March 7th. A year to the day since I landed in The Gambia and it’s time to say goodbye.
I had planned to have a few days on the beach this week, but instead I spent two days in the office (although I officially finished last week), one day going for my police clearance, and the remaining two in a round of tying up loose ends and saying my goodbyes to friends and neighbours. My colleagues at the Department of Agriculture organised a leaving party on Sunday evening where I was pleased to see not only the Director and staff from the offices at Yundum, but also a number of field workers who had travelled in from their village postings to say farewell, staff from Cape Point HQ in Bakau, Munya and Johnson the two remaining volunteers working in agriculture, and Abdoulie my programme manager from VSO. The ladies provided us with a good feed and of course EVERYBODY had to make a speech. I had not been looking forward to this, but in the event it was a most enjoyable evening and I was presented with a magnificent African shirt as a leaving gift.
I have also sold my car. I had agreed at Christmas to sell it to Malud who owns the bitiko next to our compound, and when I called to see him in early February to see whether he still wanted it, he assured me he still did, but a week later he disappeared to Guinea for the cashew harvest so I had to look elsewhere. I did the same as the locals and stuck a notice in the window and drove round for ten days with nobody showing any interest. Then on the Sunday evening, out of the blue, my ex colleague Alimou who lives just up the road from our compound announced he wanted to buy it. As he doesn’t know much about cars (and doesn’t even drive) I suggested he bring someone else round to inspect it on his behalf, and in due course two days later his uncle came with him for a test drive. Meanwhile, all of a sudden four more buyers appeared from nowhere, all very keen, and I had to keep them at arms length while Alimou arranged his finances. One of them in particular rang me regularly, wanting to take me to the bank there and then to draw the cash, despite the fact that I had told him several times that I had already agreed a sale and would not sell to anyone else unless the buyer failed to come up with the money. I think that although the car was attractively priced, they were all waiting in the hope that at the last minute I would drop further in order to get a sale before I left!
On Thursday afternoon there was just sufficient time to drive a few miles down the coast to Tanji Reserve for my last night at a new camp which I had only just heard about. The accommodation was good although the water supply wasn’t functioning properly as it depends on a solar powered pump for the borehole, and as the weather was overcast the pump wasn’t working and water had to be brought in buckets. We had a walk round the lagoons, a good supper and then fairly soon turned in as it was very windy and quite cold! The following morning I drove back to Kombo, delivered the car to my friend and did a bit of last minute gift shopping before strapping up my bags ready for the journey to the airport.
The flight home left Banjul at 8.45pm with a brief stop for refuelling at Dakar and a few hours at Brussels before the final leg to Heathrow. I had booked my train ticket in advance to take advantage of the reduced fares but was restricted to a particular departure time so spent a further three hours on Kings Cross station before finally boarding the train for York, and then Malton.
My son collected me from the station for the short drive home and had thoughtfully provided supplies for my supper – a delicious pork pie from Richard Waind our local butcher, and a couple of bottles of Black Sheep beer which we drank together as I ate the pie. My house has been let in my absence and I arrived home expecting to spend my first night in a sleeping bag while I unpacked, but found that not only had it been spring cleaned for my homecoming, and the fridge stocked with shepherd’s pie, steak and sausages, but home-made cakes were waiting in the cupboard and my bed had been made up with fresh sheets and a new duvet. It was heaven. Thanks Ma!
As a footnote, I must explain the delay in publication is due to lack of internet access rather than jet lag. The mobile broadband network is very patchy in this area, and I have no landline at home so it’s almost like being back in the Gambia! It appears however that the Penny Bank café now has wi-fi for patrons so I can have lunch or a coffee while I check my emails and update the blog. Kirkbymoorside has become very metropolitan in my absence!