Once in a lifetime opportunity – My Gambia Diary

In 2014 I was fortunate enough to go to Gambia to volunteer with The Box Youth Project, http://www.theboxyouthproject.co.uk/ and what an experience this was. Rather than me babble on telling you I’ll upload my diary underneath for you to read.

A MUST SEE VIDEO OF MY TRIP.

 15.03.14

We arrived in Manchester at 10:30am and we got checked in straight away. Nerves were kicking in now, my belly is in bits. We all made our way through the airport and to duty free, then straight to the bar for a few drinks. I had 4 real ales in the bar and the nerves had calmed me down a bit.

The announcement came on to say that we could board the plane. It was around 13:20 when we got onto the plane. The Captain came on the speaker pretty much straight away to inform everyone that the plane will be delayed by around 40mins as the was air traffic stopping the plane from taking off. This wasn’t the news that I wanted to here, me being 6” 5 and stuck on this tiny plane for an extra 40mins was not good-as if 6 hours wasn’t long enough.

The flight went over really quick. Watching the sun set whilst in the plane was amazing, I was sitting next to Laura and she was sitting at the window so she took some photos for me and they look brilliant, the colour in the sky was breath-taking.

We finally arrive in The Gambia it was around 9:15pm. We got off the plane onto to the tarmac and the heat just hit you, very warm and dry. There was a bus waiting for us to take us to the airport. The bus only took 1min to get there then we were escorted off the bus into the airport. The airport was not very big so it didn’t take long for everyone to get their bags and go through security. When we got through there was some people there waiting for us they seemed to know Lisa and Denise very well.

When we went outside there was children walking about and asking for money from us. We walked across the car park to this open topped jeep, once everyone was in, there wasn’t enough room in the jeep for me and Kirsty so me and her went in the car. The trip took about 40mins to get to the place where we were staying. We passed a lot of locals on the way just walking along the road, which would have been ok but there is no electricity so it was pitch black.

We drove for around 10mins up this long and bumpy road in the pitch black, then we finally arrived at the Gunjur Project, it was a long wall with a large gate with surrounding trees. The horn beeped a couple of times before this tall man with a head scarf opened the gates from the inside. We were greeted by the owners and some of the staff.

When we were through the gates we went straight down to the bar area where the food gets served. We were served spaghetti Bolognese. Everyone had a few beers with tea, the local beer served out here is called Jul Brew-it’s brewed locally and tastes very nice. While we were having tea our bags were being offloaded from the jeep. We were all told our room numbers after we were finished eating. Some people went straight away and some people stayed for a couple more beers.

I went straight to my room to take my bag in and get sorted. My room-mate was already there I was sharing with Stefan. As he was in the room first I said he gets the choice of bed, there was a double and a single, he chose the single so I was over the moon about that,

must have about 15 years since I slept in a single. I got myself sorted and went back out to the bar. I stayed up pretty late and I was the last one left sitting round the fire.

Think it’s time for bed as it’ll be a busy day tomorrow.

16.0.3.14

First night spent in The Gambia and I slept like a baby, I didn’t sleep under the quilt as it was pretty warm in the bedroom. As soon as I woke up I had to get in the shower as I felt minging. The shower was at the back of the room and only a curtain was separating the bathroom from the bedroom, I stripped off and put the shower on and jumped in-holy shit was it cold, never felt so painful and I’m sure I let out a little scream. I can sure say that the shower isn’t enjoyable to go in. I quickly got ready and headed along to the bar area for breakfast.

Breakfast was very nice there was a choice of pancakes with chocolate sauce, scrambled eggs or toast. And of course I had pancakes and I put some of the local peanut butter on that was very tasty. We sat for a little while after breakfast and chatted on our table.

We had a meeting after breakfast with Jo and Butch, These were the owners of the project. Jo was a small woman with short dark hair and glasses. Butch was a big heavy set man with a large beard. Both very nice people. They had called a meeting with everyone to see what it was that everyone wanted to do. The meeting lasted about 45mins and everyone chipped in with ideas of what they wanted to do.

After the meeting with Jo and Butch, we all went out for a walk round the village to see where we were and to get our bearings. We walked up the road we came in on last night it was red with colour, we told the locals call this the red road! We came to a rusty old homemade sign reading Kajabang. We turned right at the sign onto another bumpy road the sand on this road was a different colour it had the colour you would associate sand with. As we continued down the road we could see a lot of children gathering in the distance shouting and waving, as we got closer the kids came running up to us to greet us all. Holding our hands and saying hello and shouting minty! Lisa and Denise told us that we would be hearing that a lot as the kids love mints. A few people had sweets on them so they were handing them out. Some kids were sucking on the sweet then putting them back into the wrapper. Whist all this was going on Martin went into the local shop and bought the whole tub of sweets to hand out. The look on the kids’ faces when they saw us and all the sweets they were getting was priceless.

We continued to walk down the road and left the kids behind. We were then greeted by a woman who Lisa and Denise knew, Amelia I think her name was. They were talking to her for a while they we all said bye and continued to walk. We passed a lot of people on the walk around the village and every single person said hello, how are you? Good morning-it’s a shock to the system as we don’t have this in Sunderland. Everybody was really nice and welcoming.

We then came to the local health centre which is run by a young man called Bi. We all had a look round the centre then left. As we were walking we bumped into a young boy holding two ducks in either hand. I stopped him and asked if I could get a photo and he happily obliged, posing with the two ducks for a photo. As we continued to walk i seen a woman dressed in beautiful colours I stopped to take a photo and she shouted at me in Mandinka. Our guide told me that the older people of the village don’t like their photo been taken.

The walk round the village was nice, seen a lot of the locals and where they all lived. We returned to the Gunjur Project just in time for lunch. I opted for omelette and chips. After lunch we had a Mandinka lesson planned so we could speak the basic language.

It’s very hot today the temp has just his 39degrees.

Mandinka lesson:

ITOUDI – What’s your name?

ITODUN – And you?

SUMOLU LE – How is the family?

TANA TELA – They are fine

After the Mandinka lesson we all chilled round the pool as it was to hot to go out to do anything. Some people lay on the sun loungers and some people went in the pool to cool off. I was lying down when I seen the coco-nut trees, I’ve always wanted to taste a fresh coco-nut so I went and asked Jo if we could try one, she was fine with and she called King over, King was one of the staff that worked in the Project, He came over and climbed the tree and chopped a couple of the coco-nuts down and got the meat cleaver and started hacking at it. He pierced a hole in the top and got me a straw. The taste was warm and sweet, nothing like what we get at home. Might have tasted good with a bit vodka in it.

The heat had started to die down so we were getting ready to out. We were heading to the Bolongfenyo-This is the part of the village that is protected as it’s a wildlife reserve. With a large lagoon or wetland. This was something I was looking forward to. As soon as we headed into the Bolong we seen a Vulture perched up in the trees, I quickly got my camera out to get a few snaps before it flew away. As we headed further into the bush we seen more birds flying and different types of trees with different kinds of fruit hanging from it. It didn’t take long before we ended up at the edge of the lagoon. I had my long lens on my camera so I was scoping the area to see what I could see. I seen a few Herons and Pelicans flying, they were too far away to photograph. Then as I was trying to zoom in on a Heron and I seen a Crocodiles head popping out of the grass on the side of the lagoon. We also had a pair of binoculars so everybody wanted to have a look. It was really far away so it only looked small.

Whilst we were out we seen a lot of the kids that go to the local school in Kajabang. We stopped and chatted to them for a while and played some games and we told them we had to go but we will be seeing them tomorrow as we are working at the school in the morning.

After all the playing and walking and chatting it was nearly tea time, we headed back to the lodge in time for tea at 7:30pm

everybody ate and had a drink then had an early night as the work starts tomorrow.

17.03.14

Had really bad nights slept last night, very tired and ratty today. Up and had breakfast for 8am ready and ready to leave. We all left about 8:30am and walked down the red road towards the school at the bottom. As we were walking down the road there was cars, jeeps and motorbike beeping and flying past. Its the only place I know that is safe enough to walk in the middle of the road. The road was that bad in the middle the cars never drive there.

We arrived at the nursery school called St, Charles Borromeo Nursery just after half past and we were greeted by a young man called Selu He showed us round the school and took us in all the classrooms. The kids were really nice and nearly all of them had smiles on there faces. We had a look at the toilet block that we were going to complete. And the school garden. The swings needed painting again and the fence needed fixing. We left after an hour of chatting and having a look around the school.

After the school we were heading to the local market in Brikama. This is the place where all the locals do there shopping and get clothes from, so this should be an experience.

When we arrived at the market, you could hardly see the stalls it was that full. People everywhere kids running about woman with babies on their back, woman and young boys with trays on their heads carrying bags of water. The traffic was horrific Cars and Lorries coming up the road then Motorbikes weaving in and out the cars. It was hectic.

We split into 2 groups as it was easier for Lisa and Denise to handle. I was in Lisa’s group and we headed left into the market and the other went to the right. We stood out like sore thumbs. There was all sorts of things for sale here, carved animals to food and drinks. The food or cooking materials was sold in a weird way. As many people don’t have a lot of money they sell in ingredients in spoon measure levels-So you can buy a spoon of sugar and a spoon of garlic ect ect. There was people selling fruit and water, anything you can think of.

As I mentioned before this is usually where the people of Gambia buy their clothes from. The sight is shocking and the story to go with it. Some of the clothes was piled high, nothing matching so if you wanted a matching pair of shoes of the same size you had to rake through this big pile. Some shops had their stuff hung up and a table at the front of the shops with sandals and shoes piles up. It’s funny to be told that the second hand stuff is more expensive than the brand new things. It may cost 300delasi which it around a week’s wages for a pair of second hand jeans. They are expensive as they know that they are the real deal- G-Star, Levis ect. The brand new clothing will always be fake (B-Star). But it’s the story on how they got hold of the clothes in the first place.

Everyday containers come in the country on are stored. The police or security are paid on the side and open some containers which might

be filled with clothes that has been donated throughout the world. So we in the UK might think we are doing good by donating these clothes thinking we are helping out 3rd world countries and these bastards are selling them. And are probably making a decent living from it. So the police are paid however much I don’t know, and you go in and take a few bags of the clothes to be sold in your store. That’s just how it works. So from now on if you have any clothes to be donated send them to The Box Youth Project and you know that they are being given to the people of Gambia for free, the way it should be.

Back to the market as we were walking round we were getting hassled from a few locals asking us to buy there things. You just have to be strong and say NO! As we were coming to the end of the market we got took in the shop where you could by fabric to make dresses, no one bought anything we just looked as we planned on going to the Bateek factory.

At the end of the road we came across what they called the butchers. This wasn’t a pretty sight. It was a small dingy shop with mash covering the front, it was that dark inside you couldn’t see anyone inside. Hanging outside was a large bit of meat, probably goat and it was covered in flies so god knows what it was like in the shop. Our guide asked the owner if we could take photos and he said it was ok. We headed back to the jeep as the heat was picking up now and everyone was sweltering.

Lisa mentioned that was a shop next to where the jeep was parked which was safe to buy things from, they sold normal branded things such as Fanta and other cans of pop, ice lollies and chocolate, biscuits and booze. So everyone stocked up on the ice lollies and pop for the journey back to the project.

We arrived back at the project in time to chill out, have a shower and get ready. Tea was ready at 7:30pm.

After tea Butch had a Djembe lesson for the people that wanted to learn. A djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa. The lesson was great we got taught a few different tones and how to put them together. I’ll definitely have to buy myself one of those before I go home. After the lesson everyone chilled round the fire with a few Jul Brews and chatted about the day. It was a long day so most people went to bed early. I stayed up until 1:30am with a guy that was staying in the project by himself called Mark, canny lad.

18.04.14

Today the works officially starts. After breakfast we split into groups to do different things as we couldn’t all pile up to do one thing. Half the group stayed behind to start the ambulance and the other half went to do some work in the school.

The group that stayed behind was working on a donated Ambulance given to Gunjur health centre by a Dutch man from the Gunjur foundation. It has come along way and needs a lot of work on it. The Ambulance was driven from Amsterdam to Gambia not once but twice, it broke down the first time and had to go back to Amsterdam to be repaired then it was drove back. When it arrived in The Gambia it

had sat for at least 2 years before we took the project on. It was covered in stickers, you couldn’t even see the paintwork for them all. And they were welded on, it was going to take some hard work and patience to do the work on this.

I was in the group that went to the school. Teaching isn’t my thing but I thought I’d give it ago as there would be plenty of time to work on the Ambulance while I was here. When we arrives at the school we were once again greeted by Selu and took us into the oldest class. The plan was that each day they people who was working in the school would start at the eldest class and work down. The kids in this class were around 10/11 years old. They started off by singing a song then we began on the educational games. We played beetle a game of which you throw a dice to get the different parts to make up a beetle shape. Some of the kids were trying to cheat but we did our best to stop that. After we had a few games of bingo with prizes. We were in the school quite a long time playing different games and signing songs with the children.

We went outside after the classroom games and played some play yard games. Bobby Bingo and ring a ring a roses. They kids loved it, they were all laughing they smiles were so big on their faces. I was standing trying to get some photos and two kids were hanging on my arms and I had to lift them up. Good job they weren’t heavy. At one point I had 4 kids on each arm trying to lift them up. I was like a human climbing frame. I had to tell them one at a time as they were starting to fight with each other to who was getting lifted up.

After all the games had stopped we said our good byes and headed back to the project for lunch. The guys working on the Ambulance had done a good job. Quite a lot of the stickers were off. After Lunch we all chilled round the pool as it was too hot to work in the afternoon.

Me Stafan and Keith planned to go watch Sunderland F.C Gunjur at the sports academy. We got a taxi to the ground around 3pm and when we got there, the players were just arriving. I had a kick about with the players before they started the training. It was fun and amazing to watch at the same time. They were nonstop for about an hour without a water stop. When the break finally came around the players were knackered. They do there training exactly the same way as we do in England.

It didn’t stop there. They have just introduced Rugby in Gambia so all the football players are also in the rugby team. That was fun to watch they didn’t have a clue what they were doing, they were just running about like headless chickens. I showed them how to pass the ball properly and a little how to play. That was enough for them. The coach was over the moon that I had helped him in some way. And all the coaches and players were happy that we had took the time to go and watch them.

The temperature was hitting 42 degrees and we’d been there 2 hours. We heard the beep from the taxi so we said our goodbyes and headed out to the taxi.

When we arrived back at the lodge the guys had done more work on the Ambulance and had gotten quite a lot of the stickers off. I put my swimming shorts on and had a dip in the pool to cool of as it was red hot. Today has definitely been the hottest day so far.

Butch has organized a band to play for us tonight. The band is called the tribal stars which Butch set up and plays in with local Gambians. Quite looking forward to it. I Got in the shower and got ready. We all had tea and had a few beers while we waited for the band to start. Then all of a sudden I heard banging and signing but I couldn’t see anything. The band came from nowhere, they were all in a line following one another signing and drumming.

Once they had reached the stage in the project, which was located at the side of the bar, everyone took a seat and listened to Butch make his speech and it started, this was the reason I wanted a Djembe. The sound was amazing, I was glued to band playing, trying to beat my legs to the sound. Some of the tunes they were playing were the same as what Butch taught us the other night.

The band wasn’t the only thing that was going on, they also had a dancer, dancing in the traditional African way, dancing the beat of the drums, it was quite a scene. After 10mins or so they tried to get people up to dance. I was having none of it, I quickly jumped up and headed to the bar to keep out of the way. Linda got dragged up by Lisa but then Lisa quickly left Linda up there by herself. She didn’t even realise and she was dancing away. A few other people got up to dance, no one we knew just some people that were staying in the project as well.

Later on they got everyone up that was watching as they were playing the last song so I got up with everyone else. No one was taking the plunge to dance so me being me I decided to take centre stage and dance around like an idiot, it got people going though. Everyone wanted a go. After everyone had a dance, I got back up – But this time I lost my footing, nearly fell in the fire and ended up through the trees at the side. I couldn’t stop I had to get back up and finish what I started so I did.

It has been a brilliant day and very exciting and eventful night, Most people were in bed early again but me I stayed up with Mark again and chatted with a few beers.

19.03.14

Another day gone by and I’m up and ready early this morning. 20 degrees and only 9am, today is going to be a hot one. Today we are all off to the Gunjur upper basic school. The upper basic school is just what we would call secondary school.

We left the project just after 9am and took the short journey in the Jeep to the school. We were all greeted as we arrived but not until we got into the school after about 10mins of sitting outside as no one came to open the gates to let us in. We all had a tour around the school and to have a look at the jobs we had to do.

Most of the work was Mike and Martins as the bikes needed looking at but that was going to be on a different day. Everyone else had plants to plant out in front of the science classrooms. They are wanting colour in the school as well as shade.

The school were planning on digging the holes and we would come and do all the planting at a later date.

One we had looked round the school we all headed back to the project for lunch, then we chilled round the pool.

Me, Keith, Kirsty and Jodi had planned to go watch the Sunderland football club train back at the upper basic school. Once we arrived there it wasn’t even the football that was on it was the rugby and again it wasn’t the football team it was the kids of the school getting the training off the coaches from the academy.

We still had a good time though, it was fun to watch how the kids played compared the adults. As we were watching, I was showing Kirsty how to throw the rugby ball- That was a laugh in itself.

It’s been another really good day and I’m really enjoying myself out here. Don’t want to go home. Although I’ve burned myself pretty bad today, I’m like cooked lobster, there is a quiz going on tonight as well. All about The Gambia.

P.S the team I was on won the quiz…

20.03.14

Really bad night sleep last night with the sun burn.

Off to the nursery school today to start all the different job in the school. We all left the project 9am sharp and took the short walk down the red road.

Me, Keith and Martin worked on the ropes that were tied on the trees. These were meant to be for climbing on but they were just ties round the trees and some had snapped, it wasn’t safe at all. It took about 45mins to get all the knots out and there were ants crawling all over us. When we finally got the knots out, we wrapped them round the trees and nailed them in to try and keep in more secure. One of the ropes didn’t last long. Soon as the kids were out there must had been 25 kids swinging on it. They seemed to be enjoying it so I wasn’t going to complain.

The next job in hand was the toilet block. The men went down to help the builders start on the rendering. I helped one of them do the mix for the render while the others got the tools and things ready.

The rendering was quite hard, I managed in the end but it took some getting used to, we were then joined by Kirsty who just showed all us men up, We worked on the render for over an hour then we headed back up to the project for lunch. You could see in the builder’s faces just saying just hurry up and go so we can crack on.

After Lunch I lay in the shade as my burns were starting to hurt a bit and I ended up falling asleep. When I woke up everyone had gone and no one woke me, I pulled myself together and went to work on the ambulance for a bit.

Level 2 of Djembe tonight with Butch, After I went and got changed as it was a bit cold tonight. Wish I had my own drum so I could have played it in the lesson.

After the drumming lesson a few of stopped up to play some games. We decided to play a game called dots, or should I say Denise decided. Everybody was given a number and you had to say for example “im number 5 spot I had no spots, how many spots does number 10 spot got” and so on. If you made a mistake you got a spot on your face then you would say “im number 5 spot I’ve got one spot” and it would go on like that, it sounds boring but when you have had a drink… we

had a right laugh. Watching Linda play was a hoot, everyone just seemed to be laughing at her than the game.

21.04.14

Today we are going on day trip to the Bateek factory, Bangul then to the calypso bar for a drink.

We left the project 9am sharp and we all headed to the Bateek factory. What an experience it was, all the tie-dye material was on the tables stacked up high, they were hanging off washing lines-everywhere you looked was this brightly coloured material. Everyone was having a good look through to see what caught their eye. I seen some lovely patterned material so I spoke to Illargi to see how much I could get it for and I think I paid around £3 for it. Some people bought a few different bits of material to make dresses for themselves and presents for home. On the way out there was a place where you could buy jewellery and other souvenirs.

When we had all finished we all made our way outside and there were men selling hand carved items such as masks, bowls and statues. I had a bit haggle with one of the men for the 3 wise monkey that I wanted for my mam. I ended up paying 600delasis. After we had spent up we headed back to the jeep and headed to Bangul.

Whilst on our way to the Calypso bar we stopped about 10minutes away to have a bite to eat. The project had provided a packed lunch for us all. Nothing special just sandwiches and crisps. After everyone had ate we all jumped back into the jeep and drove to the bar.

When we arrived at the bar, my initial thought wasn’t what I was I was expecting. It was located right on the beach where a lot of tourists were gathered, there was a short path which lead to into the bar, the entrance to the bar was surrounded by beautiful different coloured flowers. Lisa and Denise took the whole group to the end of the bar into an shaded area. As we walked up the path most of the group noticed the sign-BEWARE CROCODILES. I thought that was a nice way to greet people into the bar area. Walking up the path there was a lagoon to the left of us where the crocs were, but no one seen any.

Everyone grabbed a chair and the barman came over and took orders for the drinks. Beer all round! The view from the bar across the beach was breath taking. I was taking in the view when I heard some say croc from down the bottom of the bar, I jumped up with my camera and headed down, only to see a crocodile just chilling at the side of the lagoon. There were also different kinds of birds swooping in from different angles, trying to capture them in flight was a challenge. After a few snaps I decided to go for a wonder round the lagoon to the other side where the beach was. I couldn’t believe the view. In the distance I seen 2 Gambian men fishing on the edge of some rocks and some other Gambian women selling different things as they were walking along the beach. After 10 minutes or so I wondered back to the bar to finish my beer before we headed back to the project.

After arriving back at the project the whole group decided to go the woman’s garden. This was a short walk through the village. We were greeted by the women who run the garden, and they soon got us to

work. I was blown away by the hard work these women do to make sure the garden is producing crop. Pulling water from the wells and then carrying the pales to the crop in the vast area of land. And it was by no means small. There was around 6 wells spread about and groups of people at each. 100s if not 1000s of buckets a day. I was doing this for around half an hour and I could feel the burning in my arms, Baring in mind that these women do this twice a day.

After the second water of the day, the woman celebrate. They pack everything up and get the buckets ready. What happens next is amazing, this is how you celebrate life. Starting at the garden gate, the drums start- I mean buckets, the sound and rhythm that they make with a bucket and a stick is truly amazing. Then the signing starts, every women that was there children as well. Singing and dancing along the road bak up to the village. I took a few recordings of the celebration. After 20mins walk up the village I thought the celebrations had stopped, I was wrong. In a court yard stood an old mango tree. A few women sat down beside it with their buckets and everyone made a circle around them. Now by the amazement of my eyes, they Gambian women were having a dance off, everyone clapping signing, cheering, some of our group got dragged in to join the dance off. This went on for about 30mins, the weather was still warm and the sun was slowing disappearing. But it didn’t stop. The crowd starting walking down the road to the project, still dancing and signing. When we reached the gate another circle was made and the dance offs continued. I made the mistake of standing out the way and chatting to someone and a little dance came out, and was quickly dragged into the circle by a women. I got the crowd cheering by clapping my hands, then I showed them how to so it. Dancing away in the stand, loving life and loving my time dancing with the Gambians. Joining in this amazing celebration and being part of this community really made me appreciate my life back at home more.

After the party we entered the project for tea.

We have met a man from Liverpool, he was there for a holiday and was staying in a tent in the project. Was a funny and great interesting man this was, we had become good friends while there. Tonight is his last night in Gambia so Butch and Brendan are having a little party for him.

Today has got to be the best of the trip so far and I’m loving my time in Gambia at the moment.

22.03.14

Another day of working ahead, this morning half of the group are going to the Kajabang nursery, 3 people working on the Ambulance and 3 are working on fixing the school furniture. I was in the group that was going to the school. Our job for the morning was to paint the park swings and other play equipment, this was a hard task as the kids wanted to help and play at the same time. Trying to keep 30 kids away from the paint was a task in itself, we didn’t want them covered in paint so trying to entertain them and work at the same time was hard. There was a little girl that was helping as she spoke English so she understood what we wanted and she was telling the other kids off and keeping them in check which was helpful. It

didn’t take that long to get the job done and it’s a good job as the heat was horrible, dead dry and humid. After I had finished I entertained the children by playing a bit of football with them, I taught them how to play piggy in the middle, the children loved it and before I knew it there were 10 children in the middle. They had me knackered running about in this heat. then Everyone helped to clean up and headed back up to the project. As it was the weekend we all had the rest of the day off and there was a massuese coming in so most of the women went for that and some people went for a walk. I stopped back and was working with Butch painting the Djembe drums. We were all giving a small drum to decorate and take home. Sunsets was the choice most people were going for so I joined them in doing the same. Mine had a silhouette of birds and trees with people dancing around-I was pretty pleased with the results. It will make a good present for my nephew.

Tonight Butch is taking everyone to the zoom zoom bar, which I have heard a lot of stories about this place. Basically what it is is (as the yanks call it) moon shine. We all got ready and headed round the compound where it was. 10 mins walk down the red road. We entered the compound and kids were running around, there was an old woman sleeping on the bench at the side and the rest of the adults were standing around this little opening in the wall which was the bar. If this was in England it would have been easily been shut down for health and safety. Most of the people in the bar were calling themselves Rastas. Standing around drinking and smoking weed, as you do.

Butch ordered us a round of zoom zoom which you drink like tequila. Salt on the hand then a shot, and to finish some freshly grown limes. The bottle came opened as I think they re use them but it is safe as Butch comes often. A bottle of zoom zoom only costs around £2 and there was around 15 people there so nothing in comparasing to home. With in 30mins everyone had about 5 shots. And it does hit you.

Me and mike went for a tour round the compound to see what it was like. Only thing that stood out was the toilet. I have no idea where he got it from but it was a proper loo with a toilet seat. And Palm leaves as a wall. We walked round further and in the top corner was a pen with pigs and chickens. Not fat pigs like we have, these were skinny and dirty, but as it cost a lot of money to feed them properly they only eat what they can. Quite hard to see but that’s life I suppose.

After the tour I was cornered by this man and he was trying to escort me to a secret place in the compound, I kept refusing but he kept going on. He was trying to sell me weed but I said I have to go back to the bar to stay with the group.

I’ll finish writing this when I get back to the compound if I’m able.

There was no way I could have wrote anything when I got back so have to do this now the next day.

The beer and zoom was flowing then Butch ordered something called pasteese ( not sure if this is spelt correctly) but it was disgusting. It stunk! After the sun had gone down everyone was up and dancing. All in all, it was a brilliant night. Apart from me been pestered by this Rasta man asking for money and saying he will

give me some African Bush. I had kids climbing all over me trying my hat and glasses on. That kept them amused. It was well passed the time we were ment to be back, an hour past. Butch kept ordering everyone drinks. We eventually ordered the bill and everyone paid about 30delasis each. Then we left. The 10min walk turned into 30mins. The Rastas left at the same time and he was still asking for money and trying his African Bush on me. Half way up the road he finally left. They do make you feel really guilty but you just can’t do it as hard as it is.

We eventually turned up at the project 1hour and a half later and Laura who stayed behind as she was really badly sunburnt had already had her tea. We all sat down drunk eating food and reflected on the day. Most people went to bed after food but a couple of us stayed up and sat round the fire. Before I knew it, it was 1in the morning. And I didn’t know this at the time but the longer we stay up the longer the staff have to stay and they don’t get overtime for doing so. They didn’t mind as they enjoyed the company. Time for bed!

23.03.14

Now we are half way through the trip and it have enjoyed every aspect of this trip. I have learnt so much about the culture and the country and how the other half live. The people that are very poor make their homes from mud bricks and the roofs are made from the palm leaves. They look structurally ok but in the raining season the house is washed away and they have to rebuild. And there are plenty around that have not been rebuilt. Some of the compounds have no sure ending wall or fence.

On the other hand the people that are lucky enough to have a job and are able to provide for there family, and their homes are made from bricks and rendered for extra protection. There roofs are made from corogate and look pretty secure. If money allows it they will have surrounding brick wall. If they can’t afford it they will have a fence round the compound. If they are really well off they will also have a steal gate on there surrounding wall. And the the people at the top will have painted the wall and house.

The men in The Gambia can have up to 4 wife’s. If they cannot be satisfied they will then marry another and so on. So some compounds can have up to 20+ people staying in it.

Quite a lot of children don’t go to school as in The Gambia you have to pay to go to school. And if they do have the money then they only send the eldest boy to school as they will be the ones who will provide for the family. So when we are out in the community there are a lot of children running around. Most with clothes and shoes.

Today everyone was at the Kajabang school again, lots of different jobs todo , I was working in the garden today moving the fence to make the garden bigger. The fence is made from Palm wood and is very sharp and strong. We had to take it all apart and set all the wood up in size order. We then had to mark out where the fence was going and dig the post holes. It was Sunday morning and even tho the children weren’t at school they still came over to help. One hound child, must have been about 8 was holding a machete was digging the holes faster than we were with a spade and his was perfect for the

posts. Ours were big and misshaped. We also had to dig and rake all the stones and weeds from the new plot. The group kept stopping for a break as it was to hot. The children were none stop. They should come to England to show us how it’s done. They helped me mix the cement and all other types of jobs. They were little stars all day. After all the holes were dug we began to put the posters in and cement then into the holes.

There was one kid that climbed up this tree to cut more branches down for the new fence. Chopping away with a machete. We spent around 2 hours rebuilding the fence and everyone got stuck in to get the job done. We then came back to the project for lunch.

Nothing much was done the rest of the day so I went back to finish my mini Djembe off.

And an early night for once. Back to work properly tomorrow.

24.03.14

Another day down in The Gambia. The days are going so quick. We’re all off to the Kajabang school this morning to do more work in the classrooms and to finish off the toilet block.

It still amazes me watching the builders work in this heat. Yes they are used to it but for a country where you have to teach yourself skills most of the time, they are very good at what they do. But now it was my turn. I started to mix the cement for the plaster and I was told I was doing it wrong. The way we mix is completely different to the way they do. They just pile everything into one pile and chuck a load of water to it…SIMPLE. They the mix was done I had to carry it over to the toilet block for the workers to get it onto the walls as quickly as they could before it dried out. And they were quick, putting us Englishman to shame.

I also spent a little time in the school where the children were teaching us there songs. I have recorded them so I will have to try and write it down for anyone to read as they were pretty good.

It has been a pretty busy day today. After I had finished in the school with the songs I ahead end over to the other block where we fitted the shutters with new catches, but the drill soon ran out so I was back over the toilet block to try my hand at plastering. I had more on the floor that the wall and you could see the workmen were getting impatient as they wanted to hurry up and get finished. The toilet block is looking really good. Only the roof and painting left to do.

As soon as I got to the project I went straight in the shower, by this time I enjoyed the cold shower and no screams were coming out of me. I headed to the bar area while other people were getting ready and a lady called Amelia came to the project to talk to us about the lamp that Gentoo had have her to try out.

Amelia had kept a diary of who she had let use the lamp and kept a log of the money she had saved up whist she had the lamp. She has had the lamp since January of this year. Denise and Lisa brought it out with them on their first trip of the year and they decided that she would be best suited to test the lamp out. In the 3 month that she had had it for, she had raised 375 (£5.85)deals is which is around 1 weeks wages. 75 people has used it for 5 debases each. She has not spent any of the money as she brought it all with her. She

told us she did not want to spend it as she wanted to show us all the money. She wanted to show us that the lamp works and prove to us that how great it was.

We discussed the idea of other families using the lamps but paying for it on a weekly basis and once it was paid for then the money raised there after, it was theirs to keep. She couldn’t really comment on this as we would have to speak to the families ourselves to see if this was something they wanted to do. Everyone has different priorities and the lamp may not be one of them. But the answer to the lamp working-I would say definitely. It’s a brilliant idea and Amelia has proved this to us.

Later on in the evening I walked in on a conversation about marriage in The Gambia and about how they can marry up to 4 women. And how people can get married at a very young age. They went to say you get bad Muslims and good Muslims. We were talking to a bad Muslim, and it’s bad as doing illegal things, but bad as in he smoked and drank, and this is frowned upon when you are a Muslim living in The Gambia. Omar the young man we were talking to lives with his uncle in Brakhama but as it to far to travel on a bicycle at night, he usually stays with another family in Gunjur. Omar says he is 28 now and he needs to cleanse himself before he decides to get married. He told us he had a girlfriend but she got married to someone else, kind of going for the one who had the money type of thing. She broke his heart and he still hurts from this even tho this was 10 years ago. He says he can’t trust women so this why he hasn’t got a girlfriend. He was getting really wound up about this and he ended the conversation and walked away. I caught up with him later on and he had forgot about the conversation.

25.03.14

The trip is nearly at its end. Really don’t want to go home. I could easily set a life up here, I’m enjoying that much.

It’s Denise’s birthday today so the team and staff has a birthday lined up for her tonight.

After breakfast everyone set away to do their jobs.

I was working on the Ambulance today as I haven’t had a chance to get stuck into it. Me, Laura and Stefan spent hours putting the final coat of paint onto the Ambulance. With Butch being a painter by trade said that he would be doing the stencilling of the letters and numbers the car. This project has come a long way, and not only the work that has been done on this. The car was drove from Amsterdam twice. It had been stood for years before it was donated. Then it broke down half way to Gambia and had to go back to Amsterdam to be fixed then on the second trip it finally made it to The Gambia where it again stood for years before we got the job of fixing it up.

We stripped it down, back to the bone. It was full of stickers and holes. You name it. The group spend hours if not days removing stickers, and washing it down. Welding it filling holes. The list goes on. The Box Youth Project was thinking of sponsoring it, but were advised not to as it would have cost to much money to keep going. We done our bit for the community.

In the afternoon we went to watch 2 local football teams play. The pitch was just over the road. Seni one of the staff was coaching one team. And the other team Is ran by the local doctor. The doctors team had been given a full football stip that had been donated by an unknown person.

When we arrived at the pitch the. Dust was unreal. God knows how they manage to play in this, the wind was howling through the air lifting this orange cloud of smoke. We walked over the pitch, if you call it that, (holes and bumps everywhere) until we got to the other side. Both teams were in blue. One in a solid blue colour, the other in a striped blue and white top.

Camera at the ready, and the whistle blows. You have to be a good player with decent ball control to be playing on this pitch, the ball was all over the place. They only planned to play 25 mins each half as it was still really hot and humid. There was lots of skill going on and some very quick players. I was very impressed with what I was seeing. It was very end to end for the 1st 10 mins. They don’t do formations either, most of the players were just running all over the pitch. The ref was a waste of time. 2 footed challenges going in all over the pich and the ref was just waving them off. And then the odd whistle for a freekick.

The 1st goal came just before half time. Simple little tap in. After half time the losing team came out really strong and after 10 mins they were awarded a penalty which was superbly saved. But 3 mins after a low long range shot snuck it’s way through the crown into the bottom left corner-brilliant goal. And that’s how it finished 1-1. We hung around for about 5mins after the game then headed back over the road to the project to celebrate Denise’s birthday.

Shower and ready in time for the drinks and disco. All the staff had the night off and enjoyed dancing with the group. Seni and Brendan were the DJs for the night with some good tunes blasting. And of course a bit of Bob Marley, the staffs favourite. The party finished about 12 and the music was switched off but most people stopped up for a while.

26.08.14

Up bright and early to start another working day. I was back down the toilet block with a few of the lads and the builders. This has been my favourite project whist been here, I’ve learnt a lot Woking on the toilet block. It has been plastered inside and out, the toilets have been fitted and the inside floor has been tiled. Today we are sorting the roof out. We fitted all the roof spares and while the joiner was doing that I was cutting the corrugate ready for the roof. Painting is the only job left to do. Whist mike was helping with the roof he slipped and put the drill bit through his finger. Brendan was on hand to sort it out, but he would have to see a doctor when he got home.

The rest of the group was sorting the fence out that ran the perimeter of the school. It was all squashed and full of hole. It has to re-stretched out and pinned to the posts. After a good few hours of hard work. It was back to project for lunch.

In the afternoon the group headed to Gunjur upper basic school, which is secondary school to us. We had trees and plants to plant,

this had been arranged since we got here but other jobs came first. When we got there the holes had already been dug out for us. It only took an hour to complete the. We had to carry bricks over to surround the plants for protection. Lizards and spiders were running all over coming out from the pile of bricks.

Whilst all of this was going on mike was fixing the bikes with another member of the group, the school kids could bring there bikes in and be serviced and fixed if the parts were the for it to be done.

It had been a very busy day today and everyone is knackered. Sunderland is playing tonight so it had been arranged that we are going to a compound to watch it. It was 9pence to enter and it was just like sitting in a large shed. Should be a good experience.

The compound we were in was quite big, there were 4 TVs at the front with different games on, the Sunderland game was in the middle. Cables were running all around the room and surround sound was playing for the match we were watching. We were the only English people in there, but no one was bothered. The atmosphere was brilliant, they are all so passionate about football. It’s amazing that people can go watch the match and have fun and not drinking. Shame about the result though.

Everyone went straight to bed when we got back!

27.08.14

So another day gone by and another busy day ahead, the group was back down the school to finish off the fence and toilets. The fence looks really well, just a shame there isn’t enough to finish it, but the group will still get the rest of the wire finished and hopefully get more fencing donated by the time they come back.

Walking down and the toilet block looks really well, I was apprentice to Martyn the joiner and we got the last little bits done before the painting is done.

Stefan is interested in the police so the chief of police is coming into the project today for a chat, not much to say really. There laws are pretty much the same as England, this is because England colonised here so most of the laws were passed on. You can be jailed for life for growing cannabis. The president also made being gay illegal and you can be put on death row if caught. He sees being gay as the same as being a peodophile .

In the afternoon some of the group came back to the school to start the painting. We couldn’t be the mix of the paint right so instead of orange we had a pale pink colour.and a brown gloss for the door. It took us 3 coats for the walls before it looked good and with the heat the paint was drying really quick.

The finished job looked brilliant, I’m glad I took part in this project.

As soon as we got back I jumped in the shower and got ready then I was called upon outside as the Sunderland football team were here to see me Keith Stefan and Kirsty. It was something I was not expecting but they gave us all a gift for going to watch them them play. It was a carved board with our names on and where the carving is it was filled with coloured sand to make out the carving. Really nice gift.

On the night after tea, me and couple of other sat around the fire and chatted.

28.08.14

Really struggled to get up this morning, had a feeling that it was going to be a bad day… When I got to the bar area the staff told me that my food order off last nigh will have to be changed. My breakfast and lunch I had to change, but I wasn’t really bothered as there was plenty to choose from. Then later Linda said I had to go change my tea as they had ran out. I started walking over to the bar and she shouted that she was joking. NOT A FUNNY TRICK!

We all had to leave at 9am sharp as the Kajabang school were having an assembly and we had to hand over the toilet block. The head and a member of staff made a nice speech to thank us all for the work we had done in the school. Then the nursery sang us a song.

I had an idea that the kids should spell out HELLO so the schools at home could see it. I drew the word out in the sand and the kids say in it, but I’d didn’t go to plan as I CPU

Don’t get the hight to be able to really see it.

After the school some of the group went to Brakhama market to buy some souvenirs. As soon as we arrived they were on us like a rash to enter there shops to buy there products. Some of the stuff they were selling was amazing hand carved items. And you knew it was hand carved as people were sitting outside the market stalls carving and sanding the wood, so you knew it wasn’t being made in a factory. A few people bought some stuff and then we headed back to the car.

This after But he is running a drum and dance workshop. He is using us a Guinea pigs as his band will be teaching people next year. They are amazing at what they do but are unable to break things into simpler terms for us to understand.

Tonight is our last night in The Gambia, so the project is having a party with food music and beers and Gamtino is playing for us. Butch has been so impressed with my photography he has asked me to do some more for him tonight.

We are now off to the women’s garden to hand over the seeds. We weren’t there for long but me and mike had some things to do. He donated some water filters so went round the 3 compounds that had them and I had to take photos for mike. He needs the photos of the filters being used and the compounds they are in so he can go back and hopefully get more.

Time to head back to get ready for the party. We had tea then got ready and the guests were starting to arrive.

It was a brilliant night. Everybody signing, dancing, everyone was in a good mood and the night came to a close.

29.08.14

Today is our last day of our 2 week trip. Nothing planned for today so most people are chilling round the pool. And a few people went for a walk round the village. I was asleep after 10 mins and had to be woke up as Salou had came in. The whole group had put money I an envelope to give to staff and Salou.

Salou works in the school 6-7 days per week but doesn’t get paid for his hard work.he pits 100% effort in and had a good relationship with all the students. He assists the teachers and sometimes does a better job. He has helped us a great deal in the past 2 weeks so helping him out with a little bit of money was least we could do. All together he got 1300 deals is which is around 5 weeks wages. And all the staff in the project got tips as well.

After lunch it was a waiting game till we had to leave for the airport. When it was time to leave the jeep drove out of the gate and all staff threw flowers in the jeep and waved good, it was quite emotional.

And that is it, we drove to the airport and boarded the plane. After a few beers of course.

                                                                                                           

Im Lew – A blogger and father of two boys, three if you include the dog, living in Sunderland. Not sure I have the hang of this blog niche thing but hey ho, I’m doing it anyway – expect all sorts of randomness.

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Adventure Brown

Im Lew – A blogger and father of two boys, three if you include the dog, living in Sunderland. Not sure I have the hang of this blog niche thing but hey ho, I’m doing it anyway – expect all sorts of randomness.

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