This from a volunteer in situ in The Gambia March 2009
This is a beautiful country and the people are all very friendly and welcoming. I’m now getting used to the way of life and am living more like a Gambian, buying my fruit and water on the way home from work at the roadside stalls and heating water on the stove to wash in. The way to take a shower here is to heat a large pan of water, pour it in the bucket provided, add cold water until it’s the right temperature, then pour it over yourself using a jug – it’s very effective although the hole in my bucket makes the whole process slightly more interesting! Only the main roads are tarmaced here, the others are sandy tracks, so I seem to spend a lot of time washing my shoes and my feet are now dyed the colour of the African sand.
Work is going well, though slowly. Last week we visited the Regional Education Office (there are 7 administrative regions so it’s the equivalent of County Hall) and met the lady in charge of early child education, who seemed very organised and clear about the developments she wants to take place. They’ve done a lot of thinking about the issue in the last 10 years and produced a lot of very impressive documents, but nothing quite hangs together. We’ve also made a start on the form for Lisong’s course to show it meets standards for accreditation and on a brochure for the Education Centre. Everything moves very slowly though, partly because of the VERY slow speed of the Internet (when it’s working at all)
Last Tuesday was a public holiday and Lisong took Bill and me to her cousin’s widow’s house for a ceremony as it is one year since his death.
This was very interesting and shows that, although most people are Muslim or Christian and devoutly go to the mosque or church very regularly, traditional beliefs are still very much alive in Africa. In the corner of the yard on either side of the gate two holes were dug.
Every member of the family put into the holes a spoonful of many local foods – beans, palm oil, groundnuts, biscuits, beer and coke. These were for the spirits of the dead man and the ancestors who would come back and visit on that day (beer and coke to cater for spirits who do and do not drink alcohol!). Everyone then went inside and ate the same food to share in the feast with the spirits.
On Friday evening we were invited to a buffet with African dancing organised by Adama for a group of students from Leeds University on a fieldtrip to look at tourism development in The Gambia. The dancing was very impressive, and lots of the local children came and stood at the back to watch – before long they were joining in the dancing and were nearly as good to watch as the real dancers.
The weekend was free so I took myself off to see some of the places I could get to on foot – can’t quite summon the nerve to get in a local taxi yet! On Saturday I walked to the neighbouring village of Bakau which is a fishing village, as you could tell by the smell! It was interesting to see the fish being smoked and dried on huge racks on the beach. I also went to the holy crocodile pool – they tell me there are 500 crocs there and although that may be an exaggeration there were certainly plenty, basking in the sun or lying in the edge of the water.
They look as though they’re made of stone until they open their mouths!
Yesterday I went with one of the bird-watching guides to see the birds along the creek and out into the mangrove swamps and rice fields near to where I’m staying. The Gambia is well known for the large number of birds and we saw 52 species in a walk of about an hour.