Day Five - Wednesday, January 30, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Garden Hotel

Well, it started with another early breakfast so I could get over to the Medical Research Centre (MRC) for my blood typing before our first session began at 9:00. It was a nice cool morning as I walked north up Atlantic (again) to the MRC. As I entered the grounds and approached the “outpatients” area that had been pointed out to me earlier I noticed a large number of mothers and their children waiting around on the long benches in the area. Not knowing exactly what was going on I headed to the front (they did not seem to mind) and talked to a nurse who then discussed it with a doctor who indicated I needed to first pay at the “cashier” who was in another area (also surrounded by benches of people) – 75 dalasis. I paid my money then returned to a side queue where the blood tests were being performed then got motioned into the door by a lady sitting on the bench where I got some funny looks but sat down on the offered stool. I was not the only one having blood taken as I watched children coming in and having their finger pricked and the patient doctor taking a slide of the blood as the child screamed it's head off (both the mother, nurse and me were just smiling all the while). It was a pleasant conversation with the doctor as he took a small vial of blood for the test and then directed me to a transport container in the compound that was being used for doing the laboratory work for the blood test. I was surprised to learn that the container was air conditioned though it was hardly a sterile environment as I was invited in after knocking directly into the lab part of the container (very attractive lab technician, it must be said). After waiting around the outside for a few minutes I got the result that VSO wanted me to put on my ID card: A positive.

Steve, who had accompanied me as far as the High Commission (so that he could visit Sheelagh – we were all asked to report to her individually) showed up just before the test finished and then we made our way back to the hotel for our first class of Wolof – the local language we are going to be (hopefully) taught over the next few weeks. Wolof is the language largely spoken in the Banjul and Kombos area of the Gambia though a large number of people throughout the country actually speak Mandinka (which was what the other class from our group is being taught).

We sat near the pool for our lesson with Alhaji – the seven of us. It was pretty clear that there were no linguists amongst us but all of us have the intention of really trying…This first lesson focused mainly on greetings which are the single-most important part of the language since this is something that everyone knows.

Next followed a talk about security in the country by the police public spokesman who was very good. Overall, security in the country is very good with the idea that you have to take precautions that you would take in any other populated area: do not leave valuables unattended (or in plain sight), watch your bags in the marketplace, etc. Lynne talked a bit first about how VSO would evacuate us out of the country were the need to arise (which scared a few of us). They operate largely in conjunction with the British High Commission – who would help to get people out of the country at the right time. An interesting side note was that a mention was made of a nut that, if eaten, will make you go insane…interesting.

Lunch was followed by another language session – we were only supposed to have the one today but since Mr. Sallah visited yesterday we had to have yesterday's language session today. It was getting to be quite hot so we found it very difficult to concentrate so basically Alhaji largely stuck to the greetings from the morning and tried to drum them into our head (how many times can you say “Salam malecum”?). It was amusing after the class when I was asked by the lady selling a few tourist craft items in the hotel what my name was in Wolof and it tookme a few minutes to figure out a) what she was asking and b) what my name was – well, no, not the second one, but I had to figure out how to say it in Wolof.

The language lesson was followed by another visit to the beach – though we found a quicker route along a side road that saves us a precious 30 seconds or so. Not many of us were there though we did see David walking with his wife, son and dog (imaginatively named “pooch”) along the beach. The surf was quite strong with a red flag showing (indicated it is rough, black, I believe, is most serious) though this also meant there were less bumsters about trying to get money off of us. Very relaxing, and then followed by more relaxing time at the pool at the hotel where I grabbed a swim.

Dinner was supposed to have started at 7:30 but it actually turned out to be closer to 8 as we were serenaded all night by a traditional Kora player. A “Kora” is a instrument like a guitar except it is plucked by both hands in unison. It is quite large with the bowl being (we believe) made of a melon shell which is placed in the lap and the neck is quite long and is held on both sides by the hand and the strings plucked. It was a nice, quiet music, very pleasant throughout dinner. As we finished he started to talk about the instrument and it's history which was quite interesting (we had to concentrate a bit to hear him). His singing very much kept in with the music he was strumming. Eventually Gemma asked a question then was given a bit of a lesson on how to play for quite some time (she was not too bad though struggled a bit when he got into chords). The player also suggested if anyone was interested in lessons he does those as well.

It was quite late when the evening broke up though a very relaxing one.

⇒ Continue to Day Six - Thursday, January 31, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Garden Hotel