Week 6 - Easter in Kartong

Easter Weekend in Kartong
Our house for the weekend - (left)

Although this is an Islamic country, as is the Gambian way, we actually had 5 days off work…..
Thursday because Wednesday was Mohammed’s (the prophet) birthday and people were up all night praying so too tired to work. Then Good Friday and Easter Monday just to keep the few Christians in the country happy. Both Thursday and Monday were only announced as bank holidays the night before …It's chaos but nobody seems to mind. The jungle drums work brilliantly over here so news travels at lighting speed and everyone seems to find out!

Julie (our great Aussie organiser) booked a group of us a tree house for the weekend in Kartong so off we went….

Usually it takes between 2 and 4 or 5 hours to get there. You need to get 3 connecting Gelis which involves waiting while each one fills up as they wont go without all spaces being taken. However, as luck would have it Paul, a guy that works for the British High Commission was driving down and gave Jodie, Marney and I a lift! 1 hours drive and no police stops as his car has diplomatic immunity …Oh for the life of an Ex Pat!

Katong is a nice small spot right on the coast. Mainly it is quiet and the beach is almost deserted. This week was a little busier as there was a festival on but still there was plenty of space on the beach (there were about 20 of us on a mile stretch). If anyone comes to visit me we will certainly visit Kartong as you can wear a bikini without risk of offending anyone – My tan has improved (well joined up really, so I’m bit browner all over)

Back to the Tree house….It wasn’t really one as there was no tree! It was a hut with no sides on huge stilts so it was the height of a tree. It was literally over-looking the beach so the view was fab. However…it was blowing a gale at night so it was absolutely freezing! We all ended up huddled together on the same mattress for warmth, we looked like penguins as we kept swapping places to get a warm spot!! Facilities were basic but clean (bucket showers, so you never feel quite clean but the water is warm as it is out in the sun most of the day).

Days were spent on the beach or in the tree house playing ‘Speed Scrabble’ (thank you Oli for teaching me…I love it!! Now I just need to get hold of a set of scrabble tiles!) In the evening the festival took place so we all wandered into the village. A good mixture of dancing, music, magic (sort of!) and wrestling (which we missed as we thought it would start late as almost everything in Gambia does…and then it was on time!). The 2nd night was spoiled as we were just hassled from start to finish by drunk/stoned bumsters, honestly it drives you mad. We actually went home after about 45mins and continued with the cheap (shite!) wine and games…much better fun!

The weekend cost me about £25, which is far more than we can afford on our budget, but for transport, accomodation, food and drink it cant be bad? And, after all, it was a holiday!

Generally this week has been good. My neighbour Sana came over one night to try and teach me some more Gambian cooking. We made ‘Chuoclo’ which is a bit like porridge but made with ground nuts and rice to which you add evaporated milk and masses of sugar…not really my thing but it was nice of him to bother.
I’ve been cooking quite a bit and on Monday night I made a picnic to take to the beach, much to the delight of the people I made it for. It is nice cooking for volunteers as they are always so grateful for anything, (especially those that live up country on rice!) We had cous cous with shrimps and chilli, coleslaw (a bit chunky as I have no grater), home made hommous, vegetable rice salad, fresh bread and then a cake…doesn’t sound like we will starve does it?

The nights when the electricity goes off I now just go to bed and read for ages rather than pacing about wondering when/if it will comeback on again.…I’m on book 11 already!

Work is still very slow …. but I’m working on it though

And, quite unbelievably, I think I have chilblains on my feet!! Either that or is is some horrible fungal/bug thing that I dont even want to think about...I'll keep you posted as Im going to the nurse next Friday!


This reminded me of E.T. - It is actually walking back from Kartong at night

Beach at Kartong, not exactly crowded is it?

Our Camp. We surrounded the bed with mattresses and furtniture for shelter and then all snuggled up together for warmth! The photo shows Jodie and Anna claiming their spaces

Burying the locals! Actually this is Charlies boyfriend (Charlie is in the centre of the shot, Louise to her right and George to her left)
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Week 5 - Work Hard?... Play Hard!

So I started work this week, kind of! I’m used to working… well, quite hard, quite often. It seems it is unlikely to be the case here!

My office hours are 08.30 – 16.00 M-T with a half day on Friday
Twice this week people in the office have gone home in the afternoon for family events
Most people are late in the morning due to transport problems
Last year there were apparently 42 bank holidays
Some people bring children to work
And it is a regular sight to see our secretaries asleep at their desks for hours at a time
…I’m certainly not going to come home suffering from exhaustion!!

That said, just getting into work is a challenge! I have some sympathy regarding getting in late. It is total guess work how long it will take you as local transport arrives when it arrives. I walk about 15 mins to a pick up point and then wait for the local geli geli (minivan). There is a usually a total scramble/fight to get on and many of the locals hold on to the side of the van whilst it is still moving so that they can make sure they get a seat…It’s each man (or woman) for him/herself! This morning I almost hit a girl that was just pushing me out of the way to get on. I did hold my own and managed to bundle past her but it is quite exhausting! Once on board (with battered arms and bruised legs and toes), people start politely greeting each other as if nothing has just happened! Getting home is even worse and twice this week we have resorted to getting taxis to avoid the fights…trouble is they are much more expensive (about 50-80p rather than 14p!), I guess I’ll just have to toughen up!

On my first day at work I met the HR team. All very nice people and all can speak English (a relief but my Wollof is not getting any better). Unfortunately I had no desk, chair or computer though so they just sat me on a small coffee table facing a wall! It appears there is little for me to do but I am hoping that by working with the Director (she is back next week) I can create a meaningful role for me….Things here happen very slowly so I’m doing best to be patient, but it is not easy. This week I have read a few files, created a tiny database of the casual staff and managed to get myself a desk and chair. I doubt I’ll ever get a computer so my laptop comes with me to and from work each day. It will be a good test of is durability.

There is no water at all in the office so you have to bring your own to work. That is fine for drinking etc but I certainly cant carry enough to then use in the toilet so you have to be careful not to drink too much as using the loo is a little tricky!!

Work aside, the life of a Gambian volunteer isn’t even close to being as tough as I had expected…I’ve been to three parties this week:

40th Wedding Anniversary – A fellow volunteer had her parents to stay and it was their Ruby Wedding (same day as my parents Ruby wedding by a weird coincidence!)

A great do with lots of dancing. I had the chance to show off my ‘Mandinka’ tribal dancing (fuelled it has to be said, by homemade sangria!) – I was delighted when the locals recognised it. Much to my amusement the locals made Tracy’s parents a cake which read ‘Happy 40th Weeding’

Andrews B Day (which then turned into Adamas B Day as his was the day after!). At a volunteers house. Fairly tame but good fun never the less. Andrew is going out with another volunteer (it’s very incestuous here!) and she is a great cook so there was good food on offer.

Pizza night at my neighbours, Helen and Cian. Helen is a doctor working at the main hospital in Banjul and Cian is a journalist/editor working for one of the only independent papers here (a slightly risky role as the last Editor of that paper was killed in an ‘accident’ having printed some anti government pieces!)
Food is a big thing as a volunteer here as living on a budget tends to mean boring food. A night with homemade pizza and salad etc causes some great excitement! I made some peanut cookies to take with me so my status as popular volunteer has been confirmed; I think bribery is best in these circumstances! (Making them was an interesting exercise with no recipe, no scales, no mixer and no idea what the temperature of the stove is….a miracle they worked at all!)

Sunday night I did feel a bit more volunteer like though…I sat at home with no electricity eating dry cornflakes as I had nothing else in the house…Poor me eh?! The electricity goes off about 4 times per week, last night it was off all evening so it’s best to keep candles and torches at the ready. I was expecting to have no power in my house at all though, so I’m certainly not complaining!!

I’m just about getting used to life here…the good, the bad and the ugly

Gambian food

I am adding this section mainly for my sister Jane, a real 'foodie'.
The photo shows Sana, one of my compound neighbours giving me a cookery lesson...

Most Gambians eat plenty of rice!...Every lunch/dinner it is the main staple. In the poorer areas the people really do almost live on it. In more wealthy areas there is far more variety and plenty of other dishes available. Gambian food is often terrifingly high in calories. I guess many of the local population are happy to consume high fat/carbohydrate food but for visitors it can be problematic. Groundnuts/Peanuts and the nut oil features in many dishes as they are grown here.

Most Gambians share food from a common 'foodbowl' in their compound. All the family will eat together, from the same bowl using their hands (extended family and anyone that lives in the compound). It is a messy, if fun, experience! Some volunteers, especially those up country, often eat like this everyday. It's really important to remember which hand you should be using to eat the food from the bowl, (your right hand, the left is used for other things!).

As this is Muslim country you generally can't get pork. Fish and chicken are very common and beef is also readily available. Most food is bought at local markets so you have to be somewhat carefree about how your food is presented and stored. There are 'western' supermarkets in the Kombos but they are expensive and not as much fun as bartering with the locals!

One of the nice things about Gambian food is that for breakfast (and lunch/dinner if you like) you can get 'Tapalapa'. A locally baked bread (similar to french bread but a bit heavier) which is then filled with your choice of a number of fillings - boiled eggs, corned beef (which is more like Spam), nyebi (spicy beans in a sauce), livers, mined meat....all of these come with mayonaise which the Gambians eat by the bucket full! A filled Tapalapa costs about 25- 45p

Eating out is cheap when compared to at home. You can get a reasonable meal (Chicken dish and rice or Pasta etc) for less than £3.00. Beer is about 50-70p per local bottle but any remotely decent wine is quite expensive. On the volunteer allowance you can't eat out all the time, but some do try! I've cooked a few times at home and so long as you are creative with ingredients and equipment (or lack of!) you are fine.

Generally I think the food is quite good and I'm enjoying it. Marney, my friend and a fellow volunteer, is finding it much tougher (she has foodbowl most days) and is almost tearful now at mealtimes. Earlier this week she was threatening to kill anyone that offered her rice or fishheads again! I guess she'll just have to get used to it!

If anyone wants to try some Gambian recepies I've added a few below...Yassa is probably my favorite so far!

Benechin – Chicken or Beef
(Benechin literally translates as one pot)

500g Chicken or beef pieces (can have fat running through as it cooks quite slowly but remove and gristle)
2 large onions
1 red or green pepper (pounded in pestle and mortar)
2 red or green peppers chopped
2 large tomatoes
2 dessertspoons of tomato puree
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 aubergine
Pumpkin (about the same size as aubergine) or use carrots but they will take longer to cook
½ small cabbage
1 bitter tomato (if you like and can get hold of it)
½ cup vinegar
1 cup ground nut oil
6 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Cut the meat/chicken into equal portions (bite sized or larger if you prefer). Wash is required

  • Season and marinade meat/chicken with vinegar, salt and black pepper, pounded garlic. Marinade for at least 30 mins

  • Cut vegetables into bite sized or larger pieces

  • Peel and slice onions thinly

  • Fry meat or chicken in oil until browned well, then remove from the pan. Add sliced onions to pan and fry

  • Add the pounded peppers and tomato puree and cook gently for 15 mins

  • Add the measured water and bring to the boil

  • Add the vegetables , meat/chicken , bay leaves and salt (to taste)

  • Remove meat/chicken and vegetables when cooked and keep warm

  • Add rice and peppers to sauce and cook until most of the liquid is reduced and rice is cooked.

  • Replace the meat/chicken and vegetables and then serve

Chicken (or Fish) Yassa
This is a very easy recipe. It's great for guests because you do most of the work the night before.

4-5 skinless chicken breasts (or their equivalent)
Onions to taste (but usually about 8)
For the marinade:
1 c. red wine vinegar
2/3 cup oil 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
6 chicken-bouillon cubes,
crushed 8 small garlic cloves
6 tsp. fresh ginger grated
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
3 tsp. coarse black pepper
2 tsp. red pepper (ground or flakes)

The night before

  • Make the marinade by combining all the ingredients (except the chicken and onions)

  • Clean the chicken breasts and place the chicken in a large glass baking dish. Pour about 1/3 to 1/2 of the marinade over the chicken, and let it marinate overnight

  • Reserve the rest of the marinade
    At some point during marinading, turn the chicken over

The Big Feast

  • Grill or shallow fry the chicken on each side until crisp but not burned (you can baste with marinade during process if you have time!)

  • At the same time sauté the thinly sliced onions over a low/medium heat until soft and golden brown

  • Heat the remaining marinade (in microwave, on stove or in grilling dish) but do this lightly so that the sauce does not reduce too much

  • Serve the dish with the sauté onions heaped over the chicken and with green salad and bread to mop up juices

(Can be served with chicken or meat or even chickpeas etc)

6 tablespoons peanut butter
small amount of chilli pepper (about 1/6th or small pepper)
2 cups water
1 cup tomato puree
1 chopped onion
1 or 2 Maggi cubes
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
2 cloves garlic
Other vegetables to taste (peppers, bitter tomatoes, cassava, cabbage, carrots)
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper can all be added to taste
(In some more traditional recipes, further ground nut oil is also added)


  • Boil water and then add an blend the Maggi cube(s). Mix in peanut butter until smooth

  • Then add and blend the tomato puree

  • Add garlic, pepper, onions and any other vegetables and cook gently

  • It is ready to serve when the vegetables are cooked through and the oil begins to separate on the top of the sauce (usually about 20-30mins)

  • Add the lemon or lime juice in the last 5 mins of cooking

  • If meat of chicken is to be added this should be lightly browned in groundnut oil and then added with the vegetables (you may need to increase quantity of sauce if you have a large amount of meat).
    Some people also like to soften the onions first as well before adding to the Domada.

  • Serve the Domada with rice


    To show that we did actually make some!

    I realise now it is rare to have this many vegetables, I think they were just showing off.

    Jorjie and Julie picking grit and bad bits out of the rice before we could cook it
    I dream of having lovely packets of Uncle Bens rice again!!!
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    About the Gambia

    • It’s the smallest country in Africa. About the size of Wales with a population roughly the size of Yorkshire (1.6milllion ish)
    • It is surrounded by Senegal except a fairly short coastline along West Africa
    • Official business language is English although it is not spoken well (or at all) in many rural areas. There are a number of African tribal languages spoken, most widely used are Mandinka and Wollof (more of which later…”Mangee janga olof”, “I’m learning Wollof”)
    • The economy is based around agriculture (mainly groundnuts for export) and tourism and not a great deal else. (Although tourism does provide jobs and some money into the economy, much of the revenue goes to multi national hospitality companies and not the locals)
    • According to the World Bank ,up to 60% of the population live in abject poverty (on less than $1 per day). However, in the Kombos area there are some fairly wealthy Gambians and ex-pats (the Kombos is the area close to Banjul where almost everyone that works in and around Banjul lives)
    • The Gambia is a stable country, it is safe and the people are welcoming and friendly
    • 90% of the population are Muslim but many other religions exist here and the population live happily side by side. Inter-faith marriage is common and poses no real cultural issues. From that point of view, many countries could learn something from the Gambians.


    Some photos to give you an idea of our journey up country. The seat where Marney is reading is where 4 or 5 of us had to squash in on the way back..Very hot to say the least!

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    1) Marney lost in Africa!
    2) The Boat trip across to the Island
    3) The view approaching the Island (Janjangbureh)
    4) The toliet facilities at the police station where we were held (unlicenced driver and vehicle!)

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    These photos were taken at the womens group session. As part of the initiation ceremony for new members they make a kind of porriage, add sand to it and then everyone has to eat it! The first and second photos show them doing just that.
    The third photo shows a drummer heating the skin on the top of his drum before playing it. Apparently it makes the skin tighter and then the drumming sound better!

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    Week 4 - Up Country

    4 days away to see the ‘real Gambia’. Between the volunteers, (and maybe the Gambians?) there is a bit of competition/debate about the experience of living in the Kombos verses living up country.
    Certainly before I arrived, my idea of volunteering was more like the realities of rural living and not what I have found in the Kombos. Up-country people are economically much poorer, speak less English and have access to far fewer facilities. They are however, just as happy (happier?) and are able to live far more cheaply as there are simply aren’t the things to buy and no tourists to inflate prices! I’m now very happy that I have the relative luxury of the Kombos but would have also been content to settle up country where I suspect I may have become closer to the people and also learned the language more effectively.

    I have had to remember that I’m here for the benefit of the Gambian people not really for myself and therefore it is inevitable that I would be based in Banjul/Kombos. The call for Business/HR advisors in rural Gambia is fairly limited! Although I might have enjoyed the experience, my skills would not have been used at all. Anyway, life will be easier for me on a practical level where I am. All that said, I have friends up country and I will certainly be going to stay with them regularly.

    Our 3 days included a number of visits. Firstly to the local chief, (just as you might imagine, I felt as though I was in some kind of play/tv drama!). Then a traditional heeler who told my fortune (I’m apparently a very lucky and influential person and I ought to give white gifts to people as this will spread both my luck and influence?!) Finally to the local Islamic leader (The Imam).
    We also met a local women’s group. They had set up this group almost as a self-help group for baron women. All are either infertile or have had at least 3 babies that have then all died. They have a number of dances, rituals and prayers to perform which they hope will help them to become pregnant and then have a healthy baby. It was brilliant to meet them. Not really for the dances etc (although they were good fun), but to see them just laughing, joking, messing about and hugging each other. It was so funny as I thought in many ways it was similar to when I get together with my friend or sisters! I really enjoyed that part of the trip.

    I also taught a group of Gambians, Kenyans and Philippines how to play Yahtzee. I added a new rule that when you get Yahtzee you have to jump up and run around the table shouting Yahtzee at the top of your voice. It seemed to add to the overall excitement!! I intend to introduce ‘shut the box’ next month and by the end of my years stay we’ll have a large collection of games to play together!

    My attempts to join in with the local dancing!!