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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The finished surface
Sprinkling a little dry cement
Smoothing the surface
He also patched up our clay bowl that had a crack in it.
Cementing the interior
And the exterior
Smoothing the cement out
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.
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.
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.
In my past post (if you missed it, you can read it here), I told you all about our rather long journey from Ziguinchor to Haer. By now it was Tuesday morning, and we were due to catch the boat back from Bakassouck to Kafountine the following day. Again, there’s only one direct boat a week, so we couldn’t afford to miss it! So after a quick breakfast of bread (which we’d brought with us as bread isn’t cooked on the island, so it’s real treat for the people who live there), we set off to walk the 5km walk through the forest to Bakassouck.
We wanted to get there before the sun got too hot, so we walked at a brisk pace. Our route took us through thick forest, with an overhead canopy of leaves, vegetation on the ground, and even the occasional fallen palm tree to climb over. Occasionally we came out into rice fields – these are used in the rainy season so the islanders don’t have to buy rice, which is expensive and has to be brought in by boat. There were some beautiful birds along the way, and sometimes we skirted mudflats and narrow inlets, crossing over little bridges made of a simple plank.
Every now and then, Lamin and I decide to take a few days’ break from life here at Balaba and head off to somewhere different. Last year we had a trip all planned, but because I broke my wrist, it had to be postponed. We’d intended to go to southern Senegal (a region known as ‘Casamance’, to visit the provincial capital Ziguinchor and also some of the islands on the Casamance River. So we decided it was time to revive the idea of our road trip, and head off to Casamance.
I especially wanted to visit the island of Carabane, which is almost the most westerly point in Africa. It’s a very historical place, and was once famous as a slaving port. There’s now a museum of slavery there, which I wanted to see, and was also interested to see other historical monuments. So we decided to travel to Ziguinchor, then down to Oussouye, and base ourselves there for a few days. Then we planned to travel back to Bakassouck, the island where Lamin grew up. Our friend Rafael has a home in Oussouye, so he came with us and we stayed in his compound.
It seems we’ve been very busy lately, with several friends and family visiting, and despite my best plans I’ve got a bit behind with blog posts. Thus means I’ve got several I want to put up, which I’m hoping to get done over the next few days. And here’s the first one – how we spent Easter at Balaba.
Although Gambia is mainly a Muslim country, Easter is recognised as a celebration, so Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Of course, many Muslims carry on as usual, but government offices, banks etc. are all closed. However, one thing that’s very good is that in the essential services, (e.g. hospitals, police, army), the Muslims cover for their Christian colleagues, who then return the favour at Tobaski.
Here at Balaba Nature Camp we have quite a large area of land. Of course, much of that is given over to the huts and other buildings we need for when we have guests. But surrounding the central compound we have quite a lot of forest (which is a haven for wildlife), and also a large garden area. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we cultivate some and then let the local women use areas so they can grow their own vegetables. In return, they help to water our fruit trees. So I thought it was time to give you an update on the garden so far this year.
By the time I arrived, Saffie was already well ahead with planting onions. She’d managed to grow a huge number of plants from seed, which I’m told is a bit tricky, and she was busy selling seedlings and also transplanting some for herself. We will use some of them ourselves, but she’s also hoping to have enough to sell some mature onions in time.