So on Lamin’s return, one of the first jobs on his very long list of maintenance tasks was to repair the well. And it wasn’t just a case of the sticks falling down – the termites had munched through them, leaving them looking like powdery honeycomb.
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.
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.
Sprinkling a little dry cement
The finished surface
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.
Do me a favour before you start reading this blog post. Just stop and think about how and when you have used water today. In fact, if you really want to appreciate this post, you could try making a note of how much water you use throughout the day, including any machines you have that use water.
I’ve already mentioned that all our water at Balaba comes from the well, and needs to be pulled up with a bucket. In fact, almost every compound around here pulls their water from the well. A while ago, when people first started moving into this area, many didn’t have their own wells, so they would come in to use our well to get water, but now everyone has their own. Our well water is very good, and I can drink it without any problems, although I’m a bit more careful to use purification tablets if I drink water from anywhere else.
Our well is also quite deep compared with some I’ve seen, and depending on the time of year, it takes quite a few pulls to get the bucket to the top; at the end of the dry season last year it took 24 pulls. Lamin has rigged up a double bucket system, so that as one bucket is being pulled up, the other one is being lowered, which makes it all much quicker, but it’s still quite time-consuming, and takes a lot of effort.