On one of the mornings we took a couple of Taxi's from the front of the hotel to ‘Seedlings’ School. The school is situated in Manjai, about 3 miles from our hotel. Not one of those taxi's would have passed an MOT test! In fact they were so old, rusty and falling to pieces that we were surprised they would even start. Flat out maximum speed was no more than 20/25 mph. On bumpy dirt roads we did not want to go any faster! As we drove through those unmade streets, more accurately described as tracks, we experienced our first of many culture shocks.
We have been to Africa several times before ( South Africa and Kenya ) and experienced poverty first hand but here it took another dimension. In those other countries ‘the poor’ are, in the main, kept away from the main tourist centres. Here in the Gambia it is all around you. Tumbledown, ramshackle shacks fronting the roads, with compounds behind, housing families up to 40/50 in number. Abject poverty was total wherever we drove. Dust, dirt, heat and nowhere to go for the thousands who live here. No work, no hope.
We visited Serrakunda market. It was packed with people and stretched over several acres. Masses of people selling masses of different things (mostly second hand). The meat and fish markets were a battle with the flies! The smell was almost overpowering and we didn’t think they worried too much about “sell by” dates!
Again, the hospital was a culture shock – little glass in the windows, very limited sanitation, crumbling walls and paintwork and lines of people waiting to be treated. We spoke to nurses but there did not seem enough of them and they were overworked.
Much time was spent praying for healing for the many that were sick or incapacitated. The average life span here is only 53 years and the average weekly wage for a man who can get work is £6. It was still extremely hot and humid. On returning to the hotel on day 4 Judy was approached by one of the gardeners at the hotel who had observed us at our morning worship sessions and asked her how he could become a Christian. His name was Gimme (pronounced Jimmy) and for the remainder of our stay in the Gambia we “adopted” him, giving him a bible and spending time with him. The gardeners were not paid – they lived on tips from guests, carrying their luggage etc. etc. We were hesitant about this relationship to start with but it soon became apparent that he was genuine in his intentions and wanted Christian fellowship in a country that is predominantly Muslem.
We loaded the roofs of our two mini buses with food and supplies and set off just after 7am. Within a short time we were on unmade dirt roads, passing through numerous poor villages. We were stopped by both police and soldiers on numerous occasions. They wanted to know what we were doing and what we were carrying. The drivers slipped them 20 dalasi (about 50p) and we were allowed to carry on. Tired, dusty and thirsty we reached our destination, Tendaba, around mid day. Situated by the Gambia River the lodge we were staying at provided even more basic accommodation than in Kotu but it was situated in a lovely setting. The village however, was dusty, dirty and poverty stricken. We contacted the local head man (the Imam) and that evening provided rice and money to purchase a goat so that we could join the villagers in a “feast”. They were so welcoming and we spent several hours with them, ending up singing songs and hymns outside of their Mosque!
A trip that was a tremendous experience, satisfying and again showing that in this world there are millions of people in need – far worse off than ourselves, deserving of far more than they will ever receive.