Groundnut Harvesting and Cattle Management
Life with a Mandinka Family in The Gambia - West Africa


The working day starts early on farms all over the world .. it is not different in The Gambia.
I was woken up before dawn by the traditional sound of pestles on mortars, as the ladies

pounded the rice and lit the fires to prepare for breakfast. Tea or coffee and a sweet rice porridge followed by the remains of the chicken from the previous evening .. wrapped in some tasty Fula-made tapalapa bread, fresh from the nearby village bakery .. started the day off very nicely.

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

The river ferry crossing point at Basse Santa Su - The Gambia

car ferry and numerous hand-propelled small boats, in which you can cross to the other side.
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.

The Fulladu Camp is adjacent to where the ferries land on the opposite bank and provides a welcome rest-stop for travellers exploring the area or those just passing through on longer excursions. Expect a warm welcome from the staff, but don't expect International 5 star luxury. It does have modern European toilets and showers in the roundel accommodation huts, plus a bar / restaurant with delightful scenic views over the river. I would recommend telephoning in advance to make your room reservations ( 00 220 9906791 ). On the occasions I have visited, there have been few guests .. and to give the staff some advanced warning to get supplies in, in advance of your arrival, would seem a good idea.

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.
But the goods that the few traders there were selling, were neither art nor craftwork nor interesting.

The Canteen and outside catering for the students

We walked back to the town centre, on the way receiving a free Coca Cola from a motorcycle parts trader .. whose brother has a similar shop next door to Mohammed's shop in Serrekunda .. in return for Mohammed promising to deliver some paperwork to his brother. Arriving at one of the largest general foodstuff supply stores in Basse, Mohammed organised the choosing and buying of 50 kg bags of high quality rice ( the quality of imported and locally grown rice varies tremendously, as does the price ) and sugar and a catering pack size of Jimbo cubes .. a variation of Maggi cubes which are widely used for seasoning food in West Africa .. to take as presents for his family.

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 ..
the little girl gave me one of her sweets. "Well, that is kind of you, thank you," I said .. and then her little brother also tried to give me one of his. When I said "No, you do not need to do that, you enjoy them" .. he reached over and put a sweet in my pocket and would not let me give it back to him.
I was totally surprised as I knew their father had not said anything to them and was pretty sure
Mr Bah hadn't told them to share their sweets with me. This unselfish sharing attitude, as I was to realise later after having spent more time in company with all the children on the farm, is normal amongst the local large families. Highly commendable in the adult's teaching of their children and reinforcing something I have often noted; that those who have the least are often the most generous.

The above doesn't always apply to taxi drivers and their managers.
Momodou Bah, the owner of the business and a long time friend of Mohammed's family, gave me a very good deal on the purchases and organised one of his staff to wheelbarrow the sacks round the corner to the local taxi garage. Then the fun began, bargaining for the use of an old Mercedes taxi in an advanced state of dilapidation with around twenty people sitting around doing nothing much at all. The unexpected but welcome sight of a Toubab needing heavy sacks transporting .. was, in their eyes, the equivalent of our Christmas celebrations ( their Tobaski ) having arrived two weeks early !

Unfortunately for them, this Toubab wasn't as naive as they had hoped for and hadn't just fallen off a Christmas tree either, so an affordable and only a little above the local price, was eventually agreed, some 75% less than their first price. Even then, further negotiations were necessary to get 'volunteers' to unload the sacks from the top of an empty minibus, where they had first been placed .. and into the car ! They were laughing at the end of it all, having at least gained some pecuniary advantage out of the Toubab .. but I did have the last laugh when they all had to help their brother taxi driver for free, by pushing the taxi with its completely flat battery, to get it started !

Cost in the UK = 99 pence

One of the best presents to give to both adults and children in Africa. Inexpensive Chinese-made laser light torches that give a long ranging vivid blue light. Powered by standard sized watch batteries, which last for ages and are available to buy cheaply in Africa, when they need replacing.

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.
Those of us living in our modern so-called "developed  worlds" become used to our own costs and values, very often it is difficult to relate to the vast differences in the costs and values of Africa.

Most African children do not have toys to play with, so to give the children some treats as well ..
I gave out tiny torches and a pack of colourful collectors cards, which I had brought from the UK. Also some jingly rattles for the little babies and small decorative purses for the girls, which we found in Basse. We also saw a range of footballs on sale there and .. remembering the young lad's request for one at the Janjanbureh ferry .. bought two, one for him and one for the boys at the farm.
Without exception, all the gifts were shared out equally between and by the children themselves ..
no squabbling, no selfishness and great care taken by them to ensure that no one missed out.

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.