23rd Feb - I arrived at the office and my first birthday card had arrived from my tutor group - thanks to Kerray and Suzanne for organising that!
The best training session so far has to be today's practical cooking session run by Maimuna (office administrator), Naayisatu (my language tutor) and Coutrney (a current volunteer).
On the menu was beef domada – a peanut butter based sauce, okra soup, baobab juice and another juice made from a random leaf. We did discover however that the domada, which we had all been happily eating so far, usually has slices of Giant African Land-Snail in it for flavour.
(see facebook for pics - my connection is too slow to get them on here!)
The snail slices absolutely reeked and I kicked up such a fuss that on this occasion it only went into the soup! The soup also had a dried fish in it for flavour and an unnamed substance that looked like white crystalline rock, which when crumbled in turned a vivid yellow colour and thickened the soup.
The inside of the baobab fruit looks a lot like polystyrene abd to make the juice the flesh is all scraped out and soaked in water for an hour or so, when soft, the fruit is wrung out and the flesh removed. At this point the juice looks like milky water. You then add a bag of sugar, banana essence, vanilla essence, vanilla sugar, evaporated milk and some sachets of powder that are normally dissolved to make juice drinks! With all the additives the resulting drink tastes a bit like lassis – a sweet milky concoction. Whether the boabab fruit itself is actually necessary – only time will tell when I get to experiment myself!
We ate the beef domada for lunch and tentatively tasted the okra soup which was awful!
Thurs Feb 25th - got up this morning and Pete made me a birthday breakfast of boiled egg and a cheese triangle on crackers – pure luxury now! Everyone made it a really nice day – I got a crossword book from Pete and Liz and a necklace from Rachel and Lucy. When we got back after training the guys had ordered me a birthday cake which was really nice, then we went out for dinner and I had the nicest steak I've had in a very long time! A good day was had by all, but definitely the hottest so far, with the temp in Banjul apparently reaching 44ºC.
Sun 28th - We survived out weekend upcountry and have returned in one piece – just! Friday morning we were collected and driven to the ferry terminal, where we met the new volunteers who arrived on Thursday – Jim, Moses, Paul and Dennis. Jim is a primary teacher from London, Moses is from Uganda and will be working in education and Paul and Dennis, also from Uganda will both be working in the disability programme. We crossed as foot passengers as crossing with a vehicle can take hours, we were then collected on the North bank and piled into trucks. The first stop was at a Fort Bullen on the headland which was used to defend against ships coming in to capture more slaves. We then piled back into the truck, an open air affair which allowed fantastic views as we drove but also allowed me to burn to a crisp!
The road wasn't in the best condition, so we bumped our way to Jerry camp where we spent Friday night. By this point we were hot and smelly and my chin errupted in lots of little blisters I was so burnt! The volunteers based in Kerrewan met us here, Paul, Courtney, Emma and Andrew. Dinner was a buffet style affair, those who chose domada and had been laughing at my new found paranoia regarding what might be in it, soon discovered actual lumps of snail which put most of us off our dinner! We were then treated to a singing and dancing session by a group of women who had supposedly all been barren until joining the troupe... this group had been going for many generations which brought the issue of barrenness into question for me! Anyway we had been primed that we would be expected to dance so the drinking started in earnest to prepare ourselves. The dancing wasn't too horrific and so a group of us then went and sat on a rickety wooden pier over the river and continued drinking. Andrew introduced us to the local gin which can be bought at a bargain price of 75 Dalasi for a big bottle (about £1.80), I shall be definitely taking a supply upcountry with me!
Saturday started with my first Gambian hangover to contend with and a journey to the home village of Kunta Kinteh. I squeezed into the covered car to avoid the sun this time, then managed to get out of the trip walking around the village and meeting the ancestors so I didn't have to go in the sun! After lunch we took a boat trip to James island, a very interesting experience! Low tide meant we had to climb down a ladder into the boat I am not at my best on ladders. We were accompanied by a drummer who sang to us the whole trip across to the island and back, very entertaining. We had a brilliant tour guide on James island who explained the history of the place. It had been used to house slaves who had been captured on the mainland and were waiting transportation to America. Very moving place.
We said goodbye to the Kerrewan lot on Sunday morning and returned home to Kanifing. We meet someone from the High Commision on Monday, then motorbike training starts on Tuesday. Watch this space!
Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.