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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Renovating Our Bird Pool: Part 2

25 Nov

In my last post I told you how Lamin began to renovate our bird pool – you can read all about that here.

The next day, Lamin also re-lined the small pool, which is mainly used by the smaller birds – we didn’t want them to feel left out!

However, taking photos of the pool area isn’t very easy. The sun shines there quite nicely in the morning, but by lunchtime it’s blocked by surrounding trees, and then the forest area as it sinks in the west. Although it isn’t possible to have the sun all day, Lamin thought that if we gave one of the nearby palm trees a haircut, it would allow more light during the late morning, and also provide some fence posts and leaves for our perimeter fencing. Again, deforestation has made it very difficult to cut sticks and leaves from the forest around us as we used to, so now we must rely on our own trees.

In true Gambian fashion, cutting back a tree is as simple as shinning up armed with a machete and hacking off branches as you go! So duly armed, Lamin set to work while I took photos, hoping fervently I wasn’t going to get a snap of him falling out of the tree!

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Renovating Our Bird Pool: Part 1

22 Nov

Not many people are lucky enough to have their own bird hide, but here at Balaba we have our own special hide. It started a while ago when we decided to make a bird pool to attract the birds and other wildlife. We then decided to convert one of our rooms into a hide.

When I first came to Balaba in 2008, we were surrounded by forest and there were only a few compounds in the area. But in only nine years, most of the forest around us has been cut down as people move into the land and begin to build. The first thing they do is to cut down the trees – not only does this limit the shade they have, but of course it also destroys the wildlife habitat too.

At Balaba, we have quite a large area of land, so Lamin has left a ring of forest around the compound in the middle, and we have many mature trees. The loss of the forest around us means that we do attract lots of birds, as they have very little forest left in the area now.

Lamin made the bird pool a couple of years ago, but like everything here, it’s deteriorated quite a lot, so last week he decided to give it a bit of a makeover.

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First he added a new layer of cement to the large pool – it seemed to have developed a slow leak.

He also patched up our clay bowl that had a crack in it.

Then he cut some long shoots from our malina trees (which grow very straight) and fitted them horizontally to hold the fence posts in place.

The fence behind the pools had been badly munched by termites (if you want to read more about the damage termites can do, check our my earlier posts The War Against the Termites and Giving the Termites Some Food for Thought). Some of the fence posts had almost been eaten right through, and the leaves were in very poor condition.

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Termite damage to the fence post

Lamin checked every fence post, rooting out the ones that had gone too far, and realigning those that could be reused. Pampuran sticks have wicked razor-sharp edges to them. If you cut yourself, the wound gets inflamed very easily, so they need to be handled with care.

Lamin also removed the old leaves which were in a very fragile condition.

Next he cut some palm leaves to size with his cutlass (machete), and painstakingly constructed the fence with a patchwork of leaves.

This created a barrier that (hopefully) will keep pigs, goats and cows at bay but let small birds through. Animals are allowed to roam free during the dry season, and it’s amazing how much damage they can do in a short time!

Birds always like to land on a nearby perch before flying down to the ground to check that the coast is clear and free from predators. So we used more malina branches to make two long perches above the fence – this also gives me some good photo opportunities.

Finally, Lamin replaced the clay bowl that we fill with water.

Strangely, it’s the larger birds that like this one. One of the funniest sights I’ve seen is a huge African harrier hawk trying to fit into a small bowl for a bath!

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Next time I’ll tell you about how Lamin finished the renovations.

A Drink of Water

1 Nov

What do you do when you want a glass of water? Do you drink bottled water? Do you prefer it straight from the tap? Or maybe you have a chilled water dispenser in your fridge?Of course, things in Gambia aren’t quite as straightforward!

You can buy bottled water here, but it’s fairly pricey at around £1 per bottle, and since I get through at least two every day, it’s not really an option.

Many areas of Gambia now have taps. Villages may have a couple of communal taps, which anyone can use, but of course that does mean someone has to collect and transport the water, which is very heavy. In the towns, many people have individual taps in their homes, which are metered, so they pay for the water they use.

But here at Balaba, our water comes from the well.

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10 Ways You Know You’re Back in Gambia

29 Oct Balaba Nature Camp, Gambia

Well it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? A combination of political difficulties in The Gambia (thankfully now resolved), and family illnesses kept me in the UK for a long time. But at last I’m able to come back, and it seems I’m seeing Gambia through new eyes.

So I thought I’d begin with a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at ten ways you know you’re in The Gambia.

1. As you exit the plane and stand at the top of the steps, the warm air wraps around your shoulders like a blanket. As we’re just ending the rainy season, the daytime temperatures are in the mid-30s, and overnight it’s in the high 20s. The humidity is also high.

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An update about this blog

13 Mar

Unfortunately, due to family illness, I’m not currently in The Gambia and I probably won’t be back for some months. This means I won’t be updating the blog until my return, but I hope to be up and running again as soon as I get back. However, please do sign up for email updates so you’ll know when I start blogging here again!

How to Re-Skin a Drum

7 Jun

Think of Africa and you’ll probably think of drums! Drumming is a hugely significant part of the culture here, and almost every tribe uses drums in their cultural activities. Here at Balaba, we often have drumming round the fire if we have guests (and occasionally at other times too!), but that means the drums get worn out. A while ago, Lamin decided to ask someone to come in and re-skin our drums, so we spent a lovely morning watching the drum expert at work.

We already had a deer skin, and Lamin also arranged with Amadou to provide a goat skin as well. So Amadou arrived with everything he needed to repair the drums and set to work.

First, he removed the old skins, and then he cut the new skins to size. Each skin was stretched carefully over the top of the drum frame.

Then a hoop was hammered into place over the top.

Amadou attached ropes all round the hoop. There’s an intricate arrangement of rope and knots, to make sure the drum can be tuned safely.

Then the hard work began! Using a sturdy stick, Amadou twisted the ropes and pulled very hard to make the skin completely taut. He often used another stick as a hammer and bashed the knots down to pull the skin even tighter. All this took a lot of effort and quite a long time.

Once Amadou judged the skin had been pulled tight enough, the skin was cut to size. Here you can see my friend Naomi trying her hand!

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The drums were left in the sun so the skin settled into its new place, and then the following day, Amadou went through the whole tightening process over again.

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Then he used a razor blade to scrape the hair off the skins.

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Finally the drums were ready. Here you can see Numo trying one of them out. You can also put metal plates with small metal rings onto the drum so you get a rattling sound – a bit like the jingles on a tambourine.

Naturally, it’s important to give moral and practical support(!). So Bakary made himself responsible for brewing ataya (green tea) – you can see he’s a bit of an expert!

The children sat around and watched, and occasionally wandered off for a swing in the hammock. (Please note the clever arrangement of attaching a smaller rope to a tree branch so you can swing yourself without needing any help!).

So now we have our drums all ready to be played next time we have guests. There’s no better way to spend an evening than listening to drumming around the fire.

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