26 November 2018


Day 20, Monday.... last day!!

Goodness, how the time has flown!

We started off at Yundum Barracks LBS to collect the letters for Jeannette's Worldclass children...all done and neatly packaged up.  The teachers had discussed what would be the best way to spend the £100 donation from Worldclass and had decided on T-shirts. Some had been made for the original club members but numbers have increased dramatically so they need some more. 

handing over money to the headteacher
headteacher writing the reciept

While we were there we discussed a proposed new library and also a Pageant Loan for the school's Mums' Club.

Next, back to the Beecause centre in Lamin.  The local head of the enterprise had now returned from her travels and we had a very encouraging discussion about a possible project, which I hope will have the approval of our kind UK donor. While we were there, Abdoulie and Yankuba disappeared for a few minutes and came back with handfuls of small lemons from trees growing wild in the forest.  

tree laden with fruit

We agreed they would be excellent with the honey on pancakes... mmm, delicious!

Our last visit was to the SBEC international school, not to visit any children (it is one of the most expensive schools in The Gambia, way out of the reach of any of the Pageant students) but to see one of our erstwhile Practical Science Workshop student teachers, who has recently gained a position there and was keen to show us around.  Very impressive buildings and sports facilities...

SBEC International School
SBEC International School
 and it was great to see Musa, so obviously proud to be teaching there.  

 He suggested that a couple of the science teachers there might be able to attend our next workshop, but I pointed out that this would be at the expense of two student teachers from Gambia College, which would probably not be a popular suggestion.  I did say that it might be possible for us to do a morning session at the school, as we have done this at individual schools on a few previous occasions, and the suggestion was received with delight by both Musa and the Principal.

Back to the hotel and from there to Linda's for our customary marathon end-of-trip tallying up, of both the finances and the numbers of children and projects requiring payment before our next visit.

We decided we had earned a last dinner out, so repaired to Luigi's for a yummy pizza...and my last Julbrew of the trip!

I'm looking forward to the next one already....


Day 19, Sunday...a bit of a non-day...

Due to a not-very-good night because of a touch of Banjul belly, there was a change of plan for today.

I managed to sort out all the very good clothes that we had been going to distribute to two of our women's groups, but did not think it was a good idea to stray too far from the hotel.

This was reinforced by our guys when they arrived..go back to bed, they said firmly.

So I have stayed here all day while they distributed the clothes themselves.

Yankuba has taken some very cute photos but as yet I have not worked out how to access them from the tablet that I am using to write the blog....

I do have a few photos for you from the hotel...my walk to breakfast... 

Gardens at Sand Beach Hotel
Gardens at Sand Beach Hotel

...with the dining room being at the right hand side of the second photo... and one of the beautiful plants that grow here in the garden.

Plant in garden at Sand Beach

Hopefully all will be back to normal for tomorrow...

24 November 2018


Day 18, Saturday with Carol and Richard

We collected Carol and Richard from Ocean Bay at about 10am and set off for the SOS maternity unit in Bakoteh.  It is in the same 'strip' as the SOS schools that we have visited so frequently, but I have never been there before... I have to confess that I had not even realised that it was there.

Carol had some baby hats and little jackets, knitted by herself and a friend, and I had the last of the baby blankets and some more hats from the Southwater ladies.

We were shown into the office of the medical director, who very kindly decided he would show us around the unit himself and would make sure we found some babies!!

It is a really well run unit, with a considerable amount of equipment (and the expertise to use it) even though it is quite small by Gambian standards.

We did indeed find some babies and also met the senior midwife, as well as being shown the pre-labour ward and several other areas.

The unit has fairly recently invested in a large van that they have turned into a mobile clinic for outreach purposes.  They have periodic trips upcountry, going right up as far as Basse, covering both sides of the river.  Quite an undertaking...

We left the remaining goodies with the midwife...after the director had counted everything for his records.  He said he likes numbers and to get them correct is a must!!

Having spent quite a long time there, we went on down through Serrekunda, with a couple of short stops along the way, to Musa Corr's house.  Musa was a mainstay of the dining areas of the Atlantic Hotel for many years and was much missed when he went, first to run the Atlantic restaurant at the airport and now into full retirement.  It was wonderful to see him and his lovely family and we stayed to chat for some little while.

Although retired, he is not sitting doing nothing!  He and his wife have started a second hand carpet business...and he has a plan to open a small street coffee and tea place there, maybe with some small cakes!!  I said we would certainly come as customers if he did so...

Back to Ocean Bay to drop off Carol and Richard and then return to Sand Beach.  Wandifa and I went through all the paperwork once again..really, not many gaps at all.

Family visiting again tomorrow, including a couple of our women's groups, as I have some items to give out to them...so the minivan is due to be arriving at 10am.  Goodness, the time has gone so fast...

23 November 2018


Day 17, Friday...Faks at GTTI

We started a little earlier than usual today, as we had made an appointment to see Faks in the automotive engineering department of GTTI at 10am...one never knows how heavy the traffic is going to be these days.  As it happened it was not too bad and we arrived about ten minutes early.

Just as well that we did as we hit a snag at the entrance - the security guy was not happy about the large crate we were taking in for Faks, so we had to wait until some sort of clearance had been obtained. Understandable... I felt he was fully justified in his cautious approach and he was, as Gambians usually are, very polite about it all.

We eventually arrived in Faks' office and began to unpack the Mantis (those of you who have been concentrating will remember that it is a large piece of inspection equipment!).  It is based on a microscope with the optics arranged so that the image is focussed on a viewing screen in front of the binocular eyepieces...this means that one does not have to actually look down the eyepieces themselves, which many people find quite difficult, but can just look at the screen.

It has a very deep field of view, so quite large objects can be held and moved around by hand while being examined at reasonably high magnification (x20 and x40).

We went to look at the location that Faks had decided upon for it and he found a sturdy table to which it could be firmly screwed down. These fixing screws are completely hidden once the Mantis is assembled so it is not at all obvious to see how to remove it...a good point, we felt!

A class was being held in the chosen room, so we started to assemble it in the office and then paused for a welcome coffee break while waiting for the room to be cleared of students.

The final assembly complete, it was plugged in...and, success, it worked immediately!!

Not only did it work but Faks and the other teachers, whom had by now gathered round to see it, could use it instinctively.  They brought several bits of engine and some circuit boards to examine and the smiles said it all.  An immediate positive response... Faks was thrilled. 

 Faks with the Mantis
Faks with the Mantis

As we left he was in the process of finding some rawlplugs so that he could fix the table to the wall... I think he feels that other department heads might be rather envious!!

This all took quite a while so, after a brief visit to the Westfield supermarket, we set off to Kings Kid Academy for our last visit of the day.  We had gone mainly to check up on and pay for one of our sponsored students - successfully - but did wonder if we might see Bishop Dennis, as we have not managed to connect with him for some time.  However, he is once again out of the country....but Elisabeth, his wife, says she thinks he might be around in February.

Back to the hotel just in time for Friday prayers after a very successful morning.

Linda and I are going to Mama's for the fish buffet this evening and are being joined there by Pagent members Richard and Carol, who arrived last Tuesday.  They stay at Ocean Bay, so it will be a good opportunity to catch up with them.


Day 16: Thursday, disgracefully lazy day....

Not completely hotel-bound, as Linda and I had decided to pay the bank a visit to find out why the promised internet access email had not materialised.

I took D20,000 with me to pay in, as the bank now requires activity in the account at least every six months.  Good thing I did...having paid it in I returned to the very efficient woman we had seen on our previous visit to see what was the problem.  She was surprised to hear that the email had not arrived...and even more surprised to find that the account had been "redormantised" (her term, I'm not sure if such a word exists but I know what she meant!)

As I told her, the teller had not had any problems with accepting my money into a dormant account!!  She was not happy about the situation and said she would sort it out immediately..so we will wait and see.

Apart from that and a spot of laundry I have been sitting in the shade by the pool for most of the time.  I HAVE got the blog up to date, which makes me feel slightly less guilty... and there has been a lot of activity by the hotel gardeners during the day.  They have been weeding...a rather clover-like plant grows very strongly amongst the grass-like plants in the "lawn" (nothing new there!!) and it is all being firmly removed. 

gardeners at work
before weeding
after weeding

I could do with these gardeners at home!!

The sun has cooled down a lot now and it is quite breezy - very pleasant.  However I am now sufficiently bored to be really looking forward to our day tomorrow - 9.15am start, mustn't be late...

See you then, everybody....


Day 15: Wednesday, the north bank

We have found from past experience that the first ferry goes ever earlier..it used to be 7am, then it went to 6.30am, then we missed one that had apparently gone at 6.15am!!

So, determined to catch it this time, we arranged for the guys to pick me up at 5.30am!  And, they were on time...what a good start!!

On arriving in Banjul and parking the minivan, we found that a ferry had gone at 5am!!  Not a regular one, we were told, but probably one for a special government visit....  To our relief, the normal "first ferry" appeared and left pretty well on the dot of 6.30am – perfect.

To the left of the ferry-docking part of the port was what appeared to be a large ship with all lights blazing.  This (actually two ships joined together) is the Turkish power station that is currently (sorry about the pun...) supplying the great majority of the electricity in this region of The Gambia.  It is on a two year contract and has greatly improved the power cut situation...the limiting factor is now some of the outdated wiring that will have to be replaced. 

Turkish power station

Sorry about the quality of the photo (my little phone is not too good at taking photos in the dark), I'll replace it with a better one from my camera when I get home.

We arrived in Barra at daybreak, a familiar sight to those who have travelled with me on earlier trips. 

approaching Barra

As we had arrived so wonderfully early we immediately travelled down the long, sandy, bumpy red road to Albreda LBS and met the new headteacher there together with his deputy and another senior master. We were there to discuss a couple of projects; a toilet and shower block for female staff, completed since our last visit... 

new toilet and shower block

.. and an accommodation block, also for female staff.  This school is very isolated, so staff accommodation is an urgent need.

The toilet and shower block appeared to have been done very nicely - two toilets on one side, two shower cubicles on the other. 

shower cubicles
one of the toilets

No running water, of course...at present it is brought to the building in buckets but they plan to get a larger water storage tank nearby that they can fill it and use it as and when needed.

The original plan for the accommodation block was to renovate the old, very dilapidated kitchen building.  However, the new headmaster has a different idea, and wishes to build a new block between the existing male staff quarters and the newly built toilets and showers. They will provide us with an estimate for this, to be discussed at a Trustees' meeting after I get home.

A quick visit to Bakary (Wandifa's brother) and family at their compound, to deliver a gift for one student and take some photos of others, was followed by a rather belated but delicious breakfast at the riverside cafe that we have visited before on so many trips.

Back up the aforementioned red road... I should tell you at this point that Abdoulie, having a rest from driving, had elected to spend the whole trip in the luggage compartment of the very rickety four wheel drive vehicle that we were using. 


There was enough room in the body of the car, but he said he preferred to lie down there, and actually managed to sleep for quite a bit of the journey!!  Many of you will know how impossible that sounds!

Back on the tarmac for a short while and then down another sandy track to a small school that the son of Alieu, our regular north bank driver, attends.  I had promised Alieu that, if his son did well in his first year at Primary school, I would put him up on our website as a candidate for sponsorship....and he has done well, so his photo was duly taken and various necessary details noted down.

My last stop was at Barra-Essau UBS, to which four of our sponsored students have transferred this year.  On our arrival we found that all Grade 7 students go in the afternoon, so our agents went off to their compounds to photograph them (and to chastise one of the fathers who had not produced the reports from last year!) while I stayed to talk to the delightful headmaster, who we have known for many years.

(Those of you who were at the microscopy workshop at his school several years ago will remember his consternation and amazement at seeing a tiny creature swimming in what was supposed to be clean water from the well!!  He still has the book of photos from that workshop and it vividly reminded me of what was a lovely day.)

This very prestigious award was received just a few weeks ago by Barra-Essau UBS. They are the only north bank UBS to receive this award and the headteacher was kind enough to say that the teaching materials and instruction received from Pageant had been of great help in achieving it.

 Award certificate for Barra-Essau UBS

Back to the ferry port... and not too long to wait.  We were back in Banjul not long after 2pm, the quickest we have ever done a north bank trip.

A couple of visits, one to Modou to give him the cash to buy the medical bits and pieces necessary for his houseman position at the hospital, the other to deliver the last of the gifts from sponsors.

Returned to the hotel by 3.30pm...to find that I had a visitor expected at around 5pm!!  One of our headmasters, coming to greet me as he had missed me upcountry.

Just time for a shower and hair wash...one of the times when the floor of the shower looks like a beach when you have finished!

My visitor was, of course, late, but it was very nice to see him, even with wet hair..... (Me, not him!!)

Dinner with Linda at Luigi's completed what had been a busy and rather lengthy day... a day off tomorrow, I agreed with the guys...see you at 9.15am on Friday....


Day 14: Tuesday, farewell to David and Regina

(Sorry to all the blog readers about the break in communication...a late return on Tuesday coupled with a VERY early start on Wednesday has rather upset my schedule...however, I am hoping to catch up now.)

We started rather later than usual, as this was the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet, which entails a lot of praying during the preceding night.

So our guys arrived at 1pm to take David and Regina to the airport for their flight home.  The roads were blissfully quiet as it was a public holiday, so we made it in good time and escorted them into the departure area.

Regina & David with our guys

The guy in the front of the photo is Ansumana, the deaf mute and amazing mime artist, who always comes to greet us at the airport.

Having said our goodbyes we went off to Lamin, to find out about another bee keeping organisation called Africa BEEcause, which also offers training opportunities to people all over The Gambia.  It has been set up by a UK registered charity, which you can find at www.Africabeecause.org if you are interested.

It is a very lovely set up, located in the forest on the way to Lamin Lodge, and has around fifty hives in three different zones.

 BEECause bee hives
one of the hives

Most of the hives are the Kenyan type but they also have some grass ones, a large version of which is the one beside Modou, one of the training officers, in the second photo.

We discussed various aspects of training but could not get any final costing as the chief training officer was away at the time.

They were also kind enough to invite us to have lunch with them in the delightful setting outside their little office buildings.

BEECause office

.... and extremely delicious it was, too!!

Another enterprise is a small nursery of saplings for reforestation - all in all a very good visit. 

sapling nursery

We then went on to see Faks at Humanity Nursery...he has been in Holland until now, so it was a good opportunity to catch up with him before he went back to work.

The new multi-purpose hall that we have funded for the school is wonderful!  It was completed about three months ago, in time for the new term, and is all we could have wished for and more...

 multi-purpose hall
 inside the hall
inside the hall

Faks says it is not quite finished yet as he has a few additional touches to add, but it is in use for school meals, assemblies and the equivalent of PTA meetings.

We had a couple of other things to discuss with him, the first being a piece of large inspection equipment called a Mantis (which was in the microscopy lab at ERA) that we felt could be well utilised in his department at GTTI.  He was really excited by this - I had taken some instruction leaflets with me and he examined them with great interest.  We are going to deliver the Mantis to him on Friday and hope to get it installed during the morning.

The last item on the agenda was the proposed Pageant Power Hut, the brainchild of Andy, a former ERA colleague of mine.  The aim is to provide a solar powered source of lighting for between fifty and a hundred students in a poor community and we felt that the prototype could not be better sited than with Faks, who is so community-minded himself.

The idea is to erect a small building, with solar panels on the roof and suitable electronics inside, to power enough connectors for lamps for every senior student in the community. Andy has designed the building and the electronic circuitry and the plan is for him to take the parts to make both the latter and the lamps out with him during a visit to The Gambia in February......so this visit was to see if Faks was interested in the idea and, if so, where we could put the building.

I am pleased to say that he was as excited about the idea as our three agents had been been we first discussed it with them.

We went from the nursery school to his compound to see the proposed site... the photo shows Faks and our three guys each standing at a corner!!! 

proposed site for the power hut
It will have to be built before the February visit, and we left sketches and plans of the building so that it can be ready for us when we arrive.

Andy's plan includes teaching the students to make their own lamps - Faks said the new hall would be perfect for that - so I think he is going to be busy!!

After what turned out to be quite a protracted visit we were rather late returning to the hotel...and we had an early start the next day.  More of that later.....

19 November 2018


Day 13: Monday, pencil cases and sponsors' gifts...

...but first, we sadly had to say goodbye to Carole.. and very good she looked in a delightful dress made for her by a young man she used to sponsor. 

goodbye to Carole

(Sorry Carole, but even standing on a step did not bring you up to the height of our guys!!)

Then, off with Regina for a day of delivering filled pencil cases to some newly sponsored students and more gifts and letters to some who have been sponsored for some time.

As it was a school day we were not trying to find them at home, but in class.  This is not always as easy as it sounds, due to the large number of classes in the same year group in many schools.  As it is near the start of the school year we very seldom know the name of the class or class teacher and Gambian school records can be somewhat haphazard. 
No two schools are the same.  Some are large, with huge shady compounds... 

a large Gambian school...

...with a huge shady compound

...others are small with almost no outside space at all... 

a small Gambian school
...but one thing they all have in common is quite large class sizes by our standards.

We did very well, delivering all our pencil cases and most of the remaining letters.  Only those for the north bank are left, which we hope to deliver on Wednesday.

We also went back to the bee keepers for further discussions and bought several bars of their beeswax soap while we were there.   

beeswax soap

At D25 (about 40p) per bar it seemed very reasonable... I bought one each for the guys and me and they each bought another one for themselves.

Back to the hotel, David and Regina's last evening....and then there will only be one....


Day 12: Sunday, family visiting

Carole and I set off (not too early, our guys arrived with the minibus at about 10.15am) to do a load of family visiting today.  We visited eight compounds in all, including 28 sponsored children - and a further 6 who were asking to go on to our webpage so that they might be lucky enough to be chosen for sponsorship themselves.

We cuddled a very new baby, took loads of photos, read stories, admired school work and discussed further education courses... a very happy and rewarding day, if rather exhausting!

It was Carole's last day here, so after our last visit we were dropped off at Calypso, a delightful bar and restaurant beside a lagoon at Cape Point.  We had arranged to meet Linda there... we were running a bit later than expected, so she was there before us and had managed to get a very good table right beside the lagoon.

A good vantage point, as there are 15 or so crocodiles living there, plus a wide variety of birds - a really lovely place to spend an hour or so at the end of a busy day. 

lagoon at Cape Point

In the photo, starting at the top, you can see: sky (grey today!), the north bank of The Gambia, the river estuary, a line of fishing boats beside and on the beach of the south bank, a swathe of reeds and the lagoon.

The water level is quite high at present, after the summer rain, so many of the crocodiles were lying with just their nostrils out of the water.  However, we saw quite a number swimming quite lazily around....and at 5 o'clock, great excitement as one of the staff arrived with a bucket of fish for feeding time. 
feeding the crocodiles

You can see Linda and Carole beside the guy with the bucket of fish...

Sadly, this was not a terribly good photo opportunity, as crocodiles snatch the fish and take them under the water to eat them!  However, if you have faith and a good screen, you can just about see the one just right of centre of this photo with the fish in its mouth!! 

crocodile with a fish

This was Carole's first visit to Calypso and she was delighted to have gone there - a good last day Gambian experience.

I will miss her when she returns to UK tomorrow...she has been a great travelling companion on many trips out and we have had a lot of laughs along the way.  Thanks, Carole, do please come out with us again.

17 November 2018


Day 11, shopping!!

This was a real mega shopping day.  You may remember that Battle Rotary club had given Misera BCS £500 for tools - this was the day we were going to spend it!!

Modou Touray, the school's deputy, had arrived in Brikama yesterday evening and we had arranged to meet him at Westfield for the shopping expedition.  £500 translates to D31,800, so we had split the money into three lots of D10,600 to be spent on each of the three technical areas - woodwork, metalwork and home science.

We started at a recently opened toolshop in Kanifing - wow, what a shop!!  

a mind boggling display of tools

We must have spent about an hour in there, buying a large proportion of both woodwork and metalwork tools.  Modou, in the red check shirt, took the whole thing very seriously and went round all the display shelves and cabinets with his lists in his hand, choosing the best things for his students. 

Modou and the Pageant team discuss what to buy

I had a good look round the displays myself, noting down some prices and making a couple of purchases.  In the photos the prices are, of course, in dalasis - divide by 63.5 to get the current cost in  £s.

 screwdrivers and saws

Off to a second shop to get a few missing items, particularly the set squares. 

tools right up to the ceiling
 This completed the woodwork and metalwork purchases, so we now went off to the shops in Serrekunda for the home science materials. The first shop we visited had a quantity of good quality cooking and serving items, which Modou preferred to the more traditional items used in most family compounds.  

things for home science
He said they would last longer and give the students a real sense of pride to be using them.

Lastly to one of the really traditional Gambian shops to buy fabric, thread, scissors and so on.  I did not go into that shop with them, as the prices would have soared if I had been there.

By this time Modou had a large number of quite heavy cartons and one large bag, so we took him to the local equivalent of a UK bus station so that he could get them all into (or onto) some transport that would take him to Brikama.  He will be staying there overnight before returning to Misera tomorrow.

A really satisfying experience... as Modou and our guys said, there is no other school in the whole region with such good equipment, so a huge thank you to Battle Rotary club.

This had taken us almost exactly four hours, so we had a quick visit to the Westfield supermarket to stock up on water and a few bits and pieces, and then returned to the hotel...see you tomorrow, one and all.


Day 10...lazy day!!

VERY lazy day, I have to confess!!  I did a little personal laundry after breakfast and then sat beside Carole by the pool under the shade of an umbrella, reading and chatting, ALL morning!

At around 2.30pm Linda arrived with the four Gambian children who live in her house, followed by the girl who Carole sponsors and then our newly qualified DOCTOR Modou Jeng, who was bringing his little brother, sponsored by Regina and David...  all to play in the hotel pool.  Unlike some of the hotels here, Sand Beach positively welcomes Gambian children, who are friends of its visitors, to come to see them and to use the pool, as long as they are both well behaved and well supervised.

The children all had a wonderful time... it was the first time for a couple of them to try swimming, but they did really well.  Linda had brought four pairs of armbands and a rubber ring and I had managed to find an inflatable beach ball, so great fun was had by all.

Carole and Jarra, first ever swim

Regina giving a swimming lesson

Ebrima, first ever swim

We had great difficulty in getting them out of the water - bribery with chips and a drink proved to work, but even then several of them jumped back in again afterwards!!

Such a lovely afternoon.  The last of them left just before 6pm, looking tired but happy... thank you, Sand Beach, for letting them have such a fantastic time.

16 November 2018


Day 9, Thursday, back in the Kombo

Today Regina and I were playing postman, delivering letters and gifts from sponsors to 'their' students.  This is not always as easy as it sounds... the visit to one family took nearly an hour, across really terrible terrain and eventually driving down a narrow path through the scrub to end up in their back garden!!  On our way we passed the huge sand and gravel pit from which most of such building materials are taken for the local housing projects.

sand and gravel pit

Sadly, the heavy lorries that remove these materials have done terrible damage to the already poor roads in that area, so we were bouncing around in the minibus as Abdoulie fought to keep it on the track.

However, when we reached our destination, the father of the family was really so delighted to receive the gift of a sack of rice plus some cash that we felt it had been worth the effort. 

In all we delivered two sacks of rice, nine letters and three cards with money enclosed.  It doesn't sound a lot, but it really was a considerable effort!

I have taken a unilateral decision for us to have a day off tomorrow, so our guys can have a well earned rest... and so can I!!

Linda is due to be bringing the children of 'her' Gambian family to play in the hotel pool tomorrow afternoon and we hope another couple of sponsored children will be coming as well, so we won't be bored!