16 November 2017
Day 7: The north bank
An early start had us in the van at 5.15 for our day on the north bank. The hotel had kindly provided us with a packed breakfast and we headed to Banjul Port. The north bank is very different from the south bank; it is much less developed and considerably poorer. The only practical way to get to the north bank is by ferry and in the past that has been slow, infrequent and unreliable. Things have changed for the better here, though. There is a brand new ferry that is considerably bigger, faster and quieter that the old ones.
We arrived in good time and were on the ferry just after 6.20. It was uncrowded and the sun had yet to rise. A sea mist hovered above the river. With barely an engine murmur the ferry departed and 25 minutes later was berthed at Barra, the north bank’s port. Our taxi for the day was waiting for us and again we had something of a surprise. It seemed to be a decent car. The ones we have had in recent visits have been old, noisy and somewhat unreliable. All six of us and the driver fitted quite snugly into the car and off we set.
Our first call was to be at Albreda LBS. To get there the car drove along tarmacked roads for about 5 miles, then turned right onto the North Bank Road which is made of ridged compacted sand in which there are countless potholes. The drive to Albreda takes about an hour on that road and we had a driver who went too fast for such a bumpy road. The sounds of parts of the underside of the car hitting the road surface were all too common for my liking.
Nevertheless we reached Albreda safely and met the Headteacher Fafa Jobe. We know Fafa well and have carried a number of successful projects there. He had some ideas for projects. The school has water, but it stops at a tap just inside the school gage. He would like to extend the water by running a pipe to the school kitchen which had been built a few years ago. This would involve running a pipe behind a classroom block, and entering the kitchen at the rear. He would also like a sink and some shelves/units adjacent to this. He would also like to do something with the old school kitchen which is now derelict and wants to convert this building into staff quarters for the female staff. Albreda is so remote that it is difficult to recruit staff who can live within reasonable travelling distance, so Pageant in the past has already paid for the conversion of one building into staff quarters
Fafa will provide us with estimates for the work he would like doing. He then told us he was retiring from the post of Headteacher on 31 December having reached the state retirement age. To ensure the smooth running of the work, the school’s long standing deputy head will manage the project. We have known him too for some time. He was one of the first students to go on one of Pageant’s microscopy workshops a number of years ago. We will miss Fafa.
After a short stop for refreshments we went to Baccary Saidykhan’s compound in Juffurah, a short drive from Albreda. Bakary is Wandifa’s eldest brother and we have visited there many times. His children have at some time all been Pageant sponsored students.
We then set of for the return drive to Barra, taking a diversion on route to go to Bakalarr. This involves a drive along an even bumpier sandy track with even more bumps and scrapes on the bottom of the car. Bakalarr School was the first school Pippa and Ian visited when they started coming to The Gambia. It was also the first school helped by Pageant all those years ago. The site now houses both a LBS and a UBS. The person who was head of the school at that time has moved on and we had hoped to meet the new principal, but unfortunately she was out of the school that day. Nevertheless we met the vice principal and some of the senior staff, one of whom had been there when Pageant first went there.
We then started our drive back to Barra. The consequences of all the bumps then materialised. The car’s engine overheated. We stopped at a village tap and the driver discovered the radiator had been damaged and was leaking. With the assistance of Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa the engine was cooled by using copious amounts of water and refilling the radiator. This got us back to Barra which included a short diversion to the Amazing Grace Nursery school where we have a sponsored child. At Barra we were lucky and just managed to just catch a ferry back to Banjul. When we got there, unfortunately our car had a punctured tyre and there was a delay whilst the wheel was changed.
It was Mo’s last evening as she was returning to the UK the following day, so we all went to a local middle-eastern restaurant for an excellent Meze for dinner.
Photos to follow soon