Some people say that the number three is a lucky number; I suppose you could say we had a lucky day in the Gambia. Today was all about meeting the local chiefs; becoming more familiarized with our surroundings and our official welcome into Basse.
We woke up at seven, with time spare for us to take a well needed cold shower and freshen up for the day. Next was the trek for breakfast, the restaurant next our hotel actually being unable to accommodate the sheer amount of us all at once. So, it was that we ended up in the St. George’s RC Technical School, ironically the same place that the local scouts are based and where the educational project is taking place.
Breakfast was warm and hearty Gambian porridge. Long rice grains with milk, sugar, and a thick banana sauce – Accompanied by a rich creamy drink of local goat’s milk and more bananas. Although some people turned their noses up at first, everyone, even if it was out of bare necessity, eventually dug into their food. Luckily for one individual, namely Elliott, breakfast was of a much more significance than for most, for it happened to be that this particular day in the Gambia was also this individual’s birthday and the Gambians and everyone else who was there did a fantastic job to remind and congratulate him about it. A great and personal rendition, by the marching band, of Happy Birthday and a kind of slightly deep and marginally inspirational speech from the man himself left everyone in decent spirits.
Those good spirits were pushed to their limits however as we made our tour through the town.
The first stop was the governor’s house next door, escorted via the marching band, the real unsung heroes of this walk. After meeting the governor and the village elders we made our descent into the heart of Basse, to the local health centre where the networkers would be embarking on their renovation work. Here whilst on our tour, we heard of the conditions that midwives have to endure during night deliveries, with their mobile phones in their mouths as the light source! We also heard of how malaria, rabies, trachoma, TB, and various other conditions make their mark on the local community.
We finally came to the river Gambia, and after watching the local ferry move back and forth over the waters we headed to the nearby Medical Research Centre, a large facility facilitated by the UK taxpayer and charity donations doing critical research on a range of diseases including malaria and pneumonia.
At this point, everyone was reaching their limits and most if not all of us where secretly just longing for some air conditioning and a place to hide from the sun. Although all of us got what we were looking for and all had a nice and critical siesta, we all got a far more interesting experience. The chance to have a look at the research center from the inside (from its cold cold air-conditioned inside). A brilliant way to explore and get a firsthand experience of exactly what this kind of research entails.
So, leaving physically and mentally drained, but more importantly kind of cool, we made our way to the center of town. Here we brought cold soft drinks from the local store and rendezvous with the minibuses. All whilst we strolled against the sun beating down upon us, making it harder to focus and appreciate the great variety of noise, smells and sights around the town’s center. When we got back, it was siesta time. Three hours of lying out of the sun. Some of us played cards, some of us tried to sleep, some of us showered but it was a unanimously agreed that it was time well needed. Unfortunately, in the early hours of the night we had lost power and after lots of asking around we had finally figured out the situation. There’s currently a national shortage of power in The Gambia and the town generator is broken so instead there was going to be a set time for the national grid power, between six in the evening and one in the morning. Now to your readers at home, this might sound barbaric, barmy or just bad common sense but for us badly battered boys it was a sheer unadulterated luxury.
So, whilst our air-con whirred in our rooms we went back to the school for a dinner and our welcoming party. Dinner was a lovely dish of chicken of rice accompanied with several trays of freshly cut and fried mangos, a good energy source for a expectedly exhaustive evening.
The welcoming ceremony mainly consisted of cake, dancing and some great speeches. The band again, even though they had played all through the day where here for us again.
By the time we came back to our well air-conditioned room, with the knowledge that we had to make the most of this time we rather quickly nodded off to sleep, after a quick debriefing from Adam about how the teams were going to run tomorrow. A successful day.
A few words from Jack Bresslaw & Hadrian Fletcher:
Hadrian: “I was surprised by the medical centre and how advanced it was and also by how busy the market was! I particularly enjoyed meeting the Chief which was a great honour and it really showed to me and important this project is to the local people!”
Jack: “My first impressions are that the people are really friendly and welcoming! The screams of ‘toubab!’ are heard everywhere we go, and it was so nice to have a tour of Basse including the school, health centre, and market itself also. The significance of the project really shocked me and it sunk in how much we’re doing for them, especially in the health centre.”