Day Eleven - Tuesday, February 5th, 2002 - Sanyang Nature Camp

Another 7:30 wake up when I had a bit of a shower and decided to wear my complete outfit (including shorts) that I had purchased from Serekunda market the other day. Yesterday I had tried on the shorts and found that they were SUPPOSED to be that large and actually fit quite well (especially when you draw them tight with the draw string he had put around them). Breakfast included papaya and I don't quite know if I like it, a bit slimy and not a lot of flavour, very similar to a melon or cantaloupe.

Our morning language session was followed by a bit of information about our homestay coming up in a few days. It was pretty much straight-forward.

Tracey and David visited us from the VSO head office. David is a Program Officer and Tracey is going to be the Program Director in a few months after Lynne leaves. It was quite something to see them down here and they seemed to enjoy the surroundings. They followed us as we went into Sanyang again, this time to have a bit of a tour of some of the things in the village.

We first visited the VISACA bank which has been very successful. It offers attractive interest rates both for savings (10%) and loans (20%). It has been operating in profit for a few years now and is well used by the community. It is run by a few employees and all the accounts are done on paper (similar to many banks here). We sat around inside the bank in the front foyer on benches along the walls as we talked to the employees of the bank (who sat, like in an inquisition, on chairs in the middle of the room) and the VDC chairman who also decided to show up. It was very interesting.

Next we made a short trip down to the primary school which teaches grades one through six (graduates are between 12 and 15 years old). As we entered the large compound we were greeted by a large number of children who were out in the yard. We eventually were able to make our way through the children into the office of headmaster who talked a bit about the school. We learned that each student has to pay a small fee for attending though those in grade six also supplement this fee by bringing in a banana tree which they then care for on the school grounds and then the fruit is harvested and sold (which also teaches the children about how to care for trees and a bit about buying and selling). The headmaster also told us of the need for funding and how his school only receives a fraction of the books and supplies they need so they have taken to having tourists visit (they have buckets available for donations) as part of a tourism package in order to supplement their funding. At least one of their buildings has been built solely on tourist donations (one particular family, in this case). We could see that the speech he was giving us was one he has practised many times and it was the one he gave to the tourists when they visited. Unfortunately, this time we did not have as much money as tourists would have.

We visited a classroom where we were paraded to the front of the class and given a bit of a song – feeling very much as though not only us but the children were somehow on display (which, I suppose, we all were). It was a bit awkward but more was to come later…

We passed by the rather rudimentary kitchen they have at the school, passing by the school pump as we made our way to the banana tree plantation which was quite thick and plush with banana trees. Very impressive and well watered with each tree having a tag indicating the name of the child or children taking care of it.

We then headed off to the nursery school where some children start as early as 2 years old. We were once again invited into the headmaster's office and given a bit of a talk about the school and what they do. I was surprised to learn that they teach reading, writing and arithmetic at such a young age. We learned that these skills must be mastered before they move down the road to the primary school for grade one. We were taken into every classroom there with more than one giving us a bit of a song (it is a shame they felt that they had to perform for us, though we were flattered). One of the buildings in the nursery school was built solely from funds donated by a European family (and, accordingly, named after them). It was also interesting to see the small garden (and chickens) they keep there not only for feeding the children but also for additional money. Evidently the nursery school is solely funded by the Sanyang VDC – no government money whatsoever.

We made our way north back past the large football pitch in between the two schools before getting onto the vehicles waiting under the trees of the primary school compound and heading back to the camp.

Lunch was a beef domadah (great!) along with watermelon. During lunch the sheep (I think they were) were getting very brave as they actually entered the eating area though were quickly chased away.

Language training in the afternoon was a bit too hot for the open-air hut we have been using so we were in the eating area when Alhaji had us perform a rather embarrassing task as we were told to go an interview a few of the camp employees for some of their basic essentials (name, where they were from, where they work, how work is going, etc.). It was funny as we were given only a few minutes, a number of us quickly descended on a group of employees sitting a short distance away – they all turned and watched us approach with, it looked like, not a little curiosity and, perhaps, trepidation? Oh dear. Anyway, we got the answers we needed and they were very good about it (Alhaji explained that he had done this before and the employees knew what to expect). Nice answer I got from my interviewee – “Where do you work?” “Over there.” (I dutifully wrote it down, only knowing what he said later when reporting to Alhaji).

We talked a bit before dinner about superstitions and discussed both UK and Gambian. It was emphasised that it is all superstition and not many people actually firmly believe these things (though some, as in the UK, do).

Dinner was chicken benechin (I believe) on a bed of couscous and was very spicy. I really enjoyed it.

Dinner was followed by teaching Alhaji how to play rummy by candle- light (which we have been using to supplement the somewhat meagre light provided by the lamps in the camp). He was quite good and promised to teach us how to play “crazy 8s” tomorrow night (I remember playing that game a LONG time ago as a child).

⇒ Continue to Day Twelve - Wednesday, February 6th, 2002 - Sanyang Nature Camp