A Magical Key, Something about Ants, A Shirt Mistery and a tale of a Journey

The Key

A few days ago one of the ladies, who is typically looking out for me, gave me a key. It was the key to the other side of the squatty shed where I normally take care of my business. I had always wondered what was in the other side, I figured it was storage. This morning I checked it out and I couldn’t be happier man.

It is sparkling clean squatty toilet! As far as I’m concerned the place it a palace, there was even a bucket pre-filled with water for flushing. Now if I could find a reliable source of fiber to offset the rice and white bread I’d be set. 

Ants in the Pants

I now know where the expression comes from. Enough said.

Clothes on the Line

Arg! Just had my favourite shirt go missing from the clothes line last night – might hope to see it walking around the compound or Sukuta before I leave at the start of next week. (not sure if it is a temporary or permanent borrow )

Heart on the Line

Not more then a minute after finishing writing the last paragraph. The woman who has been voluntarily washing my clothes and cleaning my room since my arrival just stepped in the room overwhelmed with tears.

Using my limited Fula and ability to read wild hand jestures I began to understand the situation. She believes my missing shirt is a personal attack against her, someone’s plot to make me think she is stealing my clothes and thus not to trust her or help her if she has any requests.  

At first it seems strange and far fetched (who would do that?) however, it is very plausible (if you steal it and live on the compound you can’t wear it and if you are coming from outside the compound why would you just steal one?) Unfortunately, it is well with-in the realm of the cultural norms and capable darkness of a human heart.

Even yesterday I was involved in an intensional conversation aimed at pitting me against someone else so I would loose their trust. Honestly, if we claim it we are not tempted to these schemes we only deceive ourselves.

Two weeks ago I had the chance to speak from 1 John chapter one where John talks about walking in the light. When we walk in the light it exposes darkness – and darkness doesn’t like it, it is a uncomfortable feeling. This lady is one who walks in the light in her attitude and actions and it is uncomfortable for those who wish to be complacent or self seeking.       

Needless to say my heart was broken for this woman. I have always been impressed with her faithfulness, humility and generosity. I can use to learn a lot from her. My hope the shirt shows up and it is all one big misunderstanding, more for her peace than the sake of having my shirt back.   

To Kanilai (and Back)

Those who know me well understand I have a mild sense of insanity for the sake of just for the sake of adventure. In the lull of the election, I decided I needed to get out of the city and go see something new.

Without much persuasion, I convinced a local friend that we should bike to Kanilai together (the president’s home village). For him the 200km+ journey was a regular trip as he is a member of the Gambian cycling team. For me however this was a different story but I wanted to see if I could do it. After all I had bought this sweet road bike I wanted to try it out.

The challenge was not so much the distance so much as the time. Originally I had envisioned doing the trip 100km a day, turns out our schedules limited us to one day. To put it in perspective I figured the farthest I have even biked in a single day was 60-70km. It is a bit like being a 10km-15km runner than deciding off the couch to go out a run a marathon, in the hot sun.

The locals had a good laugh when I told them where I was going, as most will refuse to travel that distance in a car unless necessary. My rational side tended to agree with them particularly after the first hour.

The up country roads are beautiful, wide open and quiet with minimal grades, the outflow winds are really the biggest challenge. At each village we met a cheering section of children most who would chase after me in hopes I would drop candy, coins or perhaps lay a golden egg on my bike seat.

We arrived at Kanilai around noon, it was a bit of a ghost town as the president had announced a free 3 day party in Banjul it seemed like the whole village had left to join him. This was true to the extent that there was not even a vehicle remaining to take us into the safari park. After 20mins of negotiating, I convinced the staff to allow us to go on our bicycles while the guide road an ATV (assuming the lions wouldn’t eat us*). I figured we would set a new precedent for eco-tourism.    

* it turned out to be a valid assumptions, the lions photographed in the office were now dead because they tried to attack their owner. 

The trip home was a mental test, yet, my friend encouraged me home. Often he would stop at wells refilling my bottles and buying watermelon slices while I cycled ahead. As night settled in, the road became an endless tunnel of light lit from my beam. My legs continually verged on cramping up and my mental fortitude was wearing thin. I was about ready to hop on a transport vehicule when the Brikama traffic light signaled me I was 1 hour to home – a few more bananas and a boiled egg from a shop would provide enough energy to bring me home.

All said the journey was a great success and then only side affects seemed to be a bit of numbness in my left hand which I think is related to my previous elbow injury and holding onto the handlebars for so long. I even managed to get on the bike the next day so I cold go for a swim.   

From Here to the End
Tomorrow and Thursday: final visits making sure all out of country arrangements are made properly (making sure I'm not getting scammed is a full time job some days). This is hard there are many demands and few  
The weekend: We are hosting a family meeting for HOW calling all alumni and distant relative. (originally scheduled for the prior weekend) *see scheduling post from last week.
Monday: Goodbyes and packing. (and of course learning to speak fluent Fula)

Hope to squeeze in another post perhaps on the way through London. (including the always popular "best of" photo collection.

Thanks for following and all your prayers and support. 

God Speed.

Tetris, Meds and Orchards

Blogs and Meds
I'm trying to remember to blog when I take my weekly meds*... I typically remember at least one of them. This week almost forgot both!

* Meds keep me from getting Malaria and Blogging hopefully keeps me from loosing friends. :O) 

Revisiting the Orchard

For those who have been following my writing this trip may recall my first post regarding the apparent failure of the orchard project and in time it would be re-visited. While that time has come. Here is my epilog in a series of points. 

Clearing things-up…
Over the past few weeks a young man was hired to do some work clearing the grass at En Gessa (the field). In doing so, many trees thought to be lost have now been found. Now I must say grass in the Gambia in a little higher than what we would typically find in Canada, in most of the field the grass is more than 5-6 feet tall. Naturally, I was expecting the trees to have grown to this height by this time however as the locusts and goats had severely impeded growth. I’d estimate about 50 trees have been found to date and I am currently working to take an inventory.

Not dead yet…
Almost like Monty Phython’s black knight, many trees are refusing to die. Remaining sticks thought to be dead are now throwing up new branches. This might add another 15 to the total.  

Dealing with the issues…
One of the hardest things to find in the Gambia is reliable workers. People will work hard for a month or so and then begin to slack off once they believe they have your confidence. I have seen this time and time again. This is not only an issue between foreigners and locals but even between the locals themselves. The few who are committed to success of a project are normally held by other responsibilities – as these people are in demand.

To date we have now used 4 different workers and the plan is for one of the leaders to move on the compound so he can naturally supervise the work.

The pests…
To give an idea to the scale to which these pests were disturbing the orchard,
part of the report I got regarding the problems at the orchard was a visit from Nari (National Agriculture Research Association) emergency locusts response team. This institute was established by the UN during the 90’s when major swarms wiped out crops in Mali, Senegal and Eastern Gambia. The situation at the orchard was deemed worthy of this team (who when I originally approached them refused to aid).

While I was away the orchard was visited twice by this special task force. I’m praying they don’t need to come again. 

Looking forward…
Despite all the challenges I am hopeful and optimistic about the future out come of the project and see the benefits extending well beyond the local community.


I can remember the day I received my Nintendo Gameboy ™. Yes, this primitive devise destroyed many hours, days and weeks of my life. My favourite video game of all time is Tetris – particularly the original Gameboy version – I even was class champion during informal tournaments in both grade 4 and 5.

So, where am I going with all this?

Well, of late I’ve been seeing my childhood devotion to the Tetris was perhaps a divine appointment to learning to scheduling effectively with-in the Africa culture.

Effectively managing time in an African community is a constant juggling act trying fit the pieces together never knowing what is coming next. Just like Tetris you may expect to and leave a space for a particular piece but it will not appear or perhaps you expected one of them and them get three.

For example, today I was supposed to be in the North Bank a “very important” trip planned over a week ago confirmed Tuesday morning and never officially cancelled. I had pushed all plans and activities from today. However, I began I realize on late last night (without being told) we would not be going – the motor bike we were supposed to take when out for repair, the man sent to go ahead to make preparation was sitting drinking Ataya and one of the others coming along made a comment about fixing a fence today.

However, just like Tetris, one can only plan for a piece and then one must manage the pieces that come. Obviously there is a change in plans for today, worst yet the trip is still expected to happen but now I just don’t know when and no matter what I will be expected to attend. Naturally, I’ve been scheduling meetings and plans for all days around today.

This is the norm, unexpected holidays, power outages, family events and the like can drive the pragmatic scheduler to insanity. During my earlier experiences all these would have been a mini crisis. However, through my past experiences, I’ve learned to schedule in almost in the African/Western hybrid system which I can best equate to playing Tetris effectively.

Let me explain…
Much like in Tetris, my strategy is to build a scheduling frame work with as little firm commitment as possible. Big items are planned in periods of big holes but are always backed up by other activities that are less time dependent (administrative, short visits, simple errands and the like) As much as possible like activities are grouped together even if they are of lesser importance (ex. always stop to visit people while passing by this will help mitigate time consuming responsibilities later). Similarly, nothing that can be done now waits to tomorrow (including resting) unless it is trumped by a ‘family’ obligation no matter how trivial. Other than this there are a few other guiding principles dealing with gauging certainties but they are hard to explain.      

Thought it is not perfect model it seems to handle things well – sure works better than total chaos or beating your self trying to keep a day timer.

To conclude, someone called the people in village we were trying to meet today. To which they replied, “It is a good thing you didn’t come. The president is holding a campaign rally in the area and so we wouldn’t have been able to meet”.

As you see the system works quite well.   :O)      

Sukuta News

Scholarship Update
November 14, 2011

One of my main projects with-in the Sukuta community is developing a sustainable scholarship program. There is no doubt there is an incredible need to support education with-in the community. Often public school fees are more than a parent’s monthly salary. When the choice is between eating food and paying school fees education will take a back seat. This reality pulls the plug on the future of many bright and hopeful children.

Knowing these cases are out there is one thing. The trick is finding them (needed vs greedy) and sometimes then of course sometimes they find you. On Saturday, I had such an experience.

A Wolof woman came to our compound sometime after lunch. She and her son had left Bakau (an hour away by transport) early in the morning and came to wander the streets of Sukuta after hearing a rumour there was an opportunity for scholarship; 3 hours later she and her son were directed to our compound.

She came prepared – official invoices, report cards and the like. Her son was 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the class (typically 40-50 students) for every subject. The Father was out of the picture and even when he was around she didn’t see the school fees as a priority. She had been trying since the summer to get her son back into school.

Speechless, it is hard not to do what you can.

Last night we held a meeting for all students and parents outlining expectations, the vision and the importance of taking the scholarship opportunity seriously as to allow it to move forward. At this time I have over 30 names of students both young and old looking to improve their education and the list is continuing to grow. At this time two thirds of them are already covered for the remainder (thanks to many of you and your support) and we are working to manage the remainder. It is exciting to think of the possible impact not only for the students but for the whole community.

Hoore Nagge

A couple days back I was ask for a contribution to buy some meat. With the arrival of Tobaski there is a lot of slaughtering happening right now so I guess meat is cheaper and being I live on the verge of vegetarian while here I decided to go in for it. When I got home last night there was a very big pot with a very big fire under just outside my door.

Taking any attempt to practice my Fula I asked.

“Hida defeh, ko Hondun ni?” (lit – You are cooking, what’s this?)

“Hoore nagge” was the reply.

With some effort I pieced it together - Lets see…in the village I had learned ‘nagge’ is cow now the question was what was ‘hoore’ – oh yes ‘head’. Hmmm.

Needless to say lunch today was adventurous.


For all my visits to predominately Muslim nations I had yet to experience a Tobaski and this I blessed to experience my first. Here are a few observations from the outsider’s view point:

As explained to me, Tobaski is the celebration of God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of sacrificing Ishmael his son (the teaching in the Kor’an differs from the original Hebrew/Jewish scriptures where it is Isaac Rachel’s son). There is a special prayer and then sacrificing of a male animal whose meat is to be eaten and shared in the following three days. It is said to bring blessing to the family.

The concept of atonement or forgiveness was surprisingly not a theme I encountered. From what I understood, this is viewed more as a task to do among many by which you receive blessing and can continue to work towards favour during the Day of Judgment. Again this is a central theme in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Tobaski is not unlike Christmas in feel on the days leading up to the feast. Markets were packed and traffic was a nightmare as people (mainly woman) bought new dresses, shoes and hair for the event* –. The men are primarily charged with purchasing a ram. I can be a great cause of grief and embracement if a family unable (particularly if you have had in the past).

The days of Tobaski are spent visiting, from a social perspective the days are about spending time together, there is little else on the agenda. From this perspective it is easy to see why it is such a valued holiday, particularly in this culture. Where ever possible people will travel to their home’s to visit their home villages.

I can not explain much about the prayers or slaughtering in the morning as not being a Muslim I was only able to attend informal festivities that followed. The day again like Christmas is spent with family and friends sitting around eating copious quantities of meat. From afternoon to evening I ate 6-7 courses with meat, a sharp contrast to my typical diet here.

Couple of other notes was the sharp debate over the correct day of Tobaski. In the past Mecca would pray and then the following day the remainder of the world would follow. A modern movement has spawned to synchronize the dates, however, it met sharp conflict and it was easy to see where one allegiance stood (dead ram, live ram). For me it was an interesting window into the religious thought of the faith.    

All said I was glad to experience it first hand.

* the hot item was the real human hair for braiding. I saw one box said to be selling for equivalent of over $200US

When China met Africa

There is a lot of discuss with China’s recent interest in Africa. The Gambia is no exception. In a lot of ways the relationship it a natural fit, China has money, Africa doesn’t, Africa has resources, China is looking for resources. Granted there are some concerns. Both China and Africa and are cultures driven of by prestige and status, they understand how to scratch each other back.

From extravagant birthday parties to building fancy parliament buildings, from many perspectives it resembles crafty bait and switch operation. With-in the boarders of this small country, mahogany is quickly becoming extinct. In my short time hear I walked past many lots of the precious wood being packed into containers. The promise of quick easy money and few rules or regulation seem to keep the locals and traders all smiles, as a passed such a lot yesterday with a man handing out money like it grew on trees.

When departing from Canada, a close friend had handed a documentary on this very topic. “When China Met Africa”. The documentary focuses on the country of Zambia, its copper fields, road building and farming operations.

So I invited a number of my friends both local and international over and we had a movie night. Naturally, we started watching “Cool Runnings” (which turned out to be a good pick) and later the documentary which I highly recommend.

Following the documentary, we went on to have a 30 minute discussion about what we saw. Some of the main points of discussion included effective communication, proper planning and respect in understanding one another. Some shared stories of personal experiences that resembled some of the scenes with-in the movie.

At the end of the night we spend time in both Muslim and Christian prayers. In all things feel people left somehow enlightened, somehow encouraged and somehow challenged.   

The Village Life

November 4th,2011  

For many of us we are too young to know the "good old days" – or perhaps the good old days is more of a myth. However, spending time in an African village is about as close as I believe I could experience these legendary days. Over the last four days I been in such village on the North bank of the Gambia.  

The village itself is situated on grassy plains just south of the Senegalise boarder about a mile from the Northern main road. Perhaps 100-200 residences depending on how many are in town (many youth and adults spend the growing season in town and leave for the remainder of the year). 

Life is simple – meals are predictable and redundant (but never the less satisfying), work is primitive, horse, donkeys and simple tools, it is physical yet not ambitious and aside from the Alkalo(chief) social law is the governance.

In general, my stay was a welcome reprieve from my typical life in Central Kombos (the major population center of The Gambia). My body had been in marginal condition*. With-in a day of the village’s rhythm (and a meal or two of straight millet & sauce) my body had seemed to have centered itself again.

For the men a day starts in the fields – in this season the activity is harvesting ground nuts (peanuts), millet and corn have already come. Left with a manageable time schedule one can finish the day’s work in 6-8 hours. The remaining day is left to drink tea, visit friends, relax and listen to the radio.

For the woman, the tasks are a little more arduous. Fetching water from a 10m well across town, cooking and washing while minding the children is not an easy task yet they seem to manage with a distinct swagger and grace. Further still they seem to find plenty of time to preen and braid their hair – by far their favourite past time.

Village life in Africa does have its proper quirks and mentality. There was a Spanish man who had been sent by an NGO** to the village. His task to build a school, install water pumps with distribution and a few other small development projects. Of course the village was pleased with the thought and donated some land of some of the families (outside of the governing circle – small village feud ensued).

However, the village became dissatisfied with the man's help soon after he asked for voluntary aid for digging water lines, making bricks and pleaded they'd keep the kids from repeatedly destroying his water pipes. “Why would we help when you will not pay us?” Naturally, the villagers had concluded this man was getting paid to do his job and he should get on with it and not disturb the regular life of the villagers.

After several attempts the frustrated Spanish man, accused the villagers of being lazy and withdrew most of the proposed project. Additional arguments later broke out regarding not being able to use the generator for things other than it’s intended purpose (why can’t I run it all night to charge my cell phone? Or to run the TV I've been thinking to buy).  

As it stands, the man (now referred to by the villagers as “Work-O”) no longer lives in the village, the school is mostly complete, the water pump project has been abandoned and however the locals use his pumped water whenever they get the chance (he has a temporary pump installed to get water for his building project).

At the end of the day both sides have been hurt and offended. From a western perspective the issue seems confusing and ridiculous; however, I have seen it (in my projects) and continue to see this time and time again all through out the Gambia. It is with some level of intentionally I have still yet to propose a project with this village despite consistently visiting it over the past 3 years.***  

The African continent has not developed because the African continent now expects someone will develop it weather they want it or not. After all life in a village isn’t that bad, struggles exist but they pale in comparisons to the challenges it faces if it wishes to be developed. Finding the voices that want help and are willing to work for it is a challenging proposition it such environment.  

I believe there are hard lessons ahead – maybe the West will be able to learn them.  

Anyways, some photos for your enjoyment. :O)

The Farming team for the Bah family(the other sons are not in town so the girl manage the fields with the brother)

 Removing the ground nuts from the plant for the evening's dinner.

 Breakfast in the fields - millet, sauce and some tasty squash.

--- notes ---
* I was suffering from a condition I know as the Afri-bahs – stomach issues, sinus congestion, slight fever and general malaise. 
** Non-government Organization
*** Time and resources are really the two most prominent factors

Departures and Arrivals

October 20, 2011 2:45pm PST
Gate D71 YVR

I feel like I should be writing something deep and insightful There are only so many things you can be inspired write about in airport. But judging by the faces and the crowd here in the airport there is not much interesting here.

After celebrating a my grandma’s 95th birthday last week with my family, it astounds me the change she has seen in her lifetime. In the next 40 hours I will travel through three continents. On a journey that would have taken a minimum 7 weeks for my grandma’s generation at my age one way the entire duration of my time away.

It is almost to the point where preparing for this journey (number 6 of the sort) felt a little routine. That said, I’m a nervous traveler (although with experience I’ve discovered how to hide it and live with myself) Never the less, there is a piece that makes it hard to leave the known - family, friends, comforts. Yes, we live in amazing times –

Yet for all we have and have we still can’t seem to keep it together. If we aren’t happy/satisfied/joyful with what we have now – does it leave any hope that technology, science, economics, politics, social systems will ultimately save the soul of our lives?* What choices remain?

Over my short 30 years trip, I still journey to really know myself and my faith. Jesus saviour of the world at times feels like a long shot – time and time again I have and will continue to put my chips on this idea that God became flesh and taught us how to live. (Unfortunately there is this whole “Religion” of Christianity thing that I’m not a big fan of but He’s taught to have grace for that too)   

Anyways, just a few more minutes than I’ll be in a chair in the middle of the sky!

I think I’m going to listen to some Paul Simon Graceland.

  • this is not to ignore the improvements each of these areas have made. It is just a statement they don’t seem to be the solution.

Thoughts From October 25, 2011, 10:55

Travel Time

Many people ask how do you travel to The Gambia, the answer is simple - the cheapest way possible. This year’s lowest bidder was a flight through London’s Gatwick and then Heathrow Airports jumping down to Casablanca Morocco before the final flight to Banjul. The total trip I estimate is about 27 hours. This was definitely was one of the shorter duration trip simply because I didn’t stop to sleep.

Traveling alone is generally not my preference but I have found many who are willing to keep this kind of schedule. Some trip highlights included, sharing a seat with Saeed a heart surgeon from Birmingham, the walk through London’s Green park (despite the ~35kg of Luggage), my cold thai currey and finally finishing my N.T. Wright book (After You Believe). All said, I’m happy to be here now.

Day one!

For many my arrival was a surprise because of the heat (a surprise to me ~25 and humid at night) many on the compound were still up when I arrived which I enjoyed the company of before having a bucket bath and trying to catch up on sleep. 

Waking there was little point in wasting time 7 weeks will go by quickly. Being a surprise it buys me sometime socially before there is an expected visit. After greeting all around the compound I downed a few shots of Ataya and ate some ta-pa-la-pa. I borrowed an unlocked bicycle on the compound and visited Michael and the Jallow family (see previous trip posts sometime around April or May). I was joyfully welcomed and offer bananas from the groove we planted the year before.

As feared, the orchard in the area had taken massive beating from what I assumed to be the combination of locusts, goats, a broken well and general neglect. Of the 250 trees planted – I could count ~20 original trees in good. It was not easy to see – but no comment would be made now was not the time for such things.

It is also important to point out they had already begun a replace orchard. This included about 30 coconut trees, a new banana plantation and oranges.

Before I ramble on too much about this, I will no doubt revisit this in later posts. However, one must understand Africa, its ways and the heart of its issues. I will say that by day’s end my heart and mind was at peace with what had happened. I believe much was accomplished in my planting efforts last year.

I later visited Ebrima, Victoria at CVM house and it was chance to collect some items I had left there. Later Mariatu (my African mother) in Senegambia it was great to see her smile and to see her body in strong health particularly after suffering with gout most of last year. I met a few other Toubab’s who were staying around and enjoy a good meal.

After a good spat with the fickle Gambian internet I abandoned hope of contacting home and started my journey home.

In addition to all said there where many other visit and many more to come which will make for a very full week. There are plenty of greetings to all at home particularly Mom, Dad and past visitors to the community.

Afri-isms…a quick list

Sickness is part of life: Malaria, colds, ring worms, the trots and the like you live here long enough or at all you will have them. It makes you appreciate the healthy days. 

Noise is for the benefit of all: I had almost forgotten all this – from the 5am call to the kids preparing for school, animals, trucks, welding and the late hours of tailoring to the 5 hour block party which started at 10pm. There is little control or segregation. (good thing I remembered to bring ear plugs)

Traffic Chaos: nearly had my life flash before my eyes on the first day as an oncoming truck pulled out to pass on a narrow highway with no shoulder – the market streets aren’t much better but at least its all stop and go. It was a good reminder to keep my head-up.

Nani Pular!

I have decided I’m learning to speak Fula. My inability to communicate with many (and many in their preferred language) is a truly an impedance to continuing to help. Fula is noted by many as the hardest and most varied language of the region so this will be no simple task, particularly in the Kombos where Mandinka and Wolof dominate most street conversation. So really to my lament I’ll be learning 3 languages, however, I have a good head start and a living community to help. Here is hoping that 2-4 hours a day will have me conversational before the trip’s end.


So I bought a bicycle. After the associated costs, police hassles and carbon footprint of the motorbike I used last trip (whose blue smoke even the locals complained about), I’m pretty stoked to give this a shot. I paid around $150 and got a full on road bike in good shape. Not so great in the sand but I can keep up to the diesel taxis of the paved road which will be a huge benefit. Getting a bike was my plan from the get go. Additionally, one of my local friends is currently one of Gambia’s top cyclists so I should be in good shape when I get home.  

Now that I got that out of the way – I might think about buying toilet paper or my own pair of sandals instead of borrowing everyone else’s so I can shower with out getting hook worm.

5 Star
Played my first gig at Gambia’s only five star hotel (it is known by the locals as 5 star. As posted earlier, I brought a guitar with me – after previous years of playing with my beaten up acoustic last year this is a great guitar and true delight to play (and it got the thumbs up from the locals) The gig included a plate of a full on tourist buffet and a chance to catch up with some of my musician friends.

What is to come…

Scholarship development – business and community development, a trip to visit communities in Guinea Bissau and Conakry, in addition ther have been a number of exciting opportunities which have already surfaced. I will talk more about this as time goes on.

From Coast to Coast - A New Adventure

With a convenient request from work not to work, I have scurried to make plans to return to the Gambia's smiling coast. It is never easy leaving home however, the onset of the "wet" coast winter and the anticipation of seeing my Gambian family help the transition. With just a few days to go I decided I should get some writing in as sort of an update as I once again travel coast to coast. 

Thank You!!!

Big thank you goes out to the many who have given of their valuable time and resources to help with the coming trip. The scholarship benefit concert in September raised over 2k! Some of this money has already reached Gambia and is currently allowing students to continue with their education.

In addition to the concert, I've received numerous unexpected donations including a 50/50 draw put on by my co-workers. Further still, I have been continually encouraged by the many who have taken time to listen, encourage and pray for me and this vocation.

I've been blessed and it is humbling - thank you all for believing in this.

The pack rat

Less than a week to go and now my kitchen table has become a mosaic of meds, books, foreign currency and gadgets. Packing can be a bit of a crap-shoot, 20kg plus whatever you can convince the stewardess is "carry-on" (I have my tricks) but it all adds up quick. It typically ends with me doing a step routing on my work's shipping scale while I juggle things in and out of my pack.

Many people ask what I bring, aside from the typical toothbrush and underwear (note there is not a lot of use for socks) my general rule is "pack what is difficult to otherwise buy". Below are a few odds & ends that are vying for space in my pack (and a few items that won't make the cut)

A Custom Levi DD59A - not a typical item but those who understand my passion for music and my second favourite African pastime, know why this item is first of the list. If not check out the links page at www.gambiaproject.com.

A printed version of Mido Waawi Pular! - (I Speak Fula) this is a bit of a brick but may very well be my lifeline in my home community. The locals tend not to translate when it is just me around and so far this trip no one is planning on visiting. I'm both excited and overwhelmed with the thought of taking Fulani immersion.

Yellow Fever Immunization Card - You don't need it to go but you do need it to come home. No yellow fever card and you can spend your layovers and homecoming in isolation. (The shot itself is important too)

A USB hub turned charger - thanks life hacker, your brilliant idea will be changing all my USB devises (phones, lights, cameras) without the risk of exploding my fragile computer (power when you have it is a bit unstable in third world countries).

My NIrV Bible - I'm not just a fan for the grade 3 reading level but also enjoy that is a full 3 pounds lighter than my Grandpa's old study bible.

My Juice S2 - Simply a great friend, from cutting mangoes to fixing motor bikes - I just got to remember not to put it in my carry-on.

A bicycle helmet and bell - Well, my budget is a little tighter this trip - the motorcycle may be a little too expensive to operate so the plan is to ride a bicycle for my local errands and places taxis are often hard to find and expensive to hire.(it is that or donkey and donkey's are expensive)

My Kaftans - it is not often I get to wear them around these parts of the world. These styles keep me looking and feeling cool as I walk around Serekunda Market.

Not making the cut this year Sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizers and water purification - not only are these items heavy but in most cases and seasons these are surprisingly trivial to life in West Africa so much so that from past trips I have years of stock pile already in country from my initial ignorance. Now before you write me off as a careless crazy (perhaps it is far too late), let me explain.

Sunscreen: In addition to the fact that the equator has an ozone layer without holes (for now) the diesel smog that exists in the city and the Sahara desert kick up enough dust and debris to act as a sunscreen for most daily sun explosures. Further yet you don't tend to spend much time in the sun. The sun is hot. Long pants, baggy shirts and plenty of time under the mango trees typically solicit the comments "Africa, right? Where is your tan?" when I come home.

Bug Spray: I can understand putting it on for exceptional circumstances however, living each day covered in deat seems more harmful than a few bits. Bug nets, a clean room and long clothing is again the way to go.

Hand sanitizer: My concern is generally not about my hands it is the 7-12 other right hands that are also eating out of my bowl. I'm glad I failed my 10 grade micro biology test because hand sanitizer just makes the food taste bad.

Water Purification: Many people ask "Do you drink the water?" the answer is yes. Really for one simple reason - to live and love in a culture so heavily based on hospitality there are some risks that must be taken. A refusal of a glass of water can be equated to the refusal of a person - for fear of a little bit of fuzzy stomach a simple refusal may be the most foolish decision of all.