This is Africa!

Saturday 25thAugust 2018

After we had a breakfast of French bread and ham and cheese, KC returned to transport us to our new home in the suburb of Fajara. We passed Marina International School on the way and popped into the premises to have a look around. It had a lovely open plan area for the classrooms but the place looked forlorn without any students there.

We were then taken to the house that the school had found for us down the next lane, only a stone’s throw away from the school. As we walked in through the gate, the garden looked weird with large parts of the compound cemented and a huge pile of garbage in front of the house. When Paul and I climbed the front steps onto the verandah and then stepped into the cavernous living area, we were both stunned by the state it was in: it looked like an empty warehouse with three settees at one end and a table without chairs at the other. The floor was covered with cement dust and several rooms sprouted out of the main living area seemingly without any rhyme or reason. KC left us soon after showing us around promising to be back the next morning. 

The four of us sat down on the settees gloomily surveying the huge amorphous living room and wondering what on earth we were doing there. We slowly discovered through that endless evening and the terrifying night that followed that the front (walk-in) gate came off on its hinges, the front (car) gate did not close easily, the front & back doors could not be locked or even secured in any way because the metal bolts had broken off, there was no running water in either the bathroom tap or the kitchen tap, mosquito mesh only covered the windows on one side of the house, many of the windows around the house could not be closed at all because the old handles had fallen off (and when it rained later that night, the rain beat in through the windows and flooded the floor), there was no light bulb in the kitchen or pantry, the cooker had no numerals on its knobs, the fridge was leaking water and the door would not close so the inside did not cool properly, there were no tables or surfaces for food preparation and no shelves or cupboards for storage in the kitchen area, the gas cylinder was not fixed outside the house as recommended, the water tank was placed on the ground in the backyard and needed a pump to draw the water into the house, there were holes in the ceiling in nearly every room in the house, there were lumps of plaster coming off the half wall in the dining room, there were building materials such as bags of cement piled up inside the house, there was no security as recommended in the form of a night watchman and to cap it all, we were left completely incommunicado because we could not purchase our Africell sim cards since the phone shops were shut on Saturdays…..

Paul declared that it was not a house at all – it was more like a warehouse! So we decided that we would name it the ‘Wacky Warehouse’.

Our African abode with 22 things that needed fixing in it before we could move in!

We said to ourselves: this is Africa! And we ate biscuits and peanuts for dinner (because we could not light the cooker) and drank bottles of warm water (because the fridge was not working) and laughed hysterically every time one of us discovered yet another major fault in this unnecessarily large house with its unwieldy doors and windows and its excruciating lack of even the most basic facilities! Jordan complained bitterly about what a crap place it was and Rai nodded in agreement but Paul joked that they would never forget that experience and would someday be able to entertain their kids and stun their grandkids with tales of their first few days in Africa… 

That night there was another thunderstorm with pelting rain and rolling thunder and a power cut that lasted three hours. There were three pedestal fans in each of our three bedrooms which had been charged and came on automatically when there was a power outage. However, the heat was still unbearable and I tossed and turned throughout the night checking up on both kids from hour to hour. They, however, showed great courage and extraordinary resilience in the face of what we all considered a disastrous choice of accommodation. They both opted to stay in their own rooms in that strange sprawling spider of a house and remained in their beds even through the storm and the strong winds that blew around the house in the wee hours!

Sunday 26thAugust 2018

I would have loved to go for a Sunday morning church service in this new country and had planned to start by visiting the Methodist Church on the beach in Bakau. However, the very unsatisfactory condition of the house we had been given had to be dealt with first and a course of action decided upon by Paul and me together. 

So we had a conference in the morning after brushing our teeth in the thin trickle of water that came out of the kitchen tap. We decided to refuse to stay in that house until all the outstanding problems with it had been dealt with to our satisfaction. I made a list of 22 items that needed to be addressed (to be given to the school) with a copy to keep for ourselves. When KC dropped in later that morning, Paul spoke calmly but firmly to her and she agreed quite readily to move us back to our place at Riyan Apartments until they could solve all our burning issues over the next week. 

Paul waiting for a taxi in the foyer of Riyan Apartments

We quickly threw a few belongings together and she gave us a ride back to the same two-bedroomed apartment (No:13) that we had occupied before. We were so glad to get back to our creature comforts and somehow this time it didn’t matter that there were power cuts several times a day and often through the night because they had generators that started up as soon as the electricity went off and we carried on with our lives regardless. It was so lovely to have Maroun’s Supermarket again next door to us so that we could pop into it on any pretext anytime of day or night right upto 10:00pm! 

Monday 27th August 2018

We had scrambled egg, sausage and French bread for breakfast and went off on a tour of Banjul with Lamin in his four-wheel drive. He gave us a guided tour of the sights in the capital city including the court complex, the parliament, the 22 Arch, the museum and the Royal Victoria Hospital. We ended up at Albert Market which I had read about in guide books and online forums but which turned out to be a real disappointment being quite deserted during this tourist off-season period as well as empty of arts and crafts and smelly due to the recent rains. We did, however, manage to negotiate the labyrinthine rows of market stalls and wind up in a remote corner where a couple of sellers of African cotton shirts and blouses sold us three tops for a very good price entirely because of Landing’s superior bargaining powers!

Driver Lamin in his trusty Jeep

Jordan went for a walk in the late afternoon and didn’t return until 8:00 pm having wandered up to the Senegambia area called ‘The Strip’ and played football on the beach with the local boys until dusk, then walked back to Riyan Apartments taking a long time to return because he had miscalculated the length of time it had taken him to get there. Both Paul and I were repeatedly assured by the local night watchman, the guesthouse receptionist and the workers at Maroun’s supermarket that he would not come to any harm because ‘This is Gambia – it is very safe here!’ Thank God that they were right and Jordan wandered into the premises without a care in the world! Although he has an inaccurate sense of time, I am grateful to the Lord that he has an excellent sense of direction and rarely loses his way ever since he was knee high to a grasshopper!

I am continually amazed by the people of this country. They are so warm and welcoming, so friendly and fun to be with. They are also very good-looking, both men and women. They are refreshingly non-racist and laid back towards foreigners and seem to have a contented ego. They take pride in the fact that they are a peaceful country in a continent marked by savage civil wars and violent terrorism and rabid racial & religious violence. 

KC called me in the afternoon and offered me a position as TEFL teacher in the High School of M.I.S. I would be on a local hire so would not be paid much – when we calculated it, it amounted to Rs 35,000/= per month which is a salary that I would not have worked for in Sri Lanka because I would have thought it was just not worth my while! However, I am not so concerned with the pay as with the kind of work it would entail. From my past experience, TEFL teaching can be very boring due to it being conducted one-on-one or in very small groups of two or three students rather than in the more challenging yet much more fun context of teaching a whole class! I would also of course much prefer to work in the Junior School but am open to the Lord’s leading and will gladly do whatever job He wants me to work at. If I am to teach English as a second language, I will need to find some suitable material and resources.

Tuesday 28thAugust 2018

Paul and I woke up early and sat in the living room downstairs drinking tea and watching the sun come up over the Serekunda suburb in bright streaks of colour. Once Jordan and Rai emerged from their bedrooms upstairs, I made fried eggs which we ate with ham, brown bread and garlic bread which we bought yesterday from Maroun’s bakery right next door to us – so very convenient!

Rai on the patio of our beloved No:13 serviced apartment – our first ‘home’ in the Gambia!

Jordan chose to stay at home and we didn’t mind because it’s so very safe here at Riyan Apartments. Paul, Rai and I hopped in a bush taxi – all very old battered cars painted yellow with green stripes running across the bonnet and roof – and went down Bertil Harding Highway turning left at the Traffic Lights junction and proceeding to Malak Pharmacy which didn’t stock the condis crystals and mosquito repellent in any form that I had wanted to purchase. 

We then proceeded to the Timbooktoo bookstore which turned out to be tops – woo hoo! They have an amazing range of African literature and a great selection of world literature (including the latest books on online summer reading lists!) as well as an impressive array of non-fiction books. I was able to buy two TEFL teaching books for Beginners that I could use for my work at the High School.

Wednesday 29thAugust 2018

Rai had a bout of diarrhea and vomiting last night so we spent a very quiet day at home at No:13, Riyan Apartments. I was very worried that she was so sick and prayed earnestly to Jehovan Rapha, the Lord our Healer, for His merciful and divine intervention to heal the root cause of Rai’s sickness and return her to His divine health, supernatural strength and the energy of His Holy Spirit. I am so very thankful to Him for sending His word and healing my daughter according to Psalm 107:20. In a foreign land with no access to medical facilities since we are so new here, He stooped down from heaven to hear and heal her so swiftly and surely – may His name be forever praised! 

Early morning I asked Champi if she could courier me some packets of condis crystals as the pharmacies here did not stock this item and I do need it to soak my feet in every night. She did an awesome job of buying the condis (as well as some packets of orange flavoured Jeewani!) as well as visiting Dr Senarath in Gam Sabhawa junction in Nugegoda to get a prescription for them (as the DHL office had informed her that they couldn’t accept any medication without a prescription!) and then obtaining our four yellow fever vaccination certificates that I had inadvertently left behind with Jordan & Rai’s medical record books in a transparent file on the second shelf of our wardrobe in the front room of our house. 

I also called Natasha on Whatsapp and was grateful that she answered at once and I ws able to ask her to open the lock on our wardrobe and get the file out. She undid the silver chain and key ring (that Paul had locked the almirah with) in no time and Devaka scanned the yellow fever certificates and emailed them to me before she handed them over to Champi at the gate. I received the email immediately and followed Champi’s stream of Whatsapp messages as she hopped in Ariyapala’s three wheeler and raced to the DHL office opposite Keells in Nugegoda. She asked me for my mobile phone number in The Gambia and I was able to answer within seconds – then she sent me a series of photos of the yellow fever certificates (as back up to the emailed copies!) as well as of the postal address on the parcel and the tracking number – all within a few seconds of each other. 

Wow! We were both stunned by the immediacy of the action and completely in awe of the amazing technology that enabled such excellent and efficient communication between us from halfway across the world! We thanked and praised God for making human beings in His own image and giving them the brains to come up with such awesome inventions! 

DHL had told her that the parcel should arrive in The Gambia by Tuesday 4thSeptember – hooray! My feet feel so happy at this good news!    

Rai was happy to have apple juice all day and stay in bed playing Minecraft on the laptop. Paul’s stomach was also not very settled so we relaxed at home and he felt better by afternoon and went for a swim in the evening to the lovely little pool just outside our apartment. Jordan too seemed not to want to go and play football on the beach and stayed instead by the downstairs plug point in the living room all day chatting animatedly to all his friends at the British School in Colombo which had just begun its new academic year. His peers had started Year 10 and were obviously griping about new rules and regulations such as longer school hours which Jordan seemed very happy about since he was no longer in Sri Lanka. I stayed home and had long chats with Rai all day.   

Thursday 30thAugust 2018

Jordan and Rai had a breakfast of macaroni and cheese and then we went to the Senegambia Hotel to Top Shop to have a look at the paintings in the African Art Gallery as recommended by KC’s daughter who works as the Receptionist at Riyan Apartments. It is a huge amorphous building but both Paul and I were happy with the paintings – we liked the one with a family of four on one bicycle and a smaller one with a group of Gambians clad in colourful clothes – although they were all priced at a uniform D 8500/= which is very expensive! One Gambian dalasi is roughly about 3.5 times a Sri Lankan rupee!

Gambian beer – (Ban) Jul Brew

On the way back we also dropped into a furniture shop to check out prices as we need a bigger wardrobe to hang our clothes. We then dropped by our house which we were pleasantly surprised to see had been done up well and there were workmen busily attending to the repairs we had asked for! I collected another jar of Sudocrem from our luggage there and we then went to N’gala Lodge but were disappointed that this so-called luxury resort on Atlantic Boulevard was being renovated and was therefore just a pile of rubble at the moment. We ended up with getting a takeaway from an Indian restaurant called ‘Tandoori Nights’ – biriyani and a chicken tikka masala which we devoured when we got home – it was really good!

When we got home Paul admitted that he had been only a 5 on the Feelings Meter that morning but that he was now a 9 after seeing the rapid progress that had been made on the house! He would very much like to move into it over the weekend because that meant that he could go into work on Monday morning. 

We are wondering whether William Arthur got to Gambia safely after a summer of travelling the world! 

Friday 31stAugust 2018

I made noodles which Jordan and Rai had with sausages and cheese for breakfast. We were informed that the carpenter who was working on our kitchen cupboards had gone AWOL so they wanted us to remain at Riyan Apartments for another two days until that was also sorted out for our house.

Jordan went off to play football on the beach with the local Gambian boys whom he now hangs out with and Rai read the book she bought from Timbooktoo and played Minecraft on the family laptop.

Paul enjoyed doing laps in the small swimming pool every evening

The new Head of the High School, William Arthur, emailed Paul to say that he had arrived in The Gambia on August 29thand spent two nights in his house but (like us) had been unhappy with the condition of it and checked into a hotel until renovations were completed. Paul replied asking whether we could meet him tomorrow morning. We both feel for him, that he is going through what we went through when we were first taken to our house.

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