How We Made Popcorn

Do you like popcorn? Somehow popcorn always reminds me of trips to the cinema when we’d buy a giant bucket and munch our way through (probably to the annoyance of those seated around us, although we did try to limit the crunching sounds!). Popcorn is a popular snack here too, especially as lots of people grow maize in the rainy season, so there’s always plenty of maize kernels around.

When my kids were young, we often used to make popcorn – there’s something magical about putting a small measure of maize kernels into a pan, listening to the popping sounds as it heats up, and then opening the lid to reveal the magically puffy popcorn at the end. So while the cousins were here over Christmas, I decided to make some popcorn for them all.

Here’s how we did it (and thank to Dodou for acting as official photographer!).


Renovating Our Traditional Roundhouse

A while back, I wrote a post about Making Mud Blocks, and I mentioned that Lamin had removed the roof of an old hut. The hut was old, and the termites had wreaked their usual havoc with the roof, munching through the palm sticks that formed the framework for the roof, and the palm leaves that covered it. The roof had to go so we could knock down the walls of the hut and re-use the material for new mud blocks.

But I may have glossed over exactly how much work was involved in removing the roof and refurbishing the hut. So here’s how it was done…


How Our Sheets Were Beautifully Tie-Dyed

In my last post, about the Triple C Youth Skills Centre, I wrote about the showcase held by the students at the end of the autumn term. Needless to say, we were really impressed with their skills, and before long we found a way to make good use of them.

In January, we were expecting several lots of guests who would be staying here. When Lamin and I were sorting out the bedding, we found lots of good quality cotton sheets that were still in great condition but looking a bit tired. Lamin had a flash of inspiration and suggested we ask the students at the Triple C to tie-dye them for us. Lamin’s nephew Yankuba agreed that it was possible, and he also agreed that I could go and watch how it was done. So the following Saturday, I went along to Kartong to watch the students at work.


The Triple C Youth Skills Centre Showcase

In The Gambia, youth unemployment is a huge problem. School is not compulsory here, and although many younger children do attend, the drop-out rate as children go through secondary school is significant. Often young people end up with little education and no skills, making it very hard to compete in a small job market, and this is a major factor in many youths ‘taking the back way’ and trying to reach Europe, despite the dangers and massive risks involved.

One of Lamin’s nephews, Yankuba, is a carpenter, and for many years he’s had a dream to open a skills centre for the youths in Kartong. Recently, a Dutch foundation was formed to help get this project off the ground. It’s taken a lot of hard work and organisation, but in September a brand new skill centre opened – the Change Children’s Chances centre, commonly known as the ‘Triple C’.

Although it’s only been open for one term, just before Christmas they decided to showcase what their students have done so far, and Lamin and I were invited to the presentation.


Ten Years and Counting

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!


Jelly Coconuts

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.


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.


How to Enjoy Sunday Afternoon the Gambian Way

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.


A New Arrival

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.


Renovating Our Bird Pool: Part 2

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!


Renovating Our Bird Pool: Part 1

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.


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.

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!


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