Maintenance: It’s a Constant Battle

4 Jun

One of the hardest aspects of life here in Gambia is maintenance. Of course, I know everyone has to keep their house maintained – my house in Devon needed roofing work and a complete new bathroom a couple of years ago. But here at Balaba, there’s something that makes it hugely difficult to keep houses, roofs and fences in good order for more than a year or two – termites.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might remember I wrote about the work that needed to be done on one of our accommodation blocks (The War Against the Termites). The termites had burrowed underneath, leaving quite large holes under the foundations of the block. In the rainy season these holes fill with water and the building literally shifts if the holes aren’t repaired.

So Lamin spent a long time digging out the termite-ridden soil, filling the holes with concrete, cementing holes in the wall, and putting the building back into good condition. But now it needs doing again, so that’s another job on the horizon before the rains arrive next month.

You may also remember I wrote about how we used our malina trees to make beds (How to Make A Bed the Gambian Way). We felled some of our trees, split the trunks and sent the wood to the sawmill to be made into planks. We then had beautiful beds made for all our rooms But now only one of those beds is left.

So last season, Lamin’s brother Abu came and made us some concrete beds. These are much more practical (hopefully it will give the termites a toothache!), and they also look amazing. Abu spent hours creating gorgeous patterns out of the broken tiles, and now we have beds which should last for a long time.

What happens if you don’t battle the termites? Well, some of our older huts, which Lamin built himself about 20 years ago, have succumbed. One of the very first Balaba huts used to look like this:


But the termites began to invade, despite stripping off the old palm leaf roof every two years and putting new leaves on. One evening last year, we heard an enormous crash. When we went to look, the whole roof had caved in, and the walls are in such poor condition now that it’s not worth rebuilding it.


Of course, nothing is wasted here – Lamin has plans to convert it into a ‘bantaba’ – a place for sitting and chatting. But it’s sad to see it in such a bad state.

Here you can see how the termites have created a honeycomb network by nibbling through the walls of another hut.



We’re gradually replacing our roofs with corrugate sheets, partly to combat the termites but partly to do our bit towards conservation. It may seem that using palm leaves is a better option for the environment, but in reality the level of deforestation in the area is horrifying. I first came in 2008, and Balaba was mostly surrounded by trees and forest, with a few paths winding their way through. Now, almost all the surrounding trees have been felled.

This is partly due to people buying land around us to build new homes – the first thing they do is to chop all the trees down to clear the area. Illegal logging is also a big issue. All the mature mahogany trees in the area have been chopped down, along with many others too. Balaba has become a forest oasis in an increasingly barren landscape.

This does mean we see lots of beautiful birds and other wildlife – we even have a monkey that comes quite often to drink in the pool. But people around here rely on firewood for cooking, and the local fishing industry needs wood for smoking fish. Both these activities will become very difficult in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep our trees surrounding us. We do occasionally thin them out, but apart from that we leave them mostly untouched. And we’ll also keep battling the termites!


2 Responses to “Maintenance: It’s a Constant Battle”

  1. Esseltee June 4, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    I’ve known about termites and their damage, but wow, I’ve never appreciated the honeycombe work that takes place under the surface! What scoundrels!

    • OkeCrafter June 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

      It’s amazing to see, and in some ways quite beautiful, but it’s not so much fun when you’re trying to keep buildings maintained!

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