Tag Archives: The Gambia

Making Mud Blocks

2 Dec

Do you ever watch the TV programme Grand Designs? There’s something fascinating about watching people devise grandiose schemes for building or renovating a property and then seeing how the project turns out. There’s usually a few disasters along the way, which makes the programme even more interesting!

Well, we’ve been undertaking our own grand designs here at Balaba Nature Camp, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing some of them to you. But because we’ll be doing some building and renovation work, we’re going to need plenty of mud blocks, and unlike the UK, we can’t just pop down to the nearest DIY store and buy a heap of bricks! All our mud blocks are made by hand (usually by Lamin), which is tiring and time-consuming.

Over this last couple of weeks, Lamin has made over 200 mud blocks, and I thought you’d like to see how it’s done.

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Roasting Groundnuts With Sand

30 Nov

When I was last here, I wrote a post all about how Lamin roasted groundnuts the natural way. The groundnuts do taste delicious cooked that way, but all that soot does leave your hands looking a bit of a mess. However, now Dodou has solved the problem!

A few days ago, Dodou decided he wanted to roast some groundnuts. Lamin’s mother has grown them during the rainy season, and she kindly gave us a large sackful, so we’ve been slowly working our way through them. Of course, you can eat groundnuts raw, but on the whole, we prefer them cooked and although they taste OK when they’re boiled, roasted is definitely my favourite!

So Dodou collected what he needed: Some sticks, a few large stones, a pan, some sand, and the groundnuts. He kindly agreed I could take photos as he went along, so here’s how to roast groundnuts in a different way.

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Repairing Our Well

22 Nov

In my last post about the rainy season, I told you that the support over our well had fallen down. I’m not much of a physicist, but I think I’m right in saying that every pulley you have on a rope system halves the effort need to pull an object. (If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me! So when the pulley isn’t working, it’s much harder to pull the bucket up from our well, which is around 16 feet deep! And when all your water for drinking, washing, cooking, laundry, and watering comes from the well, it’s surprising how much water you need to pull! (If you want to read about how I got my drinking water clean last year, check out my post about it.)

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.

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The Rainy Season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

20 Nov

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.

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Ten Years and Counting

12 Nov

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!

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A River Trip in Casamance

14 May

If you need to take a journey using public transport, you need to check the timetable, right? But of course, things aren’t really that simple here! Gelli-gellis and cars wait until they’re full before they leave, so the operator gets the most return for the journey. And boats have to rely on the tide. So when we planned to move on from Oussouye to Bakassouck (which can only be done by boat), we knew it was likely to be a long day. And so it proved…

Our itinerary was: take a taxi or gelli-gelli to Zinguinchor (about 40 minutes drive), then take a small boat to Haer, a small landing point on the Isle de Caronne, which would take around 3 hours. Lastly, we’d have to walk around 5 kilometres through the forest to get to Bakassouck. So I was prepared for a lengthy journey.

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Easter at Balaba

10 Apr

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.

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A Visit With a Purpose: Helping the School at Bakassouck

19 Feb

I had several blog posts I was going to complete before breaking my wrist last year, so I thought I’d write up at a least a couple of them for you. This post is one of them.

Some of you will know that Lamin grew up on a remote island in southern Senegal. Bakassouck can only be reached via a 5-hour boat journey from the Senegalese fishing village of Kafountine, and we’ve been several times now. (If you want to read about previous visits and see some photos, then check here and here to read about our previous visits, which have been rather eventful!).

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Travelling back

12 Feb

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!

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An accident and the aftermath

20 Jan

If you don’t know me personally, you may be wondering why this blog seemed to stop abruptly and hasn’t been updated for a long time. That’s because on 17th March 2015, I slipped while getting washed and landed very heavily on my left wrist. As soon as I sat up, I knew it was dislocated, and I suspected (correctly!), that it was fractured too. I did my best to keep my wrist immobilised, and Lamin made phone calls to find out which hospital was equipped with an X-ray machine – not every hospital in Gambia has one!

We were told that the hospital in Serrekunda (about 45 minutes drive away), could do X-rays, so we drove there, with me clutching my wrist very firmly. When we arrived, we were assessed by a nurse (this was in the height of the Ebola scare, so they were naturally being very careful!), and I was sent to wait for an X-ray. Once this was done, I watched in amazement as the technician brought out the film and pegged it on a little metal stand in the sun to dry. Once, dry, we had to take it back to the casualty nurse. She took one look and said it was broken, but they didn’t do plastering there – we’d have to drive on another 30 minutes to get to the hospital in Banjul.

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