The last week has been very busy. Work is continuing on the new shop/ food preparation building in order to get the roof on before the rains come, so we have ten builders living on site besides the normal staff and trainees.Last week we also hosted a 5-day training course for another nine young budding entrepreneurs from the North Bank Region. On Thursday morning having spent the days prior learning to make jams and soaps, and the rudiments of business, they were taken to Banjul each with a basket of goods produced on the farm – soaps, lip balm, body lotion and jams – the quantity of each chosen by the trainee, and set loose for a couple of hours to try their sales skills. On their return they were buzzing with excitement having achieved different levels of success, but all of them having sold some of their wares and had a taste of what they will need to do to make a success of their training. Despite what they had been told about starting a conversation to build a relationship with the customer it seems that at least one of them opened her sales pitch with “Buy my soap”! Coming from a society where the art of selling is so highly developed I still find it odd when I am accosted by a street vendor with such a basic approach, but that is quite common here.
I have been in my new round house accommodation for a week and now have a fully functioning flush toilet, wash basin and shower. The volume of water from the shower is not very great as apparently I’m connected to a distant branch of the water supply, so I supplement it with a bucket and dipper but it is grand to cool off after a hot dusty day in the garden. I’m still waiting for flyscreens for the windows, but so far haven’t been troubled by any mosquitos in the house as I keep the windows closed and have been told the screens should be here in about a week. I’m looking forward to being able to open the windows at night for a cool breeze although the nights are not too hot at present. I still have no electricity although the lights and plug sockets are already in place – it seems that the supply cable was laid underground last rainy season and has since been attacked by termites so will have to be replaced. At this time of year the ground is like concrete so I’ll have to wait a while for the trench to be dug. Again this is no great hardship as I can charge my phone and laptop during the day from a socket in one of the other buildings, and have a small solar powered lamp which is adequate for using the shower at night. As we have had a training here on site we have not been on the road with a school visit this week so I have spent a lot of time on the basic garden chores. Some of the pathways here are flanked by long borders of lemon grass and salvias and I have been forking around them to let air and water in to the roots. Quite a time consuming task as at first the fork wont penetrate the hard ground so I have to water well then leave to soak in, then dig a little, then repeat the process until I can get to a fork depth. The salvias have grown rather leggy and many of them have rotten stems where the termites have been busy so I have pruned some of them back pretty hard to stimulate new growth from the base. It seems to be working, and if it is successful there are plenty more will get the same treatment. The gardeners here value the food crops more and don’t seem to know a great deal about ornamental, but it seems that in this climate most things regenerate fairly quickly if they are provided with water. The lemon grass borders which I have tackled so far and which only ten days ago were dry yellow tufts have turned into luxuriant green clumps. I guess everything will change when the rains arrive.
We have several hives of bees here and a couple of nights ago Lamin who works in the garden by day came back at night to inspect them. It seems to be the practice here to open the hives by torchlight after dark as the African bees are said to be more aggressive than their European cousins, and as a result of his work we have been enjoyed honey with our breakfast this morning. The ladies have been busy processing two buckets full of honeycomb, some cut into rich golden squares for sale as comb honey, and the remainder uncapped and left in a sieve overnight to allow the liquid honey to run out. It is a lot easier to separate in this warm climate than I remember from my beekeeping days at home. The honey was a real treat but this afternoon when we were working among the bananas down near the pond, three of my colleagues beat a hasty retreat due to the attention of some bees no doubt annoyed by the loss of their honey!