PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip November 2018 - Blog Posts
A team from Pageant made their regular visit to The Gambia in November 2018. Pippa kept us up to date with posts on the. The internet can be intermittent in The Gambia, so Pippa is sent me text and photos, and I then posted to the blog from this end. So although the posts were marked as posted by DaveG, they were all Pippa's work. As usual, all the posts were collected together on this page so you can see them in one place.
Visit to The Gambia - November 2018
Pageant's regular November visit to the The Gambia is about to start. This year Pippa will be accompanied by David & Regina for the first two weeks and Carole will there almost as long. Andrew is unwell, so he and Kathy will be missing out this time. As usual, the Pageant team will be joined by our invaluable agents.
Pippa hopes to get upcountry and to the North Bank - she will decide on the schedule when she gets there. The first day will be spent going through all the school reports that have been handed in from last year and making out a rough itinerary for visiting schools and sponsored students. There are several school projects to see and others to start. The team will also be buying and distributing, as well as a host of other 'little' tasks. Pippa will also have initial talks about the to be held in February 2019.
Most people won't know that posting to a blog like this involves online editing. This can take some time, particularly if there are photos which need to be positioned in a neat arrangement with the text. Internet access in The Gambia can be intermittent, and if the connection fails while composing a post, lots of the hard work may get lost. The solution is for Pippa to compose the text as an email message off-line, attach any photos, and then hit 'send' when the internet is available. I will then turn this message into a blog post here, where things are more reliable.
We hope you enjoy following events during this visit.
Hurray, we've arrived safely...a good trip with no hassle re luggage at either end. One slight hiccup...no smiling agents waiting for us when we emerged from the baggage claim!!! I phoned Wandifa, to find that he was expecting us tomorrow!!! Linda had told him the wrong day..... So, we sat in the little cafe, with our heavily overloaded trolley beside us... and our two lovely guys arrived with the minibus in about twenty minutes.
We are now safely ensconced in our hotel, have had a very good dinner and have now retired to bed...at least, I'll be able to go to my bed when I can see it!!!
Day 1 – Admin & Yundum Barracks
This morning was largely spent doing the admin at the hotel.... checking reports, seeing who had not given theirs in, seeing what payments had been made and so on. Our Gambian guys have done a wonderful job, my list shows far more payments than spaces!!!
We then went off for a quick visit to the supermarket (at Westfield, for our Gambia-aware readers). We stocked up on water, a few stationery items, biscuits and soft drinks for some and a large pair of scissors - my nail scissors are not up to the task of removing our packing cling film! I suggested to our guys that they should each choose something for themselves... Wandifa and Abdoulie both chose milk powder, because fresh milk will not keep well in their climate, and Yankuba chose cornflakes.
Then, off to Yundum Barracks schools to deliver the Worldclass letters... very well received and the replies are promised to be done in time for me to bring them back to UK.
The headmaster also showed us the tables and chairs from our summer shipment, well in use by large numbers of children.
He was also excited to show us an initiative from the Education Ministry.... the foundations have been dug and materials have arrived for a new two storey classroom block, to be completed in time for next September.
We have found this sort of thing happening before...we start to help a school and then the Ministry seems to see this improvement and comes along with further assistance... wonderful!!
Back to the hotel...dinner at Samba's Kitchen this evening....
More about Worldclass -is a club for children at in Hampshire, which has been run since 2005 by Jeannette Mars. The school holds regular fundraising events to help children in a number of Gambian schools. Club members have penpals at these schools and regularly send and receive letters. See for more details.
Day 2: Bees, babies and Brikama
Our first stop today was at the bee keepers' area in the forest between the airport and Brikama. We were there, not just to buy honey as we have often done in the past, but to start the ball rolling on a proposed new project concerning training and education about bee keeping. One of our members keeps bees as a hobby and has kindly donated the considerable sum raised by his own honey sales to help the bee keepers of The Gambia.
We drove into the small area beside the 'honey shop' and were greeted by Isa and Bakary, both of whom were extremely knowledgeable and kind enough to spend some considerable time showing us around the area in which their hives are situated.
They also showed us some empty hives, described how they bait them with wax to entice the bees into them, explained the difference between the two types of hive used and told us about the training courses they offer when funds allow. They also told us about visits made by school children to see the bees.... altogether a very useful visit that made us feel we could do something really helpful with our 'honey money'.
Their boss is away on a trip at the moment, expected back on Monday, so we will go back next week to discuss finances with him and how best to help them.
Next, to Brikama hospital, to the maternity unit with some beautiful baby hats and blankets donated by various kind groups of ladies. These were very gratefully received by the nursing staff, who took us to meet some of the new mums and their tiny babies. We gave out several items ourselves and left the rest to be distributed by the nurses.
On through Brikama to do some family visiting, buying a couple of sacks of rice along the way - gifts from sponsors. One such family had a new member of the compound to show us...a baby goat, just 4 days old! So cute.....
On to Jambanjelly, more family visiting and catching up with old friends, always such a pleasure sitting under the trees, with loads of small children coming rather shyly (at first!) to see these strange visitors. Regina and I were both 'adopted' by a little girl and boy respectively, who were delighted to play 'Round and round the garden's and 'Insy winsy spider'... MANY times!!
We returned to the hotel using a new road that has been made from Jambanjelly to Sukuta. A really good road, with loads of roundabouts - however, the roads leading to the villages either side of the new road are still the usual sandy tracks, with just a few yards of tarmac leading from each exit!! Very Gambian...but the new road is excellent and made our journey home a lot shorter.
Back at the hotel, sorted out some payments to children who have suddenly produced their reports! Word gets round really quickly that we have arrived....
Day 3: Banking, Kotukala and some senior students
We started the day by going to 'pick' Linda so that she could come with me to the bank to complete the form-filling required by their new regulations. That all went very smoothly and we were out of the (blissfully cool) branch much sooner than I had anticipated.
The school had very good results during the past academic year, of which they are justifiably proud.
On to Kotukala school to check on the chairs we had sent them in our shipment. They are all in good use, so much so that we had to retrieve some of them that had been taken outside for an impromptu dance and drumming show for a group of UK visitors who arrived just after we did - they were taken back outside as soon as we had taken our photo.
Yankuba took aof the dancing, which we have uploaded to YouTube.
We then dropped Linda back home and went on to the maternity unit at the MRC clinic in Fajara. What a wonderful facility that is....bright, clean, spacious, really impressive. We left some baby hats, blankets and bootees with the senior nurse - no photos of the mums and babies allowed there, but the nurse obligingly posed for one instead!
Next, some visits to some senior students to try to sort out a few problems, with varying degrees of success...
While we were in that area we also called in to check the time of the Fajara Cemetery Remembrance Day service on Sunday, as Carole and I think we might go to that in this rather special year. Abdoulie is keen to drive us as he has never been himself.
By this time it was EXTREMELY hot, so we were rather pleased to have the excuse of 2pm Friday prayers to have an early finish!! The air conditioning in my room has never been more welcome....
Day 4... I think!!
Time is starting to take on that rather haphazard effect that it does in The Gambia...however, it is certainly Saturday as we have been doing a lot of family visiting today.
I do have a couple of photos for you all: the first one is the somewhat unusual lawn mower that has appeared at the hotel!
The second is a mystery fruit brought to us by Abdoulie... it grows on a climbing vine-type thing rather than on a tree and is about the size of an orange and a more yellowy colour when fully ripe. You eat the central part containing the seeds ...any suggestions?
Abdoulie would really like to know the English name for this, as he is often asked what it is.... I have added a third photo to show you the outer surface.
Day 5 Remembrance Sunday
Carole and I were collected by our three guys at 9.15am and were at theabout ten minutes later. Very early for the service but worth it to be able to wander past all the headstones in peace and quiet and then get a good seat in the shade. (Essential today as it has been around 36C... the hottest I can remember it in all the years I have been coming here.)
Not only Gambian headstones, but several other Commonwealth countries as well, Canada and Australia in particular. However, the most poignant one we found was Yankuba's namesake... amazing.
The service was very moving, all the armed services, police, scouts and so on being represented plus several war veterans from WW 2, one of whom was assisted to the memorial to enable him to lay the last wreath. It was organised by the staff of the British High Commission, but the great majority of participants and congregation were Gambians.
Our three guys were so pleased to have been able to come.. they said they would not have ventured to go on their own. We got them each a poppy to wear... they were really delighted with them.
After the ceremony we dropped Carole back to the hotel and then went on to do some family visiting. We finished quite early again as it is still SO hot...36C, feels like 46C according to the weather men!!!!!
Day 6 Monday in Banjul
Carole, Regina and I set off for Banjul this morning with our trusty trio... Regina was very keen to come as Ebrima, one of her sponsored children, lives there and is attending Albion LBS. One thing became very apparent as we drove into the city - the roads are still terrible, in places even worse than last year.
Rumour has it that there are some improvements happening somewhere, but we didn't see any!!!
We found Ebrima in school and he arrived in the headteacher's office looking slightly nervous...he was relieved to hear that he was not in trouble but was being invited to come swimming at our hotel on Friday.
We then went round several other schools, seeing and photographing the Pageant students and checking they were all in the right places and classes. At one school we found a group of students enthusiastically painting their names onto their T-shirts. They had cut their own stencils and were now applying the paint... obviously a popular class!
Albert Market was next... mosquito nets and buckets (ethical gifts) were purchased by our Gambians while we kept out of the way. No point in us being around as the prices will go sky high if we are... We went and chatted to the craft market traders who we have known for many years, with Carole coming away with some nice gifts to take home.
Next, on to the big hospital, which is still called the Royal Victoria by most people, even though it is officially called something far less colonial. We found our way up to the maternity wards, but were not permitted to present our gifts to the mothers in person. As at MRC, a senior nurse accepted them on their behalf.
We then went for a cold drink to Timeless, which used to be Billy's in the 'old days'. We made use of the large table there to spread out some drawings and discuss a new project, currently called the Pageant Power Hut (a solar energy project for students in a poor community, of which more details later) and to estimate the cost of the materials needed to build the first structure. The local knowledge of our three guys proves invaluable on this sort of occasion, I feel we now have a good idea of the outlay that will be needed.
Our last call was to the industrial area in Kanifing, where we bought some tools as a start of the equipment for our new woodwork, metalwork and home science building at Misera BCS. Some excellent haggling by Abdoulie in particular got the cost down considerably!!
Back at the hotel now...the electricity has just gone off as I am writing this, so no WiFi and no Aircon. I think I will go out and sit in the shade by the pool...
Day 7, back to Brikama... and bees...
Much cooler today, just 30C, which was very welcome as Brikama is always hotter than anywhere else in the Kombo region.
On the way towards Brikama, our first stop was a visit to one of our sponsored students. Her family has moved since I last visited them and their present house is down a very long and bumpy sandy track... imagine our surprise to find that their little village is called something so appropriate!
This family is one of the poorer ones that we visit, but always so welcoming. They have a small garden in which they grow kassava (for home consumption) and pumpkins that they sell in the market.
When we left, one of the older girls was pounding a mixture of onions and chillies to make a sauce for their lunch - very traditional.
As we left we were discussing our ethical gifts and to whom we might give them...Wandifa in particular thought that this was a very deserving family so we bought a 50Kg sack of rice while we were in the town and delivered in on our way home. The mum of the house was taking a shower when we got back to them...she was so thrilled with the gift that she dressed in her very best outfit for her photo with the rice.
Our next stop, in Brikama itself, was Gambia College where we needed to discuss the February 2019. Nakulang, head of science, had returned from his trip to upcountry schools and was in his office when we arrived. The decisions re dates, numbers of students were all going well until we called in James, the chief technician, to talk about room allocation. The rooms we wanted were probably going to be available but James told us that the really solid classroom tables that have been there in the past have now been exchanged for some chairs, each with their own small 'book rest', to enable more students to fit into the room.
Nakulang had not been aware of this change and he was not happy about it, to say the least!! He says that they will be able to get the tables back in there in time for our workshop...we will have to check up early in our February visit.
Then, a discussion with a senior student about his travel expenses and some more family visits... a day of cute baby goats, the first one a few weeks old, the other just a few hours old!
Last but not least, back to the beekeepers, where Seyaka, the senior man, was back from his trip. We had some lengthy discussions about training and introducing beekeeping to different people. He was very much in favour of school training and outlined a possible schedule and associated list of materials that would be required. To set one school up with ten hives, protective clothing and the other items needed to look after the hives, collect the honey and wax, bottle the honey and utilise the wax (in body cream, soap and candles) will cost in the region of £400.
Seyaka is going to present our proposal of a partnership, whereby the materials are provided by Pageant and the training expenses by the beekeepers association plus school community, to his board and will come back to us with their thoughts on the matter. A step forward, we felt, but we will have to wait and see.
A slightly later return to the hotel today as it was cooler, but not too late as we have a very early start tomorrow for an upcountry trip. We will probably be late back, so there may be a slight delay before the next blog posting....
Day 8: Upcountry trip
We (Carole, Abdoulie, Wandifa, Yankuba and I) set off a little after 6am, down the normally heavily congested, but now blissfully quiet, road to Brikama. Here we turned left to follow the main South Gambia highway to our destination of Soma and surrounding villages, roughly halfway down the length of the country.
It was a delightful journey...good road, villages just waking up for the day, forests and fields looking so green - and not too hot!! As it got towards 8am we passed hundreds of children walking to their schools, first in one direction and then, as you passed through the village, coming from the other direction. Then, several Km further on the process was repeated with different uniforms for the next school...and so on. As Carole said, it put a completely different slant to the idea of the school run!
We arrived atjust before 9am and met the newly appointed headmaster, Mr Ceesay in his office. The previous headmaster has taken a sabbatical to do a university course and Mr Ceesay, formerly his deputy, has been promoted in his absence. The new deputy, Mr Touray, was also there and proved to be extremely helpful regarding the main purpose of our visit. He is the head of technical education at the school and we were coming to see the new building that had been been erected since our last visit - the large woodwork, metalwork and home science classroom block.
They have done a very good job on this building and we were very pleased with it. We discussed the finishing touches that we agreed it needs... a tiled floor for the home science room plus a tiled worktop running the length of the shorter side of the room with spaces underneath for storage; a skim of really good quality concrete for the other two floors to withstand the hopefully heavy use it will get; shutters on the windows for security (two very nice ones have been fitted to the small office windows, so we agreed that similar ones should be made for those in the main rooms). We hope to get the estimates for this work during the next week.
We also discussed the gift of £500 for tools from Battle Rotary club. Mr Touray is coming to Serrekunda this coming weekend, so he hopes to have collected prioritised lists for the various subject teachers and it may be that we can go on a shopping trip with him! We had taken two tool boxes and a few handtools with us as a start for their collection, with which they were very pleased.
There were two requests for further projects - toilets and a staffroom - but we explained that we must finish the technical block before we can start on anything else.
All in all a very good visit... and as we left we passed the new building made to house the food vendors who come to the school to provide lunch for the children...
Our next stop was at Wandifa's old family compound in Kanikunda, to which we were taking a number of gifts. First, some hats and dresses made by some of our very kind donors...
.. and also mosquito nets and buckets for the families, bought as part of our ethical gifts scheme.
Next stop was Wonto's compound (Wonto is one of Wandifa's sisters, a truly lovely lady). We gave out some more gifts and Wonto gave us a large bunch of bananas and a huge bag of shelled and roasted peanuts. We sampled a few of the latter at her house and ate most of the bananas on our way home - delicious!!
Pakalinding UBS was next. We had gone to see how the very long wall, funded last year, had been done. It looks really good and we congratulated them on their excellent work.
At the very end of 'our' length of wall was an old section that is two blocks lower. The students have scraped out footholds in this section so that they can climb over and go out of the school unnoticed when they want to!! We agreed to fund the extra height on this section of wall and the filling in of the footholds, but I am not sure that this will stop them if they are determined!!
We did NOT agree to adding the height to the entirety of the old school wall, as this would be very expensive and the students do not seem to wish to escape over those parts of the wall!!! So far, at any rate...
We then discussed their proposal to make a long smooth pathway from their entrance to the centre of the furthest classroom block, to enable wheelchair access for several students who wish to enter the school but cannot do so as the terrain is extremely rocky. They have already provided an estimate for this, so we can discuss it at our next trustee's meeting.
A couple of our sponsored students are at that school, one of whom had only just given us his last year's report. We went on to his grandma's house to give her the money, for which she thanked us...one of her great granddaughters was there and she was delighted to receive a very pretty poncho made by one of our donors.
We had heard that the proposedwas nearing completion, so we felt that as we were only.a ten minute drive away it was worth going to have a look. For Pageant members who have accompanied me on previous trips, the bridge is at the place where the small ferry crosses to Farafenni. (Some people will no doubt remember the cow that jumped off the ferry into the river...)
All this will soon be a thing of the past as the bridge looks to be very close to achieving its advertised opening date of January 2019.
What a difference that will make.. there must have been fifty or so lorries queuing for the ferry when we were there, most of them Senagalese crossing The Gambia to get to the other part of their own country. The ferry only takes two at a time...need I say more?
(One of the cars coming off the ferry was of particular note, mainly due to what was on its luggage rack!!)
Our last stop was at the local hospital, once again to the maternity unit, with baby hats and bootees. This time we were allowed to go into the ward and give out some of the items ourselves...maybe because we have helped the nurse in charge in the past.
Finally, back into the minibus for the journey back to the hotel, stopping off at the Tendaba complex on our way. We had some cold drinks and a very welcome loo-stop!
A very good run home...until we got into the traffic at Brikama. From then on it was the normal crawl, taking so much longer than in the morning. Even so we were back in the hotel by 7.15pm...a good, if exhausting day!!
Our so grateful thanks go to our great Gambian guys, in particular to Abdoulie on this occasion, as his driving, in often extremely trying circumstances, was as immaculate as ever.
Day 9, Thursday, back in the Kombo
Today Regina and I were playing postman, delivering letters and gifts from sponsors to 'their' students. This is not always as easy as it sounds... the visit to one family took nearly an hour, across really terrible terrain and eventually driving down a narrow path through the scrub to end up in their back garden!! On our way we passed the huge sand and gravel pit from which most of such building materials are taken for the local housing projects.
Sadly, the heavy lorries that remove these materials have done terrible damage to the already poor roads in that area, so we were bouncing around in the minibus as Abdoulie fought to keep it on the track.
However, when we reached our destination, the father of the family was really so delighted to receive the gift of a sack of rice plus some cash that we felt it had been worth the effort.
In all we delivered two sacks of rice, nine letters and three cards with money enclosed. It doesn't sound a lot, but it really was a considerable effort!
I have taken a unilateral decision for us to have a day off tomorrow, so our guys can have a well earned rest... and so can I!!
Linda is due to be bringing the children of 'her' Gambian family to play in the hotel pool tomorrow afternoon and we hope another couple of sponsored children will be coming as well, so we won't be bored!
Day 10...lazy day!!
VERY lazy day, I have to confess!! I did a little personal laundry after breakfast and then sat beside Carole by the pool under the shade of an umbrella, reading and chatting, ALL morning!
At around 2.30pm Linda arrived with the four Gambian children who live in her house, followed by the girl who Carole sponsors and then our newly qualified DOCTOR Modou Jeng, who was bringing his little brother, sponsored by Regina and David... all to play in the hotel pool.
Unlike some of the hotels here, Sand Beach positively welcomes Gambian children, who are friends of its visitors, to come to see them and to use the pool, as long as they are both well behaved and well supervised.
The children all had a wonderful time... it was the first time for a couple of them to try swimming, but they did really well. Linda had brought four pairs of armbands and a rubber ring and I had managed to find an inflatable beach ball, so great fun was had by all.
We had great difficulty in getting them out of the water - bribery with chips and a drink proved to work, but even then several of them jumped back in again afterwards!!
Such a lovely afternoon. The last of them left just before 6pm, looking tired but happy... thank you, Sand Beach, for letting them have such a fantastic time.
Day 11, shopping!!
This was a real mega shopping day. You may remember thathad given Misera BCS £500 for tools - this was the day we were going to spend it!!
Modou Touray, the school's deputy, had arrived in Brikama yesterday evening and we had arranged to meet him at Westfield for the shopping expedition. £500 translates to D31,800, so we had split the money into three lots of D10,600 to be spent on each of the three technical areas - woodwork, metalwork and home science.
We started at a recently opened toolshop in Kanifing - wow, what a shop!!
We must have spent about an hour in there, buying a large proportion of both woodwork and metalwork tools. Modou, in the red check shirt, took the whole thing very seriously and went round all the display shelves and cabinets with his lists in his hand, choosing the best things for his students.
I had a good look round the displays myself, noting down some prices and making a couple of purchases. In the photos the prices are, of course, in dalasis - divide by 63.5 to get the current cost in £s.
Off to a second shop to get a few missing items, particularly the set squares.
This completed the woodwork and metalwork purchases, so we now went off to the shops in Serrekunda for the home science materials. The first shop we visited had a quantity of good quality cooking and serving items, which Modou preferred to the more traditional items used in most family compounds.
He said they would last longer and give the students a real sense of pride to be using them.
Lastly to one of the really traditional Gambian shops to buy fabric, thread, scissors and so on. I did not go into that shop with them, as the prices would have soared if I had been there.
By this time Modou had a large number of quite heavy cartons and one large bag, so we took him to the local equivalent of a UK bus station so that he could get them all into (or onto) some transport that would take him to Brikama. He will be staying there overnight before returning to Misera tomorrow.
A really satisfying experience... as Modou and our guys said, there is no other school in the whole region with such good equipment, so a huge thank you to Battle Rotary club.
This had taken us almost exactly four hours, so we had a quick visit to the Westfield supermarket to stock up on water and a few bits and pieces, and then returned to the hotel...see you tomorrow, one and all.
Day 12: Sunday, family visiting
Carole and I set off (not too early, our guys arrived with the minibus at about 10.15am) to do a load of family visiting today. We visited eight compounds in all, including 28 sponsored children - and a further 6 who were asking to go on to our webpage so that they might be lucky enough to be chosen for sponsorship themselves.
We cuddled a very new baby, took loads of photos, read stories, admired school work and discussed further education courses... a very happy and rewarding day, if rather exhausting!
It was Carole's last day here, so after our last visit we were dropped off at Calypso, a delightful bar and restaurant beside a lagoon at. We had arranged to meet Linda there... we were running a bit later than expected, so she was there before us and had managed to get a very good table right beside the lagoon.
A good vantage point, as there are 15 or so crocodiles living there, plus a wide variety of birds - a really lovely place to spend an hour or so at the end of a busy day.
In the photo, starting at the top, you can see: sky (grey today!), the north bank of The Gambia, the river estuary, a line of fishing boats beside and on the beach of the south bank, a swathe of reeds and the lagoon.
The water level is quite high at present, after the summer rain, so many of the crocodiles were lying with just their nostrils out of the water. However, we saw quite a number swimming quite lazily around....and at 5 o'clock, great excitement as one of the staff arrived with a bucket of fish for feeding time.
You can see Linda and Carole beside the guy with the bucket of fish...
Sadly, this was not a terribly good photo opportunity, as crocodiles snatch the fish and take them under the water to eat them! However, if you have faith and a good screen, you can just about see the one just right of centre of this photo with the fish in its mouth!!
(I have cropped the photo on the blog to show the crocodile more clearly.)
This was Carole's first visit to Calypso and she was delighted to have gone there - a good last day Gambian experience.
I will miss her when she returns to UK tomorrow...she has been a great travelling companion on many trips out and we have had a lot of laughs along the way. Thanks, Carole, do please come out with us again.
Day 13: Monday, pencil cases and sponsors' gifts...
...but first, we sadly had to say goodbye to Carole.. and very good she looked in a delightful dress made for her by a young man she used to sponsor.
(Sorry Carole, but even standing on a step did not bring you up to the height of our guys!!)
Then, off with Regina for a day of delivering filled pencil cases to some newly sponsored students and more gifts and letters to some who have been sponsored for some time.
As it was a school day we were not trying to find them at home, but in class. This is not always as easy as it sounds, due to the large number of classes in the same year group in many schools. As it is near the start of the school year we very seldom know the name of the class or class teacher and Gambian school records can be somewhat haphazard.
No two schools are the same. Some are large, with huge shady compounds...
...others are small with almost no outside space at all...
...but one thing they all have in common is quite large class sizes by our standards.
We did very well, delivering all our pencil cases and most of the remaining letters. Only those for the north bank are left, which we hope to deliver on Wednesday.
We also went back to the bee keepers for further discussions and bought several bars of their beeswax soap while we were there.
At D25 (about 40p) per bar it seemed very reasonable... I bought one each for the guys and me and they each bought another one for themselves.
Back to the hotel, David and Regina's last evening....and then there will only be one....
Day 14: Tuesday, farewell to David and Regina
We started rather later than usual, as this was the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet, which entails a lot of praying during the preceding night.
So our guys arrived at 1pm to take David and Regina to the airport for their flight home. The roads were blissfully quiet as it was a public holiday, so we made it in good time and escorted them into the departure area.
The guy in the front of the photo is Ansumana, the deaf mute and amazing mime artist, who always comes to greet us at the airport.
Having said our goodbyes we went off to Lamin, to find out about another bee keeping organisation called Africa BEECause, which also offers training opportunities to people all over The Gambia. It has been set up by a UK registered charity. You can, if you are interested.
It is a very lovely set up, located in the forest on the way to Lamin Lodge, and has around fifty hives in three different zones.
Most of the hives are the Kenyan type but they also have some grass ones, a large version of which is the one beside Modou, one of the training officers, in the second photo.
We discussed various aspects of training but could not get any final costing as the chief training officer was away at the time.
They were also kind enough to invite us to have lunch with them in the delightful setting outside their little office buildings.
.... and extremely delicious it was, too!!
Another enterprise is a small nursery of saplings for reforestation - all in all a very good visit.
We then went on to see Faks at... he has been in Holland until now, so it was a good opportunity to catch up with him before he went back to work.
The new multi-purpose hall that we have funded for the school is wonderful! It was completed about three months ago, in time for the new term, and is all we could have wished for and more...
Faks says it is not quite finished yet as he has a few additional touches to add, but it is in use for school meals, assemblies and the equivalent of PTA meetings.
We had a couple of other things to discuss with him, the first being a piece of large inspection equipment called a Mantis (which was in the microscopy lab at ERA) that we felt could be well utilised in his department at GTTI. He was really excited by this - I had taken some instruction leaflets with me and he examined them with great interest. We are going to deliver the Mantis to him on Friday and hope to get it installed during the morning.
The last item on the agenda was the proposed Pageant Power Hut, the brainchild of Andy, a former ERA colleague of mine. The aim is to provide a solar powered source of lighting for between fifty and a hundred students in a poor community and we felt that the prototype could not be better sited than with Faks, who is so community-minded himself.
The idea is to erect a small building, with solar panels on the roof and suitable electronics inside, to power enough connectors for lamps for every senior student in the community. Andy has designed the building and the electronic circuitry and the plan is for him to take the parts to make both the latter and the lamps out with him during a visit to The Gambia in February...... so this visit was to see if Faks was interested in the idea and, if so, where we could put the building.
I am pleased to say that he was as excited about the idea as our three agents had been been we first discussed it with them.
We went from the nursery school to his compound to see the proposed site... the photo shows Faks and our three guys each standing at a corner!!!
It will have to be built before the February visit, and we left sketches and plans of the building so that it can be ready for us when we arrive.
Andy's plan includes teaching the students to make their own lamps - Faks said the new hall would be perfect for that - so I think he is going to be busy!!
After what turned out to be quite a protracted visit we were rather late returning to the hotel...and we had an early start the next day. More of that later.....
Day 15: Wednesday, the North Bank
We have found from past experience that the first ferry goes ever earlier..it used to be 7am, then it went to 6.30am, then we missed one that had apparently gone at 6.15am!!
So, determined to catch it this time, we arranged for the guys to pick me up at 5.30am! And, they were on time...what a good start!!
On arriving in Banjul and parking the minivan, we found that a ferry had gone at 5am!! Not a regular one, we were told, but probably one for a special government visit.... To our relief, the normal "first ferry" appeared and left pretty well on the dot of 6.30am - perfect.
To the left of the ferry-docking part of the port was what appeared to be a large ship with all lights blazing. This (actually two ships joined together) is the Turkish power station that is currently (sorry about the pun...) supplying the great majority of the electricity in this region of The Gambia. It is on a two year contract and has greatly improved the power cut situation...the limiting factor is now some of the outdated wiring that will have to be replaced.
Sorry about the quality of the photo (my little phone is not too good at taking photos in the dark), I'll replace it with a better one from my camera when I get home.
We arrived in Barra at daybreak, a familiar sight to those who have travelled with me on earlier trips.
As we had arrived so wonderfully early we immediately travelled down the long, sandy, bumpy red road toand met the new headteacher there together with his deputy and another senior master. We were there to discuss a couple of projects; a toilet and shower block for female staff, completed since our last visit...
.. and an accommodation block, also for female staff. This school is very isolated, so staff accommodation is an urgent need.
The toilet and shower block appeared to have been done very nicely - two toilets on one side, two shower cubicles on the other.
No running water, of course...at present it is brought to the building in buckets but they plan to get a larger water storage tank nearby that they can fill it and use it as and when needed.
The original plan for the accommodation block was to renovate the old, very dilapidated kitchen building. However, the new headmaster has a different idea, and wishes to build a new block between the existing male staff quarters and the newly built toilets and showers. They will provide us with an estimate for this, to be discussed at a Trustees' meeting after I get home.
A quick visit to Bakary (Wandifa's brother) and family at their compound, to deliver a gift for one student and take some photos of others, was followed by a rather belated but delicious breakfast at the riverside cafe that we have visited before on so many trips.
Back up the aforementioned red road... I should tell you at this point that Abdoulie, having a rest from driving, had elected to spend the whole trip in the luggage compartment of the very rickety four wheel drive vehicle that we were using.
There was enough room in the body of the car, but he said he preferred to lie down there, and actually managed to sleep for quite a bit of the journey!! Many of you will know how impossible that sounds!
Back on the tarmac for a short while and then down another sandy track to a small school that the son of Alieu, our regular north bank driver, attends. I had promised Alieu that, if his son did well in his first year at Primary school, I would put him up on our website as a candidate for sponsorship....and he has done well, so his photo was duly taken and various necessary details noted down.
My last stop was at Barra-Essau UBS, to which four of our sponsored students have transferred this year. On our arrival we found that all Grade 7 students go in the afternoon, so our agents went off to their compounds to photograph them (and to chastise one of the fathers who had not produced the reports from last year!) while I stayed to talk to the delightful headmaster, who we have known for many years.
(Those of you who were at the microscopy workshop at his school several years ago will remember his consternation and amazement at seeing a tiny creature swimming in what was supposed to be clean water from the well!! He still has the book of photos from that workshop and it vividly reminded me of what was a lovely day.)
This very prestigious award was received just a few weeks ago by Barra-Essau UBS. They are the only north bank UBS to receive this award and the headteacher was kind enough to say that the teaching materials and instruction received from Pageant had been of great help in achieving it.
Back to the ferry port... and not too long to wait. We were back in Banjul not long after 2pm, the quickest we have ever done a north bank trip.
A couple of visits, one to Modou to give him the cash to buy the medical bits and pieces necessary for his houseman position at the hospital, the other to deliver the last of the gifts from sponsors.
Returned to the hotel by 3.30pm...to find that I had a visitor expected at around 5pm!! One of our headmasters, coming to greet me as he had missed me upcountry.
Just time for a shower and hair wash...one of the times when the floor of the shower looks like a beach when you have finished!
My visitor was, of course, late, but it was very nice to see him, even with wet hair..... (Me, not him!!)
Dinner with Linda at Luigi's completed what had been a busy and rather lengthy day... a day off tomorrow, I agreed with the guys...see you at 9.15am on Friday....
Day 16: Thursday, disgracefully lazy day....
Not completely hotel-bound, as Linda and I had decided to pay the bank a visit to find out why the promised internet access email had not materialised.
I took D20,000 with me to pay in, as the bank now requires activity in the account at least every six months. Good thing I did...having paid it in I returned to the very efficient woman we had seen on our previous visit to see what was the problem. She was surprised to hear that the email had not arrived...and even more surprised to find that the account had been "redormantised" (her term, I'm not sure if such a word exists but I know what she meant!)
As I told her, the teller had not had any problems with accepting my money into a dormant account!! She was not happy about the situation and said she would sort it out immediately..so we will wait and see.
Apart from that and a spot of laundry I have been sitting in the shade by the pool for most of the time. I HAVE got the blog up to date, which makes me feel slightly less guilty... and there has been a lot of activity by the hotel gardeners during the day. They have been weeding...a rather clover-like plant grows very strongly amongst the grass-like plants in the "lawn" (nothing new there!!) and it is all being firmly removed.
I could do with these gardeners at home!!
The sun has cooled down a lot now and it is quite breezy - very pleasant. However I am now sufficiently bored to be really looking forward to our day tomorrow - 9.15am start, mustn't be late...
See you then, everybody....
Day 17, Friday...Faks at GTTI
We started a little earlier than usual today, as we had made an appointment to see Faks in the Automotive Engineering Department of GTTI at 10am...one never knows how heavy the traffic is going to be these days. As it happened it was not too bad and we arrived about ten minutes early.
Just as well that we did as we hit a snag at the entrance - the security guy was not happy about the large crate we were taking in for Faks, so we had to wait until some sort of clearance had been obtained. Understandable... I felt he was fully justified in his cautious approach and he was, as Gambians usually are, very polite about it all.
We eventually arrived in Faks' office and began to unpack the Mantis (those of you who have been concentrating will remember that it is a large piece of inspection equipment!). It is based on a microscope with the optics arranged so that the image is focused on a viewing screen in front of the binocular eyepieces...this means that one does not have to actually look down the eyepieces themselves, which many people find quite difficult, but can just look at the screen.
It has a very deep field of view, so quite large objects can be held and moved around by hand while being examined at reasonably high magnification (x20 and x40).
We went to look at the location that Faks had decided upon for it and he found a sturdy table to which it could be firmly screwed down. These fixing screws are completely hidden once the Mantis is assembled so it is not at all obvious to see how to remove it ...a good point, we felt!
A class was being held in the chosen room, so we started to assemble it in the office and then paused for a welcome coffee break while waiting for the room to be cleared of students.
The final assembly complete, it was plugged in...and, success, it worked immediately!!
Not only did it work but Faks and the other teachers, whom had by now gathered round to see it, could use it instinctively. They brought several bits of engine and some circuit boards to examine and the smiles said it all. An immediate positive response... Faks was thrilled.
As we left he was in the process of finding some rawlplugs so that he could fix the table to the wall... I think he feels that other department heads might be rather envious!!
This all took quite a while so, after a brief visit to the Westfield supermarket, we set off to Kings Kid Academy for our last visit of the day. We had gone mainly to check up on and pay for one of our sponsored students - successfully - but did wonder if we might see Bishop Dennis, as we have not managed to connect with him for some time. However, he is once again out of the country....but Elisabeth, his wife, says she thinks he might be around in February.
Back to the hotel just in time for Friday prayers after a very successful morning.
Linda and I are going to Mama's for the fish buffet this evening and are being joined there by Pagent members Richard and Carol, who arrived last Tuesday. They stay at Ocean Bay, so it will be a good opportunity to catch up with them.
Day 18, Saturday with Carol and Richard
We collected Carol and Richard from Ocean Bay at about 10am and set off for the SOS maternity unit in Bakoteh. It is in the same 'strip' as the SOS schools that we have visited so frequently, but I have never been there before... I have to confess that I had not even realised that it was there.
Carol had some baby hats and little jackets, knitted by herself and a friend, and I had the last of the baby blankets and some more hats from the Southwater ladies.
We were shown into the office of the medical director, who very kindly decided he would show us around the unit himself and would make sure we found some babies!!
It is a really well run unit, with a considerable amount of equipment (and the expertise to use it) even though it is quite small by Gambian standards.
We did indeed find some babies and also met the senior midwife, as well as being shown the pre-labour ward and several other areas.
The unit has fairly recently invested in a large van that they have turned into a mobile clinic for outreach purposes. They have periodic trips upcountry, going right up as far as Basse, covering both sides of the river. Quite an undertaking...
We left the remaining goodies with the midwife...after the director had counted everything for his records. He said he likes numbers and to get them correct is a must!!
Having spent quite a long time there, we went on down through Serrekunda, with a couple of short stops along the way, to Musa Corr's house. Musa was a mainstay of the dining areas of the Atlantic Hotel for many years and was much missed when he went, first to run the Atlantic restaurant at the airport and now into full retirement. It was wonderful to see him and his lovely family and we stayed to chat for some little while.
Although retired, he is not sitting doing nothing! He and his wife have started a second hand carpet business...and he has a plan to open a small street coffee and tea place there, maybe with some small cakes!! I said we would certainly come as customers if he did so...
Back to Ocean Bay to drop off Carol and Richard and then return to Sand Beach. Wandifa and I went through all the paperwork once again..really, not many gaps at all.
Family visiting again tomorrow, including a couple of our women's groups, as I have some items to give out to them...so the minivan is due to be arriving at 10am. Goodness, the time has gone so fast...
Day 19, Sunday...a bit of a non-day...
Due to a not-very-good night because of a touch of Banjul belly, there was a change of plan for today.
I managed to sort out all the very good clothes that we had been going to distribute to two of our women's groups, but did not think it was a good idea to stray too far from the hotel.
This was reinforced by our guys when they arrived..go back to bed, they said firmly.
So I have stayed here all day while they distributed the clothes themselves.
Yankuba has taken some very cute photos but as yet I have not worked out how to access them from the tablet that I am using to write the blog....
I do have a few photos for you from the hotel...my walk to breakfast...
I do have a few photos for you from the hotel...my walk to breakfast...
...with the dining room being at the right hand side of the second photo... and one of the beautiful plants that grow here in the garden.
Hopefully all will be back to normal for tomorrow...
Day 20, Monday.... last day!!
Goodness, how the time has flown!
We started off at Yundum Barracks LBS to collect the letters for Jeannette's Worldclass children... all done and neatly packaged up. The teachers had discussed what would be the best way to spend the £100 donation from Worldclass and had decided on T-shirts. Some had been made for the original club members but numbers have increased dramatically so they need some more.
While we were there we discussed a proposed new library and also a Pageant Loan for the school's Mums' Club.
Next, back to the BEECause centre in Lamin. The local head of the enterprise had now returned from her travels and we had a very encouraging discussion about a possible project, which I hope will have the approval of our kind UK donor. While we were there, Abdoulie and Yankuba disappeared for a few minutes and came back with handfuls of small lemons from trees growing wild in the forest.
We agreed they would be excellent with the honey on pancakes... mmm, delicious!
Our last visit was to the SBEC International School, not to visit any children (it is one of the most expensive schools in The Gambia, way out of the reach of any of the Pageant students) but to see one of our erstwhile Practical Science Workshop student teachers, who has recently gained a position there and was keen to show us around. Very impressive buildings and sports facilities...
...and it was great to see Musa, so obviously proud to be teaching there.
He suggested that a couple of the science teachers there might be able to attend our next workshop, but I pointed out that this would be at the expense of two student teachers from Gambia College, which would probably not be a popular suggestion. I did say that it might be possible for us to do a morning session at the school, as we have done this at individual schools on a few previous occasions, and the suggestion was received with delight by both Musa and the Principal.
Back to the hotel and from there to Linda's for our customary marathon end-of-trip tallying up, of both the finances and the numbers of children and projects requiring payment before our next visit.
We decided we had earned a last dinner out, so repaired to Luigi's for a yummy pizza...and my last Julbrew of the trip!
I'm looking forward to the next one already....
Pippa and the rest of the Pageant team have returned to the UK, so the post above is the last for this trip. However, there might be a few more photos to add. If so we will put them on this page.