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!
It seemed hard to believe that after ten long months in the UK I was finally able to return to The Gambia, but at last the moment had arrived. It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends and family, but I’d said my farewells to people in Devon and also spent a week in London doing the same. So at last I was on board the plane and ready to set off.
Needless to say, the British weather was determined to give me a good send-off – rain, wind and low cloud!
As you know, one of the most fantastic things about Balaba Nature Camp is its beautiful birds. The Gambia is famous for its birds – in fact, many tourists come especially to see them. Lamin has worked hard at Balaba to maintain the trees and unspoilt forest around us, which has become increasingly important as the area around us is being deforested at an alarming rate. We have always put out containers for the birds to drink from (usually a plastic container cut in half!), but last year you may remember Lamin decided to build a larger pool next to the forest edge to encourage some of the shyer birds. This was a great success, so this year he thought it was time to build a concrete one instead.
I’ve often talked about the trees here at Balaba Nature Camp and for those of you who’ve visited, you will know that it’s one of Balaba’s greatest features. But trees need to be carefully managed and every now we need to fell some, perhaps to open up an area for other trees to get better light or sometimes for safety reasons.
Recently, we decided to take down one of our palm trees. It was right in the middle of the compound – in fact, the first year I came we used to eat breakfast underneath it. But it was leaning at a bit of a crazy angle, wrapped around with another climbing plant that is popularly used for medicine.
Here at Balaba Nature Camp we are lucky enough to have plenty of space for growing fruit and vegetables, as well as being surrounded by lots of trees. If you are a regular reader, you might have been waiting for an update about the garden. During the rainy season, most people are focusing on farming corps such as maize, ground nuts, millet and rice, so gardening tends to take a bit of a back seat. But the rain does mean that we don’t need to worry about pulling water from the well! The fruit is left very much to its own devices.
Breakfast is something of a movable feast here at Balaba Nature Camp. Sometimes we have maize porridge, served with sugar and evaporated milk, which tastes delicious but takes quite a long time to cook. If we have no ground maize, Saffie sometimes pounds rice and makes a sort of ground rice pudding instead. It’s served in large bowl, which is placed on the ground, and everyone has a spoon to feed themselves. In fact, all our meals are served this way, and it’s not uncommon to be beating off the chickens with a stick while we are eating! Many Gambian homes don’t have chairs, and people simply crouch around the bowl to eat, so putting it on a table wouldn’t be practical. We do serve our meals in a communal bowl when guests are here, because they like to eat the traditional Gambian way, but we do eat at the table – sometimes it feel a bit strange sitting up at the table when we have spent so long eating from ground level!
This is a true story which happened at Balaba Nature Camp in The Gambia. I have written it for my grandchildren, Alyssa and Joshua, but I’m sure they won’t mind if you read it too.
Early one morning, Lamin was sitting outside his house enjoying the morning sunshine. He could hear the birds singing all around, and see them flitting in and out of the trees as they looked for food. Some birds had babies in their nests, so they needed to hunt extra hard to find enough food to feed themselves and their chicks.
All of a sudden, Lamin heard a small bang! He looked up, and was just in time to see a little bird falling to the ground not far from his feet. Slowly and carefully, Lamin got up and moved closer to the tiny creature to get a better look. The bird was sitting in the dust looking very confused and dazed – he had flown right into the mosquito shield in front of the verandah!
Fish is part of the staple diet here in The Gambia, and I have never tasted such delicious fish anywhere else. The most commonly eaten fish is bonga fish (officially called Yellow-tailed Mullet) as it’s readily available and cheap. However, other fish includes ladyfish, butter fish, and more exotic examples such as barracuda. Catfish is also popular, and we also eat shark and stingray, although most Gambians tend not to eat it – it’s mainly the Senegalese and Ghanains who eat these fish. However, as few rural Gambians have fridges or freezers, fish is often smoked to help preserve it.
In the nearby fishing village in Gunjur, there are commercial smoke houses where the fish are set out.