PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip February 2018 - Blog Posts
A Pageant team made its regular February visit to The Gambia. Pippa, Kathy and Andrew flew out on 1 February. They were joined later by Nick Taylor, who has been funding projects with thedonations he has been collecting for the past year or so. Andrew and then Pippa kept us up to date with regular posts on the . I have collected these posts as they were published onto this page so you can see them all in one place. Pippa added extra text and photos after her return, and for clarity these are added as extra sections after the appropriate post. Nick has promised to report back after his trip, and we will then put his news on the Pageant website.
Back in The Gambia
Pippa, Kathy and I are now back in The Gambia. I will be posting blogs throughout our stay and I hope you will enjoy reading them. As ever, the internet connection here can be patchy, so there may be a few days when I cannot post blogs. Rest assured, though I will catch up when possible.
1st and 2nd February
An early start saw us at Gatwick at 06.00. The plane left more or less on time and we had a very quick flight down to Banjul. We were helped along by the north wind that had been blowing in England that day and continued all the way down the Iberian Peninsula and into the west coast of Africa. It was a cool (by Gambian standards) 24 centigrade (75 Fahrenheit for those who prefer it), and all the Gambians we met on the first day were complaining about how cold it was!
We were met at the airport by our Gambian agents, Wandifa and Abdoulie, but this time no Yankuba. He has returned as a waiter at the Atlantic Hotel which has recently reopened after being closed for about two years and 'refurbished'. We will of course see him when he is not working, but it will be strange that he won't be with us all the time.
Off to the hotel to settle in, unpack and have our first Julbrew. We followed this with a good meal in the hotel restaurant and then an early night.
After breakfast on Friday morning we were picked up by Abdoulie and Wandifa and headed off to Gambia College in Brikama to sort out the details for the two microscopy workshops we will be giving next week.
En route we stopped to buy some honey. The National Beekeepers' Association of The Gambia have a roadside stall where they sell local honey. It really is the most intensely flavoured honey I have ever tasted. I suppose it must reflect the different nectar of the wide variety of Gambian flora. We bought bottles for friends in The Gambia and a few bottles to take home.
At Gambia College we met Nakulang Ceesay, Head of Science to arrange the details for the workshops. We will be having the same excellent laboratory as last year. We are also hoping that the Science Club will clean it to the same high standard as last year. We also finalised and paid for the catering for the breakfast and lunch we will have provided.
We followed this with a short visit to Baba, Wandifa's brother whose sponsor had some gifts for him, and then to Fatoumata's compound who is hoping to go to nursing school later this year.
We finished our day's outing by going to Karamba's compound. Karamba is going to the Hotel School in the summer to undertake a three year course to become a professional chef. He told us he helps with the family cooking, something quite unusual among Gambian men! We spent some time discussing cooking, including how to cook the perfect fried egg and make the best fried egg sandwich!
Back then to the hotel. This evening we are meeting Linda and going to Mama's restaurant to have their wonderful fish buffet.
3 February - Markets and Sponsorship
We went to Mama's last night for dinner. The fish buffet was excellent with a wide variety of fish and shellfish along with salads, rice and rosti potatoes. The centrepiece was a whole ladyfish. The ladyfish is probably the best known and loved fish in The Gambia, but like most largish fish is rarely seen cooked whole, so for food lovers here is a picture of the one we had last night.
On Saturday morning our first port of call was Royal Albert Market in Banjul. Pippa, Kathy and I went to a stall that sold traditional Gambian cooking pots and pans. We were looking for a wedding gift for Yankuba and Fatou. Yankuba is of course one of our Pageant agents and as a student was sponsored by Pippa and Ian. Fatou was our sponsored student and was one of the first to be sponsored under the Pageant scheme.
We bought them two cooking pots and a pan and at the same time bought some more from money donated to Pageant under the ethical gifts scheme. We will give these to families much in need of them. While we were doing that, Wandifa and Abdoulie went off to buy some mosquito nets and buckets, again from money donated under the ethical gifts scheme.
We then visited a number of compounds in Banjul to see students and their families and give out sponsorship money. We had already received most of the student letters to sponsors and also many school reports the day before as Wandifa and Abdoulie had collected them early for us to look over. While parked outside one compound a large flock of vultures arrived on a neighbouring rooftop and we thought you might like to see a photo of some.
We had a brief visit from Modou Jeng, a sponsored medical student who is now nearing the end of his studies. He is very excited at becoming a doctor in the Gambia.
Heading out of Banjul we stopped to buy some 'ethical gifts' watering cans and then visited a few more compounds to see students and pay out more sponsorship money.
On the way back to the hotel in the late afternoon we passed a shop selling small chairs suitable for nursery or lower basic school children. We had tried to buy some of these in November but the deal had fallen through when the shop holder unexpectedly put the price up after agreeing a sum. Wandifa negotiated a good price for 40 chairs of good quality which will be sent to Yundum Barracks School.
Tonight is a quiet night at the hotel before hopefully visiting our sponsored students and friends tomorrow.
4 February - Family Compounds
As it was Sunday we decided it would be good to visit families we knew and sponsored children, past and present. The weather has improved back to the usual Gambian sunshine and warmth. Not too hot with a gentle breeze. The cold North wind has stopped much to everybody's relief.
First stop was to visit Lang, a lovely teenager who will be taking his GCE exams (yes UK ones) in the summer. He says that he likes science and also reading any books he can get his hands on.
On to Ebrima's compound where we met him and Fatou, who despite being recently married to Yankuba, goes every day to cook for Ebrima and Ebe as well as Fatoumatta who has a 4 year old lovely daughter, Isatou. Ebrima's barber's business is doing well but at the expense of his garden which was only just getting going. We had hoped to see Yankuba and Fatou together but he had been called in to work on his day off. Several sponsored students arrived while we were there and were paid their money. The word goes around very quickly that Pippa is visiting, almost magically fast.
A short drive took us to Abdoulie and Aminata's compound. Their new baby, Isatou had grown considerably since we saw her last November and enjoyed being cuddled.
Abdoulie's orange tree was doing well and his nephew Ousman climbed the tree and Abdoulie deftly caught the oranges for us all to enjoy. If you haven;t had the blissful experience of Gambian oranges on a hot day, they are very juicy but full of pips and they are peeled with a knife and sliced in half. You then suck out the juice and feed the shells to the goats. Meanwhile Pippa had given sheets of paper and colouring pencils to all of the many children who had appeared. This amazingly produced a ten minutes of peace as they all worked on drawing something for her. All the pictures were really good efforts and the children greatly enjoyed showing them to her.
Our final visit of the day was to Wandifa and Mariama's compound which is not far from Abdoulie's. It is a lovely area with some fantastic trees and a very calming atmosphere. We were surprised and pleased to see that the mango tree that was diseased last year had recovered completely. An even larger number of sponsored children arrived with reports and some with letters for their sponsors. Sponsorship monies were duly given out.
Back to the hotel after a good relaxing day. Tomorrow will be different as we are intending to go upcountry to Soma to visit Pakalinding and Misera schools. This will be an early 6.00 start and a long day.
5 February - Upcountry
We had decided to go upcountry to visit schools and compounds around Soma, and also to visit Wandifa's sister Wontu. Soma is about 2.5 hours' drive with good traffic and for the most part is a good road. We made good time despite many stops at police check points and arrived in Soma just before 9.00am where we bought breakfast of freshly cooked omelettes in baguettes (Tapa Lapa)
Our first visit was to Misera Basic Cycle School, which is a literal stone's throw from the Senegal border, where we met the principal Mr Modu Faye. In November we had agreed a project to render the perimeter wall which Pageant had funded in 2017. The rendering of the wall is almost complete and the builders have done a first class job. When it has been finished the wall will be decorated with educational art by a teacher.
We were pleased to tell Mr Faye that we had agreed tp the project to build a technical workshop on the school site. It will be used by the school for woodwork, metalwork and home science, and will be available for use by the local community outside school hours. As soon as decorating the school wall has finished we will give him some of the money to start that project.
We were also shown the school garden which was being worked by students at the time. We were able to see lettuces, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, aubergine, okra and sorrel growing. Most of these will be used in the school kitchens but any spare will be given to the students to take home. The garden was looking good but regular and frequent watering is essential. The school has pumped water from the village borehole to a nearby tap but the supply is sporadic. At the time we were there was no water to the tap so students were carrying water in the traditional way for almost 1 kilometre - see photos below.
We went to Soma health centre to give some small hats suitable for premature and newborn babies which had been handknitted by a pageant member. We were fortunate enough to be allowed to visit the postnatal ward and personally give a couple of hats to newborn babies.
We then took a short drive to Pakalinding first to visit a student's family to pay sponsorship, then to the upper basic school there. When we were last over in November the school grounds were very scruffy with lots of litter. We had suggested it would give students a sense of pride in their school if it could be tidied up. Clearly the advice had been taken and we were pleased to see how much better the school grounds looked.
We looked at the refurbished staff room which was a pageant project. The contractors had done an excellent job, with a very good suspended ceiling and floor tiling. It is now well fitted out with tables and chairs brought over in the pageant container load last autumn.
The school has a new project it would like us to consider funding. It has a solid boundary wall going ¾ of the perimeter but the fourth side is just a wire fence in a bad state of repair that is broken in parts and leads straight onto a road. This meant that animals were able to get into the school grounds and cause damage. The school would like to build the fourth wall, which would be about 100metres long. They gave us an estimate for the work which we will consider when back in the UK.
On then to Mariama's (Wandifa's wife) family compound in Sankuya. We were delighted to be able to give ethical gifts to the very poor community there, including buckets and watering cans for the gardens and a good number of mosquito nets. The community were overjoyed.
Our final visit of the day was to Kani Kunda to see Wontu and the compound. There are a number of sponsored students living there and we gave them their sponsored money. Two newly sponsored students were given their welcome pencil cases. We were surprised and delighted to be given lunch which was a Benechin with small fish cakes and dessert of fried doughnut-like pastries.
We then started the long journey back to the hotel with a brief comfort stop and a cold drink at Tendeba, a bird sanctuary right on the river. We arrived safely back at the hotel at 7.30pm.
6 & 7 February - Pageant Core Activities
We spent the two days undertaking some of the core activities of Pageant. A large number of visits to schools to check on projects completed, consider requests for new projects, visiting schools and compounds to pay sponsorship and catch up on news, and buy goods for projects and our workshops.
We went to Yundum Barracks Schools. We had arranged for Fansu to make for the school some tables and benches suitable for the younger Lower Basic students when we were over in November. These had been made to a very high standard: seating for 60 students around 10 tables for each of 2 classrooms. We had bought and delivered more than 40 chairs for nursery children at the weekend. These are in place in one classroom and we will be asking Fansu to make some small tables to go with them. We are buying some teaching and learning resources for the school and will be shipping them soon. We talked about how they can be used.
When we went to the school in November there was a large amount of litter in the grounds. We had bought the school some wheelie bins to help collect litter. The school certainly looked a lot better now, but we were asked if we could let them have a further three to help. We agreed to buy these. The school also has a temporary nursery classroom that it hopes to make into a permanent structure. They would like a concrete floor for it, as at the moment it is just on bare ground. An estimate will be provided and we will consider this.
We also went to Kotu Kala school to look at the new borehole we had funded in November. This had been completed and was working but there was still some safety work to be carried out. The electrics for the pump were exposed to the elements. hey need to be made safe and in a waterproof place to protect from the rain when it comes in the summer and of course they pose a risk to the children. We had provided the new borehole as the existing well had become contaminated from being too close to the toilets. A charity from Spain had bought the school a new 2,000 litre water storage tank, but we were concerned it was not safe because of the state of the tower that it sat on. The supporting timbers were rotten and some of the struts were buckled. Ebrima, the school's administrator said he would address these urgently. We will go back there before we leave.
Over the course of the two days we visited a number of schools to give out sponsorship and welcome gifts to newly sponsored children, and compounds to deliver sponsorship and just generally to have a good chin wag.
We went to Mr Abolly's stationers to buy some exercise books and to a builder's merchant to buy some wheelies for Yundum BS. A lot of activities over the two days that certainly took up our time.
(Editors note - In the previous post, Andrew posted a picture of the refurbished staff room at Pakalinding. He then remembered that back in November he had taken a photo of the room before it was refurbished. He has posted the 'before and after' photos on the blog, but I have decided to put the 'before' photo with the 'after' photo in the.)
8 February - Preparing for the microscopy workshops
On Friday 9th and Saturday 10th February we will be delivering our microscopy workshops to student teachers from Gambia College. These will take place at the University of The Gambia which is next door. The workshops will be delivered by Pippa, Kathy, Abdoulie, Wandifa and, we hope, Yankuba for at least part of the time, and me.
We spent the morning at the hotel unpacking the microscopes from their boxes and checking they worked. We were joined by Karamba (the young man referred to in an earlier blog who hopes to become a chef). We recognise that whilst Yankuba is working at the Atlantic Hotel he might not always be available to help deliver workshops, so we think it will be useful to give him some experience. We also put together the kits that go with the microscopes for the students to use.
That done, we went down to the University to unpack and get the laboratory ready. We were pleased to see that the lab had recently been very well decorated.
Once finished we headed back to the hotel, stopping off en route to give out some sponsorship monies. We were delighted to be given presents of three freshly picked grapefruits at one compound; and some oranges at another.
My next blog will cover the two workshops and I hope to have some good photos to show then.
9 & 10 February - Microscopy workshops
Friday and Saturday were spent carrying out the workshops we had planned for with Gambia College.
On each day we arrived promptly at the university in Brikama shortly before 8.00am. We had prepared the lab the day before so it was just necessary to unpack our stuff, lay out samples and be ready
Each workshop was given mostly to student teachers but we had a few lecturers from the college there too. Some of the students had already had some teaching experience; others had not. The workshops were given to 20 people each day. We had taken with us 20 small stereo microscopes and 10 larger transmitted light microscopes, with some kits boxes containing useful tools for preparing samples to look at and simple lenses and jewellers' loupes.
At the end of the workshops the 10 student teachers whom we judged to be the best overall would receive a kit containing a stereo microscope and tools to take with them to their first teaching post.
The first session on each day explained what equipment they had and how to us it. The teachers were shown how to use a simple magnifying lens, a jeweller's loupe (which was theirs to keep) and how to use the microscopes, including how to work out the area you can see, using simple measurements on graph paper.
We then stopped for breakfast which consisted of a sausage, onion and salad baguette or cold fried egg baguette and tea or coffee plus water.
After breakfast (at about 11.15) the teachers had about two hours to choose and look at samples. We had taken a number of samples with us including cheap and expensive tea in teabags, different types of fabric, flowers and leaves, insects, potatoes, onion and parsley and small electronic parts. The students were especially interested in the tea where they could see the cheap tea contained mostly stalks and the expensive tea was mostly large pieces of dried leaves. We found some brackish water in a puddle. The students were amazed to find that under the microscope they could see small mini-beasts darting around that were not visible to the naked eye.
Towards the end of the session the teachers were put into groups of 4 and asked to prepare a lesson for students from local schools and the college who were due to come after lunch.
After lesson preparation we stopped for lunch and prayers. On the first day lunch was fish benachin. This consists of savoury rice, baked fish and vegetables including cabbage, carrots and cassava and a tamarind sauce. On the second day we had chicken yassa which is plain boiled rice, spiced roasted chicken and a thick sauce containing roasted onions. On each day bottled water was provided.
The afternoon sessions went well, with all teachers coping well with the students. We had about 30 students each day, We could see much animated teaching with the students clearly engaged with using the equipment, which is the aim of the workshop.
After carefully packing up we returned to the hotel and now have the difficult decision as to which 10 teachers will receive microscopes and kits. We would love to be able to give them all a set.
11 & 12 February - Family visits and farewell
On Sunday we had a late start as we were all tired after two long days doing the workshops. We had planned to visit Yankuba and Fatou at their house to give them a wedding present and then we were invited to lunch at Fatou Lisa Janneh's family compound where Alaghie lives. He is the recipient of the Ian Howard memorial award and is a bright and engaging young boy.
The day was very hot with a strong wind. The weather has been cold for the time of year, by Gambian standards, with strong winds and often days with cloud and even some light rain. It was good to sit inside out of the sun today however, which seems odd as it is lovely to see such sunshine in February. We see that the weather in the UK is quite cold and are not looking forward to that at all!
Before leaving the hotel we brought the blog up to date and Pippa and Kathy looked through the list of student teachers attending the workshop to decide who should have the microscope kits when they go out teaching.
So firstly, to Yankuba and Fatou. We had bought them some cooking pots and dishes and personal gifts which they really appreciated. We had also bought two iced fruit cakes and made a tier with a wedding topper for them to cut the 'wedding' cake, explaining that it was traditional in the UK. This photo shows the happy couple.
We then drove to Fatou Lisa's family compound to be met by Alaghie and his sisters as well as his parents. We had cooked a marvellous lunch of chicken benachin and also chicken domada. The benachin was really superb and we had a great time chatting and laughing with the family. When we had seen them last February Alaghie had quietly asked whether we could bring him a football. Like most 11-year olds he was mad about football and a Chelsea supporter. He has a wide knowledge about the Premier League teams and their top players and would like to be a professional footballer when he grows up. If that isn't possible then, at the moment, he would like to be a bank manager! His favourite subjects at school are Maths and English. We had taken him a football and he was delighted with it. He was playing in the local competition semi-finals later that afternoon and was confident they would win.
We got back to the hotel at 4.30 in time for a swim and lie in the sun before meeting Linda at Luigi's for dinner.
On Monday Kathy stayed at the hotel for a bit of a rest (she has to go back to work on Wednesday) so Pippa and I went out. We went back to Kotu Kala school and were pleased to see that most of the electrical safety work has been done. All that needs to be done is to make the box in which the equipment sits watertight. A simple job 5 minute job with a tube of flexible sealant to fill up the hole where the cable goes. Ebrima, the school's administrator has the other job of making the water tower safe in hand. It is quite a big job as the tank has to be drained and removed from the tower. He is planning to have it done at the end of February.
Pippa and I spent the rest of the day going round schools and compounds paying sponsorship monies and taking photos of those students and of some who are seeking sponsors.
Kathy and I are now back in the UK after an uneventful flight back. I have enjoyed writing this blog and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.
I hope to see as many as possible of you at the PAGEANT AGM on Sunday March 4th.
Best wishes, Andrew
13 February - Goodbye Andrew and Kathy
Many thanks to Andrew for his posts bringing us all the news from The Gambia. Pippa has now taken over the reporting role,
and hopes to send daily updates by email, which I (Dave) will then post on the blog. Unfortunately, there probably won't
be any photos until Pippa gets back.
"Andrew and Kathy returned home yesterday - very sad to see them go, we have worked hard but have had a lot of laughs along the way.
On our way to the airport Abdoulie received a phone call telling him that a family brother had just passed away after a long illness, while staying in southern Senegal. The burial was to be in Senegal later that same day, so Abdoulie set off very soon after we arrived at the airport in order to get there in time. We had checked with Jereh, our long-standing relief driver, and he was able to come to the airport to collect Wandifa and me. We waited for the incoming flight to arrive, saw Andrew and Kathy go through immigration, and set off to see some families and pay out sponsorship in the Bakau area.
Wandifa is due to be arriving with Jereh at 9am this morning and we hope to "do" the southern part of the coastal region today.
I'll try to report on that tomorrow, internet permitting."
Text and photos added later
We suddenly had a visit of a very large number of the white egrets who feed in and around the hotel - something must have startled them, as several hundred of them flew up and roosted in the palm trees in the hotel garden. An amazing sight...
Whilst at the airport waiting to see Andrew and Kathy off to UK, we realised that Abdoulie was in the process of gradually cutting off his hair (a few locks every day or so), so we felt we should record what was left before it all disappeared. Abdoulie has been growing his hair ever since we first met him, so this is quite a decision on his part!
14 February - Brikama & the South
Wandifa and Jereh arrived a little later than planned as Wandifa had forgotten the money he had changed for me the previous evening and they had to go back for it!
We decided to start in Brikama and do our southern round trip from there, leaving out Banyaka as Jerry's car is not good at coping with 'too much of sand'.
We visited twelve family compounds in all and in many of them we were given a bag of oranges. It is an amazingly good orange crop this year and we passed many orange orchards where the trees were almost completely golden with fruit, really beautiful. I think I must have had my vitamin C intake for the year! Wandifa and Jereh assured me that all would be eagerly consumed by the children in their compounds when they returned home, and the goats would eat the remains, so nothing would be wasted.
We arrived back at the hotel mid afternoon and Jereh agreed to come and collect me in the evening to take me to dinner with David and Jenny, two Pageant members who have just arrived out here and are staying at the Kairaba hotel. It was only when I sat down to dinner in the restaurant and looked at the beautifully decorated menu that I realised it was Valentine's Day!
Nick Taylor also joined us for dinner - you may remember that he has been fund raising for a Gambian project for some time and this was his last evening, following what had obviously been a very rewarding week. He will be sending us a report after he gets back to UK.
I hope that Abdoulie will be back with us today, but will not know until whichever car it is arrives....... to be continued tomorrow.
15 February - A short day
Quite a short day today, prior to our early start for the North Bank tomorrow. We visited a couple of schools to check on particular students, gave a pencil case plus associated school materials to a newly sponsored girl and paid out sponsorship to several of the more local families.
Jereh was driving for us again (Abdoulie did not return until late afternoon today) and we were back in the hotel at around 2.30pm. This meant that, having sorted out some more money with Wandifa, I spent nearly three hours lying very lazily in the shade of a palm tree beside the pool! Very pleasant, but I would not want to do that every day.... however, once in a while is truly delightful.
I had a very early dinner with Linda at Luigi's and am now just about to go to bed at the amazingly early time of 9.30pm!
Wandifa and Abdoulie are due to arrive at 5am tomorrow, so that we can catch the first ferry - however, as several of you will know, that does not always go according to plan. Fingers crossed......
Text and photos added later
These were days of school and family visits - lots of photos of children, amongst which is this one of a newly sponsored girl, holding her 'welcome to Pageant' gift. As she is in Grade 7 (Junior Secondary school) we gave her a pencil case with the basic pens, pencils, ribber, sharpener etc for school, plus a simple calculator, a geometry set and a small English dictionary. This ensures that she has the basic materials to help her in her school work - it is always a very popular gift.
16 February - North Bank
Success!! Wandifa and Abdoulie arrived almost on time and we made the first ferry with several minutes to spare. It seems to leave earlier each time we go - we left Banjul at 6.05am. We were fortunate to be travelling on the new ferry, Kunta Kinteh, which is considerably larger than the older ferries and coped with the really choppy water conditions pretty well. Even so, it was definitely a "wet ride" for those at the front, as the spray was quite impressive. Some of our members would have found it less than comfortable.....
We arrived at Barra while it was still dark and negotiating the roadway to the taxi was a little adventure of its own. I was pleased I had taken my torch. I was also very pleased to find that our trusty north bank driver, Alieu, was to be driving himself - many of the drivers over there drive incredibly fast over the very rough roads, which can be quite terrifying at times.
Our first stop was at a compound in Barra itself, where we have two sponsored children. Mary, who has only recently joined Pageant and become a sponsor, had sent a collection of very thoughtful gifts for "her" young boy and his family: two mosquito nets, a cooking pot & serving bowl, three small buckets for carrying water to the garden and a watering can.... and a football for Sherrifu himself. To say that the family members were delighted would be an understatement. Even though it was still so early in the morning (the sun was just rising while we were there) the two sponsored children were dressed ready for school and all the other children and adults came out into the compound, exclaiming with wonder and gratitude for their good fortune. Thank you so much, Mary, it was a wonderful start to the day.
We then set off for the long and bumpy ride down to Albreda, where Wandifa's brother and family live. We picked up a sack of rice along the way, a gift for Bakary from Andrew & Kathy, and bounced off down the dusty red road. We were early enough to see several groups of monkeys playing in the grass at the side of the road, some of them with babies - always a lovely sight.
Our first stop in Albreda was at the local primary school, at which we have done several projects. There is a new head teacher at the school now, but we did not meet him as he was at the regional office in Kerewan. We were greeted by the deputy, who we have known for some time, and went to inspect the new tap, sink unit and work surface in the kitchen. It looked pretty good in general, but we spent some time peeling off the protective blue plastic layer from the stainless steel, which had been left on the draining board surface and was now ingrained with soap and sand! We explained about the need for cleanliness and how easy the steel itself would be to clean - and that the blue plastic was only for protection during transportation. It looked a lot better after our ministrations, as everyone agreed.
The deputy had spoken to his headmaster on the phone, who had agreed that we could go ahead and deal with him regarding the next project, already approved, which is to be a small, two cubicle toilet facility for the female staff. We have planned to provide a small block of living quarters for the female teachers, so these toilets will be for them. We left the money for them with the deputy and Wandifa will go back to check on them when they are completed. If all is OK we will then proceed with funding the living quarters.
Next to see Bakary and family. They all seemed well and were very pleased to receive the rice. We had a discussion with Bakary about second wives.... he said that he needs a second wife to collect more water for him, but that Ida, his current wife, is not keen on the idea! He asked me if I agreed with Ida and I replied that I certainly did. This is a very good example of a Gambian joke, as he certainly has no intention of taking a second wife!
Having left the family still discussing wives, we went to the little cafe beside the river for a drink before returning to Barra.
So far, so good... we arrived back at the ferry port at just after 12noon. Amazing, we said, we will be back in Banjul in time for two o'clock prayers. But no, the ferry "had a little problem" and it was stuck over in Banjul for some considerable time. The queue got longer, the day got hotter and the small kids were crying. We peeled our remaining oranges, passed some round and ate some ourselves...still no ferry. At last, after a wait of two and a half hours, it arrived, absolutely crammed with foot passengers and vehicles. We eventually boarded and had a much calmer voyage back to Banjul, arriving just before 4pm. The tide was by now very low and they said that it would not be able to leave the port again until after 6pm, so I guess we were lucky we got back as well as we did!
Back to the hotel, where I managed a short nap before getting ready to go out to dinner with David and Jenny to Mama's for their wonderful fish buffet - sorry you couldn't be with us, Andrew!
Text and photos added later
Our trip to the North Bank.... this started very early in the morning, as you may remember. (I remember it vividly!) It was so early that this photo of the family with the delightful gifts from one of our sponsors had to be taken in the pitch darkness in the compound outside the house. No electricity in Barra, which makes for wonderful star-gazing, but is not so good for even flash photography.
Later that moring we visited Albreda LBS and saw the tap, sink and work surface that had been installed in the kitchen. We suggested that the sinks and draining board could do with a bit more support - it was sagging a bit without any water in it(!) so they will put another support in, either along the front or between the two basins. However, the tap works, the water flows freely and drains away back through the pipe in the wall to a soak-away outside, so that was all good.
17 February - Microscope Kits for Upcountry Schools
The morning was spent at the hotel, where we (Wandifa, Abdoulie, Karamba and I) spent a considerable time organising and packing our remaining microscopes and associated materials into quite generous kits for four schools. We were able to give each school a total of nine microscopes, each set containing three different types, so these schools will be very lucky.
We spread out all our stuff over a large portion of the hotel lobby and attracted interested questions from quite a few of the guests. The hotel staff are very good about the chaos we cause....
We were almost finished when Modou, our delightful medical student and a couple of Pageant members, Kate and Diane, arrived to see us. Modou had come to collect what will be his final sponsorship payment - next time we see him he should be Dr Jeng!
Kate and Diane had come for a coffee and to have a look round the hotel, with a view to possibly staying here next time they come to The Gambia. They left at around 2pm, after which I phoned Linda to suggest that she could bring the children of the Gambian family who live in her house for a play in the pool. I could hear their shrieks of delight over the phone!
They all arrived at about 4pm and, despite the breezy conditions, had a great time in the children's pool until nearly 6pm.
Just time to change and then go out for dinner with Linda at a very nice Indian restaurant called the Clay Oven. Quite a full day, really, considering it was supposed to be one of the quieter ones.
18 February - Independance Day
Sunday was Independence Day, so many Gambians were heading for Banjul where the main celebratory parade was to be held. We set off in the other direction, picking up David & Jenny en route to see Faks at Humanity Nursery in Farato, which is a little to the south of the airport.
This visit was mainly to see how our latest project there, a multi purpose hall to be used by both students and the village community, was progressing. The shell of the building has been built to a very high standard and I had no hesitation in paying the second portion of the money for it to be completed.
Following some discussions with regard to finance and school policy we travelled the short distance to the chicken farm, which is in Faks' compound. It has been enlarged considerably since our last visit there in November and now holds around 1,000 chickens. Egg production is good, with upwards of 18 trays of 30 eggs being collected and sold every day. This is now going a long way towards paying the salaries of the teachers, which is the main purpose of the whole enterprise.
This was David & Jenny's first experience of a Gambian school.... I did point out that this was starting at the top end of the range of schools they were likely to see!
We then spent some time in Faks' compound, giving out some of Esther's beautiful dresses to several little girls and chatting to two of the young women who had graduated from the Automotive Engineering Diploma a year or so ago.
We dropped David & Jenny back to their hotel after what they agreed had been a delightful Gambian Experience and I then spent the afternoon going through all the admin with Linda.
Having successfully completed that, we decided we deserved a dinner at Samba's Kitchen, so the carvery for Linda and a steak for me completed a very good day.
Text and photos added later
The work on the multi-purpose hall at Humanity nursery is going well - first the outside view, then from inside looking towards the existing school buildings.
These are some of Esther's beautiful little dresses (these were actually made by her Mum, I believe) - very popular with the little girls who were lucky enough to receive them.
The young women with them are two of the recently graduated Automotive Engineering students, still very happy to be working in the repair departments of some local garages. Fatou, on the left as you look at the photo, is the person who is in charge of the women's group associated with the mothers of the children in Humanity Nursery. She was pleased to tell me that the group is doing really well and that the money is now on its 4th iteration around the women. Well done to her and to all the ladies of the group.
19 February - Final Visits
Monday was announced as being a public holiday, so our original plans for school visits had to be changed.
We started off in Brikama, visiting the large hospital there to give out some beautifully knitted baby hats to the maternity wards. Then to the local market to buy some fertiliser for the gardens organised by the ladies in Wandifa & Abdoulie's compounds. These bags are extremely heavy and even Abdoulie could not lift them onto the top of the van unaided.
Next stop, Gambia College, to drop the list of prize-winners and some microscopes in to the Science department. Nakulang (head of science) had come in, even though it was a holiday, and was busily engaged in clearing out his office when we arrived. We discussed the workshops, which we all felt had gone well, and agreed that we hope we will be able to manage to do some Physics, Electronics and Chemistry as well next year.
Back via Abuko to drop off the fertiliser (the minivan was labouring a bit under the strain!) and then visits to a couple of old friends: Samba, an erstwhile sponsored student, who is now an Inspector in the Gambian Police; and finally Billy, who used to run the café near the Arch in Banjul, beloved of many Atlantic Hotel visitors.
We reached the hotel in time for me to have a last short sit in the sunshine... to be remembered with great fondness and not a little envy once I am back in UK tomorrow, I am sure!
I will add some photos to illustrate some of the past week's events once I am back in UK, so keep watching this space for a few more days...
Text and photos added later
These are some of the tiny babies who received the hats at Brikama hospital - more thanks to Esther. The youngest baby was 2 hours old, the oldest 2 days old! I was a little worried about disturbing the mothers so soon after delivery, but the nurse said they would like to have the hats... and the photos...
20 February - One Last Visit
On our way to the airport for my return trip to UK we managed to squeeze in one final visit. This was partly to get the estimate for a cement floor for the temporary classrooms that have been erected to cope with demand at the Yundum Barracks school - the one for the nursery is not quite finished yet, but the roof is expected to be completed next week. Another one, further down the school compound, has been completed and is for the overflow from the Lower and Upper Basic schools.
The other reason was to collect the stack of letters that the LBS children are writing to Jeannette Mars' Worldclass club atin Hampshire. The Gambian school, pupils and teachers, are really enthusiastic about this and the school has funded special T-shirts for the members of their club.
I posted the letters off to Jeannette on 22 February, so I am waiting to hear the reaction from her children.