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!