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.
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!
When I got back to Gambia in October it was groundnut season, which means that everyone was harvesting and selling their groundnuts. We didn’t grow our own groundnuts this year, but quite a few of our neighbours did, so every couple of days we bought a few groundnut plants from them so we could have fresh groundnuts.
Groundnuts can be eaten raw or boiled in their shells, but the way we like them best is when they’re roasted. So I thought I’d share with you how we roast our groundnuts, Gambian-style.
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.
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.
Sprinkling a little dry cement
Smoothing the surface
The finished 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.
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.