The working day starts early on farms all over the world .. it is not different in The Gambia.
As various farm and domestic animals .. wanting to get a drink from the water trough besides the central well, before the the heat of the day
descended .. wandered in and out of the farmyard, we accompanied Mohammed's brother across the road to look at his herd of cattle. They were a fine sight, grazing on the stalks of harvested crops.
It is an African tradition that visitors bring a present for the family and not wishing to have to cope with any heavyweight additions to our travels, we had decided to buy these in Basse Santa Su on the first day. Locally, car ownership is not common, so transport to Basse for most people in the area consists of standing on the side of the main road .. which runs alongside the farm .. and waiting for the next taxi / minibus or private transport with a kindly driver and space available, to come along. Depending on the time of day and one's luck, this can take anything from a few minutes to an hour or two ! The first few minibuses and taxis which passed us by were already full, but after half an hour or so, a local businessman in a smart four-wheeel-drive Toyota stopped and gave us a ride into Basse. Thank you kind sir.
Since my last visit, Basse had not changed at all. A scruffy and bustling rural centre of commerce and onward taxi transportation into Guinea Conakry and Mali, without most of the modern facilities or buildings which are found in the coastal areas. A limited mobile phone network does operate in the area, but the signal fades very quickly once a few kilometres away from the town. Sometimes a call is possible from the farm, but without any electricity, to recharge their phone batteries; someone has to complete a 10 kilometre round trip of and pay taxi fares each way, plus the 25 dalasis cost of having each phone recharged in Basse. Total D45 / £1 / $2 .. which is roughly equivalent to a local farmworker's daily earnings. I know I would not be happy to work for a day just to charge my phone! With the ready availability and reasonable costs of small solar panel phone chargers in the UK, the next present for the family has already been bought and will arrive on my next visit.
Mohammed and I walked through the streets and markets down to the river crossing. I wanted to revisit the Fulladu Camp .. a hotel on the north bank of the river, where we had had some cool drinks in a pleasant setting on a previous trip. Basse is situated on a bend in the River Gambia and has a
As there were no cars ready to cross on the large motorised ferry, there was great competition between the boatmen to encourage us to use their small craft. D5 for one and only D3 for another. Throwing monetary caution to the winds, we expended 5 dalasis each on the one that was going to leave immediately. Trying hard to keep a serious expression on my face, I asked the boatman, who was pulling hard on his single oar - Venetian gondolier style - if he could first take us down river a little way to find and photograph some crocodiles, instead of crossing straight over .. to warrant the extra 2 dalasis we had had to pay to use his boat ? This was predictably met with roars of laughter !!
Good hearted, fun-loving and hardworking people, who similarly teased us on the way back.
Whilst we were drinking our soft drinks and chatting to the staff, the lady who was our travelling companion in the taxi from Barra, telephoned me to say that although she had arranged to meet us at
the Craft Fair .. it was for her very disappointing as no materials suitable for her business were on sale. She had in fact had a wasted journey and was going to return immediately to Banjul, so .. with apologies
.. she couldn't meet us. Nevertheless, we decided to pay the Craft Fair a visit and re-crossed the river to walk around 3 kilometres in very hot sun to a large school, just past the army camp on the other side
of town. We should have listened to our friend .. we found a large group of students from the surrounding countries, attending the equivalent of a Boy Scout / Girl Guide Jamboree .. using the
school classrooms as dormitories and evidently having a really good time.
Whilst waiting for all this to happen, I was speaking to a couple of very small children, whose father owned the shop next door. Children in the country areas are totally different from most city kids, who usually have their hands out begging money from the first point of contact with a Toubab. This rarely happens in the bush and whilst not wishing to corrupt them, I did wish to buy them some sweets from Mr Bah, for being so cute and polite. Three mint sweets for one dalasis, I was told ..
and OK'd the present of a dalasi for each child with their father, who nodded, before I gave them the money. With big grins on their faces, they rushed into Mr Bah's shop and bought their sweets.
The first thing they did then was to come straight back to me and .. with a big smile on her face ..
Our arrival back at the farm was greeted with great joy, especially upon receiving the gifts, which in total had amounted to ( only ) around £25 / $50, but were received as though they were bars of gold.
By then, it was far too late for my inauguration into becoming a groundnut harvester, so that was postponed until the following day. The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent in chatting with the family and a steady stream of visiting neighbours .. plus receiving some lively Mandinka lessons from the children ! Inside in the candlelight or outside under the stars .. all was warm and homely.