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

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.