Published: October 5th 2011October 5th 2011
I have finally reached Basse! I am now to be known as Fatou Jawo. When you get to your compound you get a proper Gambian name so now I am officially Gambian!
Here’s a little photo tour around my new pad. It’s so much nicer than I thought it was going to be. It’s grotty round the edges but I like to think of it as my Gambian cottage. I am very pleased to find that I have a proper toilet, it flushes and everything! No pit latrine for me. And I have a shower so I’ve had my first one in 3 and a half weeks! Mind I’d got quite used to bucket baths and I’m honestly torn between which I like best. There’s nothing quite like pouring a big jug of cold water down your back when you’re sweating gallons. The water is quite intermittent though so I’ll still have the luxury of the bucket now and again I think.
My compound people are lovely. Esther (14), Adama (11) and Nafi (10) were quick to call round on Sunday morning to help me clear away the cobwebs and bleach the place out. They sat with me last
night and helped me write a list of all the members of their family who live on the compound. Their family tree is more like a forest thanks to multiple marriages and divorces. There are children from all over the place some living with us some not. I can’t keep up with it all. One little boy took one look at me on Sunday morning and burst into tears. I thought I was building up a nice tan but clearly my glowing white skin gave him the shock of his life!
I’ve started work too. My first day was a bit of a surprise. I spent the morning sitting in the director’s office just watching. My office wasn’t ready they said and as most of the advice from VSO for your first three months is to observe and talk to people I didn’t feel too bad about it. No one seemed to bat and eyelid that I just sat there while all sorts of business seemed to be going on around me. In the afternoon I was taken ‘on trek’ (visiting the schools) with the director. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Very glamorous and loud, shouting orders
to everyone. I like her. I want to be more like her! She takes no prisoners and I don’t fancy getting on her bad side. We were driven round the schools by her driver in a huge 4x4. She seemed to know everyone that we passed. I felt like I was driving round with the Queen and felt very important!
The schools were a bit of an eye opener. The Gambia had a huge push a few years ago to build enough schools so that children didn’t have to walk too far to get to their nearest one. Unfortunately they don’t have enough teachers to teach these children now. Many of the schools operate what they call a ‘double shift’ system where one lot of children come in 8.00 – 2.00 and then another lot come in 2.00-6.00. In many schools the teachers take on both shifts. In the last school we visited the head had also made his staff agree to making up more hours on a weekend so some were teaching 4 hours on a Saturday and Sunday as well. Can you imagine! No wonder the planning we saw was a bit of a shambles. Think of
that the next time you think you’re working all the hours! Plus they only get paid about £25 a month. I think the NUT need to set themselves a branch up over here.
So I’m settling into Basse. It’s nice. I like it. I was worried it would be like the delights of Serrakunda market. It’s like that but with no cars, half the people and with nicer things on the stalls. I’m staying in Mansajang, a small village just outside Basse. Most of the houses are round houses with thatched roofs making it seem more like a medieval town. My friend Lily lives in one of these and with the well in the middle of the compound and plenty of goats and chickens running round it looks like the set of Robin Hood. The goats by the way are called Mrs Gaddafi The Destroyer, Susan, Tony and Lily, (Lily being named after my friend Lily and Susan and Tony after the previous volunteers there). Brilliant!
Life seems a lot quieter here and I’m missing my mates in the Kombos but I think I’m going to like it here in Basse.
There are more photos below