PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip February 2020 - Blog Posts
A Pageant team are visiting The Gambia in February 2020. Pippa, Kathy and Andrew will be making their regular visit, joined by physics teacher Joe Brock for Pageant'sat Gambia College. Pippa, Kathy and Wandifa will be running microscopy workshops, and Joe, Andrew, Yankuba and Abdoulie will be running physics workshops.
As well as the workshops, the team will make their usual visits to students and their families to catch up with them and pay sponsorship monies. They will also be visiting schools to look at completed and part completed projects and to consider new projects.
Andrew will be keeping us up to date with regular posts on. (Don't be confused if the posts seem to be from Kathy. Andrew is using her login) These posts will be copied into this summary page, with a minimal amount of editing.
Arrival & Yundum
Tuesday 4 February - Arrival
In the past we had always travelled to the Gambia with Thomas Cook Airlines but after their collapse we had to find an alternative airline. Whilst there is another airline that flies direct to the Gambia from the UK it is considerably more expensive and is restrictive on the amount of baggage you can take. After research we decided to travel with TAP Portugal which flew London to Lisbon and then a connecting flight to Banjul.
This was considerably cheaper than flying direct and had the advantage of allowing us to take a large amount of baggage, so armed with three very large suitcases crammed to capacity and three large carefully packaged boxes containing 30 microscopes and kit for the physics workshops we headed for the airport.
We dropped the bags off on Tuesday morning even though our flight was later in the afternoon. We had a very good flight which landed on time in Lisbon giving us plenty of time to catch the connecting flight. The planes had plenty of legroom and were comfortable. Everything went very smoothly and whilst other airlines are available, I would be quite happy to recommend this airline and route. We landed on time at 01.10 Wed morning and amazingly our luggage was first off the plane so we were able to get away quickly!
At the moment the terminal building at Banjul airport is chaotic due to the construction work there and people meeting travellers are not allowed inside the building. However, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba were waiting for us outside and transported us to the hotel in the recently acquired PAGEANT mpv. We arrived at the hotel just before 02.30 and staggered off to bed.
Wednesday 5 February - Yundum
After a late breakfast we had a leisurely morning. Linda came over to the hotel and we caught up with her before heading off to Yundum Barracks LBS and UBS schools.
Pageant is facilitating the building of a school library from scratch at the school.This is being funded by a legacy given to Pageant. Architects plans have been drawn up and agreed, and construction work has commenced. We are fortunate that the labour to build the library has been provided by army engineers so reducing the costs. The foundations have been laid and work on the walls has started. Everyone, staff at the school, the army personnel and we at Pageant are very excited about it.
The schools have also started a vegetable garden. They have produced amazing results in less than three months.
We were wilting in the heat of a very hot day so after leaving went to a supermarket to get essential supplies then back to the hotel for a rest, dinner and an early night.
Upload speeds are very slow at the moments, so I shall post some photos of the work-in-progress at the school and the garden later. [The photos are inserted above]
Brikama & Banjul
Two similar days of activities. Lots of smaller tasks, but all important.
Thursday 6 February - Brikama
On Thursday morning we set off to go to Brikama. Our objectives were to go to Gambia College to do some preparation work for the science workshops in the following week. In addition, there are many sponsored students living and schooling in Brikama and neighbouring villages, so we could visit them either in their schools or at their compounds. Those visits were to give out the sponsorship letter forms so that sponsored students can write a letter to their sponsors giving their news. We will collect the completed letters over the coming weeks.
Our objectives at the college were met although it took two visits. We wanted to see Mr Nakalung Ceesay who is head of science at the college and organises the workshops. In an early morning phone call he had told us he was free until 10.30 and then had to deliver lectures so we went there first. Unfortunately, he had to deputise for an absent colleague so had already started lecturing when we arrived. We were able to see James the laboratories technician who is invaluable to us in getting the labs ready. He also kindly stores equipment of ours left over from previous workshops and we picked these up for checking. We also saw the catering manager to arrange breakfast and lunch for the workshop participants and to agree a price.
After that we visited some schools and compounds to give out letter forms. At about 1.30 we were able to contact Nakalung by phone. He was now free until 2.30 so we headed back hastily to the college where we met with him and sorted out the details.
Back on the road again to deliver more forms in the area. Unfortunately, all this meant we had to drive three times through the tortuous traffic jam that seems to be always present at Brikama Market. They are having problems with the drains there, so it was particularly malodourous.
Our final visit of the day was to the compound where Lamin lives. Lamin was a sponsored student of Kathy and me through his school years. He is now 25 and working as a software designer. It was good to catch up with him and we are pleased he is doing well
Friday 7 February - Banjul
On Friday morning Kathy was feeling a little under the weather so decided to stay at the hotel. Pippa and I had some business at the bank, so we went to Banjul. Whilst we were there, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba set off to deliver the forms to our Banjul students. When we had finished at the bank they picked us up and we delivered some more forms in the Kanifing and Bakau areas before returning to the hotel at 2pm to allow Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba to go to Friday prayers.
Yesterday Linda Pippa Kathy and I went to Luigis, one of our regular restaurant haunts and tonight we are going to Mama's for their excellent seafood buffet.
Tomorrow I hope to be able to take some interesting photos to publish.
Saturday 8 February - Faks' compound
This morning we continued distributing the letter forms. As it was Saturday the schools were closed so we were visiting compounds only. We wound are way and finally came to Faks' compound. Faks was at his school (). We had, as ever with Faks, a good chat and then to our surprise we were invited to stay for lunch. His wife had prepared a delicious beef domada. Tender pieces of beef in a slightly spicy peanut sauce served with delightfully fluffy rice.
The firstthat PAGEANT built is on Faks' compound. Kathy and I were able see if for the first time and Faks explained the workings of it.
We then briefly called in at the Njie compound to see if they could give us a grapefruit for the microscopy workshop. They happily obliged. We wanted a grapefruit, because last year we had noticed some blemishes on its skin. Kathy had though they were just something like rust spots, but when she looked more closely down a microscope she discovered, to her surprise that they were caused by tiny burrowing insects. Perfect for the students to look at.
Sunday 10 February - More compounds
During our visits we always try to put a day aside to visit our friends and this year was no exception. We started our day at Langtombong's compound He is one of Kathy's and my sponsored students. He is now in Grade 11, so next year will be his last year at school, so inevitably the discussion turned to what he would like to do after that. He said he is good with his hands and would like to do an engineering course.
On then to Wandifa's compound. As usual a large number of children materialised and we had splendid discussions with them and of course with his lovely wife, Mariama. There are many sponsored children there including Mo Lamin and Ebrima, two of Wandifa's children and also Ousman, Wandifa's nephew and one of Kathy and my sponsees. Ousman has finished his secondary schooling and is now in his second year of a course in journalism. He and I had a very spirited philosophical discussion about freedom of the press!
After that to Abdoulie's compound where again we met his charming wife Aminata, and his children. We have sponsored Abdoulie's eldest son, Mustafa who has grown so much in the last year. We were provided with delicious oranges freshly picked from his tree, so much more flavour that British supermarket oranges (although a lot more pips). One of the things that often surprises people in The Gambia is that the skin of ripe oranges there is often green. As they are quite small, they are often confused with limes. One taste dispels that.
Then to Yankuba's residence. Yankuba married Fatou in 2018. Fatou was our first sponsored student and indeed one of the first ever PAGEANT students. Last year they had their first child, Muhammed who is now 11 months old and on the cusp of walking: truly delightful. Once again we were lucky to enough be offered lunch. This was a fish benachin. Rice and vegetable with red snapper fish. After that I sampled some of Fatou's homemade ebbe. Ebbe is a one of the foods children at school eat for lunch You will often see street vendors sitting at schools selling ebbe. They can buy a small bag of ebbe ladled from a tureen for as little as 5 dalasi (about 8p). Ebbe is a spicy stew made from cassava and smoked fish. It is served with hot chilli sauce and tamarind. I enjoyed this.
Our final visit was to Ebrima's new residence. Again, Ebrima was one of the first PAGEANT students. Initially he was sponsored by my father, but when he died, my sister and I took over the sponsorship. Ebrima is now a delightful enterprising man. He works as an electrician and also runs a barber's shop. Along with this he is a keen gardener and artist. Last November he got married and we were able to meet his wife for the first time.
Back then to the hotel. Linda joined us for pizza and pasta at Luigi's.
Yundum & Sukuta
Monday 10 February - Yundum & Banjul again
Quite a short day today, but quite a lot of driving.
We set off to go to Yundum Barracks Schools first thing. We needed to give them the next stage payment to construct the library. They were rapidly running out of money from the first payment and needed more to but more materials. We are anxious to keep the momentum going.
This took a little longer than usual as one of the army's generals was visiting the barracks and when we arrived the guard of honour and musicians were assembling. Pippa, Yankuba and Wandifa went inside with the army personnel who counted out the money (this takes a long time as the largest Gambian banknote is 200 dalasi (about £3) and it is customary to count all the money). PAGEANT is providing the funding for materials and the army engineers are constructing it without further charge. Whilst that was happening Abdoulie and I remained in the car and I taught him how to play Sudoku. Abdoulie is good at logic puzzles and he grasped the rudiments very quickly.
Back in the car, where we retraced our drive to the hotel, but then went further on to Banjul, picking up Linda en route. Banjul is the capital city and it is not an understatement to say that it is not an attractive city. It is notorious for extremely bad roads, but finally it seems the City Council is doing something about that. We had gone to Banjul to go to the bank again. Everything takes a long time in Gambian banks, but today we finished our business so hopefully won't have to go there again this visit.
Following that we returned to the hotel.
Tuesday 11 February - Sukuta
Hopefully today was to be our last day of relatively routine and admin jobs.
We set off to Sukuta. We had a few more sponsorship letters to deliver and now we only have a handful left. We were also giving out some ethical gifts of sacks of rice from money given for that purpose. We left one with a family in Sukuta and then carried on to Gambia College in Brikama to give them the money to buy food for breakfast and lunch at the workshops. On then, through Brikama, Abuko and Wellingara. Two more sacks of rice were delivered to families.
One thing that always disturbs me is the relative cost of rice. We buy 50Kg sacks of rice and they cost about £18 each. That's 36p per kilo. When I got back to the hotel, I checked the price of standard long-grain rice in Tesco's. There you can buy it for as little as 45p per kilo (and that's for a small bag). So, rice in The Gambia is only 9 pence per kilo less. It is their staple food and it is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Enough ranting from me. We also had some ethical gift money to buy some exercise books, so we visited a stationer to buy these. We shall distribute these to a school upcountry when we go there, as these schools seem to not be resourced as well as schools around the coastal strips.
Tomorrow we will have an early start for an all day visit upcountry. We will be seeing beehives, a "2nd generation power hut and a couple of schools.
Finally, here's a photo taken on Sunday of Fatou, Yankuba and their son, Muhammed.
Wednesday 12 February
An early start, and what's more, a prompt start. We were off upcountry and had a 2½ to 3 hour drive to our destinations. We made very good progress to Brikama before turning inland from the coastal strip to drive up the long, but well maintained, South Bank Road. The Gambia is a poor country, but the upcountry villages are often very poor. Many of the villages have no electricity at all and no running water.
Our first port of call was at Mayork to the Lower Basic School there. In the autumn last year, we had arranged for beehives to be installed there and training given on how to maintain these and look after the bees. The funding for this came from a UK charity called BEECause. Their mission is the promotion of beekeeping as a way of improving livelihoods, particularly of the rural poor and, of course, encouraging initiatives to increase the bee population, as this is crucial to pollination and hence to mankind. The hives there are doing well, and they have harvested honey sold to the families of the children there and the proceeds reinvested in the school. They said that they would like a swarm collecting box to hang in the trees and collect new swarms. There are also plans afoot to set up an apiary in the nearby Upper Basic School.
[is a UK charity which works in The Gambia and also in Senegal. It should not be confused with which is a USA based charity with similar objectives. Pageant has visited the BeeCause project at Mayork several times before:- , and .]
We also had a look round the school garden which is in fine fettle. All the usual vegetables seen in Gambian school gardens were there and indeed more advanced than some. So, here is Gardener's Question Time. What is the vegetable growing shown in the picture? A clue: it is a type of vegetable commonly eaten in the UK, but the variety we eat is usually a different colour.
On then to a school that neither Pippa, Kathy nor I had visited before, Kolior LBS. Kolior is a small village just off the main South Bank Road. It is very poor. There is no mains electricity to any part of the village including the school. Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa went there last autumn to fit some solar lights there as part of our solar lighting project. These are different from the first ones fitted as they don't require a building to house the charging equipment. A small (about 5cm x 5cm) solar panel is connected by wire to a rechargeable battery charger inside the house which houses up to 4 rechargeable AA batteries. These are used to power the LED bulbs: Very simple, yet very effective.
The school site also had a very dilapidated building which clearly was severely damaged, it had no roof. From the painted signs in the past it had once been used as a library, among other things. The principal explained that a storm had blown the roof off in June 2015 and they had been trying to get funding from a variety of sources but to no avail. We said PAGEANT might be able to help to enable them to get the building restored to working use. The principal was invited to give us a detailed estimate of the cost of doing this and we will consider this.
The school seemed well run, despite the difficulties it had, and we thought this would be a good school to get the exercise books bought the previous day as an ethical gift and were distributed to the children
On then through the town of Soma to, where we met the principal Mr Cesay whom we had met many times before. PAGEANT is funding the building of three new toilet blocks there. The construction is well underway. One for the nursery children next to the nursery classrooms (the main toilet blocks are a good distance away - too far for little children to get to before there is an 'accident' The other two (one boys, one girls) are next to the existing toilet blocks.
We gave Mr Cesay a further stage payment before our discussion turned to a legacy issue. We had funded construction of a new block for woodwork, metalwork and home science some years ago. We still had some funds to pay for some tools and equipment for it. The school had given us a simple list of items, but they were uncosted and not prioritised as we had asked them to do. We stressed that we did not have money to pay for all so they must come up with a proper costed prioritised list.
We then toured round the school grounds to see the construction work and see their admirable garden before departing for our last school visit, Pakalinding UBS. That school had given us an estimate at the end of last year for some work it would like PAGEANT to fund. We had found it confusing as there was clearly more than one project involved and it was difficult to see what they wanted to do and how much each aspect would cost.
There were in fact four separate projects the school had in mind. New school gates. Solid sturdy metal gates of the type usually seen at Gambian schools. They only had relatively flimsy insecure grid type gates. They would like some work done on the principal's and admin offices (the roof leaks when it rains). The library needed a thorough refurbishment, in particular a new roof, new windows and possibly getting the floor properly tiled. We were however pleased to see that they had good sturdy metal bookshelves and plenty of books, but some of those are probably not very appropriate for an upper basic school.
Some of the classroom blocks needed new windows and finally they would like to do some work on the vice principal's office. That office is quite small and sandwiched between two classrooms. They would like it redecorated and retiled. We think it is probably more useful to put in a proper ceiling in the room. At the moment there is nothing between the floor and the corrugated iron roof. A proper ceiling will give some heat insulation.
That was us done for the day. We made a quick stop in Soma to get some cold drinks and then headed back to the hotel. It had been a pleasantly cool drive up in the early morning. It was a long 2¾ hour drive back through scorching heat.
Two Quiet Days
These two days were relatively quiet. We needed this after our long day upcountry.
Thursday 13 February - Searching for Scales
PAGEANT has two sets of very accurate weighing scales and we wanted those for the forthcoming workshops. We knew they had been left in The Gambia after the last workshops but couldn't find them anywhere. On Thursday Abdoulie remembered that he had taken a bag or box of stuff to Linda's compound for storage and we wondered if they were there. No luck. Then to Wandifa's as he had some stuff in storage: again no luck. We couldn't think where else to look.
We had contacted Musa Ceesay, a teacher we knew. Joe was arriving the following day and wanted to meet Musa and possibly arrange for Joe to do a short physics workshop at his school on the following Monday. Unfortunately, Musa's school was on its half term break so that would not be on. We did however meet with Musa for a catch-up chat. He had been on a PAGEANT physics workshop 8 years ago, and whilst he was not available for the Saturday workshop, he would love to come on Sunday.
Friday 14 February - Joe Arrives
Joe arrived in the early hours of Friday morning.
We had a late breakfast to enable him to get a bit of sleep. Like us he had had a good journey via Lisbon but was suffering from a stinking cold.
We spent the morning getting the kit for the workshops together and set off in the early afternoon for Gambia College in Brikama. On arrival we quickly unpacked. The labs were clean and tidy, and we soon completed sorting everything out so we could get going quickly in the morning. There was an added bonus. We had left the missing scales in the care of James, the lab technician and apart from one set needing new batteries they were in fine working order. Thank goodness for that.
All done, we returned to the hotel and after a short rest walked down the road for steak and chips at Sambas Kitchen. Joe described it as the best steak he had had in ages.
Science Workshops at Gambia College
Saturday-Sunday 15-16 February
An early breakfast saw a 7.30 start. Linda had already been picked up by Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa. A good journey to Brikama gave us plenty of time to do final preparations for a 9.00am start. We were made aware yesterday of a misunderstanding. We wanted 40 students to attend the workshops. 20 to do the microscopy and 20 to do the physics on Saturday, then for them to swap over on Sunday and for each student to do the other workshop, However like last year this had been misunderstood by the college who arranged for the students who were to attend. They had just selected 20 students for Saturday and a different 20 for Sunday. The college organisers had been asked on Friday afternoon to phone round all the students that afternoon to tell them all to come for both days. We were not therefore sure just how many we were going to get.
As it was, we started with 25 students, but more arrived soon, and we did end up with almost a full house.
The timetable for each workshop follows a similar pattern. Introductions are followed by the students carrying out practical work in the two morning sessions. About 30 minutes or so before lunch, which is at 2pm they stop work and get into groups of 4 to prepare a lesson to deliver to small groups of students or children recruited from either the college or a nearby school. Lunch is provided by the college catering staff and again was excellent. Fish benachin on Saturday and chicken yassa on Sunday.
After lunch and prayers, the lessons were given to between 15 and 20 students in each lab, so the teachers taught groups of three and four.
The physics workshops were given by Joe, Yankuba, Abdoulie and me, with the microscopy by Pippa, Kathy, Wandifa and assisted by Linda. On the Sunday we were joined by Musa and by a BBC journalist whom Joe had met on the plane over and had expressed an interest.
I will give a brief outline of the physics and Kathy the microscopy.
In physics we needed little introductory time and went straight into the experiments. Joe would give a demonstration and the students would then carry this out in pairs.
We managed to do lever law and moments so that the students could calculate the weight of an unknown object using a metre rule and pivot and a known weight. This was followed by demonstrating hydraulics using syringes of different sizes. A pendulum with a cord of 25 cm takes exactly 1 second to do a full swing, so using this principal we did some timing of students running for 20 metres outside. Reaction times were calculated by dropping a ruler and catching it between two fingers. From the distance dropped it is possible to calculate reaction times. Rocket balloons were prepared to demonstrate Newton's laws of motion and by using springs joined together. Separately the students created a simple flute from a drinking straw. From these the students could see transference of energy by waves.
In microscopy it is slightly different. The 20 students are arranged over 5 tables, 4 to each table. There were four simple compound microscopes and two larger compound microscopes on each table as well as four sample preparation kits that included simple hand lenses. We started with objectives for the day which mainly emphasised the need to become familiar with the microscopes and kit which we went through in detail. Simple hand lenses of different magnifying power were tried with everyone looking at their skin or some item of clothing or a watch just to see the difference in lens magnification.
Then the microscopes were unpacked and each student was shown how to focus on printing in a handbook. This always generates interest as it might sound boring but when you look at black printing under the microscope you can see other colours present in the letters. This is a good example of how you can see things that are not visible by eye. The larger compound microscope had 3 different objective lenses and light that went through the sample as well as top lighting. This microscope allows for quite high magnification of cells and sometimes the cell nucleus is visible.
After breakfast of a baguette, containing fried egg and salad typically, the students looked at a range of samples we had gathered. These included fabrics, insects, plants and flowers, different foods (potato, onion, parsley, oranges etc) and water from a nearby puddle. This usually has small animals living in it. Seeing insects moving under the microscope was very popular. Using a microscope in teaching science should allow the teachers to demonstrate features in a wide range of different subjects including biology, home science and agriculture.
For the teaching sessions each group of teachers showed one of the experiments to their group of students. It was impressed on them that the key to a successful practical lesson was for the students to do the practical work rather than just watching the teachers do it. We observed the lessons given. Some were much more successful in achieving this objective than others.
Following this the equipment was packed up and everyone gathered together for presentation of attendance certificates and some speeches. This year we also presented to the head of science at Gambia college, Nakulang Ceesay, a certificate of appreciation and recognition and an inscribed pen and case for all his help in organising the science workshops. Nakulang is retiring from full time teaching later this year.
[See this, where you can follow links to more information.]
More Quiet Days
Monday 17 February - Sorting Kit & Yundum
Both of these were relatively quiet days. On Monday Kathy and I stayed at at the hotel all day. We sorted through all the kit we had left, microscopes and accessories and made some logical sense out of them and listed what we had. This will be invaluable for the future.
Pippa, Joe, Wandifa, Yankuba and Abdoulie went to Yundum Barracks schools to give some physics workshops to some of the students there. They gave two workshops there.
Tuesday 18 February - Independance Day
Tuesday was Independence Day, which is a public holiday so all the schools, businesses and a lot of shops are closed. It was also Joe's last day as he was to leaving to fly home that evening. We therefore had a rest day and went to the Calypso Bar which is at the point where the Gambia River joins the Atlantic Ocean. The bar there overlooks a lagoon and we had lunch whilst watching the crocodiles that live on the banks of the lagoon and were entertained by displays of a very wide range of birds flying overhead and fishing
We went to Samba's Kitchen in the evening. Joe wanted one of their excellent fillet steaks before he left and we then had an enjoyable time listening to the live band before walking back to the hotel to say our farewells to Joe
The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust
Wednesday 19 February
We spent a very interesting day at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust. The trust is a UK charity based in Surrey and run by Heather. They have two sites in The Gambia and we visited their site at Makasutu about 20 minutes drive from Brikama. This site is their newer one and opened in 2017. They have horse boxes and stabling there and are currently looking after 57 horses and donkeys there as well as 4 camels and a number of dogs that need some kind of health treatment or assistance.
The trust looks after maltreated and sick horses and donkeys and can provide a sanctuary for these, as well as for older animals who are no longer able to work on the farms.
We were shown around by Paul who is the yard manager and is also a paravet. He started there as an apprentice 6 years ago and clearly loves his job. As well as horse boxes they also have an animal hospital which we were able to see around. At that time they had 2 inpatients. A dog with botulism, caught, they think, from eating a dead turtle on the beach and a donkey foal that had been hit by a car.
In the hospital, the cats are after the dog's food. They didn't get it the dog "growled" them off - hopefully a sign that the dog is improving.
After a while we met Heather, who had arrived from the UK the day before, and we had very good discussions with her.
One of the reasons for the visit is that PAGEANT has decided to pay for 4 apprenticeships at The Trust. This sill give great skills to some local people. Wwe also arranged for Mo Lamin, Wandifa's eldest son to visit the site on Saturdays to learn about handling donkeys. Mo Lamin has always been interested in donkeys!
The trust maintains strong lists with UK institutions. Vets from the UK volunteer to come and work at the sites and they are also regularly visited by students from British Universities whos spend a period of time here learning first hand of diseases that affect animals in The Gambia, something they can only learn the theory of when in the UK. Of particular interest is the treatment of trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) caused by infection from the bite of the tsetse fly. This is a major cause of death of farm animals.
Overall a very rewarding visit. You can find out more about the trust.
Tomorrow Kathy and I start our journey home although Pippa is staying for a further five days. We don't have anything planned for the day other than some admin tasks, so this will be my last blog for this visit. It has been a very successful visit. We do however hope that the weather is a little cooler next visit. Usually it is about 30 to 32 degrees Celsius (86 to 90 Fahrenheit). This year everyday has been about 39 or 40 degrees (102 to 104 Fahrenheit), just a tad to hot! Anyway we have enjoyed writing this blog and we hope you have enjoyed reading it
Andrew & Kathy
Mystery vegetable revealed
Although I said I had posted my last blog for the trip, Dave kindly reminded me to reveal the answer to the mystery veg. The Gambians call it a bitter tomato as it looks like a standard to large unripe tomato. It isn't a tomato, though, it's an aubergine , but it is indeed very bitter. It forms an essential addition to such dishes as benachin. Attempts to grow this in the UK have failed, but for those who like the taste of The Gambia there is a variety of aubergine called Turkish Orange, which has a very similar taste and bitterness. We grew it very successfully last year, both in a greenhouse and on the patio in pots. You can get the seeds from Amazon and eBay
Friday 21st February
[Pippa now takes over with posts for our blog. She will be sending text and photos to Dave who will do the actual posting. Photos for her first posts will follow later.]
Kathy and Andrew having departed in the early hours of the morning, we had a rather later than usual start to let the Gambian guys recover from their midnight trip to the airport to see them off.
We then sat in the very pleasant bantaba (meeting place) at the hotel and did some much needed admin. Catching up with all the payments, letter forms given out and returned, photos taken...and then listing those still to do took quite a while, so once we were satisfied that we were up to date we called it a day.
Friday prayers for the Gambians and an afternoon by the pool for me completed an unusually restful day... and very welcome it was, too!
Visits to Families
Saturday 22nd February
A full day of filling in some of our gaps, so up and down the very bumpy side roads to visit a lot of families... mostly those where children had not been present to have their photos taken on previous visits. Some students seem to be particularly elusive, whether by accident or design I am never quite sure.
As we went round the various townships it was obvious that the Banjul marathon, to be held the following day (Sunday), was engendering considerable excitement and enthusiasm. It is only the second time that this event has been run - the first one was last year - and a large number of regular marathon runners from many countries had entered (three Americans were staying at our hotel). There were several other events taking place at the same time... a half marathon, a 5Km run for juniors and a 4Km walk. We met one of our sponsored students who had entered the 5Km run and was very excited about the whole thing.
When we got back to the hotel I found that Max, the hotel owner, had offered to provide a pasta supper for the Gambian marathon runners. The bantaba had been filled with rather more tables and chairs than usual and vast vats of pasta - a spaghetti Bolognese and a chicken and vegetable dish - were on offer, served with bread and salad. Hotel guests were invited to join in and, having decided to eat in the hotel that night anyway, I accepted the offer.
Very tasty food and a great atmosphere... although some of the participants did not quite understand about the food side of things and went home with their (china) plates!
At the end of the evening I was surprised to see one of the organisers coming across the floor towards me, saying "Pippa, how good to see you"... after a few moments I realised it was Mr Jawla, the very good sports teacher from Bakalarr, who has now risen to the lofty height of Deputy Director of the National Sports Council. It was so good to see him after a gap of about fourteen years... the ability of Gambians to recognise people never ceases to amaze me.
More Family Visits
Sunday 23rd February
Wandifa had decided to call as many as possible of the students whose photos were still needed to come to his compound on the Sunday morning, in an effort to get as many done in the shortest time possible. A good idea, I thought... but how many would actually turn up?
We set off, having to drive an even more tortuous route than usual, as many roads had been closed or cut down to one lane only because of the marathon. When we arrived at Wandifa's compound I was amazed to see a really large number of students already gathered there - the photo shows the large 'Pageant family group' including those who greeted us... and about ten more arrived during the next hour. A very good idea - we will try that again!
We then did a bit more family visiting and had the pleasure of delivering a bike to a young lad whose results had been outstandingly good for the past few years - this is the boy supported by Ian's bursary and I know he would have been very pleased to be able to donate this gift as a reward for such a sustained effort. The photo shows the pleasure with which the bike was received - he said he was the happiest boy in The Gambia that day!
North Bank day
Monday 24th February
Up at the crack of dawn... before it had cracked, actually, as we left the hotel at 5.20am!! Even so, we were still too late to catch the first ferry as it was pulling away from the dock when we arrived at 5.45am! It transpired that only one ferry was working that morning, so it had left Banjul early enough for it to be the (slightly before) 7am ferry from Barra. It returned quickly enough for us to leave Banjul just before 7.30am, so we were in Barra just before 8am - not too bad (but we could have had an extra hour in bed!!)
First stop was to buy a sack of rice, a gift to Wandifa's brother Bakary and family on behalf of Andrew and Kathy. Then off down the ever-worsening sandy road to Albreda to the Lower Basic school that we have been supporting for several years. We saw the female staff quarters, now being used by one female teacher and three trainees - the ceilings that we gave the funds for in November had been completed and looked very good. All the inhabitants were very happy with their rooms - and the male teachers said they wished that their's were as nice!! The photos show the competed building and one of the ceilings.
A breakfast stop was next - the café at Juffreh provided the usual excellent cheese omelettes and chips all round - and then on to see Bakary with the rice. To say he was pleased would be a huge understatement - he said he had been on the point of contacting his eldest son for help as the family had completely run out of rice... and then we arrived.
I thought you would like to see just what a sack of rice looks like... and how heavy it is, being carried in by Abdoulie and our North Bank driver, Alieu. While we were there we found a couple of little boys to whom we gave hats, knitted by one of the lovely ladies of the Southwater Welcome Club - and very cute they looked, too.
Back up that dreadful road to Barra, where we called in to Barra-Essau Upper Basic school. We have four sponsored students at that school, so it was good to catch up with them. I also wanted to see the (excellent) headmaster there, who we have known for several years, to see if there was anything that we might be able to help him with. He told us that the school might be moving to a different site in the relatively near future, so making any improvements to the current site could be a complete waste of money. Very frustrating for him, as he does not really know what is going to happen.
Back on the ferry to Banjul, reaching the hotel a little after 4pm - pretty good for a North Bank day. A good shower and hair-wash was essential... and, as ever, the shower floor resembled a beach for a little while! It is certainly a hot and sandy experience...
Tuesday 25th February
Because the flight times have changed (no Thomas Cook, so we were flying with TAP) I did not have to leave the hotel until 11pm. I was very kindly allowed to retain my room until then (thank you,) so I made a couple of final visits on the Tuesday morning, then visited Linda to sort out the money side of things and did my packing in the afternoon.
My first visit was to Yundum Barracks Lower Basic school, where I wanted to do several things: one was to give some really nice blouses to the female staff there, which could be used as a 'uniform' for special occasions. Many schools like to do this sort of thing and we had been given a large number of these blouses by, who were changing their own uniform. We could only take seven out with us on the plane, due to weight restrictions, but fortunately this was precisely the number of female teachers at this school! Not only that, but the mix of sizes that I had selected to take, exactly fitted these ladies - they were really thrilled with them. I asked them to explain to the Nursery and Upper Basic female teachers that some more would be arriving in due course - this was just the advance group!
Next, on to see progress at the library - it is really coming on apace and looks to be well built. I expect they will be needing the third instalment payment very soon. The photos show the front and right hand side of the building - the latter shows the three-cubicle toilet block jutting out from the side of the main structure and the large pit that has been dug as the soak-away.
Lastly, the garden, financed largely by Worldclass at. To show you how fast things grow in The Gambia, the first photo was taken at the start of this visit and the second one of the same beds eighteen days later! As you can see, the garden is being carefully tended by the students - each bed is looked after by a particular group and competition is fierce as to who can grow the best produce. When one considers that this was just an unfenced, bare, sandy patch in November, the progress is remarkable.
The second visit (my last one of this trip) was to Kumoo Kunda, the bee farm. As previously reported, we had been to see the Pageant-funded apiary at Mayork Lower Basic school and I now wanted to do two things: one was to ask for two 'catcher boxes' for that apiary, to enable the school to 'catch' any wild swarms that appeared (one had been seen before our visit to the school, but they had failed to entice it to enter a hive of its own free will - hence the need to 'catch' it); the other was to ask for an estimate to set up a small apiary at the nearby Upper Basic and Senior Secondary school - this new apiary would be close enough to the established one for the bees to go backwards and forwards between them, so would not have to be as large to be a viable concern. The Principal of the more senior school is very keen to have an apiary there, so I know this will be a popular move - we hope to receive the estimate soon.
So, the end of yet another Gambian adventure - thank you to Linda, both for looking after the money side so well in our absence and also for her company at dinner on several occasions.
Last, but by no means least, my VERY grateful thanks to Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba for their tireless efforts during three hectic weeks and for their kindness in looking after me so well during my last 'solo' week. They are such a good team,,, and we do have a lot of laughs along the way. Here's to the next time.....
This is Pippa signing off - but I have to add one more photo. We all decided it was the advertisement of the trip... I will never look at snails in quite the same way again!!