We arrived home safely last night, George has gone to stay in a country house in Bristol which should be a shock to the system after the African Village, I drove home and got back around 1:30am. A cold is brewing, and I am quite tired, but will be popping into work this afternoon after the Gas man comes to inspect the boiler!
It’s all winding down now, we’re heading to lunch shortly and then to the airport. Perhaps one last chance to see Charlie the crocodile, we will see!
Back in the UK around 23:00… will write some final blog updates on the plane!
Gambian food update:
benechin – short-grained rice, heavily spiced with meat or fish and stewed vegetables, perhaps like a Gambian biryani. Tasty.
chicken yassa – when done correctly, a rather tasty spiced dish of chicken and onions. The variety we tried today was delicious and featured carrots, yam and aubergines.
afra – we’ve still not had this yet, but this is the local version of a kebab
ladyfish – a quite delicious, moist fish somewhat like sole usually served with a peanut-based sauce, or spicy fried onions and carrots
bonga – the commonest fish in the Gambia, I’m pretty sure I had it last night even though I ordered the ladyfish, bony, meaty and not particularly worth the effort. The cat at our table appreciated it though.
attaya – a beverage made with Chinese gunpowder tea. First the tea is stewed in a small pot over charcoal with plenty of sugar and optionally some fresh mint. It is then transferred repeatedly between two glasses to make a foam. It is then consumed by the men-folk. You can then do a second and third brew with increasing amounts of sugar for the women, and then the children. Gambia is 95% muslim and so this is the social lubricant of choice.
peanuts – 1 dalasai for a big bag, so very cheap. High levels of afflotoxin restrict the export of this crop.
SupaKanja – not sure yet – it involves okra, but not found a place which sells it – sounds good though!
A gallery for your perusal!
Things are winding down now, we have essentially just an evening and a morning left in the Gambia. We still haven’t seen Charlie, the famous sedated crocodile at the sacred Katchikali pool, so perhaps we will have time to do that before we leave. Otherwise I will be back in cold Blighty late tomorrow night!
Our experiences with the monkeys will have to wait because I have to blog on the completely amazing day we had today going ‘up country’. The MRC have a number of field stations where they undertake research in the traditional Gambian villages. Traditional means no running water, no electricity, no sewers, no street lighting etc. The major concession to the 21st century is unbelievably good GSM phone coverage. Coupled with a 3G or GPRS network which must be coming soon this would mean you could watch YouTube on your phone, but not be able to charge it! One adaptation the Gambians have made to local mobile phones is that they have a built-in torchlight – helpful when walking on the potholed roads.
As part of the MRC Pneumococcus vaccination project, a number of study villages are enrolled in clinical trials of vaccine efficacy and safety, as well as Brenda’s nasopharyngeal metagenome project. Before samples can be taken, permission has to be sought from the alkalo (chief) of the village. Invariably this is given and all newborn children are enrolled in the trial. We watched consent being taken from a mother (although, culturally, male consent is all that is required, and if not given the mother’s wishes are not important) which was done very professionally and thoroughly by Mansu, one of the MRC field supervisors. One given, details are taken and a nasopharyngeal swab is taken from the infant and/or vaccine administered. There is great faith in the work done by the MRC rates and consent rates are near 100%.
Visiting the villages is completely charming, with the pre-school kids running around the family compound. Spotting a white face they scream and shout ‘toubab, toubab!’. They are sent into a frenzy of excitement if you take their picture and show them the result – scrambling to find their faces and pointing with glee. The mothers are quite shy but seem not to mind the invasion of privacy. Mostly the men are no-where to be seen other than the scholarly looking chaps outside the Mosque. Some are fishing, mending nets, or processing the groundnut harvest. Others are probably cooking a brew of attaya (Chinese green tea) of which more later.
Much more to say on our visit, but will post now and update a bit later.
At Albert Market in Banjul and the Craft Market in Senegambia, you need to have your wits about you if you want to get some wooden tat for less than it costs to drive to Dakar in a bush taxi. The best way to get a good price is to really not want something in the first place. A set of bracelets started off at 300 dalasai (40 dalasai to a pound). Through displaying (quite genuine) disinterest, I cleverly got him down to 50 dalasai for 2 bracelets. I just wanted him to go away and thought the completed transaction might achieve that. Wrong – he followed us all the way out of the market, down the street and to the car. By this time, all the bracelets were available for the bargain price of 20 dalasai.
In Senegambia market the haggling is a bit more hardcore. George managed to get a lovely big wooden monkey for the bargain basement price of 350 dalasai. I managed to get a big African shirt and some African fabrics for 750 dalasai, haggled all the way from 2,000 dalasai (a night in a luxury hotel here), which is still a total rip-off. I did get a nice plate of mango, pineapple, melon and banana from a kindly looking woman street seller. I enquired whether these came from her farm – “no, we bought them at the supermarket”. A snip at 310 dalasai, probably 10x more than you would have paid at Waitrose. But I did get some peanuts thrown in for good measure. But I made some nice friends on the way, including one chap who used to live in Brighton – “loads of gays”.
Karen update: she got back from Senegal with husband Tony in one piece and is flying back to the US today.
Well done Alex!
We’re off to the Butchers Shop for a spot of brunch. Tomorrow we head up-country to visit Sibano, a village involved in the MRC Gambian pneumonia trials which should be an insight into ‘the real Gambia’.
I have to go back to the African Village slash Brothel to transfer more pictures of today, as I know you are desperate to see a picture of the frog fish and probably will not sleep until you have. But until then, here are a few random photos from the last few days:
Right, coming up later – what Gambians use kettles for, a visit to Albert Market in Banjul, and the difference between a shrimp and a prawn. Off to get some dinner, so will not be able to join you watching the X-Factor, so my prediction to win is … Alex.
Check back with you later!
Sorry no photos yesterday, I went to the local Internet cafe to try and upload a few, but the connection was dial-up. I had a nice conversation with the guy running the cafe – a serious Anglophile who wanted to join the British Army (“they are the best trained in the world!”) and who was an avid BBC News 24 watcher. He was very excited I was called Nick because it was “like Nick Robinson”. Not sure if I had understood him correctly, I asked him if he meant the little bald chap off the news, and yes he did. He was also a big fan of Robert Peston, and even Rory Ceflan-Jones. For the benefit of my family: no, he hadn’t heard of Gavin Hewitt.
So, today we have been up Oyster Creek for a spot of lunch and some fishing. The weather was fabulous you will be pleased to know, and we spotted a variety of interesting Gambian birds including the Western reef heron, the Intermediate Egret and the Egyptian plover. We also saw “Gambian oysters” which attach to the roots of the mangrove tree, much like rope-grown mussels. I suspect they are actually a type of mussel rather than an oyster. The locals collect them by working in a pirogue, a type of wooden fishing boat slowly moving from tree to tree, picking the larger specimens.
Anyway, the fishing was great – we each caught a fish, which was a very strange looking creature called a frog fish. Even if we hadn’t been told this by our obliging pirogue captain Fordy, we would have guessed because it made a croaking noise indistinguishable from a land frog. It seemed quite unperturbed from being out of the water for several minutes, and didn’t mind too much when Tiffany cruelly dropped hers from quite a height! Unfortunately we didn’t manage to catch any lady fish which I ate at lunch (and which was quite delicious!) or a barracuda, which can be a whole metre long.
I have much more to blog on, but I think I will start the painful process of trying to upload a few pictures right now…