I’ve been in the Gambia nearly a month now, and haven’t yet said anything about where I’m now living. The initial stay in Safari Garden Hotel (which I thoroughly recommend if you’re intending a visit!) allowed us to acclimatise gently, but after five days of pampering, those of us who are based locally were moved to our permanent homes. In my case this means Bakau, which forms part of the sprawling conurbation known as the Kombos just south of the capital Banjul. It’s a tourist area here, which means we have a small supermarket stocking a range of goods (Cornflakes, Typhoo Tea, Robinson’s Fruit Squash, Cheddar cheese) which you don’t normally find in the “bitiko” (corner shop), and you’re more likely to pick up a pineapple or something more exotic in our local market than in the big market at Serrekunda although of course the fruit here like everything else, is also rather more expensive. Bakau is a coastal development and I’m only about ten minutes walk from the beach where, in an afternoon it’s a hive of activity as the fishing boats arrive back with their day’s catch and gangs of young men wade out to meet them, waist high in the waves and carrying one or more plastic fish crates to fill with the shining harvest. The crates look heavy and some of the boys carry two at a time on their head and jog back to the beach and onto the quayside as if they were empty. Here the fish is tipped out into different boxes according to type, and packed in ice before being taken away or stored in one of the multitude of rusty chest freezers which litter the fish quay – the freezers are no longer working but act as insulated storage to keep their contents fresh until the following day. This is the best place to buy fish, straight off the boat, but there is also a good vantage point on the terrace of the guest house above where you can sit with a cooling drink and watch the milling throng.
Across the road from the sea lies Bakau market – a crowded jumble of small stalls where you can buy not only fruit and vegetables but also meat and fish (if you’re not bothered by the crowds of flies !), clothes, plastic bowls and bottles, mobile phones, spices and herbs, and of course crafts for the tourist – paintings and wooden carvings, drums, beads, bracelets and batik prints. Threading your way through the market – the alleyways are hardly wide enough for two people to pass without touching – you emerge at the back into a small sandy lane lined by yet more traders which in turn leads onto a maze of dusty streets where you will find my new home, just near the crocodile pool (but more of that another day).
I’m living in a small rendered bungalow within a compound but it’s probably not the sort of compound you imagine when you think of a British ex-pat. Everybody lives in a compound but there are no carefully manicured lawns here – in our case we are surrounded by a neat 6′ concrete block wall and steel doors although some of our less well off neighbours have corrugated iron sheets as fencing. I saw one of the guide books describe our area as a “shanty town” which I think is unfair, but certainly my own lodgings are a cut above the housing of many of the local residents – and considerably less crowded. I share two thirds of the bungalow with Munya, a young volunteer from Zimbabwe who is also working at the Department of Agriculture, and the remaining third (a self contained unit) was empty until this weekend when a new couple moved in. Alongside us is another similar bungalow occupied by a couple of young Dutch volunteers, with the smaller part of their bungalow as yet unoccupied. We have piped water (cold only), a shower, western-style flush toilet, and a small kitchen with fridge and 2 burner gas hob. By local standards this is quite luxurious and so far the only downside I’ve found is the irregularity of the electricity supply – often it seems to be off just when we need it, but I’ve quickly learned to keep a torch handy after dark (even/especially in the shower!), and to plug my laptop and phone in to charge whenever possible as you’re never sure when you’ll lose power. Similarly the water supply fails from time to time so we keep a couple of jerry cans for storage, and a bucket and dipper in the shower just in case it stops when you have soaped up! Outside is a small patio with seating area and an outside tap visited occasionally by some of the neighbours (presumably when theirs is off or there is a queue at the communal standpipe.)
From the yard door leads a smart passageway with a string of lights in the walls to another wrought iron gate opening onto Mamakoto Road and the outside world. (Normally the streets are very busy, but it looks a lot quieter in the photos simply because it was Friday and most of the population were at the mosque.)