived in Barra just as one had arrived so our crossing was very easy and problem free. Not sure that will happen again from the horror stories I’ve heard from others!

 Some of my fellow volunteers have been putting me up and it has been very nice coming from up-country into proper houses with running water. Although I am a bit better off that most up-country volunteers in that I do have a flush loo and shower, instead of a pit latrine and bucket shower. Still, very nice! Over the Easter weekend, we had a road trip down to Kartong in the south. Most of the volunteers in the Gambia went too. We stayed at the beautiful Boboi Lodge on the beach. With white, sandy, secluded beaches, it was stunning and very nice and relaxing. After a day on the beach, we had a wonderful buffet and finished off the night with a bonfire on the beach. Then off to sleep listening to the ocean.....Ah this is the life!!  On the way back the next day some of us stopped at Tangi, the local fishing village to buy some ladyfish! The beach was mobbed and the smell overwhelming. Not just of fish, but mixed with sewage. Not as nice a combination as you might think! Still, it was a place I’d wanted to go to for a while and was great to see a local industry in action. That night some of us had another camp fire on a beach and cooked the fish on a charcoal stove while we wrapped ourselves in blankets being buffeted by the wind!

Unfortunately, I have a few days left in Kombos before I go back to Basse, so more money to spend. Wednesday we are getting our residence permits to allow us to stay and work here. Take care, till next time! x