This week has been very busy at MyFarm, but today (Saturday) all of a sudden we seem to have quietened down. Only one of the gardeners is at work today so we only complete the essential tasks. The rainy season has begun – it was raining up-country earlier this week, but it could be two or three weeks before the rains reach us down on the coastal strip, and the heat is increasing so it is important to keep up with the watering. By noon today the cabbages that I watered at breakfast time were wilting badly but after the second watering and as the day cools down they will soon recover. In some ways it is easier watering when there are fewer people working as there is less waiting for the tanks to fill than when we are all calling on the taps and we still seem to manage just as well!
The mangoes continue to ripen and we have been drying them each day, but just in small quantities at present. We have a new volunteer from the United States with us for the next three weeks and she has been slicing, drying and packaging most days since her arrival. Maris came to the Gambia about a month ago with a group of students from Pennsylvania and they came for a visit to MyFarm during their study tour bringing with them two suitcases full of much appreciated garden tools. The rest of the group flew home last weekend, but Maris had arranged to continue here another four weeks and spent much of her first week at MyFarm with the food processing section, so has also been making tomato jam. (I hadn’t heard of it before but it tastes good although it seems to me to taste of strawberries rather than tomatoes!) The new solar drier is working well and we have replaced with clear PVC the cover on the older one (it was covered in black polythene as last time it was renewed the PVC was not available, and as a result the mango slices were drying more slowly and turning black instead of retaining their lovely golden colour. The end product tasted fine but black chips are not very attractive!) Next week we will be stepping up production as more mangoes become ripe, but it is still a fairly slow process as each batch of sliced mangoes takes about a day and a half to dry. The slicing itself is also quite slow as the slices have to be cut around the stone – the large slices are dried but the smaller “offcuts” which are too small for drying will be made into jam.
We have also completed another two training sessions and now that the trainees have gone home, peace and quiet returns in the evenings. On Wednesday we were told that the group who were booked to arrive that evening had a programme somewhere else so would not be coming, but another group were found at short notice to come on Thursday morning and take their place. This sort of thing is quite common in the Gambia and I found it very frustrating when I was here before. A training session can be arranged weeks beforehand and a lot of time and effort put into organising a venue, staff, transport, food, accommodation etc, and then at the last minute it can be cancelled because it seems something else has come up which is more attractive or someone more important has decided to hold a programme! And the more important person who has organised something else which requires their attendance seems to totally disregard the fact that he – it is usually a man – has caused such disruption. It seems to me that it is part of the constant process of establishing your position in the hierarchy which is so important here. This is quite normal in both business and government from the small petty official up through the pecking order right up to the Big Man at the top.
A development worker I was talking to this week was telling me she recently wanted to go to a workshop organised by one of the Gambian government agencies, and as she was relatively new here she asked permission to go as an observer. The director told her she could not attend as an observer, but only as a participant, so she reluctantly agreed that she would participate whereupon she was told she could not attend as only those who had been invited could do so. Subsequently she was told that she could in fact attend, but only on the last day, and for the last session, and she then had some difficulty finding out when this would be! At around 2am on the morning of her proposed visit she received a message (from the director) telling her she would be expected to address the attendees, so before leaving home at 6.30am to go to the venue, she drafted a statement for the event, only to find out upon arrival that she was not to address the group she expected, but a different audience entirely. A hasty revision of her notes was carried out in the corridor and she then delivered her speech and invited questions. During the Q&A session, the (same) director tried to intervene and answer some of the questions put to her, on her behalf before she had chance to answer herself! No doubt he was only bolstering his own importance and trying to “put her in her place”, but this attitude which is so prevalent in Gambia prevents so much being achieved, when a little cooperation instead would go a long way.
During the course of this week we have also hosted four school visits during which the children are shown round the farm and environmental issues such as deforestation, solar power and biogas are discussed, as well as seeing the schoolrooms, the crops, the fish pond, and (most importantly!) the rabbits. These visits can involve large groups such as the one which arrived with 120 primary and nursery school children just after we closed at 5pm one day.
I’m told that this particular school is always badly organised and despite repeated requests often arrives here late in the day. I felt so sorry for those little kids – it appeared that they had already made two visits elsewhere that day and they must have been exhausted. Their teachers, particularly the man in charge, spent a lot of time waving a stick and shouting at them – behaviour which seems quite common in some schools. “Come here!”, “Be quiet!”,”Pay attention!”, “Move back!”, “Ask questions all of you!” etc. The smallest children in particular just seemed confused and wanted to rest and have a drink of water, but that wasn’t allowed. Just more stick waving and shouting; meanwhile Alhagie who was leading the tour had to try to command their attention, tell them about MyFarm and inspire future interest. I felt sorry for him too! Apart from the fact that they enjoyed their picnic tea in the pleasant surroundings of MyFarm, (perhaps that is why they came here last) I can’t see that the kids would derive any benefit whatsoever from their visit.
By contrast, another group which arrived after closing time having informed us shortly beforehand that they were on their way, rather than requesting a visit, was a small group of maybe twenty secondary school pupils who would no doubt gain rather more from the trip and came across to the table where I was sitting before they left with the express purpose it seemed of each shaking my hand, thanking me for the visit and saying they would come again. Perhaps I looked important!