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