Week 16 - Banjul, the Capital City...

Is a bit of a dump to be honest. There are parts where you can see that it may used to have been an attractive, colonial city but since the last military coup most companies, embassies etc have been moving out (Banjul is on an island and so from a security point of view is not great. If you simply seize Denton Bridge nobody can get in or out.) The President is still based there so there are a few parts that are kept well but the rest is hot, dirty, dusty (which I assume will become muddy in the rains?) and covered in rubbish and rubble. However it is where I work most days so I’ve become quite used to it.

I wanted to take some pictures and give you some details about my day to day life in Banjul. Partly because it is a big part of my time here, but also because a friends husband told her off for sending me some Molton Brown body lotion saying “She is working in a city for goodness sake, not the middle of nowhere.” I urgently need to dispel any myths that the streets are lined with shops that stock anything remotely close to Molton Brown…..they are not!!!!

I’ve talked before about getting the geli geli to work. It takes about 30 mins. They are a bit hot and sweaty but cheap and generally quite reliable (by Gambian standards). I’m getting so much better at it now that I hardly notice any pushing or shoving and the other week I even got off by climbing out of the window to save everyone from moving out of my way. Even the locals were amazed and laughed at me.

Each morning I buy tapalapa and nyebe for breakfast (In fact I generally buy enough for breakfast and lunch – total cost about 30p!). I normally go to the same bitiko each day and buy the nyebe from the same lady each day. It’s quite nice to have habits like that, you are much less likely to get ripped off and they take the trouble to be friendly and so on. Bitikos exist everywhere in the Gambia. They are wee corner shops that sell everything. You go to buy food, batteries, phone cards, gas bottles for hobs…. Much like a tardis, they are often so tiny there is hardly room to go in them.

Many of the main streets in Banjul are at least tarmac but often in a terrible state of disrepair. Along the sides of the streets large lorries are parked up and under these you will find chickens, goats, dogs and men, all sleeping or hiding from the sun. Many pavements are blocked by men sitting having attaya (a revolting, strong, sweet tea), ladies selling cashew nuts or mangos, some beggars (not too many though) and kids playing. It means that in many areas you simply have to walk along the roads. As Banjul is busy it can be a bit hairy at times…still, so far so good!

The streets are busy during the day. Lots of African women with babies on their backs and carrying things on their heads, traders selling things (anything!), children everywhere (40% of the population here is under 10 years), loads of unhealthy looking animals and plenty of insects.

There is a great market in Banjul if you are feeling full of beans. It takes a considerable amount of energy to cope with the heat, the ‘bumsters’ (a general issue everywhere for ‘toubabs’) and haggling for everything. I tend not to go to the main market but do often buy material in Banjul from the small stores at the edge of the market. You can buy enough material for a little top for 20-50p sometimes.

I work in Banjul with 3 other VSO volunteers. Alison, (who works in the office above me), and Justin and Andrew who work in another office in town. We meet for lunch once or twice a week. I hope the photos will keep you in the picture….it’s not Ceaser salad and a glass of merlot at All Bar One, I can assure you. (That said, I actually don’t like All Bar One and the food here is good so long as you are not too fussy. And again, it’s cheap!) When I first arrived I didn’t think I’d ever try to a stuffed meat pie (fried pie, split open and then stuffed with chips, chopped tomatoes and mayonnaise!) but last week I did…and I enjoyed it. I’ve been losing weight over here but I suspect this addition to my diet has had something to do with a recent little weight gain! One place we go for lunch even overlook the sea so you get quite a nice view of the ferry to the south bank (and the fishing boats which will take you across more quickly but chances of survival are considerably slimmer!)

There are fewer whites or toubabs in Banjul than in Kombos. I have no idea about the ratio all I do know is that if I see another white face I am always surprised if I dont know them. I’ve become used to people staring and shouting at you in the street but I don’t think it ever becomes easy being targeted because of the colour of your skin. You have to harden up to people asking for money or you would be broke before starting work each day.

And then my walk home, which I may have explained includes going through the rubbish tip. I know that some of you may think its just a few cans on the side of the road, but it’s not. The pictures on this blog are small but look closely and you can see the numerous vultures feasting on the junk! What a way to end each day.

Finally a quick update from me re day to day life.
Had few people staying at my house (nothing new), played touch rugby on the beach on Tuesday (I was rubbish but it was good fun), plumber has been and fixed my sink (yippee), Marney has taken in a stray cat, I’ve offered to be God Mother to help with vets fees! (which could mount up as she is a poorly wee thing), I bit a cockroach the other day as it had crawled onto my tapalapa (soooo gross but it moved before I even came close to eating it, thank god, urrrggghhh), work still quiet but the next month will be busy (at last.)

More soon …..x

PHOTOS - journey home

The rubbish tip

The Geli Geli park at a particularly calm moment!

The view from our lunchtime cafe. Ferry or fishing boat, your choice to cross the river?
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PHOTOS - Eating in Banjul

A typical menu at the better restaurants

Our favorite lunch spot overlooking the sea

Where I buy my nyebe (the other pots in front of her have various fillings for tapalapa, spagetti and meatballs, smoked fish, friedbean curd, onion relish, shrimps...)

The local Bitiko
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PHOTOS - Typical streets in Banjul

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Week 14 - Happy Birthday Jodie but Im a wee bit homesick

So this week I’ve been feeling a bit homesick. I’d like to put my finger on a reason why but I can’t. Before we left, VSO warned us that we might have weeks like this so I am sure it will pass.

I’ve been busy both socially and at work. Both are good things so far as I am concerned. Paula, a friend of mine and fellow VSO volunteer, was laughing at me this week as she never sees me sit still. I told her that I have the nick name ‘pocket rocket’ with some friends back home (thank you Chris!) and she has now adopted that too. However being busy doesn’t stop me missing people at home…. I do plan to be home for 2 weeks in August which will be great.

Anyway, enough about that. Last week was Jodie’s Birthday. She actually had about 3 Birthday dos (why not go over the top if you can get away with it eh!?) but the main event was a party in her compound…

Jodie and Marney live next door to each other in a family compound in Bakau New Town. They have small, basic houses but both are clean and reasonably well furnished with fairly good electricity supply.

Jodie, Marney and I have all made friends with a fairly diverse bunch of people so Jodie just invited everyone she knew to come to her house. She set up small committees to sort things out (food, music and games) and decided to spend her recent tax refund on funding the event. (Most of which went on an amazing cake, a disco ball and a padded toilet seat - honestly!)

Her local friends and neighbours made most of the food…Benechin, Mbaahaal and fish. We did also make some potato and pasta salads at my house the day before (I have a much better kitchen then most vols). Drinks were provided by many - beer, wine and FC (fosters clark) and vodka! Julie was down from Soma and spent the afternoon blowing up balloons and Louise had just received a package from home with St Patrick day decorations (the Gambian postal system!) so she gave those to Jodie too!

The locals, vounteers and ex-pats all managed to mix together quite well, although by the end of the night everyone had their own corner. For some of the ex-pats it was their first proper Gambian compound experience! In fact a few of them even admitted to being a little scared, much to my amusement!

Jodie had hired a generator in case the electricity did go off. It didn’t, but Paul and Marney (music committee) were gutted as the play lists they had spent the previous 2 days putting together wouldn’t play. The locals were delighted though and played (fairly dreadful) African music. Not one to hold back, I was happy to dance with them (I do a really mean mandinka now!) but most people were happy to simply sit around, have few drinks and chat. A really nice, if somewhat unusual, atmosphere. Ex-pats were first to go, followed by volunteers and the locals had to be asked to leave when they got a bit out of hand having had too much free beer.

As usual, Marney and I were there to the bitter end........ I wonder if that is one of the reasons we are friends, neither of us can bear to think we are missing out on anything so are always the last to leave!



Doug the Dancer (has to be seen!) and WTFI Alice!

Nicola, Derek and Daddy

Anna, Andrew and Doug (I think?)
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The usual gang...Me, Ian, Marney, Jodie, Paul and Stewart (at front)

Jodies Neighbours

Bloody nice cake
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Week 12 - Meetings Gambian Style

Life continues quite easily on a day to day basis. It is getting hotter by the day but is still generally bearable because we benefit from a sea breeze in the Kombos. The office in Banjul does got very hot sometimes but the guys in the office just tell me to wait until June/July. I expect to be reporting that I am melting at work very soon.

One of the things I am finding most difficult at work are the meetings. (I have got used to having not much to do, goodness knows how I'll cope when I get home?) Gambian meetings have to be seen to be believed but I'll do my best to summarise:

Firstly, a 09.00 start means that those who have not forgotten about the meeting entirely, start thinking about the meeting at 09.00. As most will be up to an hour away it will be 10.00 before
the majority of people are in the room together. You never wait for everyone to turn up or the meetings would never start. Generally speaking any room the meeting is held in won't have been booked and even when you have one they are very simple with few facilities. (I often see people putting marker pens, sugar cubes in pockets to take away at the end of the meeting!). Once the meeting actually starts the agenda is read aloud and the fun begins:

It is critical in Gambian meetings to be seen to have your say. Therefore everyone says something on almost every point, even if it is just repeating what has already been said. In many meetings there are 2 or more languages spoken and sometimes official interpreters are present. They don’t always do a great job though. Last week a person had a 20 minute rant in Wolof including fist waving and pacing up and down. He sat down and the interpreter simply said “this man does not agree with the last point raised”. I could have worked that out for myself without the need for assistance!

Almost all Gambians have mobile telephones (even those that are really poor). In the urban areas it is very common for people to have 2 or 3 phones. The chair at my last meeting had 3 strapped to a kind of holster around his waist. All of these went off at some point and I remeber one ring tone was the tune of 'Lord of the Dance'! Despite requests, people do not turn them off during meetings so often the entire meeting is disrupted whilst attendees take calls whether or not the calls are work related. On friday I was at a meeting where the person next to me took calls throughout the meeting. As a gesture towards politeness he did bend sideways in his chair so he was under the table when he was talking but it did mean that he took all his calls lying in my lap!

Side meetings happen throughout meetings as well, so you may have up to 3 or 4 meetings running at the same time. Add to this the call to prayer 3 times during a work day (and sometimes it is so loud you literally cannot hear the person opposite you when they talk) and the whole situation is farcical.

Anyone that has a laptop will generally turn it on and, if we are lucky enough to have internet access, they will log on and email people, check the news or try to go on facebook. If there is no internet access then often people play computer games and even clap out loud if they make a good move or groan when they lose.

Lunch is usually provided at these meetings, it’s sometimes the only reason that people attend. This means that during later sessions up to half the attendees have left. The meal can sometimes be quite a lengthy affair and often rich food so it is a common sight to see people asleep during the afternoon of a meeting as they try to digest the feast!

Prayer also features during meetings and as a way to try and get things back on track. Sometimes when issues arise the chair will ask people to pray for help. Last week my friend Marney was at a workshop to discuss ways to raise funds for a new blind school. The suggestion which was voted as most critical to start was setting up a prayer group to pray for funds to be forth coming. I have some admiration for the level of faith but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that many Gambians are so laid back (lazy?) that they would rather ask and wait for help than get on and do things themselves.

All in all, most meetings are a real test of patience. When I’m in good form they can be quite amusing but on a bad day they literally drive me completely insane. I have started taking a book with me everywhere I go so at least I have something to read when things get too bad!!

Oh, and finally…Gambian timekeeping not only applies to start times….I have some colleagues that have been in meetings up to 7 or 8 pm

One such meeting at a regional office

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