Bits & Bobs

Friday 12th April 2019

I have spent the first few days of my Easter break eating, reading and sleeping – somehow I felt exhausted when we closed for the holidays.

Thank goodness for the Marina High School library which has a great selection of African literature! I finished all the African classics on the shelves by January this year and am now reading a section of less well-known and much younger writers from across the continent.

Saturday 13th April 2019

I miss the ‘nonagatha’ period of the old year being celebrated in Sri Lanka right now and the great sense of anticipation that is felt in the country as the new year approaches. I also miss my colleagues at Marina High School but feel too lethargic to go into town so am mooching around the house reading my novel and surfing the net instead.

Palm Sunday 14th April 2019

I woke up feeling lazy but was determined to attend a Palm Sunday service. I decided against going to the charismatic Redeemed Christian Church of God that I usually attend and walked instead to the small church by the sea called St Paul’s Anglican Church and was not disappointed when they gave us each a palm branch to wave and the choir sang beautifully plus they also served communion. So I was right in thinking that nobody does Palm Sunday better than the Anglicans!

Now I have to decide which fellowship of believers I will join on Good Friday and then on Easter Sunday: Bakau Methodist Church, Glory Baptist Church or the Catholic Church evocatively called the ‘Star of the Sea’ – all within walking distance of where we live – how convenient is that?!! I consider it an immense privilege to have such a range of venues and congregations from which to choose to worship God here in The Gambia even though it has a predominantly Muslim population ( nearly 95% are Islamic!)


End of Term Blues

8th April 2019

The Across the Board Tests and the Mid Year Examinations are all done and dusted – finally! It’s nearly the end of the second term at Marina International and the children are on Cloud Nine now that exams are over and they are able to let off steam after a hectic three months of hard work.

And who can blame him? Sometimes exam questions can be SO confusing!

This school is quite old-fashioned to the extent that it gives such extreme priority to exams and doing well academically with teaching practice based on archaic principles like employing ‘setting’ to group students according to their level of ability – something I can’t even recall ever experiencing in my childhood back in the sixties in Ceylon, let alone in the years and decades that followed after I became a teacher. I have always taught mixed-ability classes and consider that to be the most realistic as well as the most effective categorisation of pupils in order to maximise their learning.

However, it has been an uphill struggle to convince other teaching colleagues who do agree with me on principle but are reluctant to change the methods they’ve been using for years and years at Marina.

Anyway, end-of-term deadlines have been met and all those (oh so important!) marks and grades have been entered online and reports emailed to the parents. The term ends with the usual Parent-Teacher Consultation Day on Thursday April 11th.

After that there will be a two-week break and school resumes for the third and final term soon after Easter.

It amazes me that we are about to complete two academic terms here! It’s hard to imagine how we survived these past seven months in The Gambia.

Paul and I were toying with the idea of going over the border to Senegal for a short holiday but gave up the idea after we had to dip into our savings to buy our air tickets back to the UK (Paul) and to Sri Lanka (the kids and I) over the upcoming summer holiday.

So it’ll be another quiet stay-at-home break and I will miss the company of my English Department colleagues! I have, however, decided to use the time to edit my manuscript over those two weeks – something I had planned to do during the Christmas break but failed due to sheer lack of self-discipline!

Fire Brigade to the Rescue!

7th April 2019

Serrekunda Fire Engine roars down the sandy lanes of our sleepy neighbourhood……..

No, there was no raging fire and no cats stuck in tall tree branches. They only came to fill up the two water tanks in our backyard because one of the giant diggers preparing the road near Marina School for tarring had accidentally ripped up the pipeline thereby rendering us without water from the mains for the last several days.

A band of firefighters use the fire hose to fill up the empty 1000 litre tanks

Penda poses proudly as one of a hundred new recruits to the Fire Department and representing the Gambian government’s recent attempt to provide equal opportunities for women in previously male-dominated spheres of work.

A Sharp Learning Curve

6th April 2019

Jordan lost his mobile phone exactly two weeks ago. He was out with his friends on a Saturday night in Senegambia where they usually hang out in one of the many restaurants on the Strip until the wee hours of the morning. Gambia is unusually peaceful and safe for young people at night. It was maybe too safe really – lulling him into a false sense of security even when among strangers.

Anyway what happened was that a (17-year-old) ‘friend of a friend’ of his was involved in a case of under-age driving and had a minor accident close to where they were. So they went over to see how he was and support him when the police arrived and towed the car away. This friend had claimed that he didn’t have enough credit on his own iPhone and had asked to borrow Jordan’s Samsung with which he made several calls to his family and friends.

So far so good. After all the red tape, they had all gone back to the restaurant and had some shawarma to eat. While they were there, however, the 17 year old youth had told them that he was just nipping around the corner to buy some mobile data but as he was stepping out, he had asked Jordan if he could lend him his phone to make a quick call. Jordan let him take his cell phone and leave the restaurant. He and his friends waited for the youth to return but when he didn’t, it gradually dawned on them that he had done a runner.

He had indeed returned – about two hours later – with a cock-and-bull story about having been beaten up and robbed by a band of thieves and, however naive Jordan and his friends were, they still didn’t fall for that one – because everyone here knows that The Gambia is amazingly free of robbers and even pickpockets….

Of course there was no way that they could prove that the youth was lying to them and Jordan came home suffering from the withdrawal symptoms of not being in close proximity to and constant contact with his mobile phone. After venting his anger at the thief and – more excruciatingly – acknowledging his own foolishness in letting a perfect stranger walk away with his phone on such a flimsy pretext, Jordan recovered his balance within a day and in fact seemed to enjoy and flourish in his new-found freedom of not being incessantly hooked up to his device.

He did borrow my phone at night to listen to music and WhatsApp his friends abroad. Other than that, he has remained phone-free until today.

He was in the process of selling his Samsung phone to buy another one – a spare iPhone that William had and which he wanted to gift him with but was dissuaded from doing so by Paul and me since we had bought the Samsung for Jordan’s 14th birthday and he had used it for the past year and a half. So we had asked him to sell it and put that money towards buying the more expensive iPhone from William. He was in the process of showing it to buyers, when the theft occurred.

Yesterday, we gave him the money he had received for his birthday and for Christmas from his grandma and aunt together with a contribution from us towards it, and he went off triumphantly to buy the phone from William.

I am actually very thankful for the theft of his mobile phone because it served to teach him some very important life lessons that he would not have been able to learn effectively in any other way.

Form 2 – Full of Fun & Frolic

5th April 2019

Today was another Mufti Day in school and the kids were all of course as high as kites! In the end I gave up trying to teach and held a talent contest instead.

This, by the way, is my favourite class: intelligent, confident, funny and articulate. There is never a dull moment with them around.

Front Row: (seated) – Muhammad, Lily, Harriet & Penda
(standing) – Mansour, Ramatoulie, Kodou, Fatima, Mamkumba, Abie, Aminata & Fatou.
Back Row: Mohammed, Momodou, Baboucarr, Benita & Umang.

Rai and Her Buddies

3rd April 2019

Walking home with Christiana and Fatoumatta…….

I am grateful for whatever friendships Rai has formed both here and in Sri Lanka although she is often bewildered by the transient nature of her relationships with her classmates. Although this is perfectly normal in the early teens due to the hormones rampaging through their bloodstream, Rai is finding adolescence quite challenging at the moment in relation to her peer group.

According to Howard Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences Theory’, kids are born with several different kinds of intelligences – he identified 8 of them – but subsequently they have added one more. So according to his theory, Jordan and Rai have completely different intelligences. He possesses kinesthetic, extroverted, musical & naturalistic intelligences while she has an introverted, visual/spatial (artistic) intelligence. However, they both seem to share a verbal/linguistic intelligence (thank goodness!) that helps them in their academic work because of their natural ability in language learning.

Due to their different kinds of intelligences, Jordan is really adept at socialising and can basically go out anywhere and make friends with anyone. However, because he gets energy by being with other people, he is not good at solitary pursuits like studying for exams.

Rai, on the other hand, has excellent inner resources and enjoys her own company, entertaining herself for hours on end reading, writing, drawing, painting and, needless to say, has developed good study habits. She, however, finds it hard to form and maintain friendships with peers.

Drama Queens

22nd March 2019

I offered a Drama Club for the Marina after school extra curricular activity programme this term and the diffident young teenagers of the first few weeks have blossomed into full-fledged actresses capable of turning in stellar performances every Wednesday afternoon.

Aisha in full flow starring as the heroine of her own play

They have in fact brought in their own original play scripts and are in the throes of producing a serious play written by Eunice Oni and a side-splitting comedy penned by Aisha Yateh.

Perusing the play script during a break in the performance

Marina School doesn’t have a tradition of staging weekly class assemblies so these teenagers don’t get an opportunity to showcase their dramatic and musical talents in front of their peers. I am hoping that this will change over the next year and that regular class assemblies will be held and maybe even the ‘Evening of Performing Arts’ that we have been so accustomed to at other international schools we have worked in where both High School and Junior School students sing, dance, play a variety of musical instruments and stage outstanding dramatic performances in front of a large audience which includes their peers, teachers and parents.

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……