International Food Fair

30th March 2019

We went to the Medical Research Centre (MRC) for their food fair today (Saturday) and were fortunate to get a chance to sample food from a variety of countries including the ubiquitous Chinese fried rice and Italian pepperoni pizzas which we sauntered past with our noses in the air and headed straight for the West African fare on offer.

Ho hum……

These included the famous Nigerian dishes: gari (the quick snack made from boiled cassava flakes – which I found to be quite tasteless), jollof rice (a really delicious rice cooked with beef and vegetables) and egusi (a gorgeous rich gravy made with beef and fish and yam).

Gari gari……..
Jollof rice
Egusi soup

We also had the Ghanaian staples: rice cooked with black-eyed peas, fried fish, grated cassava, green salad and the famous shito (hot pepper sauce made with dried shrimp) – simply sensational!

Ghanaian shito sauce

We also bought some delicious cupcakes: carrot cake & cream; double chocolate, raspberry and peppermint – and Rai had candy floss – of course!

All-time favourite – pink cotton candy!

Starry Starry Night…..

24th March 2019

Because The Gambia is like Sri Lanka in the sixties (when days were bright and nights were dark) – with no neon lights as there are in SL today casting that bright glow above Colombo that dims the stars in the night sky – and because it doesn’t rain here for ten months of the year so that the skies are usually completely cloudless, one of my favourite pastimes after dark is looking up at the sky.

On any given day you can see a million stars scattered across the heavens! It is the most stupendous sight and brings back warm and wonderful memories of a childhood spent sitting on the half wall of our verandah in Nugegoda seeing the Milky Way arch across the sky – a rushing river of stars that took your breath away.

It’s Aiyya who first infected me with his passion for astronomy. He spent hours poring over star charts and teaching me how to know the difference between a star and a planet in the sky and clearly identify the different constellations that could be seen in the sky at different times of the year.

He also shared with me his love of science fiction books and let me borrow his precious Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov collections. I was later to become hooked on sci-fi movies (my all-time favourite film being ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’) and when I went to Canada I had the privilege of watching most of the original Star Trek series (…’These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations……to BOLDLY go where no man has gone before…’) and also Star Trek: The Next Generation with Captain Jean Luc Picard and Data (who replaced Captain James Kirk and and Mr Spock!)

So I owe MUCH to my elder brother who taught me the sheer thrill of watching the night sky during my childhood and teen years. It was such an unexpected bonus to look out of the window at night when we first came to The Gambia and see Orion up close and personal as I had not seen it in the last few decades of my life (due to night light pollution over the city of Colombo!) It was absolutely thrilling to see the giant figure of the ancient mythical Greek hunter lying spreadeagled across the sky with his dog Sirius at his side.

It is also because Aiyya inspired me to become interested in stargazing that I fell in love both with the words of Don McLean’s song ‘Vincent’ (1971) which begins with the lines ‘Starry, starry night…’ and with Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic painting which is what the song takes its opening lines from.

Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’

So Fair and Foul a Day…

21st March 2019

Both Paul and I received a text message from Jordan today that he had scored 77% on his Mid Year Maths Exam and we were both happy for him. (Our rule is that he has to start going for extra classes after school if he gets lower than 70 for any of his 8 IGCSE subjects – so now he is elated that he doesn’t have to do extra Maths – and can fritter away his time playing football, going to the gym and hanging out with friends instead!)

However, before we knew it another disaster had occurred in the High School. Two of my fourth formers came running up to me looking deathly pale and blurting out that they were going to be expelled from school. I was completely gobsmacked and for a moment wondered if they were pulling my leg, then realised that they were in shock and had begun trembling like leaves in the harmattan wind.

It turned out that they had been spotted by a staff member in the company of another friend who was smoking cannabis in a secluded corner of the school. They urged me to go and look in on their friend who was still detained in the Principal’s office. To my horror, I realised that the person they were talking about happened to be possibly the brightest, most motivated and most able student in my English class. A fine, sensitive boy with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, he had become one of my favourites ever since I had had a showdown with the whole lot of them about a month after I began teaching their class in September 2018.

E-Boy was a gentle rebel who wore a variety of hoodies, loved reggae and hip hop, produced beautiful pieces of writing and was a fan of the Jamaican singer Popcaan whom he once delivered a fluent 3-minute talk on in front of the class ending with his hit song ‘Weed is My Best Friend’.

Although I appealed earnestly for leniency on behalf of him, the Head said that his hands were tied since all students had signed the school’s Code of Conduct which stipulated the punishment of expulsion for a list of activities – a list that was headed by the violation of the rules that he had just committed -ie – the possession and use of marijuana on the school premises. I had to leave the administration building then to be on time for my Form 4 English class and by the end of that lesson, Paul hurried upto my class to give me the bad news that E-Boy had indeed been expelled from the school.

I was completely gutted when I heard it and spent the day in deep mourning for this exceptional young man who was such a gifted learner and a real pleasure to have in class.

I will miss him terribly and find it hard to imagine Marina School without him there.

It shouldn’t have been you……

Home Free!

18th March 2019

Tonight we’re celebrating the Head of High School’s release from the case filed against him in the Banjul High Court.

The teachers all turned out in full force at the High School early morning and then went to Banjul in time for the 9:30 am court hearing. We all crowded into the courtroom but were then asked to go upstairs to Court Room No: 1 which was a much more spacious one that could accommodate the large numbers of people who had come to the hearing.

Picketing within the court complex just before entering the court room

The lawyers presented their arguments but the judge wanted to deal with one thing at a time and delivered a very wise decision regarding the contempt of court that had been accidentally committed on the 1st of March. He released the Head of High School from the bail that he had been granted on the occasion of the first hearing and stated that he need no longer appear in court because the case would be taken up in future hearings by the lawyers who represented the school.

Paul and I were also very happy that water from the mains had been pumped into our two big water tanks last night and we had running water again (albeit briefly) after three days of using water stored in buckets.

What happened was that early this morning before we left for school and the courts, our power supply short-circuited and we were without electricity for most of the day. Since there was no electricity, there was no way for the water in the tanks to be pumped into our taps – hence we were back to using water from our buckets!

It sometimes feels like we live from one disaster to another here in The Gambia!

However, all’s well that ends well and by evening we had a NAWEC electrician called Bakary come in and fix our electrics – and although there was a short power cut soon afterwards – we were thrilled when the fans started working again and we could pour ourselves a cup of tea!

It has been a hectic and hair-raising two weeks with the severe lack of water from the mains supply, an increasing number of power outages, the court case, mid-year examinations and Paul’s sister & brother-in-law visiting us in The Gambia.

So we’re happy to be home free now!

Waiting for Water

17th March 2019

When we returned home from school on Friday afternoon there was no water in the taps. This is the first time that it has happened after getting our two new powerful water pumps and second 1000 litre water tank. We managed to work in the kitchen and use the bathroom over the weekend because we have an emergency water supply stored in several large buckets in two storage rooms at the back of the house.

However, we had Paul’s sister Helen and her husband Daniel over to Sunday lunch and now it’s Sunday evening and we have still not had any water from the mains – so the dirty dishes are all piled up as we have to save our rapidly dwindling water supply for use in the bathroom.

The severe lack of running water due to the grossly inadequate supply from NAWEC is really beginning to get us down again – and Paul has begun to think of Sri Lanka with nostalgia once more: a land where (if and when water cuts do take place) they are announced beforehand and do not last longer than 8 – 10 hours at a time!

On top of the inconvenience of not having a steady supply of water, the fiasco over the fussy parent attempting to take the Head of the High School to court over the expulsion of her 13 year old for under-age driving (the second hearing of the case has been fixed for tomorrow at the High Court in Banjul) is also proving to be very de-motivating. The teachers are all turning out en masse to accompany William to the High Court and we are hoping for a quick hearing and a just solution.

It would be great to return to normality after a gruelling two week ordeal invigilating mid-year examinations, marking test papers, entering grades and mulling over the many conspiracy theories that are circulating regarding the reason why this particular case has been blown so much out of proportion.

It would also be wonderful to have running water in our house again.

I am African

I am African

Because in the stillness of the night

My heart beats to the rhythm of Gambian drums

And my mind thrills to the resonance of Nigerian poetry

I am African

Eyes drinking in dramatic Malian paintings

Ears thrilling to the sounds of Wolof words

Mandinka phrases, Krio sentences

I am African

Because my body is glad to be housed in a hut

With cool mud walls near a rice field in Kenya

And my soul sings for joy under wide open Ethiopian skies

I am African

Because my skin is brown but inside me I’m all black

And shiny with Zimbabwean palm oil, my spirit soaring 

Over the Kalahari and swooping into an orange sunset

I am African

Because I’m a back-to-the-basics kind of person

And this is the cradle of human civilization, raw

Real, radically different from every other continent.

I am African. 

Cotton Tree Childhood

11th March 2019

One of the best parts of my day is when I walk out of our house and down the red earth road to Marina School every week day morning, cutting across the playing field that separates the Junior School from the High School inhaling the cool morning air and feeling so glad to be alive!

Crossing the Junior School diagonally takes you to the playing field

The cotton trees in the neighbourhood have suddenly sprouted green pods on their branches which have now started exploding like tiny cushions splitting at the seams and spewing out white cotton wool after a pillow fight.

A cotton tree in the playing field reaches out its arms to the blue skies of The Gambia
Lumps of cotton that have burst out of their green pods and lie like fallen snow on the grass

And I am filled with nostalgia for a childhood spent running barefoot down the gravel lanes of suburbia in the sixties squealing with delight as the pods that grew on the cotton trees that lined Jambugasmulla Road suddenly spat out balls of soft white cotton onto the ground for us to pick up and stuff our dolls’ pillow cases with. And I’m struck by the realisation that I haven’t seen a cotton tree in Nugegoda for a very long time.

And I wonder: where have all the cotton trees gone?

One of my (pathetic) attempts to take a selfie as I cross the playing field one morning…..

VIP Visitors from Abroad

7th March 2019

Paul’s sister and brother-in-law visited us in The Gambia and stayed at the plush Coco Ocean Beach Hotel in Bijilo for two weeks. It was lovely to have family around for the first time in this country and we enjoyed spending time with them after school in the evenings and for longer periods over the past two weekends.

Paul and Rai walking through the scenic doorway of Coco Ocean Hotel
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the hotel
Daniel with William and Jordan on the terrace of the hotel
Helen as the lights were coming on at the hotel…..

We also went to the Sunday Brunch at the weirdly named ‘Butcher’s Shop’ restaurant and the posh Indian ‘Clay Oven’ both in the Fajara neighbourhood.

Sister and brother enjoying an authentic Indian meal at ‘The Clay Oven’ in Fajara
The food was exceptional – as were the prices!

Awesome African Attire

Africa is dazzling with its myriad colours and flamboyant clothing. Both men and women are always colourfully clad and look as if they’re dressed to the nines on any normal working day. They seem to celebrate life by embracing colour and form and design in many imaginative ways.

Africana clothing reflects the great love of life that people on this continent have in spite of the grinding poverty, insidious diseases, the obscene consequences of colonial domination and exploitation, the horrendous experience of slavery, widespread civil wars, armed robbers, the proliferation of terrorist organisations, the shocking extent of corruption and the pervasive lack of basic facilities in their day to day life.

My Marina High School colleagues are always dressed very elegantly and re-invent themselves so often and so cleverly that one can easily walk past them without recognising them for several long minutes! They wear a range of different African clothing as well as a variety of hair styles, wigs and head ties.

March Madness

3rd March 2019

A live reggae band plays Bob Marley songs by the pool next to the open-air buffet
Returning to reality after a delicious Sheraton brunch

It was William’s birthday today and we all went to Sheraton Hotel for their famous Sunday Brunch Buffet. We teased him about it being a birthday to remember because of all the tumultuous happenings that led up to the weekend: the fracas on Friday, the farcical proceedings and the fallout from that – i.e. – school having to be closed on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th March in order to buy time to file a restraining order on the court injunction to re-admit the expelled student to Marina school – before re-opening school on Wednesday 6th March.

We had a good time laughing over what had happened over the past 48 hours and joshing William about how he might well have ended up in a Gambian prison! However, we all felt an undercurrent of apprehension because it can be extremely nerve wracking to be hauled up to a court of law and accused of wrongdoing when one is completely innocent and a foreigner in the country. Suddenly one feels very naked and vulnerable!

William has taken it very well and has shown admirable restraint and fortitude throughout the entire episode. However, it must be terrible to be out on bail in alien territory for a crime he did not commit and have his freedom of movement curtailed since he is not allowed to leave the country until the next hearing on March 18th.

When I messaged the news on WhatsApp to Lokumalli and Mahangu, they were aghast. Loku gave me some excellent legal advice (Paul thinks Ruvan leads a double life – as a laid back university lecturer by day and a very astute legal eagle by night – hehe…) and Mahangu made me laugh out loud by commenting that I must be feeling right at home in The Gambia because of all our national experience of injustice in Sri Lanka…..!

4th March 2019

We woke up late as we didn’t have to go into school today. Paul went in to meet the senior management team of the Junior School to bring them up to speed on what was happening.

There is an emergency PTA meeting called for this afternoon where parents and teachers will gather together in the main school hall to discuss their options and what the school strategy will be if the parent still insists on forcibly sending her expelled son to school when we re-open on Wednesday 6th March.

5th March 2019

Today Paul is accompanying William to the British High Commission (which is just around the corner from where we live) for an appointment with the High Commissioner whom they both met at a dinner hosted by Prince Charles when he and Camilla arrived in The Gambia last November on a royal tour of west Africa. They are trying to ensure that William’s British citizenship will help protect him from whatever injustice is being hatched against him by the parent of the expelled boy.

6th March 2019

The teachers all heaved a big sigh of relief when the expelled boy did not turn up at the school gate this morning. Life at Marina has returned to normal – thank goodness! The High School students slipped quickly back into their exam routine and the school day proceeded smoothly and ended with our usual After School Club programme.