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.
Our trees and vegetation are very important to us here. They provide shade, and also essential habitat for the birds and wildlife. When I first came to Gambia ten years ago, there was lots of unspoiled forest around us – you could see monkeys regularly. Now the plots of land around us have been sold, and are being used for housing. The first thing people do when preparing to build a house is to fell the trees. So now our mature trees form an oasis for wildlife.
Flowers grow beautifully in the rainy season, and we’ve lots of lovely colour around at the moment. As time goes on, that will fade.
Saffie has been growing pumpkins, and they’re getting rather rampant now. But we’ve had some delicious fruits from them, and we’ve also got some stored up for future use.
Last dry season, Dodou (Lamin’s son), faithfully watered our banana trees every day, a task he could gratefully relinquish when the rains arrived. But his hard work has paid off and now we have lots of bananas growing steadily.
There are plenty of insects about too, like this dragonfly I spotted by the well.
Of course, the grass grows well during the rainy season, and when I say grass, I mean really tall grass!
We leave some for the birds, but most of it needs to be cleared by hand using a “cutlass” (“machete” to you and me!). Clearing the grass and vegetation is hard manual work. And the local women are working hard to clear the garden areas behind our well, ready to grow vegetables (more about that another time).
You’ve heard of beating a path to your door? Well, we need to clear a path to our own front gate!
And you can see how the vegetation is very overgrown – this is the view in both directions standing at our gate.
But there’s an ugly side to the rainy season too. The rain splashes mud onto all the buildings, leaving a rather disgusting tide-mark around the base of each one. They’ll all need repainting, and this has to be done every year if we want our huts to stay looking good.
This year, the stick over the well (that holds the pulley system), fell down. So buckets had to be pulled up directly, which is much harder to do. More about that later too!
And worst of all, the rain penetrated the old palm-leaf roof on one of our huts, and the whole building has collapsed. We hope to rebuild it, but we also have some other maintenance jobs to do so it will have to wait for now. Maintenance here is a constant battle against the elements and the dreaded termites!
However, I am enjoying the beauty of the camp at the moment, and the apart from one day of light (but persistent) rain over the weekend, the sun is now truly back and we can look forward to another lovely dry season.