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

Well, today I was able to sleep in a bit as opposed to my previous early morning walks. After breakfast we split into our two language classes and began work on additional dialogue (oh, goody, still have not got the previous ones memorised!).

After language, we had a bit of a discussion about “Aid and Politics in the Gambia” presented by a representative of DFID (Department for International Development – a UK government agency) who discussed some of the basics of what they are doing in the country and what funding is available. It was a very optimistic view of what can be done in the country, especially in light of what was said later by the High Commissioner.

The British High Commissioner then came and addressed our small group in our places around the pool and was very harsh about the prospects for the country and about the people. It was very embarrassing for all concerned and quite difficult to listen to without saying anything outright. Lynne was asked her opinion (by the Commissioner herself) about what he was saying and she indicated that we (VSO) were here to help improve things (which is true and put very diplomatically). Most of our group ended up, I am afraid, with a very negative view of the Commissioner.

The lunch was an un-interesting chicken salad (and not terribly good). The vegetarians in our group definitely got the better choice. There are three of them (and another person who will only eat fish in addition to vegetables/fruits rather than any other meat) though it has been stressed many times that it would be difficult to have a good diet in this country that eats so much meat all the time. They have been getting a special menu for every meal here at the hotel.

A few of the VSO volunteers already in the country gave a bit of a talk about our upcoming trip to Sanyang and, in particular, the “home- stay” element which will involve our staying with a local family in their home for two days (eating what they eat, hopefully talking their language, using their pit-latrine…). They mentioned that the camp we would be staying at for all the other time we are in Sanyang has very basic facilities but at least has running water (sometimes) though no electricity.

After our little discussion, Jane, I and a few others headed to Serekunda for a bit of shopping. We had to walk quite some way before we were able to get a taxi to Westfield though the five of us did manage to get into one taxi for the trip (which is illegal – they are only really supposed to carry up to four passengers at a time).

We got out of the taxi just before the taxi was supposed to pass in front of the local police station (he was worried about getting a ticket) and we headed south into Serekunda. As we walked along, we paralleled an open sewer that, evidently, one volunteer fell into twice. I don't think I would want to do that since the stench coming from the ooze today was unbelievable. We went into a local shop selling all sorts of things (pots, pans, food, candles, electrical items, etc.) where Jane picked up some stuff for a trip to a school she is supporting in the country for quite some years now – colouring book and some pens. We also picked up some candles and mosquito coils in anticipation of Sanyang. Marcel and Jolanda (from the Netherlands) looked into getting a gas lamp (which are VERY cheap) but decided that it was not required.

We walked through the market which is a large number of rudimentary stalls with people selling anything and everything. We managed to find a towel which I needed for our trip to Sanyang (since they are not provided and I had not brought one with me). We also picked up some rather sturdy looking flip-flops which should be good as I do not want to have to continue walking around in my trainers in this heat and dust (you will not believe the colour of my white socks at night!). Marcel and Jolanda also spent some time getting some tinned food for the camp as well (since they are two of our vegetarians and the camp does not normally cater for vegetarians they were asked to buy a few things). Griet (our VSO volunteer guide) picked up some Kola nuts which are to be gifts for the various leaders in the actual village of Sanyang (the camp is located outside of the town).

Jane and I wanted to do a few things so we left the others and headed south to where the tailors were and, after a few minutes thought, decided we should try to get me a shirt made. So, we enquired and were led to another area where they had good fabric, I asked for something different so the seller disappeared for a few minutes and returned with some additional samples. I picked a pattern that I thought looked good (Jane agreed) and then (after haggling over the price – I was ripped off, of course) we were guided up some stairs to where the tailors were operating. I was measured and then we haggled some more over the price. The tailor could not speak English (for the most part we used the fabric seller to interpret) but we eventually settled on a price and agreed to be back in just over an hour's time to pick up the finished product and, it was decided, a pair of shorts to match (since there was more than enough material). The tailors are located in a series of small concrete rooms looking out over the tin roofs of the market below. There are often three or even four tailors with their sewing machines in each of the rooms, with the occasional brazier with (clothing) iron heating up on top. Quite interesting.

We picked our way out and down the stairs and found a place to have a drink on the 1st (2nd) floor of a building right off the market where a make-shift bar had been placed. It offered great views of the market and seemed to be somewhere that even the locals hang out. Ok, so they charged us too much for the drinks – they were cold and we were having fun (10 Dalasis!)…

After quenching our immediate thirst we also helped ourselves to some freshly peeled oranges from a lady on the street. They have an interesting thing that they do here and that is to peel off the outer layer of the skin of the orange, leaving the strong inner-pulp skin and then cut off the top of the orange so you can essentially squeeze the orange juice directly into your mouth and not have to worry about the bitterness of the skin. The oranges here are VERY pulpy and have many seeds as well but they are very tasty (sweet).

We slowly made our way back to the tailor as we spit seeds into the street (believe me, refuse collection is not high on the government's agenda it seems). It was amusing as we waited for the tailor on the first floor of his stall – we spit the seeds of the oranges onto the tin roofs of the market making interesting sounds, I am sure, to the people below (rain?).

As we waited, the tailor was just putting the finishing touches on the shirt – adding matching buttons (if you would believe it). After he was finished, the shorts looked absolutely huge but the shirt was perfect – very nice. Jane got the extra fabric as a scarf…hum…

We headed north back to Westfield junction just as all the schools were let out so we were beset by children in spotless school uniforms as we found a taxi that would take us to Sabena junction (which is not quite at the end of the alley but only a short walk away from there). We dropped by the bookstore at Sabena and took a look at what they had though it was VERY expensive (even in UK or US money) – Jane is looking for a book on Gambian birds (there are a LOT of them about so she wants to know what she is looking at). I thought that 650 Delasis was too much and so did she so we headed back to the hotel where I promptly modelled my flip-flops, shirt and towel (NOT the shorts – I think they are too big…) before having a bit of a swim after a hot and dusty afternoon.

I headed back to my room to pack for the trip to Sanyang which should be very interesting. We were told we were only allowed to bring one bag so I have been trying to guess at what we will need (though there is NO way my mosquito net will fit into my rucksack along with all my other clothes!).

Our last dinner at the hotel for the next little while consisted of an English roast dinner along with trifle for dessert (though that seemed to cause me a bit of stomach trouble – milk and cream are in VERY short supply here).

After dinner was not terribly interesting as all I did was to finish packing and actually do a bit of washing as well.

⇒ Continue to Day Seven - Friday, February 1st, 2002 - Sanyang Nature Camp