Festivities in the Gambia

An 'orphans' Christmas

So Christmas away from home. I miss my family and friends a lot whilst here but at Christmas this seems to be magnified so much that at times I almost had a physical pain in my chest as I was missing my nieces and nephews so much. That said I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me as we did have a fantastic day….

Christmas has always been a very big deal in my house and so along with Jodie, Marney and few others we decided to have a full-on proper family Christmas with those of us that could not be home for Christmas. Jodie did a brilliant job of decorating Pauls house and creating a 'winter wonderland' so we had a fireplace, stockings (in African material of course), a Christmas tree, Santa and the like. (We also kept the air-con on full blast for a convincing winter chill!)

Paul was very sweet and got me a stocking to open on Christmas morning. I opened 1 gift and was amazed that he had got just the same kind of thing that my Mum used to get for me when I was at home. When I opened the second gift I realised that he must have enlisted help from my Mum…there is no way Paul would have bought me a french manicure polish and some stainless steel measuring cups (I’m weird like that!)

For Christmas lunch there were 14 of us for a sit down 6 course meal (of which we managed 5 courses, the 6th we had on boxing day). I did most of the cooking with help from Stew and others but was quite proud when it all turned out okay. We had roast Turkey and all the trimmings in Pauls back garden over looking the ocean. Followed by presents (Thank you for mine x) and then games before heading off to the High Commission bar for an evening party organised by Paul and Jules. Having had 14 bottle of champagne between about 8 of us (thanks mainly to my parents and Marneys Mum) we didn’t need much encouragement to monopolise the dance floor (and the window sill in my case!)

It was a truly great day. Totally British (except the lovely weather) with very few Gambian influences but to be honest, it’s just what I wanted at Christmas.

New Years Eve - Brazillian style

My sister Rachel was here for New Years Eve. Jayne an Australian friend out here hosted a party at her flat with a Brazillian theme. She made Caiprinas so we were sozzled way before 12 but managed to party tillabout 4 am (unfortunately the Caiprinias were with lemons instead of limes as they look so similar here!)

Jules and Rachel made us dresses to wear...well they were almost dresses but made without the aid of any kind of sewing or cutting equipment. It's a miracle but they did survive the night (including Julies midnight swim in the ocean!) Most people didnt really go to town with the dressing up so at least we made the effort. If there had been a prize then Jacqui Q would have won for her bravery in wearing a Carnival outfit for the whole evening.

Roll on 2009!


A kind of equivalent of Christmas in the Muslim calendar. In the Gambia of course, we get to celebrate both Christmas and Tobaski again demonstrating the religious tolerance here (and also the love of bank holidays!!)
('Jodie' tethered outside my kitchen, awaiting her fate!)

Tobaski is celebrated 2 months and 10 days after the end of Ramadan (not sure why?). It is when Muslims celebrate an event depicted in the Bible when Abraham committed himself to God by being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. When God saw his dedication he allowed Abraham to sacrifice a Ram instead of his son. People go to the Mosque at 10am and the return to the home compoud to share a meat feast. For those who can afford it the household buys a Ram, sheep or goat and it is slaughtered the head of the household, helped by other male members of the family. The women prepare the other food for the feast so its a bit like a BBQ back home. Men do the meat and feel proud that they have cooked, the women do everything else.

My Tobaski started about 5 days before the actual festival when 2 goats arrived on the compound. One was tethered outside my kitchen window, the other between Sana and Adamas houses. For the first few days and nights they seemed quite happy but as the day approached they seemed to become aware of their fate and got more and more vocal. To be honest it was a bit distressing but as I’m not a vegetarian I can’t really grumble about the fact that the animals were going to be slaughtered to eat!!

I chickened out and didn’t watch Sana, my neighbour actually kill and gut the goats (Sana had named them Jodie and Marney to amuse me but it made the killing seem even worse!) Once this act had taken place the meat was roughly butchered and then cooked on the compound and shared with all comers. My contribution was sweets and few cakes; to be honest the Gambians I know will eat almost anything so they were happy to tuck in to whatever was provided.

In fact I didn’t stay long as Tobaski fell on the same day that my Mum and Dad arrived to visit me. The call of seeing them and also the hot power shower at Ngala Lodge was too much for me to resist….Maybe next year I’ll make more of the event.

In general though everyone dresses up in their finest clothes (and at work the girls had special new outfits made for the occasion). The children especially look very sweet all dressed up. Many people in Kombos go back to their actual home villages (where they were born or where their family live). This means that although it is only 1 days holiday many people take more than that.

(As an aside. I’ve discovered since being here that lots of people say that they haven’t taken holiday for years…Often what this means is they haven’t booked time off in advance and taken their full holiday leave. Everyone takes what is known as casual leave which is time off which is not booked in advance and is used for any number of events, family commitments and travelling. If people took all the holidays they were entitled to, plus the bank holidays and then some casual leave they would have half the year off!)

Tobaski Photos

'Jodie' outside my window

'Marney' sleeping between Adama's and Sana's

Posing on Tobaski Morning

Sharing rice to go with the cooked meat

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Nights out.

Oh its a hard,hard life out here......
Just in case anyone thinks I'm having a tough time out here (too hot, not enough money, missing home, no proper cosmetics or chocolate etc etc), I thought I'd fill you in on some of the fun I'm having. As many of you know, I'm not one to say no to a good night out (in fact, I'm unlikely to say no even to a bad one...) Anyway, in the past couple of weeks we've had a few fairly memorable ones
Adama, Jackie and the 'other' Jackie

Birthday Wine Tasting volunteer style...
A friend Justin had a birthday do, 39. (What will he do for his 40th? I hope I get an invite as it might be in Chile!)

He invited about 16 of us over, all instructed to bring a bottle of wine. Him and his girlfriend Louise had made great food and then proceeded to lead us all in a session of blind tasting. It was fairly easy to work out which was the best wine (purchased by someone with a 'real' job and therefore always drinks wine from bottles rather than cartons). Unbelievably the other Jackie, (Lebanese Jackie, Jackie Q or old Jackie ...depending on which nickname you want to give her- there is a a story behind all of them!), tasted 8 wines and matched all 8 perfectly to the descriptions.

All in all a great night despite the fact that Marney and I disgraced ourselves a wee bit by dancing to 80's songs on our own whilst the hostess went to bed (sorry Louise), thank goodness that Marney was there, she was the only person more badly behaved than me!

'Nuns on the Run' ..................Last Saturday Fred, head of Brussels Airlines here, invited Jodie, Marney and I to his 'Pimp your Head' party. We left things to last minute but Jodie managed to get material from the biteko and a local tailor to run up 'habits' for us all for about 50p.
Marney was in charge of directions so we eventually arrived at about 11.30 pm ('It's on the right at the bottom of a sandy road'...if you've been here that's like saying 'it's just past the roundabout in Milton Keynes')

It was a nice and terribly civilised party, (a bit like the ones I used to go to in my real life!) I felt very ashamed of the cheap bottle of wine I took with me and was very happy to sample the Absolute Vodka on offer.

The civilised party ended at a civilised hour. In order to spread the word of god for a little longer, we gatecrashed another do which, inevitably, resulted in us swimming at 2am in habits and underwear (holey rather than holy!)

It had to happen. Churchills is a typically awful 'Brits Abroad' bar that does Karaoke twice a week, we were always going to succumb to its charms eventually.
In order to describe the singing I'll simply give you an extract on an email from Marney (pictured with me) to a friend back home...
You missed Churchills. I was well good at singing. The room fell into a hushed awe when I sang the Barbara Striesland part of the final verse in "I know him so well." I knew him sooooooo welllll.......
Microphone in hand drops to my side, head bows. Wild applause. Jackie partnered as Elaine Paige (but is no Elaine Paige to be honest, had to carry her on the high notes).
What can I say, Marney is a dreadful person, always telling lies about everything. But when you are away from home you simply have to be friends with whoever is available. I, of course, had to carry her.

PHOTOS - Wine Tasting

Louise our Hostess (Justin's better half) with Adama

Bernie with Vienetta cake

Fiona, Marney (practicing her singing for later karaoke)
and Jackie

Wino Jacqui (who won the tasting),
with Adama and George


The lodges at Sandele

Sandele (pronounced 'Sandaily') is a lovely new Eco Retreat in Kartong. I went with Paul for just one night as a kind of holiday. It's not something you can do on a volunteers budget but as a treat it was great. The Retreat is being built in conjunction with the local community of Kartong, who benefit from the development and running of the resort and who will assume complete esponsibility in twenty-five years time.

You stay in wee private lodges, nestled in the bush a hundred metres from the beach. And when finished (we had a kind of pre-view) each lodge will also have a fantastic stilted beach lodge (complete with shower and drinks facilities) literally overlooking the sea.

The owners of Sandele also own Safari Gardens, the small hotel us volunteers stayed in for our first week in the Gambia. Both owners are really lovely people (especially Gerry who is just a bubble of positivity all of the time). It has been there dream for the past 10 years to open Sandele and ensure it is run on on ethical principles. They employ and train local staff and use local materials wherever possible. It is built using ecological construction techniques introduced from India to The Gambia and is run as a model of sustainability

I loved the place. It is simple luxury rather than ritzy but is very special.

If I'm totally honest they are still having a few teething problems but once all is ironed out I think it wil be a fab place to go. As we were the only guests we basically had a double date weekend with Gerry and Morris. You get full board when staying there and the food is great so we had breakfast lunch and dinner with them!
The shower in the lodges.

Kartong itself has a great beach (see earlier blog entry when I stayed there at Easter) so we did little else than sunbathe, drink wine and play scrabble. Soooooo relaxing.

PHOTOS - Karaoke

We were all brilliant!

PHOTOS - Nuns on the run

Claire, the wedding cake, deservedly won the best costume.
We won nothing but are a step closer to heaven

Adjusting again to Gambian life - Ramadan

Local Area - From my roof before the rains
So getting back into Gambian life......Toubab, Boss Lady, hssssss, not much had changed when I arrived back. All the shouts in the street are exactly the same. Having been away I must have started to look like a tourist again instead of a ‘local’ as the conmen version of Bumsters have been trying to get money out of me again (they failed this time, unlike on arrival in February!)

Weather here is slowly getting dryer but it is still incredibly humid and hot. The rains do still come but only maybe twice per week and in spectacular fashion! We just have to persevere until late October when it cools down again and the rains completely stop. Ironically I seem to have a problem with my water just now so much of the time my running water isn’t working. I can’t understand it but not much I can do about it other than keep filling up the buckets!

This time of year is Malaria season and so far 2 volunteers have had it (both are fine now). I am taking my tablets and doing my best to avoid getting bitten but unless you are prepared to hibernate for the rainy season then there is no chance of avoiding the mossies completely. The landscape of my local area has changed considerably over the past 2 months. You can see from the photographs that everywhere is much greener and more pleasant. I hardly notice that I live next door to the rubbish tip anymore.

We are currently in the month of Ramadan which does impact quite noticeably on day to day life here. Firstly all Muslims (about 90% of the population in The Gambia) fast completely during daylight hours (roughly 7 am to 19.30 pm). This fasting is known as sawm. As a non Muslim you are not expected to observe sawm (which includes all liquids as well as food) but it seems insensitive to eat and drink in front of local colleagues. This means that many of us ‘toubabs’ are seen hiding behind doors having sneaky swigs of water or bites to eat! It’s much harder to buy food on the street as I tended to do for breakfast and lunch each day and my journey home is much quicker as I’m so hungry by then that I’m literally racing to the fridge/cupboard to grab something, anything to eat!

In addition to fasting there are other changes to daily life. Men tend to be much stricter about their contact with women. Many colleagues won’t shake my hand at work for the moment as they are not supposed to have much contact with women other than their wives or mothers (there should be no impure thoughts during Ramadan!). Prayer time is observed much more strictly too and includes additional prayers. Many people will also pay Zakat if they can afford to do so. This means that wealth beyond what is require for day to day living is donated to the poor. It can be paid throughout the year but many Muslims calculate it during Ramadan or just observe it during this holy month.

And the goats…..they are literally tethered to everything in site, lampposts, garden fences, walls, bus stops, children! Poor things. They remind me of turkeys during December…I wonder of they know their fate? They will all be slaughtered at the end of Ramadan.

Work is slower than normal!!! Staff sometimes take time off during Ramadan and others finish early to get home to prepare the only main meal of the day, Iftar (served at sundown, 19.30 ish). Additionally there appears to be even more resting/sleeping as staff are hungry from fasting and tired having been up early to eat before sunrise. It takes time to get used to this as from a Western perspective it seems incredible that work can suffer in this way. However, from a local perspective my view that this is unreasonable seems equally incredible…imagine work being more important than gods will?
So when in Rome and all that, I’m trying to adjust and just cope with the local pace of things.

Socially I’m back into the swing of things here. Whilst I was away Julie basically lived my life for me as she spent August in Kombos teaching teachers at Gambia College. I arrived back to a full diary of events (sporting and parties really). I’ve moved her out of my house and taken back my life again so am really busy!!

In addition to playing touch rugby I have also attempted Ultimate Frisbee. I’m terrible as it helps to be both tall and strong (hardly a description of me!) but it does involve a fair amount of running about so at least its keeping me fit. And so far I’ve been to about 6 parties…more of which in my next September update!

Local Area - From my roof after the rains!

August - 3 weeks in my 'real world'

Mum, Hill and I the day I got home

So the past 3 weeks have been dominated by 2 things…Seeing family and friends and watching the Olympics.

Firstly the Olympics…as they are not really relevant to my Gambian blog (but so far as I’m concerned, very important) I’ll just say that I think Team GB were brilliant and I can’t wait for 2012. I am aware that lots of people think I’m a bit sad getting so excited by it all but I LOVE IT. Big thank you to Mum and Dad for putting up with me wanting to watch it all the time at home and for Paul letting me stay for few days when I got back to Gambia so I could watch the rest at his house. The only reasons I’m glad they are over are that I no longer get up at silly o’clock to watch things and I can try and think and talk about something else for a change!

My flight from Gambia back home was delayed (of course!) Someone was trying to get an extra person on board so it took ages to get the numbers right. I think they actually just walked on with an extra person and tried to hide them under a seat or something!

Going home was sooo lovely. Seeing my nieces and nephews was the best bit and I got 6 months worth of cuddles so was delighted. They have all changed a wee bit but are just as gorgeous as ever. Sam almost made me cry when I said to him “Sam I’m very glad to be home to see you all” he replied by saying “Auntie Jackie, I’m so much more glader” x

Brighton Beach, not as warm as Gambia but home x

(It was brilliant also to catch up with everyone and I’m so grateful that lots of friends and family were able to get to Sussex or London to catch up with me. I have the best friends and family in the world)

It took me a few days to settle back into the pace of things at home, everything is so much faster in the UK than in Gambia and people seem to be hurrying to do everything. It was also very strange being able to totally blend in and not be noticed and shouted at in the street. I got back into the swing of drying my hair and wearing make-up each day as well as being able to buy absolutely anything I needed. At first these things felt very luxurious but after a few days I hardly noticed again…It’s amazing how quickly you adjust again! It makes you think about all the things we tend to take for granted on a daily basis…..

I hardly miss the pigeons whilst in Gambia but they do remind me of London!

Oh and the food…..I ate and drank loads. Scallops, broccoli, cheese, asparagus, brown bread, dark chocolate, sausages, good wine (I could go on, and on). So much so that my Gambian things here are a bit tight now, therefore it is a good job I bought lots of clothes back with me.

Arriving back was actually easier than I expected as this time I knew exactly what to expect. I was also coming back to friends here and a month full of parties and fun (as well as going back to work)

AT HOME PHOTOS..Richards Party

During my time at home I went to a rock and pop legends party at Richard and Kathy Hewitts. My sisters and I went as the Supremes. Just a few photos to give you a taste of the event (as so you can see how daft/wonderful I looked!)

'Hoping' mad I didn't make it to Senegal

The past week has been frustrating to say the least. Last Tuesday, whilst scoring a try at rugby (had to get that in!), I managed to land badly on my foot and have torn a tendon in my ankle. It’s far less sore now but did mean that I was forced to take 3 days rest in the flat and cancel my planned trip to Dakar. (Will do the trip later in the year though….) Rest would have been easier if the power had been on but after 2 days of being stuck in a room with no electricity (and therefore no fan or DVDs on my laptop) I was feeling a little fed up. Day 3 was slightly better as power was on and I managed to watch about 4 films back to back!

When in Rome and all that, in addition to seeing the British High Commission nurse (who was great, as always), I went to see a traditional healer. In the Gambia it is believed that people who give birth to twins have particular qualities to make healers and so I went to my neighbour (who has twins Adama and Auwa). She doesn’t speak English so my ‘brother’ (someone in the same family compound as me) came as a translator. She sat me on the floor and made me take the bandage off, the ankle was really swollen and puffy. Having stroked it twice she simply stood on my ankle with some force. The pain was incredible and I screamed out loud! Unpeturbed by my reaction, she continued to massage my ankle with her foot and then put some local cream on it and sent me on my way. I have to say that despite the fact it really was agony for a few minutes it seems to have done the trick and it is much better now. Most of the other westerners I have told about the visit think I was totally insane to go and see her in the first place (especially the doctors) but no harm seems to have been done!

The Floating Lodges
On Friday, a friend of ours, Paul, called as he heard we had postponed the Senegal trip. He asked if we were still up for going somewhere if closer by so he could drive. I, of course, was delighted with the suggestion. He managed to get a group of us a really good deal to stay at Makasutu http://www.makasutu.com/) for that weekend. So 8 of us went up Saturday night and stayed for most of the day on Sunday. The place itself is incredible and Jodie, Marney and I shared a room on stilts over the river. We had an open air hot shower so that you literally shower outdoors among the trees but with modern comforts (ie hot water and nice fluffy towels).

The swimming pool was beautiful. I kind of freeform pool set around an exotic tree (cant remember the name). The trees and the birds that visit it (village weavers) are so lovely the owners did not want to move it so they just worked the pool around it. Looking up you could see lots of the nests. The male village weaver birds are the ones that build the nests and the female birds pick there partner based on the quality of nest/home provided. Any nests that are not up to scratch she simply cuts down and therefore all the work the male has put in is wasted! I guess that kind of incentive means that those males tend to get the job done well first time around…Perhaps a lessons for us!?

See the giant snail, great dinner guest.

Food and drink were also lovely at Makasutu (if expensive and a bit salty). We felt incredibly treated overall. The trip was a little spoiled by the fact it poured with rain all Sunday so our dug-out canoe bird watching trip had to be cancelled but it really is an incredibly place that has to be visited whilst here (if budget allows!)

Days here continue to pass more and more quickly (I guess as I’m getting settled) and I have lots to do before my trip home in 9 days, can’t wait to see you all x………….. When I get back the new volunteers arrive and we wont be the newbies anymore. Hard to believe we have been here for almost 6 months!


The stiled Lodge at Makasutu. Showering outdoors was one of the nicest things about it.
1st picture shows the outside area where we are able to watch the sunset, stars, have a few drinks and play music (to upset the other guests!)