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28 October 2014

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Africa Lives

Sohm is well away from the West Coast tourist area of Gambia

Report One

Including an unbelievable welcome, dormitories, washing and cleaning.

What was your welcome like?
Our destination was the remote village of Sohm and the directions were to drive from the Airport up the tarmac road parallel with the river to the end of the tarmac turn right and after about 3 kilometres into the bush you came to the village of Sohm!

With such precise instructions we were quite relieved to be met at the airport by Robin and Carol Mallett of the Jersey Gambia School Trust and some of the Gambian members of their committee. They were leading us to the village until about a mile short we were stopped by a roadblock of about 200 adults and children.

Part of the huge welcome for the Jersey volunteers
Part of the huge welcome for the Jersey volunteers

It took a few moments to realise that this was our welcoming committee. We all got out of our minibus and walked the rest of the way with the villagers, several of them had drums and a lot of the children had two pieces of wood they banged together continuously and everybody was talking, shouting and laughing. The noise was very loud and the welcome was warm and friendly and set the scene for the rest of our stay.

What did you find there?
On our arrival at what was going to be our home for a month we found the builders frantically finishing off! They carried out the last few jobs while we hung our Mosquito nets. The building we were occupying was the first of the four buildings which will eventually form the Skills Centre.

Part of the men's dormitory
Part of the men's dormitory

This building is going to be the accommodation for voluntary instructors at the centre so it was ideal for us. We had a dormitory each for the boys and girls and although there were no beds we each had a mattress on the floor. Each dorm had its own toilet, shower and washbasin, ceiling fan as well as several windows covered in insect proof netting.

The kitchen was equipped with gas cooker, sink, fridge/freezer, plenty of storage and enough tables and chairs for all of us. The village has no electricity supply but we had a generator that we ran for several hours each day so were able to keep the fridge fairly cool and have lights in the evening, we also had use of an electric cement mixer throughout the project.

What about food and washing?
We had decided before leaving Jersey that we needed to employ local people for the domestic work otherwise our time on the site would be reduced. Two local ladies did our cooking, once we had shown them how to use a gas cooker (they had never seen one before) they were brilliant.

They made all the local dishes for us, mainly rice with various sauces including beef, chicken and fish, some days it included a peanut sauce and sometimes a palm oil sauce. We enjoyed every meal though one we all found a bit rich, (a mixture of beef and smoked fish).

We were able to buy quite a lot of our food in the village which provided help for the local people and gave us a good range of fresh vegetables, fruit, groundnuts and bread as well as the occasional chicken (the dawn chorus of cockerels decreased noticeably in volume during the month!)

We also employed a lady to do our washing and she managed to get the building site washing for 12 done every morning in a couple of buckets of cold water and using a packet of Omo.

Local villager Kaddy Badjie hanging out the washing
Does your machine get yours this white??

Our clothes were always immaculate and by teatime every single item from socks up had been ironed (to kill the local bugs) and returned to us. Our two cleaners moved everything in our accommodation every day to reduce the rodent/insect occupation and managed to keep the copious amounts of African dust around the building under control.

One of the Schools trust committee members acted as our “shopper” and came to the site every day for a discussion about menus and ingredients with the cooks and the leaders before going off to do the shopping for us. As men in the Gambia do not generally do shopping he frequently had to ask advice on which shops to go to and pressed his wife into service on occasions.

We had a day watchman who helped keep the children off site during working hours (for safety) and two night watchmen who provided a focal point for the team last thing in the evening with their campfire and green tea ritual. (They also patrolled the area all night).

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last updated: 15/06/05
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