Day 1, Mon 10th Nov 2014
Martin, our sound engineer, arrived today. It’s his first time in The Gambia. Plane slightly early due to tailwind but we had left enough time so were there to meet him as he walked through the doors from baggage reclaim – phew!. Uneventful trip to airport, Cherno’s taxi didn’t break down and minimum hassle at road blocks both there and back, so his arrival was relatively peaceful and calm.
He unpacked and got settled in. We’re at Kobokotu so it’s relatively comfortable with mozzy net and en suite toilet facilities. I gave him a kettle and tea making equipment and the caffiteirre (I forget who originally left that with us but we’ve been immensely grateful and it’s had really heavy use). We had a cuppa and then we cycled to the practise place so he could watch the band rehearsing. He was very tired from no sleep the night before and the journey and the wonder of flying over the dessert. I’ve done it probably 30 odd times by now but it still does that to me too. The sheer immensity of it, the rawness, the fact humanity in all its arrogance hasn’t been able to build all over this space and the beauty of such a ‘sea of sand’. The desert, and looking at the winking jewels of cities at night, are some of the compensations for flying.
Finding a suitable bike was a bit of a problem. The saddle too low on the one I’ve just brought with me (we have a set of alan keys that I brought over last year but Moussa couldn’t locate them). The one we call ‘Jo’s bike’ is a back peddle brake which is tricky if you’re not used to it and the green one (brought over by me 2 years ago) has dodgy gears. Mine is too small for him to even consider riding and also has dodgy gears plus only 1 working brake. I’m so used to everything being ‘functional with complications’ that I felt a bit surprised that it was difficult to sort something out for him to ride then I remembered that in England things mostly work & if they don’t you generally get them fixed rather than simply adapting to their peculiarities.
The band were pleased to see him, polite and ‘well behaved’. Nobody immediately asked him to buy fags/attaya or anything else (I’d taken the precaution of bringing the latter) or give them his phone/camera/shoes etc… Even through his tiredness he was impressed with the quality of the music, the arrangements and the energy of the band. Everyone seemed relaxed and happy The usual crowd of children materialised from nowhere but were miraculously quiet and well behaved. The presence of 2 white people, 1 of whom they’ve never seen before, muted them. They know I don’t dish out sweets, pens etc so have assumed Martin doesn’t either which makes life easier – hooray. The band now obviously have quite a strong relationship with the local kids and I noticed that most of them know all the words of the songs even though they are in Susu which is not one of the local languages.
We cycled back before it started getting dark so he didn’t have to ride an unfamiliar bike on sand (with some tricky places where the sand is very loose but he did ok, following my instructions to follow where Moussa went precisely). He was overwhelmed by the noise of the crickets & cicadas, which I simply take for granted as part of the soundscape of West Africa. It’s always interesting for me to see everything again through ‘fresh’ eyes as I’m so used to being here I sometimes forget. As we’re not running a course I’m in a different space, not thinking about what’s different, what people may enjoy seeing etc…. Thinking about what might be hard for him and what he might need to help him feel comfortable and safe here – I hadn’t even considered the continual insect noise!
We then went back to the lodge with Okameo and had a splendid dinner – domeda, (my favorite, peanut butter based, which Martin enjoyed very much) cooked by Hadja. It was nice for me to have annother vegetarian around as it doesn’t make me so much of the ‘weirdo not eating from the communal plate’.
We’ve adopted a new system of her cooking the sauce without fish, taking some out for me (and now Martin) then adding the fish so the others get to eat the way they like. Cooking the fish separately then putting it on the top so we can all eat the same sauce works for Europeans but not Africans, it tastes ‘wrong’ to them they say. We’ve had much discussion about how to make eveyone happy food-wise, breakfast will be ‘turai gelte‘ (the rice and peanut based ‘porridge’) one day then omelette for me & Martin and that ‘steamed fish’ thing everybody likes for the band the next – not too complicated for Hadja but not the same thing every day. Lunch will be 2ish, in the traditional way, dinner will be the same as lunch so Hadja only has to cook once. We need to eat well for energy and everyone needs to feel comfortable. Hadja is crucial to the whole thing as Guinean ‘family style’ cooking is comfort and familiarily for the band and she gets the vegetarian thing (as opposed to cooking as usual then picking the bits of fish out and giving that to the vegetarians the way some people do).
Hoping I’ve got everything covered – an early night for all.