Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Back home in the Gambia

Well once again it feels like such a long time and another epic journey since I last wrote a post from the Daffeh's compound in Brufut on the coast of the Gambia. I spent around 5 days there with the sisters and Dembo who was visiting from Finland. Dembo had been my student in the village primary school when I was teaching here in 1995 but now lives in Finland and is part of a new generation of Gambians living the dream of a European life. It was so hard to leave the warmth of the family home but the time to move on came once again.

First 30km south to Kartong, the last village along the coast before the border with the troubled Casamance region of Senegal. This is a lovely area further away from the tourists and infamous beach bums and hustlers that prey relentlessly upon toubabs (white people) on the beach up north by the hotels.  I had planned to stay with an English guy called Peter Verne who I had met at sunrise festival in the summer who has a wife and compound here. I met him through our mutual friend Billy, otherwise known as Undercover Hippy, from Bristol, who spent a few months here with a guitar a year or two back winning over the hearts of the Gambians with his musical talents. I have met many people who talk fondly of him and he seems to have made quite an impression on the crew here. Peter was away in England having left just a couple of days earlier but Mamboi, his wife, and the rest of the family welcomed me into their forest compound with true Gambian hospitality. Here was another example of people living the dream amongst the palms and trees of the forest; Oh the simple life out in the bush!
I stayed just a few days but had a great time exploring the village, forest and nearby coast a little and just hanging out with nice folk in the compound. 

the boys fixing the generator again.....

Mamboi and the kids making baobab juice from the fruits of this amazing tree.....

Palms on the river bordering Senegal.

From Kartong I travelled just a short distance inland to Brikama; possibly Gambia’s largest town and stronghold of Mandinka culture. Here I stayed with another old student of mine and good friend called Famara but like so many Gambians is better known by his nickname of Killy. He took me around town to visit all sorts of people including almost a hundred members of his family. We also visited some local musicians and had a fantastic time hanging out with Tata Dindin and his band. I took a few lessons from the guitarist learning some funky little Afro Mandinka riffs and one afternoon went with the whole crew in a heavily loaded minibus, with the entire sound system stacked up on the roof, to a concert in a neighborhood to celebrate the president’s recent election victory. It was a wild experience and quite unlike any party I’d been to. The band rocked it with their Kora driven afro funk and the audience of women dressed in wonderful colorful patterned dresses praised the band by literally throwing money at Tata as he sang. Tata continues the Mandinka tradition of the griots as praise singers and the more he praised the individuals of the local community the more money the women lavished him with in celebration. Take note all ye poverty stricken Brighton musicians if you want to make some cash!

We also paid a visit to a couple of up and coming reggae singers called Philantropist and Messiah… Yes there’s a singer here that calls himself The Messiah which seems kind of extreme in terms of bigging your-self up even for a reggae mc. They were both sound guys though and once again the whole crew were fantastically friendly and welcoming and were very happy to spend the day in the yard chatting, jamming and cooking up a feast of rice and peanuts in new variations….. Yes I have eaten a lot of rice and peanuts by now but still I love it. Tonight we had rice with fish cooked in palm oil, another classic of West African cuisine.

From Brikama it was time to make the trek up river 120 km to the village of Kwinella where I lived all those years ago and taught in the primary school at the tender age of 19. I lived with the Daffeh family here, and it was to their compound, the Daffeh Kunda, that I was now heading. Of course all the children have all grown up and moved on and Ba Felidge (the dad) complains of the place being too quiet now. On my first visit both his wives, Kadi and Fatou, were here and at least a dozen of his children filled the place but now things are quieter and the old simple rooms have been knocked down and replaced by new larger buildings that even have water and solar electricity. Development is slowly coming for some Gambians whilst it seems for others the simplest amenities such as water, housing or enough rice to feed the family can be a real issue. It is here in this village that the Fresh Start Foundation concentrates many of the projects but more about them to come.
It is so good to be back here. Every day I am greeted by people who remember me from back in the day. Some people that I haven’t seen for 17 years but still joyfully sing out my name in greeting and very quickly the kids all join in the call. It really is somehow like coming home after all those thousands of miles traveling through unknown places and meeting people for the first time but here there is history and shared experience and so much kindness and openness that’s almost overwhelming at times. As well as catching up with old friends I’ve been helping to establish a community allotment project set up by Fresh Start and have been digging the rock hard sun baked earth and watering seedlings. It’s so inspiring and great to get down to doing something useful. I am also running workshops on climate change in the secondary school all week which will be a whole different story from working in the UK.

View Larger Map

 I’ll be here in the village for the next week or so and then Ramsey and Tom from substantial films will be here filming for 10 days.

Check out the movie trailer here…..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7tVFHv6a-A
and their visions project here.... http://visions-series.com/

And then the adventures will continue into Mali!
Much love from West Africa.

No comments:

Post a Comment