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Adventure combined with a working visit in 2022

Here I am again, in a country that feels like home and yet is changing a lot.

Adventure combined with a working visit in 2022

Kerstin Gebhardt

18. February

Here I am again, in a country that feels like home and yet is changing dramatically. There has been no anticipation for two years now, as you have to tremble until the very end whether the test result will be there at the right time. This time the storm added to it. When we drove to the airport at 3 a.m., we heard that Lufthansa had cancelled 20 flights. But everything went well, of course only as far as the airport in Banjul. One suitcase was missing there and the other had a white chalk cross on it. This means that the suitcase has to be opened because the checkers discovered something during the screening. This suitcase only contained chalk and pens for schools in need. I would like to buy exercise books here. Ok, then finally the 2nd suitcase arrived, as the last one, although there was a red(!) priority ribbon from Berlin airport on it. Perhaps it has a different meaning here. The journey to my crocodiles took three times as long, as the roads are now even more congested than usual. A dear friend picked me up as our vehicle has been in the garage for 14 days. With a headache, but happy, I was greeted warmly by my replacement family.

Unpacking was simply postponed until the next day. Of course, I didn't have my suitcase, which always stays in Kitty. Unfortunately, it contained my shower kit and a warm blanket, among other things. I missed the blanket on my first night. There was a cold breeze from the river and so I changed at 2am. Unfortunately, I didn't bring warm socks, long trousers, a scarf and a hat.

I didn't have to have breakfast alone this morning. Fatou still has guests from Belgium. They are on a birdwatching tour. They even have a camouflage tent with them. I still haven't unpacked yet, I'm going into the bush first. It's still cool. Grandad doesn't arrive until the evening. Today is his Friday. Of course I also had to say good morning to my favourite bridge. The cashews and mangoes are in bloom. They can be harvested in June. I actually wanted to do my evening walk on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, slash-and-burn clearing is taking place there. Again, fewer trees for the birds, but what are people supposed to do? Food is very expensive and some people spend their monthly wage on a sack of rice. So the next garden will be built.

A group of children see me and come running over the bridge. They accompany me back to Fatou and everyone wants my phone.

It's 6pm and I hear the boss's voice. So I hope that the car is OK. Unfortunately not, he's come with a friend to tell me. We actually wanted to make a plan for the next few days today, but they both had a lot to talk about, so the job is a minor matter.

Unfortunately, I can't do much online. The connection is permanently down and when it is there, it's so weak that a message takes minutes to get through. The radiation is obviously being swallowed up by the bush.

The call comes. Our car is ready. Hooray. Now we have to get the car somehow. It's already dark. Then the car is finally in Kitty and it will stay there until tomorrow, because the tank is empty. My head too. So there will be no more plans to discuss today. I just hope it doesn't go on like this, then I'll move to the seaside and go on holiday with a reception.

19. February

Due to the poor network, I wouldn't have been able to post yesterday, but things turned out differently. 9.40 pm Grandad knocked on the door. Someone had found some petrol and so we could make the plan now. Actually! On the way to my place, Grandad heard noises in the car. He localised the right rear wheel. In fact, it was glowing hot. Buba from the garage said he had done everything right and didn't know what it meant. My landlord now told us that it was normal and would decrease as the replaced brake pads bedded in??? We decided to fill up the tank and I jumped into the car wearing a flutter shirt and pink socks. There's a radio mast in Brikama. So I was still able to post. 2 petrol stations were closed. They had always been open until 10.10 pm. We learnt that due to the huge increase in robberies at petrol stations, it was now closing time. A third one was open, but the poor man was definitely the night watchman. We had to read off what we had to pay and our licence plate (part of the receipt) was painted off. This took so long that the rest of the customers started a honking concert. I just hoped that nobody would get too close to our car, pink socks and flutter shirt theme. Everything went well. After what felt like 30 minutes and a full tank of petrol, we headed back. Back in the bush, we reached for the tyre or rather the rim, it was soooo hot that it was almost impossible to touch. So no long-term plan was made after all. I crawled into my bed to finally continue reading. AFRIKA by Bartholomäus Grill, of course.

Sometimes I looked into abysses that made me deeply pessimistic. And yet the positive impressions and experiences have a stronger impact, the unshakeable confidence with which African people overcome existential crises that would drive us Europeans mad, the beauty of their cultures, the power of reconciliation, the public spirit, the cheerful everyday life that doesn't fit into our image of a suffering, starving, desperate part of the world.’

Yes, that's how it is. Exactly like that.

Today we're only travelling short distances and we have enough water in the vehicle to keep us cool. If it doesn't get better, we definitely won't be able to take this car into the hinterland. In the meantime, both rear wheels are making noises.

One of them is hot. We drive to Brikama to exchange money and buy exercise books. Today is the shop's sales growth day. 26 cents per exercise book, we buy 750 exercise books for now. Then it's on to Jamwelly Yallow. Some of the exercise books, chalk and pens for school, for the fantastic school garden chopping. I needed some good impressions today and I get them at Cherno. The garden is so well-kept. The drip irrigation works brilliantly. I am happy. Today is Saturday, the school is closed. We left exercise books for the 120 children. It was like Christmas for them, the school teacher also had a jumper to match the theme. Afterwards I actually wanted to buy seeds, but creating sales for the local shops has its limits. 5g bitter tomato seeds 10 euros. Storage at max. 15 degrees. It felt like 150 degrees in the shop. There was no expiry date. I left again. Maybe I'll find a better shop.

There are dead cashew trees by the roadside. I learn that an uncontrolled fire has spread. Cashews simply catch fire. Incredible damage for the owner.

Back at Fatou's, there were fresh baobab seeds. I love the flavour, it's like a candy substitute, only healthier. The boys prepared their favourite China Greentea. There's always time for it.

20. February

We were finally going to make the plan last night and, as far as I'm concerned, the whole night. Sleeping is impossible for me. It's party time in the neighbouring village. Last night I was able to sleep for 4 hours, and this night won't be any better. They have so much stamina. The drummers must have hands twice as thick because of the cornea. Unfortunately, it's hard to unplug drums and a power cut doesn't help either. Close your eyes and go on, it doesn't help. Well, the plan will have to wait. We set off for the nearest ‘specialised workshop’ around the corner. The guys' clothes are as black as their skin, but they were delighted when we arrived. The boss of the house had a thick layer of grease on his face and got under the car. He said that getting hot is normal with new brakes, the noises are not. He did a test drive to see if we could hear correctly. Yes, he confirmed that something was strange. A nice Rasta man jacked up the car and changed the new brakes back into our old ones, which were rolling around in the boot. Well, the noise is gone, the heat too, but now the left wheel is making noises and we now have light in the car. All the lights in the dashboard are on. Oh help. No plan. The next few days will involve short journeys and maybe a different garage. Fatou has cooked a delicious meal again and it tastes twice as good with a view of the river.

It's 8 o'clock and I'm sitting outside with fragrant coffee. Mo is collecting fruit for his sheep. It doesn't matter that he scares the birds away, he has other things to worry about and I understand that. The mum of the house has already prepared palm fronds for the new brooms. Fatou is sweeping the grounds and the new baby is crying for milk. Just a normal morning. I love it.

Off we go to the pineapple farm. I learnt a lot on my last visit and we have to spontaneously fill in gaps because of the short distance. So more learning. When we got there, we called the Gambian boss to let us in and take another tour. The young man from last time was visibly delighted, as he had also been able to learn back then. The big boss refused, saying that we should have made an appointment. He was also not interested in our explanation that an appointment was difficult because of the condition of our car. I won't say anything about it.... We drove off again. Unfortunately, money changes people's character here too.

The colourful hustle and bustle on the dusty streets is still the same. Donkey carts, cyclists, bush taxis and other taxis plough through the congested streets. Many taxi drivers are on the roadside looking for customers. Our short journey is constantly interrupted by police stops. I still can't make sense of it. Petrol stations, shops and residential buildings need police protection. But there's no one to be seen. Yesterday a man was robbed at gunpoint of the money he had just taken from the bank. No police...

We decide to drive to Kitty. We're allowed in, the boss is sitting next to me at the wheel.

The children run after us and call my name. They hope I'm coming with Funos (balloons). But the visit wasn't planned and the balloons are still in the room.

As always, the two gardens are immaculately maintained and a feast for the eyes. There is already a waiting list again. More and more families want to plant beds.

There's nothing more on the agenda for today. I'm going to do some bookkeeping and the boss (???) crashed onto my bed and started snoring the next second. Luckily I have a table outside to work on.

21. February

So, yesterday we travelled to Brikama again so that I could get radio reception. Between 2am and 5am, it's fine by the river. That's when everyone sleeps in The Gambia, except me. The neighbouring village ‘Halligalli’ is too loud. I just hope for that night.

Our car holds up bravely. Nothing gets hot or makes a noise. We can finally plan, whoopee. Tomorrow could be the start into the hinterland. Could!!! The boss remembers that his driving licence is still in the garage. No problem here in the region, we know each other. Our financial death on the Nordbank. So I call the boss at the garage. He said that it was closed today, but he would drive there for us and pick it up, then we would just have to meet somewhere to hand it over. So far, so good. Grandad then rang him at around 4pm to see if everything had worked out. Now watch out: he was at the garage but forgot what he wanted there, no joke. It's a pain in the arse. So tomorrow we're going to Kitty to tidy up our container and in the afternoon to our garden in Faraba Kairaba. The day after tomorrow we want/should/may ??? start our tour. Possibly, maybe etc. etc.

It's 7 o'clock. The sun rises and I go into the bush. I hope to see the Western Red Colobus monkeys. They have a reddish-brown head and arms. Unlike other monkeys of the Colobus family, whose nostrils are V-shaped, the Red Colobus has a button nose. They have elegant long fingers. I was not allowed to see them, perhaps on another day.

We drive to the container and I release the things we no longer need for distribution. We pack gardening tools for Faraba Kairaba and somehow try to get a driving licence through official channels. The women at the roadside wave and I buy onions and tomatoes from the garden in Kitty. The children arrive and are delighted with their promised balloon. Now it's off to Africel to swap a SIM card. No can do, the internet is out. So off to get a new driving licence, no go. The person in charge is currently an assessor at court and it takes longer, back to the telephone provider, internet is there and with it what feels like 100 waiting customers. They tell us it's not going to work today. Back to the driving licence and hooray the little official channel has worked. Tomorrow we can set off on our journey into the hinterland. We are already expected.

Back at Fatou's, her uncle greets me and invites me for spaghetti with tappalappa (white bread). I decline with thanks because Grandad is preparing a coconut.

2 pm was the start to Faraba Kairaba. Once there, I immediately remember why I'm doing all this. Happy women, well-tended flower beds and an oasis in front of me. It warms my heart. The gardening tools I have brought with me are distributed, but first there is a meeting on how to distribute them. Our garden manager Nfally is asked for help by an old woman. Her bitter tomatoes are sick. I explain what it is and what she needs to do now and Nfally translates. Very few of the women there understand English. We get papayas and cucumbers. We have left most of them there, they are supposed to sell them and not give them away. Once again you can see the kindness and hospitality of these nice people. Nfally tells us that the living situation has improved considerably. People have better food and better clothes. The status of women has also risen. They start early for the garden, cook and even eat there and sometimes don't leave until the evening. It's a real job and it makes them proud. On the way back, I see guinea fowl for the first time in The Gambia. I'm so sweaty and dirty that the finger sensor on my mobile phone screams error. Nothing works anymore.

Back at Fatou's, I have a kitty orange refreshment and shortly afterwards dinner. I'm excited, it smells delicious. Tomorrow we're off to Kerr Mama, Kayal and Sutukoba on the north bank and then across the water to Sahadatou. We'll probably only arrive at night. One thing is certain, though: it's going to be very, very hot. We have to pack a lot of water, which will boil in the evening.

22. February

It's 5.30 a.m. and I've successfully tipped my T-shirt over with coffee. Grandad is very punctual again and I'm proud of him.

The roadsides in Brikama are full of women selling their fresh plants and fruit to other market women. They then sell them on in the respective villages. I don't want to know how much walking they have already done. In the end they will earn 2-5 euros. But the resellers have such a small business.

We go to the petrol station and this time we have thought of the spare canister. It's still cool (19 degrees). Overloaded lorries in front of us prevent a speedy journey to the ferry. We have to cross the Gambia River to get to the other side.

It stinks of petrol in the car, surely the diesel is also on the outside of the canister.

We make good time and reach the capital after an hour. At the harbour we are allowed to use the rear entrance. No queuing between smelly trucks that would have long since gone to the scrapyard. I am pleasantly surprised in the harbour area. All 3 ferries are in operation, no crowds as usual. Super This is the first time I've seen more than one ferry in operation. Hooray. Now only one more has to come.

It arrives at 8 o'clock. Overloaded cars with animal feed, buses and cars with firewood leave the ferry. Firewood, because almost everything has been cut down. The forest in Kitty no longer exists. There is no money for charcoal for cooking. But what to cook with now? Soon it will be Ramadan, the most important month for Muslims. A lot of firewood is needed. Wood-burning stoves are needed, the 3-stone hob has to go. Far too much energy is wasted and doesn't go into the cooking pot.

Passengers who want to board the ferry on foot have to wait behind the gate. The cars get on first, as there is too great a risk of people being run over in the crowd. We leave at 8.15 am.

Now it's time for breakfast in Barra. We can't find a parking space, but then someone calls for us. Of course, the police officer knows Grandad and remembers me. So we are allowed to park in the no parking zone to buy food. As always in Barra, I serve fresh goat decorated with onions and tomatoes from Kitty and cucumbers from Faraba Kairaba (which I had of course paid for). We eat with our fingers, of course. The journey continues.

Cows, emaciated to the bone, cross our path. Parched earth as far as the eye can see. We follow a carriage to find the way to Kayal. Our contact has a broken leg and can't pick us up on the road. Everything looks the same in the bush. There are no signs, but we end up without a diversion. Grandad is given fresh well water on arrival. A quick chat in the village. We are so happy. Thanks to Hand in Hand, the village has water and a women's garden. No more chafed hands from fetching water from a depth of 20 metres. I visit the toilet and off to the oasis.

The garden is well-tended, but there are onions almost everywhere. So I take a short course on crop rotation. Grandpa translates. Wolof is spoken here. On to the neighbouring village of Kerr Mama. The school was destroyed after a storm. Now everything is new again, only the library is still missing. The children are given pens, exercise books and chalk. The school garden is very well maintained. Four pupils have to look after one bed at a time. That works really well.

We continue on to Sutukoba. There are more and more rice fields in this village on the Gambia River and I am happy to see them. It is now 43 degrees. The road is shimmering with heat. I feel like I'm on Route 66, just the road and us. Sometimes we see a car, but rarely. Then we reach Farafenni.

Farafenni is an important marketplace for the region and to the west of the town is Farafenni General Hospital. It is the main hospital for the division and provides healthcare to neighbouring Senegal to the north.

I keep the driver happy with German Stolle, served on a Frisbee disc. There are no plates. The journey is tiring. Huge baobab trees stand along the way and seem to be beckoning to us.

We reach Sutukoba at 4 pm. The rice fields are waiting for more water. The stones for new canals are being made in temperatures of 43°. The garden is well maintained, I didn't expect anything else. We don't stay long and set off for Sahadatou, on the other side of the river.

We've made good progress so far. Let's hope it stays that way.

23. February

We are making great progress. The new bridge over the river is a blessing. No more waiting for the ferry. We trudge through Basse. The capital Banjul is 396 kilometres (by road) from Basse and is an important transport hub in the eastern part of the country. The mobile phones are boiling and so are we. Very practical, the dust sticks better this way. And there's no shower waiting for me, just a hot village with no water or electricity. But there is finally water in our garden. That's more important.

In Sahadatou we are greeted with domoda. I first went to pour a bucket of water over my body, then we ate. I'm so exhausted that I collapse onto the bed. The heat is exhausting and we've been on our feet for 15 hours. Outside, the children are screaming and the men are drinking tea with lots of sugar. I stare at the ceiling and see the damage from the last rainy season. There are also animals wandering around in the ceiling, I can hear them tippling. This is nothing new to me and completely normal. As long as they stay up there. Sweat is running down the back of my neck, the bed is already wet. All right, then there'll be evaporative cooling later. I hope so! I try to get some sleep, but a donkey is complaining outside. I know this guy from last time.

Somehow and at some point I fall asleep and wait for daylight the next morning. Off to the shower and enjoy the cool water. The landlord is already awake and makes hot water. Coffee. Hooray. I'm alive again. I'm still not allowed in the garden, but I'm so curious. It was opened a month ago. I only know the 5 hectares as a desert.

I sit outside with my coffee. The goats are enjoying the leftover rice from yesterday, the rooster crows and my roaring donkey passes by. The night is forgotten and I enjoy what is to come. Like yesterday, the men keep to themselves. No sign of Grandad. I decide to go for a walk. It's still wonderfully cool. 28 degrees. The women wave to me. And then I'm standing in front of the garden. It's huge. There are still no beds to be seen because the tower for the water tanks was damaged in a storm. We couldn't fill the tanks with water, it would have collapsed under the weight.

Alex calls for me and we have breakfast, a luxury breakfast. Beef with tappalappa (bread) and my second coffee. I eat with my left hand, which is difficult for me. Then the meeting starts in the garden and the women talk about their current happiness. They have never had such clean water to drink and soon there will be an oasis here. They pray and still can't believe it.

We drive on. I want to have a look at the new Riverside Lodge. We booked in 2 days ago. It's between Sahadatou and Kolior. Tomorrow we want to go to our garden in Kolior, so the opportunity almost presented itself. Nobody is there to let us into the room. The lodge is under construction, but it will certainly be a nice place. I've given the boss an hour, if he's not there then we'll go to another lodge. It's no use. Business is business, he has to understand that too.

I was looking forward to a few hours' rest, but now we're starting again. Unfortunately. But tomorrow we have a ‘short haul’.

We take a break in Soma. Neither of us can sit any longer. Opa closes the windows of the car and goes to find a friend with the keys. It takes seconds, then I'm dripping with sweat. I better get out of the car or I'll burn out. After a 30-minute break, we carry on. Hopefully we'll arrive somewhere, sometime.

24. February

We spontaneously travelled to Kolior as we didn't have a room. This garden was also a complete success and a great help to the people. They didn't know we were coming and were delighted.

The next spontaneous idea was to go to the Bintang River. There are 2 lodges there that are sure to have rooms available. And so it was. The river brought a cool breeze. How pleasant after the heat. The next treat: shrimps for dinner. Yay, I'm on holiday. After dinner, I sit outside the hut and enjoy all the different sounds of the night. Countless fruit bats, fish jumping out of the water, crickets chirping, children laughing from the village and a donkey. Later, I hop under my mosquito net, even though there are no mosquitoes here, and listen to the water lapping beneath me. You can see the water through the floorboards. The openings are narrow, luckily a crocodile won't fit through and water snakes have no desire to crawl into a den. I'm sure of it.

I can hear Grandad on the phone somewhere. It feels like he's always on the phone.

I read a little in the cosy bed by headlamp and quickly fall asleep. During the night, I have to put on woollen socks and long trousers. I'm freezing . But I was able to sleep really well again afterwards...

The sun rises and I sit in front of the hut, the veranda is directly over the water. The roofs of the huts are covered with elephant grass and blend beautifully into the landscape. A little boy paddles off into the sunrise. He is looking for crabs in the mangroves. He wants to help his family. At breakfast I meet Christian, who holds workshops and makes films here. The Gambia is small After breakfast, we set off. We buy some charcoal on the road. The seller is happy about the money and Grandpa is happy about the black gold for the upcoming month of Ramadan.

I enjoy being a passenger. When Grandpa didn't have a driving licence, I had to drive. Memories come flooding back. Back then, there was one traffic light in the whole of The Gambia. I stood right at the traffic lights. It was always ‘red’, green was safe for everyone. Everyone drove, including me after waiting a while. I suppose because my skin colour is white, I was trilled out by a policewoman. There's no point in calling your fellow countrymen out. Many people are unable to pay a fine and of course she knew that the traffic lights were faulty. I had driven through the traffic lights on red, which is not allowed in The Gambia. Well, we had a long, friendly chat and then we continued on our way. Before the stop, my arm was adorned with bangles.

On the way we buy 2 bitter nuts for Grandad's stomach and cashew from the street vendors. One woman sells garry, a powder made from cassava tubers (manjok). The powder swells in water and turns into porridge. This is then eaten with sugar.

As soon as we get back to civilisation, we are stuck in a traffic jam. That's why I love the North Bank, no traffic jams as there are only a few cars and no tourists on the roads. But the heat. On the way, I meet friends from Germany. We stop spontaneously at a petrol station and greet each other warmly.

We take the opportunity to fill up the tank. A litre costs one euro. It's crazy.

And of course we meet a Kankurang. This is a kind of initiate who is completely covered in tree bark, plant fibres and leaves. Ours is red. He leads the initiation rites associated with the circumcision ceremonies of the boys. The ritual selection and equipping of the initiate is carried out by the elders. He retreats into the forest with the young initiates. There are night vigils and processions, accompanied by former initiates and villagers who perform dances and songs. In between his representations, he performs machete-wielding dances with shrill cries, the rhythm of which is supported by his companions with drums.

The Kankurang ensures order and justice and drives away evil spirits. He also passes on and imparts a complex collection of know-how and practices that underpin the cultural identity of the Mandinka. The boys learn to observe the rules of behaviour for the order of their community and they learn the secrets of plants and their medicinal value as well as hunting techniques. However, the practice of their tradition is on the decline due to the disappearance of sacred forests. As a result, the ritual is losing its value and prestige.

Back at my river, after a coffee, I set off on a birding tour. Grandad doesn't want to go and isn't allowed to. His phone calls would scare all the birds away. When I look for birds in the bush, it's like searching without mushrooms. It's pure relaxation for me.

Fatou wasn't expecting us until tomorrow. So it's time for leftovers and it was delicious as always. Opa is in Kitty and looking forward to his Friday morning. For me it's a day of washing and walking.

25 February

It's Friday and the boss is off, so I'm off too. The night was cool, without donkey calls and, as always, pitch dark. You can really put your hand over your eyes here and you can't see it. I am woken by the birds at sunrise. Before washing up, I head out into nature. The best time for it. The repaired entrance gate falls on my leg and leaves a bloody wound. I had given away all my tools. Saw, pliers, hammer, screws and nails. The tools have been in the club box for 6 years and I've never used them. The ballast has to go. Somehow it didn't help here. The door is still broken, even though I spent two days screwing and hammering at it.

I'm beating my way through the bush. The sponge cucumbers (loofahs) are dangling from the trees, you'd think they were their fruit. The eucalyptus is in bloom. The mangoes look like they've been shaved off at the bottom, but that was the goats. They are standing on two legs on the tree to get at the juicy leaves. I sit down at the side of the road and wait for the Red Colobus. There's not much point, though, because every passing car honks its horn. So back into the bush. I pass a residential yard and a little boy screams when he sees me. This happens often, the light-coloured skin is strange. When I look round after a while, the children are standing on the path, at a safe distance from the toubab (white man). A man takes a photo of me and asks for my phone number so he can send it to me. Fortunately, the boss warned me from the start not to give out my number. So I'm left without a photo and he's left without a number. I once gave my number to a friend. On the same day, I got a call from her brother. He wanted to meet up with me. No chance is missed to make acquaintances. The hopes of getting married soon and travelling are too high. I understand that they want to get out of their predicament, but I only want to help them in their home country. I want them to have a chance to provide for their families here. Of course, we can't do that for everyone, but it's not a solution to come to Europe and then be unemployed there. I do know some people who have fled. One of them has managed to build something up with a lot of hard work. The others are now in Europe and their families have been waiting for years for the promised support.

Back at Fatou's, everyone is at work. Vegetables are being cleaned, dead leaves are being raked up, water is being fetched. Everyone has their task. My breakfast is ready for collection in the kitchen.

Mo comes over and talks Mandinka. I don't even understand half of it and he scolds me for forgetting so much. I ask him to be my teacher again. He said, but only with a stick this time. Hitting would help you learn better. Unfortunately, children are still beaten in some schools. In any case, I thankfully refuse lessons with a cane.

Bad news comes from Sahadatou. The water basins are losing water. A phone call to the builder and the suspicion is confirmed. He didn't have enough cement. As we already had to buy more once because his calculation was wrong, he didn't want to ask again. He trusted in God. He didn't realise that we needed more cement because of the poor quality of the sand in this region. God didn't fix it, now he has to. He wants to start the long journey after the weekend. I prepare myself an artemisia tea with honey for the shock. I still haven't done the washing.

After calculating the upcoming new project, I finally get the washing done and then head out into the bush again. I always try to explore new paths so that I don't miss anything. Suddenly I saw a calf stuck in a pond. What a fright and it was literally calling for help. At first I tried to get some stability under its hooves with branches, but quickly realised that the animal was already totally exhausted. I rang Grandad and asked him to send help. 15 minutes later, two men arrived and pulled the calf out by its front legs. The whole time I sat with him in the blazing sun and encouraged him. In English of course, otherwise it wouldn't have understood anything. I sat down so that the animal had some shade. The owner would be grateful if he knew. The calf staggered at first, then disappeared into the bush on its hooves. I was able to carry on and was looking forward to a new route. Again and again there were stretches that had been completely cleared. Again, less habitat for the birds. After about 3 kilometres, I saw blue flowers blooming at the end of the path. I moved closer to photograph them. Oops, not only were there blue flowers, but a fat freshwater crocodile right in front of me. The path ended at the water's edge. The crocodile didn't even turn round. But I did, very slowly. On the way back, a woman dug something out of the ground. Using sign language and a few words that I understood, she told me that she needed a root, her husband was ill. It's amazing how rich the natural pharmacy is. Unfortunately, I didn't understand the name of the plant. A wonderful day comes to an end with a delicious evening meal from Fatou.

26. February

The night was restful and Fatou's little lodge filled up. Birdwatchers come in and out. Another couple from Belgium want to explore the birdlife along the river. They set off early at 6am. Sunrise is the best time. The Gambian birdwatcher is pleased that his order book is filling up. More and more guests are arriving who are not afraid of travelling.

The wake-up party is also here. The reflection of the window panes attracts the glossy starlings, which peck at the glass. I set off for my morning walk. The pelicans do their rounds. Everything is so peaceful. There is not a cow in any waterhole, all is right with the world for me. When I got back, Fatou arrived with breakfast. As always, there is egg, tappalappa, butter, honey, banana and chocolate cream. And the most important thing: coffee.

Today is a sad day for me. Yaya is leaving The Gambia for Qatar. We have financed his training as a hotel specialist so that he, as the eldest son, can support the family. He also quickly found a job at the Tamala Hotel. Two years ago, I visited him there and spoke to his boss. He was full of praise for the hard-working waiter. Thanks to Corona and the closure of many hotels, he lost his job. That's the crux of the matter with training. If they have one, they leave the country. There is simply a lack of jobs. Now another well-educated young man and good friend is leaving the country. Will I ever see him again? Even people with a job just want to leave. They see and compare the wages in The Gambia and the USA. Here they just get a sack of rice for their monthly wage. They can't even afford a bicycle and the US boys buy one car after another. I don't want to finance any more education. Dear President, finally do something for your people instead of building one mansion after another and flying around the world. You have promised a lot! Keep at least a few promises. The Gambians need a president who will help them to live here....

We are on our way to Bakau. I want to visit my favourite restaurant. A must on every visit. This is a holiday. Marvellous.

I see spelling mistakes in my texts. As I often write in the car, it's jerky and the sun is blinding. Sorry, sorry, sorry,

I buy some medicine on the way to the restaurant. Grandad's voice is almost gone, the aftermath of the Nordbank. But it doesn't stop him from croaking into the phone, even in the restaurant.

I enjoy the beach, finally I'm at the sea for a moment, the first time since I landed.

Peanut straw is sold in sacks by the roadside. It's fodder for goats and sheep. If the slash-and-burn farming continues like this, soon there will be no animals left to feed. In the dry season, the animals in the countryside have to find their own food. In the city, they have to be fed.

We are still stopping at our specialised workshop, Buba is still getting paid. He works very hard and now has so many customers that he can no longer manage. Introducing an appointment diary failed. He can't read or write.

I don't seem to be allowed too much holiday. The vehicle for the cement to repair the water basins in Sahadatou is ready. So it's time to go cement shopping. Luckily the price hasn't gone up. The sand is then bought locally.

Last year's group of halligalli roofs is gone, but a spotted gecko has taken up residence. I call them all Charlie. He can also make a lot of noise. The people here say he has to be killed because he's poisonous. It would spit in the food and people would die from it. I did some research at home and there is no poison on or in the gecko. Nevertheless, of course they stick to it. If only they could keep the animals alive. Back at the river, I set off for a walk into the sunset without stopping. Afterwards, I go to Charlie's to continue working on my book.

27. February

Charlie is a lazy sod. If he's going to be there and make noise, he might as well catch mosquitoes. There was only one, but it kept me at bay for 30 minutes. It didn't survive. Sorry.

The night was short anyway, there's something to celebrate in the neighbouring village. Luckily today is a day off. We go to the beach at lunchtime, breathe in the sea air and meet my ‘brother’. He's called me his sister for as long as we've known each other. That's good, one less person who wants to get married. Bakari is one of the most hard-working men I have met in The Gambia. And I now know quite a few of them. I now have to number Buba. Buba1 to Buba 7. Even surnames are constantly repeated here. It works quite well with numbers.

After coffee, we set off. Always towards the rising sun. The water lilies open their flowers in the waterhole and the parrots cuddle in the tree. The termite mound looks like it's giving us the finger. Perhaps he is referring to this unspeakable war that nobody needs. Fatou waits at the side of the road for a free lift. Anyone who has a free seat gives the waiting passengers a lift. She drives to the market to buy food. The shopping bag is a bucket with a lid. It's easy to carry on your head when it's full. The passing mopeds are full of charcoal. They sell it at the market to put a few dalasi back in their pockets.

As Fatou is out and about, I prepare my own breakfast. It's not difficult. Bread, butter, chocolate cream and NO egg. As soon as I had a bite in my mouth, her daughter Penda came running and said I had forgotten the eggs. She made me an omelette.

Grandad won't be here until lunchtime. He took Yaya to the airport during the night after I managed to exchange a few euros for dollars after a long search. Yaya can't do anything with the Gambian currency in Qatar. He only had the equivalent of 5 euros to take with him anyway. He is going to earn money for his family. He wants to work and I'm glad that he didn't take the escape route to Europe. Even if many of our compatriots don't like to hear it. Many refugees from here also ‘only’ want to earn money for their families and don't take the risk because they need a new iPhone. One refugee is now getting married. He met his Gambian bride-to-be on the internet. She will move in with his mother and cook and wash for her. It is unclear when she will meet her husband-to-be. There are now many such marriages. Arranged by the eldest sister. It is quite possible that the Gambians have already married a European woman who is unaware of it. After all, 4 wives are allowed. It is and remains a different world, and we will never fully understand it.

12 o'clock comes the call that the tyre on the car is losing air. I'm no longer surprised and so we set off for my brother's house at 1pm. The joy was huge on both sides. He had a surprise for us. The club logo now adorns his wall, painted by a Gambian artist. As always, his small restaurant is well-kept. There are fresh flowers on every table. A few guests are there to make use of the new sunbeds, far away from the fish factory. Then we go to Bettina, she lives in Gambia and we haven't seen each other for three years. She really lives in the jungle, which is not all good. A spitting cobra, green mamba and a puff adder also wanted to see where she lives. You can really do without this visit. Her cashews will soon be ripe and we make another appointment for next week. On the way home, another vehicle passes by with fresh fish in baskets. The blocks of ice are already melting. The catch will be sold at the market tomorrow. The fish stays fresh, especially now. I now need 3 blankets as it gets cold at night.

Fatou was already waiting with supper.

28. February

A new day with an egg for breakfast, but no walk in the park. The plan was actually to go paddling. New birdwatchers have arrived and they want to go out on the boat, so I'm stepping back and going paddling tomorrow. Then it's off on holiday and to the beach.

Grandad is coming and we're off to Rumba to our school. It was the most expensive building so far, but it turned out beautifully. The joy was huge and it's nice for me to see that everything still works and that the children are grateful to have fresh drinking water. 82 children are taught in 2 shifts. We arrived with pens, chalk and 280 exercise books. The headmistress confirmed that some children do not have any exercise books. The money is missing?

Then we went to the market. I bought onions, oil, rice and sugar privately for several families. The prices have gone through the roof. The quality of the rice has gone down. We had a sample shown to us so that we didn't buy a pig in a poke. Grandad bought me some Nana. A really tasty mint. It went straight home for tea and Charlie went out and explored the neighbourhood.

Then I finally set off in the direction of the bush. I still have to complete my daily 10 kilometres. A different direction again, meeting other people and chatting. I met a man with a machete who was on his way to his wife's garden. He wanted to help her. The ground was being prepared for okra. He works as a soldier for the president, but is also unhappy that his boss does nothing for the poor people. He points to the broken fence. Water is not a problem this time because the garden is on the wet riverbank. I've been walking for three hours and the muezzin is calling, so it's 4.45 pm. I have to think about the way home. I don't want to trudge through the bush in the dark. After several pleasant conversations, I was back at dusk and had spaghetti with beef. Goodbye bush, goodbye colourful birdlife, welcome beach here I come.

1 March 2022

Saying goodbye by paddle boat is a dream. Silence, just nature and listening to the sounds of the birds. ...The German Bird peeks through the bush. It has the colours of our flag, which is why it was renamed. One mahogany tree is still standing. You can only see the stumps of the biggest ones. Yaya Jammeh's rice camp by the river is slowly decaying. The bee-eaters glow in their most beautiful colours. The king fisherman has caught his breakfast. 90 minutes of pure nature. I love it.

Fatou comes back from the shops and tells me that we're having boiled eggs for breakfast today. A change

We say goodbye and drive to the sea. Packing and unpacking. I find things I've been looking for for a week. Marvellous. The lodge is beautiful and lovingly furnished.

After a long walk on the beach, I had fish and chips with my brother.

Now I'll fall asleep with woollen socks and the sound of the sea and wake up tomorrow with a view of the sea. I've made up for everything.

2. March

Goodbye, Gambia. My 23rd trip to this country is coming to an end. Amazingly, I was rid of my suitcases within 5 minutes and am now sitting relaxed in the restaurant enjoying the last rays of sunshine. What conclusions can I draw now? The Gambia has changed, prices have risen and people are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with everyday life. I also think that corruption has increased, although everything should be better with the ‘new’ president. Sure, he can't work magic, but it's simply unacceptable that even the authorities are taking more than is written on the receipt. If you speak out, you simply don't get what you urgently need.

The roads can rarely be described as such and the number of cars has increased. Often real junk cars that want to get from A to B, stinking. We have several earthballs to protect???? The standards are rising here and so is the stench. In addition, hundreds of sand trucks destroy the paths to the beach to get the sand from there. People feel the vibrations at night and have cracks in the walls of their houses. Many trees are missing again so that the next storm will destroy even more.

None of this detracts from the friendliness of the people. I was once again able to get to know many people from The Gambia, but also from other countries. We laughed a lot and enjoyed the great weather. I met friends and was able to take another step towards understanding The Gambia. Grandad is now very patient when I don't understand something. I am very grateful for that. There were very hard, busy days among them, but they are quickly forgotten when the projects bear fruit and you spend the evenings with nice people.

I am happy and am now looking forward to seeing my family and friends at home.

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