The Toumaranke Recording Project diaries. Day 6: At The Beach.

Day 6, Sat November 15th 2015. Day off, our ‘beach day’.

A slow start for us and Martin not yet out of his room.  Kobokotu staff are working on the garden and Matys’ boys are hanging around. Hanka is pushing baby Kaddy in her pushchair and Ebou is playing football.  Pappy has just been over to show Moussa his mobile (the point of this being that his is more sophisticated than M’s, they have a friendly sort of ‘rivalry’ about most things). Oka and the kids are going to be late as it’s, annoyingly, Set Settal today. Sett Settal is national cleaning day in Gambia; happens once a month. Usually the last Saturday in any month but not always and it doesn’t get announced on the radio until the Friday evening before. It’s very inconvenient and often holds things up. Why it isn’t fixed as the last Saturday of every month is just another example of the way things work here! Everyone has to clean the immediate ‘public’ area around where they live (except rich people who get someone else to do it). It’s a good idea in theory but as there’s not really enough places to put rubbish it tends to be swept into heaps that then just blow away again. Generally people burn their piles of rubbish so the air is full of the taint of burning plastic and the dust generated by sweeping! No traffic on the roads until one. I had totally forgotten about it – damn, damn, damn.

I’m tired and low today.  Feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of everything and all the pressures and demands and unrealistic expectations. There are a lot of ants on the breakfast table (M spilt sugar yesterday).  I’m watching them carry crumbs several times bigger than their body weight and trying to see it as an encouraging sight (a bit like that story of Bonny Prince Charlie and the spider) but even watching them make such herculean effort is making me feel a bit teary.

There is only a few weeks left before I have to leave again and that’s pressing on my mind too. How are we going to raise the money we need actually get the CD pressed, the design work done etc… Everyone believes I can do this for them, for us, but can I? I’m feeling the weight of supporting the band, financially and emotionally, of representing ‘hope’ or ‘a chance’ for everyone.  I believe in us, we’re damn good; but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll make any money or we’ll even ‘make it’ in terms of recognition.  The band are thinking of Etoiles de Boulbinet or Espoirs de Coronthe.  Guinea groups from nowhere that are now well-known and well-heeled.  Everyone’s hoping we’ll go the same way.  Separation from Moussa looming yet again. the whole impossibility of getting a visa for him to come to England (this too is an issue of money). Sometimes the responsibility feels too much and I just want to run away from it all…

Mysteriously there seems to be more chickens than there were before. One seems to have cloned itself in the night as there are now two identical pretty brown ones. This is confusing and not helping my state of mind. The rooster, who’s quite loud sometimes and features a bit on the recordings, doesn’t even belong to the lodge apparently but is just some freeloader who hangs around. Our chickens are living at the practise place for the moment. There’s about eleven or twelve of them now but a lot of roosters so some will have to be eaten or given away. We all relate well to chickens, it’s one of the things that crosses the cultural divide, we were all (apart from Martin) brought up in an environment that included chickens. One of the tracks ‘Inside the chickens’ mouth‘ even uses chickens as a metaphor.

Bloody Set Settal, we’re wasting valuable beach time! Also we’ve just had a phone call from Aisha (Hadjas daughter) saying her dad is really bad so Hadja’s got to go and see what needs to be done. Aisha rang me in a state saying she couldn’t get Hadj . The phone signal is really dodgy here, sometimes you can get through and sometimes not. We have two phones and three different Sim Cards – Africell, Gamcell and Commium, to try to overcome this problem as much as possible.  Aisha said her dad was really sick and sounded so worried I took my phone to Hadja in the kitchen so she could talk directly to her mum. After she’d finished talking we both had a bit of a cry.

The whole situation is very difficult, he has some kind of unspecified neurological problem; has been getting worse for years and it’s not going to get anything but worse with time (personally I think he’s got MS but that’s not what the hospital said a couple of years ago). We then organised for her to go. Manjai is quite a way from Sanyang so it’s not at all convenient for her or me but we’ve got to sort it out.  I’ve carved D900 out of the budget so she can give someone in the immediate vicinity D100 per day to take care of him so she can come back and finish working for us. This leaves me short.  I had about £30 of my own so now I’ve got just over £15 of that left.  It’s hard here because someone is always ill and needing money for medicine or transport to hospital and I never have enough to help everyone who asks. Hadja is going to cook lunch, do the prep for potato salad, go to Manjai  after one when we go to the beach and come back tonight if possible.

The band are here. We were going to have lunch on the beach but we’re eating it here now. It’s benechin, (was going to be easy to take to the beach as it’s just one thing). Benechin literally translates as ‘one pot’, a kind of ‘risotto’ although not oven cooked. This is a Gambian dish rather than a Guinean one and Moussa doesn’t like it all that much. We use it for workshops as it’s popular with students. I can’t remember how I persuaded him to let us cook it, maybe for Martins’ benefit?

Oka and the kids arrived while we were eating so they joined us. He’s turned up with four kids rather than just Ma and Mohammed – who is now tall and long-boned rather than the chubby lad he used to be. There’s Agnes’ ‘baby’, Zical (no idea how to spell this)’ who is of course now four (I had totally forgotten about him) and a friend of Mas’ (who is currently living with Agnes). This kind of thing happens often here. Children get moved around from one family to another and can sometimes stay in another household for years. I’m often very confused about which children are biologically related to a family and which not. People often talk about their ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’ when they were raised together but have no biological connection at all. As a friend of ours in The Cassamance used to say “Afrique, la famille elastique”.

Oka and kids dinner

Pre-beach football was played. Our lot plus some of the lodge staff and Matys’ kids. I brought yet another football when I came out, they get such heavy use they don’t last that long, or they get nicked as it’s hard to buy a decent ball out here. Souleymane, Moussa and I have finally managed to sit down and do some work on the song lyrics. This is slow and difficult. When people say they can read and write it’s not as Europeans mean it, generally it means they can puzzle out the meaning of a sentence very slowly and write a bit, also slowly.  Souleymane and M are literate in French (both having been lucky enough to go to school in Guinea) and my written French is shaky. My oral French is ok in a ‘pigeon’ kind of way. How and why Souleymane learned to write in Susu is a mystery I haven’t yet solved.  He’s pleased as he knows it’s an unusual skill.

He’s written out some of the lyrics (in a beautiful copperplate hand) then he verbally translates them to French, which I’m recording, then we talk about what they mean. This last part takes ages as trying to translate directly from any African language is tricky. The concepts aren’t the same and trying to get a ‘sense’ of the meaning behind a phrase can be really difficult. ‘Iggy’ for example is something I’m very unclear about, a person’s ‘luck’, ‘sponsor’ ‘a person you trust’ ‘someone who helps you’ – not quite any of those things but also all of them!

Part of the written lyrics for the track Takhaudi Dekau (Inside The Chickens Mouth). Gratitude to Souleymane who worked very hard with me on translations.
Part of the written lyrics for the track Takhaudi Dekau (Inside The Chickens Mouth). Gratitude to Souleymane who worked very hard with me on translations.

General hanging around. MB slept a bit. Martin is getting more comfortable socialising with the band and they are getting more comfortable with him. I’m hoping they don’t get so comfortable that they then start hassling him and asking for stuff. This hasn’t happened yet so fingers crossed. I’m trying to get us organised to go to the beach.  We’ve filled up six bottles with water (there are a lot of us, I’m wondering if that will be enough but we don’t have any more bottles). There’s a bit of confusion about whether Matys’ boys are coming or not (they came with us the last beach day we had but there were more older boys in that particular group). Pappy said no, Hanka said yes; in the end they didn’t come. We organised Cherno to do two taxi runs – the band first; then Oka and the kids, water, snacks, towels, football.  Martin M and I are going on the bikes.

‘Paradise beach’, as it’s called in the tourist brochures, was at it’s best. Lovely to cycle down the road and feel the breeze. We went to what I always think of as ‘Baccaris place’ ie not the tourist bit where the beach bars are. We gave him a bit of money so we could have attaya (the ‘gunpowder’ tea so beloved of West Africans) and tea. Usually we take a flask and do our own tea but I hadn’t sorted it. A LOT of football was played; both M and Martin have blisters on their feet (football on hot sand with bare feet taking it’s toll). Everyone had fun. Small Mohammed (we now have three Mohammeds so its getting a bit confusing) did sterling service in goal, put there by Oka who’s probably training him. Oka and M are superb footballers, some of the others are not bad either. Martin had his work cut out keeping up with them I think. I don’t play and also thought it was good for them to do something without me being involved anyway.

Oka and kids Sanyang beach.

Me and the kids went in the sea. Small Mohammed came in with us at first, then deserted to football, then joined us occasionally. Everyone was happy and confident in the water (I remember the first time I ever took Ma to the beach when she was about five and how scared of the sea she was) and there was lots of playing and splashing and laughing. They don’t swim but we tried (my mother was a swimming teacher so I have some idea how to teach swimming) and I swam a bit but mostly I just sat around in the water with them feeling happy. Later the footballers joined us (with the exception of Moese who is quite reserved and I think didn’t want to strip to his pants infront of me. Only M and Oka have shorts, I haven’t managed to bring enough out for the whole band yet.

We messed around, adults chasing kids, throwing them around in the water – all of us splashing each other and shrieking and laughing. Great fun and then an osprey flew over us too. Time with the kids, the open space of the beach plus looking at that beautiful shoreline and some red billed hornbills flying in that dip and glide way they have. I’m feeling so much better. I love this beach and there’s never enough time to come here and relax. Martin and I managed a morning swim last Wednesday but that’s all the ‘beach time’ we’ve had so far.

Band on the beach

We hung out a bit after we’d dried off. More attaya (from Baccaris’ brother this time and it took AGES). A sandcastle was made (this is traditional for our beach days). Oka and the kids had to go (Mohammed protesting they’d only just got there which is how I felt too). We’d brought a packet of sweets so some were shared out for taking home. I was sad to watch them go but it’s been great to see them and hopefully we can organise it again during the next workshop in January next year.  Everyone was very tired after football so we got Cherno to come back with the taxi after dropping Oka and the kids at the ‘garage’ in town to get the van back, and then he took the band home.

Martin, Moussa and I cycled back to the lodge. I stir fried the remains of lunch for dinner (Hadja isn’t back yet) and there was a bit of fish left over for M who has eaten benechin twice today without too much complaining. We chatted about the recordings, about post-production issues, PRP, copyright etc…  Then we thought about what we might do next recording-wise, so I can make a structure in my head for week two.  We’ve got eleven tracks in the can so far. Some need more work but we feel we’re doing well.  I’m hoping Hadja will be back in the morning as I can cope with breakfast (with Okas help) but not lunch and pulling people out of recording sessions to cook destroys the point of us using Hadja and will cause complaining because I promised two weeks of Hadjas’ cooking..


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