Christmas Day 10am. It’s a strange feeling. This is the first Christmas I have spent outside the UK and it doesn’t really seem like Christmas at all yet. I woke at 6.30 (forgot to switch my alarm off) and lay for a while listening to the sounds outside. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I had already heard the Muslim call to prayer from the mosques in our neighbourhood and now peace had returned. It was overcast outside with a cool breeze flapping the curtain, probably about 18°C, so winter as far as Gambians are concerned and my neighbours had obviously gone back to bed. I’ve noticed that on cooler mornings there is a lot less activity when I get up as the locals wait for the streets to warm up before rousing and today was no exception. Christmases at home have always previously engendered a sense of expectancy and there has been some activity outside in the street as I drink my morning tea, but here all is quiet and it just feels like a normal weekday morning. I boil the kettle and eat my cornflakes and as it slowly gets light Hassana arrives to sweep the yard and water the plants, so it’s a normal day for her too.
Later today we are having a lunch party with some of the other volunteers and friends in Kotu. Dr Joe, who lives there on his own has room in his compound to accommodate us all (I think there will be about 25 of us), and also owns a barbecue, so his place was the obvious choice! VSO country office have made a contribution to the celebrations so three volunteers have been busy stocking up with crates of soft drinks and a selection of meat for the barbecue (aah………roast pork!!) and the rest of us have each been asked to provide something for the feast. In my case I was asked to bring cheese and biscuits so I had a rash trip to Marouns, a supermarket in the Senegambia area which caters for the toubabs (and charges accordingly), and bought a selection of Stilton, Brie, Wensleydale with blueberries, and a pack of Tesco cheddar (Tesco products – usually cheese or pate – appear in a couple of the supermarkets here from time to time,) which will all make a nice change from the usual bland slabs I buy for sandwiches.
Apparently NAWEC (the electricity and water supply company) haven’t realised it is Christmas Day either as they have just switched the electricity off again. Do they not realise that I’m listening to Christmas Carols and need power? The spirit of goodwill is evaporating fast as I pack up my laptop – the battery is exhausted and won’t hold much charge now, so I’ll just have to hope power is restored this evening by which time with a belly full of Christmas fare I will no doubt be in a more genial mood towards them!
Praise be, power was restored before evening yesterday, but I’m sorry to say I missed out on the roast pork! The Christmas barbecue was a marathon affair – I ferried my neighbours and their baskets of provisions to Kotu in two loads arriving soon after one o’clock but it was about three by the time everyone had assembled and the first course came off the barbecue.
By that time I think we were all ready to eat and tucked enthusiastically into Joe’s home made beefburgers and a good selection of salads and dips together with ice cold bottles of a famous soft drink. This led seamlessly on to a second course of chicken, and some time later, a third of grilled red snapper. I passed on the fish course intending to save myself for the pork, but there was still a way to go. Joe and his assistant Lamin did sterling work in relays on the barbecue and plates of delicious meat were circulating all afternoon.
At some point (my recollection of time is hazy) it was decided that the presents should be distributed so we gathered round the tree and took it in turns to pick a present from the “secret Santa”. This allowed time for digestion and some fun. Francis looked as though he had been awarded an Oscar as he unwrapped his lip salve
Nicola amazed us all with her packets of artificial snow (just add water and watch it fluff up before your eyes) while we relaxed in the afternoon sunshine and DJ Tapilapa played the music system as a gang of little boys sat on the roof next door watching what the toubabs were doing. At first they kept kicking their football over the wall so that someone would have to come and retrieve it, but after that palled, they found a few bangers to throw over and keep us awake.
By seven o’clock however, after the roast lamb, I was faltering – a full stomach and ready for bed, but I manfully stayed awake until after the shrimps arrived, (big and juicy and fresh from Bakau fish market that morning), before throwing in the towel and heading for home. I felt duty bound to offer to return later with the car to collect my friends, but fortunately they didn’t take me up on the offer but instead caught a taxi home about midnight by which time I had been long asleep dreaming of succulent roast pork. Oh well, another day perhaps.
Today has I think been a quiet day for most of us spent at home although some of the more energetic members of the crew met in the afternoon at the beach to finish off the food. As for me, I’m saving myself for tomorrow evening when we are meeting again to bid farewell to one of our group who is leaving on Saturday to take up a post in South Africa with the United Nations.
Good luck Janneke, and safe journey.