A Balaba Christmas Party

24 Dec

Even though The Gambia is mainly a Muslim country, the Christians here celebrate Christmas. The Muslims working in essential services like the police, the army and health care, stay on duty so their Christian colleagues can celebrate, (The Christians then return the favour at Tobaski, a big Muslim feast). This arrangement works well for everyone!

We usually have family visiting over Christmas itself, but our Christmas usually begins on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast is mainly celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, and acknowledges the conception of Mary, mother of Jesus. For Christians in The Gambia, this is an important pilgrimage day, when thousands converge on the shrine at Kunkujang (near Brikama), for Mass. The family then come back here to spend the rest of the day together celebrating.

This year was no different!

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Making Mud Blocks

2 Dec

Do you ever watch the TV programme Grand Designs? There’s something fascinating about watching people devise grandiose schemes for building or renovating a property and then seeing how the project turns out. There’s usually a few disasters along the way, which makes the programme even more interesting!

Well, we’ve been undertaking our own grand designs here at Balaba Nature Camp, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing some of them to you. But because we’ll be doing some building and renovation work, we’re going to need plenty of mud blocks, and unlike the UK, we can’t just pop down to the nearest DIY store and buy a heap of bricks! All our mud blocks are made by hand (usually by Lamin), which is tiring and time-consuming.

Over this last couple of weeks, Lamin has made over 200 mud blocks, and I thought you’d like to see how it’s done.

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Roasting Groundnuts With Sand

30 Nov

When I was last here, I wrote a post all about how Lamin roasted groundnuts the natural way. The groundnuts do taste delicious cooked that way, but all that soot does leave your hands looking a bit of a mess. However, now Dodou has solved the problem!

A few days ago, Dodou decided he wanted to roast some groundnuts. Lamin’s mother has grown them during the rainy season, and she kindly gave us a large sackful, so we’ve been slowly working our way through them. Of course, you can eat groundnuts raw, but on the whole, we prefer them cooked and although they taste OK when they’re boiled, roasted is definitely my favourite!

So Dodou collected what he needed: Some sticks, a few large stones, a pan, some sand, and the groundnuts. He kindly agreed I could take photos as he went along, so here’s how to roast groundnuts in a different way.

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Repairing Our Well

22 Nov

In my last post about the rainy season, I told you that the support over our well had fallen down. I’m not much of a physicist, but I think I’m right in saying that every pulley you have on a rope system halves the effort need to pull an object. (If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me! So when the pulley isn’t working, it’s much harder to pull the bucket up from our well, which is around 16 feet deep! And when all your water for drinking, washing, cooking, laundry, and watering comes from the well, it’s surprising how much water you need to pull! (If you want to read about how I got my drinking water clean last year, check out my post about it.)

So on Lamin’s return, one of the first jobs on his very long list of maintenance tasks was to repair the well. And it wasn’t just a case of the sticks falling down – the termites had munched through them, leaving them looking like powdery honeycomb.

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The Rainy Season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

20 Nov

One of the things I love about returning to The Gambia is that everything is so green. As the plane crosses the coastline on its descent into Banjul airport, you can see a carpet of lush green vegetation spread out below. When I leave again in April, it hasn’t rained for months and everything is dusty, dry and desiccated.

Most Gambians say they like the rainy season best which seems very strange to me as a sun-loving Brit! But people rely on good rains to “do farming”, and this is when families grow crops such as rice, which they’ll need to feed their families during the dry season. With a sack of rice costing around a third of a teacher’s monthly salary, growing your own here is less of a lifestyle choice and more of a necessity.

However, the rainy season does bring its own difficulties. Throughout July, August and September, there are massive thunderstorms bringing huge amounts of rain in a very short time. Flooding is common, and because buildings are often made from mud blocks, they’re easily washed away.

So I thought I’d give you a round-up of the good, the bad and the ugly results of the rainy season here at Balaba.

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Ten Years and Counting

12 Nov

It’s hard to believe that it’s ten years since I first came to The Gambia, and I little imagined then that eventually I’d end up living here! However, that’s exactly what’s happened, and once again in early November I braced myself to say goodbye to friends and family (the part I hate!) and set off for the sunshine of the Smiling Coast.

The flight out is always horribly early, which meant getting up at 4:30 to be sure of getting to the airport on time, but as usual, my daughter Sarah (nobly accompanied by her wife!), offered to play taxi. So by 6:00 am I was in the queue ready to check in. A quick coffee at Costa’s and then it was time to go through into departures to get ready for the flight.

Fortunately, I love flying, so once the goodbyes are over I can at least look forward to the flight. And I must admit, it does feel good leaving grey skies behind and knowing I’ll soon be seeing blue skies instead!

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How to Roast Groundnuts the Gambian Way

10 Feb

When I got back to Gambia in October it was groundnut season, which means that everyone was harvesting and selling their groundnuts. We didn’t grow our own groundnuts this year, but quite a few of our neighbours did, so every couple of days we bought a few groundnut plants from them so we could have fresh groundnuts.

Groundnuts can be eaten raw or boiled in their shells, but the way we like them best is when they’re roasted. So I thought I’d share with you how we roast our groundnuts, Gambian-style.

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Jelly Coconuts

24 Jan

Before I came to Gambia, I had never heard of jelly coconuts. As far as I was concerned, a coconut was brown and had white flesh inside. But I’ve since discovered that jelly coconuts are a great treat here, especially amongst the children. So I thought I’d tell you all about our jelly coconuts.

Jelly coconuts grow high up in the jelly coconut palms.

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If they’re not harvested as they get ripe, eventually they fall down, and believe me, you don’t want to be underneath when one comes crashing to the ground! So once they’ look ready to drop, the local children set to work to harvest them.

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How to Enjoy Sunday Afternoon the Gambian Way

21 Jan Balaba Nature Camp, Gambia

What makes a perfect Sunday afternoon for you? I guess it could be many things – curling up with a good book, a country walk, or socialising with friends. As it’s Sunday today. I thought I’d share a typical Sunday afternoon Gambian style.

One of the things I love best about being in The Gambia is the social life. Because the weather is mainly hot and dry, we tend to live outside most of the time, and it’s very easy for people to drop in and visit. I honestly don’t think we’ve ever had a day here when we’ve not had at least one visitor. And this particular Sunday was no exception.

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A New Arrival

17 Dec

Warning – this post contains an overload of cuteness! In fact, the cuteness level is off the scale…

Have you ever done that thing where you go out to buy something and come home with something else? One of our family legends is when someone (who shall remain nameless), went out to buy a doormat and came back with a video camera!

Well a few days ago, Lamin went out to buy bread for breakfast – we have to buy it fresh each morning, as the bread here doesn’t contain preservatives so it goes hard very quickly. As I came across the compound from the well, I could hear our dog Tiger growling. This was unusual, because although she’s a very good guard dog and barks loudly if anyone comes into the compound, she’s also very friendly.

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