Everything Changes

Firstly, my apologies to readers. I normally post an update once a week or so, and have just found I made an error last weekend, and although I drafted my blog as usual, I failed to publish what I had written, so now have two posts to submit together. If you haven’t yet read “Transferred” I suggest you read it before this, or my comments in the paragraph below won’t make much sense!

Yesterday as you may remember I should have been attending the official handover of a new butchery centre at Kotu which was a project supported by the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately I was informed on Wednesday (2 days prior to the proposed event) that it had been postponed because the Mayor of Kanifing (one of our key speakers) would not be attending, but was instead holding a three-day party to celebrate his recent re-election to the post of Mayor. From what I have read in Gambian newspapers it seems this victory was not entirely unexpected as he belongs to the APRC (the President’s political party) who seem to command most support in the Kombos, but three days of celebration…….?!

Anyway, as a result of my unexpected freedom I decided to venture out of Bakau, and to find a van heading south down the coast to Gunjur and Kartong, about an hour south of here where I’m told you can walk for miles along sandy palm fringed beaches washed by the Atlantic surf with little sign of human intrusion. It sounds like something from a television advertisement for Bounty and I will report later whether or not I come across a beautiful young lady stretched out in a hammock eating a chocolate bar!

I was hoping to stay at Sandele Bay (www.sandele.com) an eco-friendly holiday lodge set up by a couple of ex-pats in conjunction with the local community. They employ local staff, built the place with local labour (although the machinery for block production was brought here from India, and the staff sent there for training in its use and building techniques) and have an agreement with the local community that the facilities will revert to them in 25 years. The reviews I have read are glowing, although the tariff is a little outside the normal impecunious VSO volunteer’s budget, and I decided to treat myself to a couple of days of luxury – to hell with expense, I was going to celebrate my birthday – that is to say I was until Friday night………

I think I’ve mentioned “Set Seetal” on a previous post. Loosely translated it means “Clean up” and is usually held on the last Saturday in the month, although like much here in the Gambia, it is subject to change at short notice. On this day the entire population are supposed to stay at home between 9am and 1pm to clean up their environment, and although the day is a moveable feast, it was announced on Friday that Set Seetal would be the following day. Since all road traffic in the country is prohibited during the specified times unless you have a special permit, I found I would be unable to get a ride south until the afternoon and decided to postpone my beach weekend until another time when I can leave early Saturday morning and hope to be in Kartong by lunchtime. I had already postponed this planned trip from the previous weekend as I had been asked along with several others to meet two newly arrived volunteers on the Saturday to show them around the area and give them some basic information to help them settle in, so perhaps next weekend will be third time lucky.

In the afternoon, signs of Set Seetal activity can be observed in our neighbourhood where small piles of rubbish which the residents have cleaned out of the roadside gutters are left drying on the edge of the tarmac. I assume that one of the tractor and trailer crews who operate a kind of refuse collection service will then remove it, as within a few days it will have disappeared. I’m not sure where it goes after that although I’m told there is a large waste site somewhere, or perhaps it just ends up on one of the small fires which are regularly lit in the evening to burn rubbish. The idea of a general countrywide clean up is something I had never come across before although I have now found out that some other countries practise it too, and if everybody took part it could make a huge change to the environment, but it seems to me that while some of the residents actively take part, many don’t.

As I was still in town on Saturday night my housemate and I went to meet three of our colleagues for a drink at a local bar about 8pm. As we walked up the road there seemed to be even more activity on the night-time streets than usual, with singing, drumming, and lots of APRC tee shirts or ladies in green dresses in evidence. (Green is the colour of the APRC). I don’t know what they were celebrating – perhaps it was all part of the Mayor’s three day party – but we heard a rumour that President Jammeh himself was expected to put in an appearance, and indeed as we sat in “Doo Be Doo’s” roadside bar enjoying a drink and a bite we heard sirens in the distance. The sirens approached at high speed along Atlantic Road – a police vehicle first with flashing lights and sirens followed closely by two large four wheel drive vehicles of the type driven by CIA agents on American movies, and all three flew past and disappeared in a cloud of dust in the direction of the market and Cape Point. Rather naively I asked, “Was that him?” to be told “No, the President will be somewhere behind in a larger convoy with a lot of soldiers”. We stayed and had another drink, but by then the crowd had drifted away in the direction taken by the speeding vehicles. There was talk that these vehicles were just preparing the way, that the President would come by a different route and stop near the Craft Market where there is a football pitch area, but we decided it was time for bed and headed for home.

So that’s the story of how I didn’t get to Sandele, and how I didn’t see President Jammeh!