Writing on 10 June…
Wow, now I have to journal our entire time in The Gambia (@thesmilingcoastofafrica, #gambiahasdecided) all at once as we leave this very interesting and optimistic little country. The contrasts with Senegal are very interesting and worthy of about a 10-15 cadet Poli Sci term paper, so I’ll jus touch on those later and briefly.
It goes without saying, though, that our visit here was tremendously impactes by having 1Lt Ali Sumbundu join us for most of our time here. Ali is a 2017 USAFA grad, one of our unofficial sponsorees, a former student of mine (Engr 100 in Fall 2013), and is currently and already serving as the aide-de-camp to the Chief of the Defense Staff (Lt Gen) of the Gambian Army. I can’t put into words how proud we are of this amazing young man.
After finally getting on the road in The Gambia, we stopped about an hour later at a cashew plantation and saw cashews on the trees and laying on the ground with their red “apples” and gray/purplish “nut” connected externally and below. Though I’d seen pictures of them before and read articles about how drink manufacturers in the US were beginning to try to market the juice and other products from the apple, I’d never seen one, much less tasted one.
Augusto explained that they aren’t picked off the tree but rather gathered when they fall--indicating they are ripe. We wiped off one of the fresher looking dropped cashews and I gave it a small bite. The skin seemed loaded in pectins (Moe so than even apple skins) and the meet just burst into sticky, sour juice. It was quite tart, but very tasty. Matt liked it, as did Becky. I think Eddie was the lone dissenter among those that tried it. It seems that cashews are one of the up-and-coming agricultural products in West Africa because of the many uses they have. Augusi told us that the squeezed pulp pressing of the apple are used to make soap and the nut is also ground to a flour for baking. I’ll have to do more research on cashews and see if we can get some juice in the US. I think it would make a great flavor additive for a sour beer at LFBC.
We arrived at the Bari ferry landing and Idi and Augusto got out of the bus to purchase our ticket. Augusto had been in contact with the ferry operator or some intermediary all day and we were quickly driving up the ramp, parked in the queue behind a large concrete pumper truck and another truck loaded with fresh produce. Within five minutes of watching the newly arrived file past us on the lesft, we were driving onto the ferry that could probably hold a half-dozen large trucks or as many as two dozen passenger cars. Two young men with four head of cattle also joined us, pinned to an area in the aft right corner of the parking area.
We climbed out of our bus and made our way to the seating deck from where we could watch the whole show. From the ferry, we could see fishermen and their pirogs along the beach to the west as well as several large freighters in the mouth of the Gambia. Banjul was a misty six or seven kilometers away to the south.
There was a nice breeze that mitigated the sunny, humid conditions somewhat. Two women were selling cellophane-wrapped shortbread cakes displayed on a platter on their heads, while the rest of the passengers checked their cell phones or napped. The cadets bout two of the cakes as a snack and liked them.
The trip lasted about 20-30 minutes and we passed the returning ferry, going to the North shore, along the way. It seemed larger, with three decks and many more passengers. It was also named the Kunte Kinteh.
Arriving at the Port of Banjul, we saw two large ships tied to a pier pararllel to each other with a large Turkish flag and signage indicating that these boats we're essentially a sea-going electrical power plant. An oil tanker was tied next to them, large smoke stacks extended from the western ship, and high tension lines ran directly from one ship to tall towers and, presumably, Banjul’s electrical grid. We’re heard that Banjul was notoriously underserved by reliable electrical power and that this, as well as new power lines from Senegal, we're part of the solution.
A large freighters was tied to one of the piers near our landing as well as a decrepit and rusty river boat and a semi-capsized ship of indeterminate type.
The captain spun the ferry around in the shallow channel, running aground on the beach as he backed the ferry attempting to swing into the gate. We cleared that quickly and we're brought into the ramp straight away.
The ferry unloaded quickly and we were on our way into Banjul. We were going to visit the National Museum of The Gambia that afternoon, but Georgia’s condition and our earlier delays helped us decide that we would skip that.
Along the way to the hotel, Augusto pointed out many landmarks, included the museum, city centre square, various government buildings, etc.
It was about a twenty minute drive to the hotel, during which time it became apparent that the Gambia was somewhat cleaner and marginally more orderly than Senegal. We saw several large businesses, sidewalks and curbs in a better state of repair and significantly less dust, grime, and loose plastic bags and trash.
We stop at a Standard Chartered Bank ATM and several of us got cash before the machine ran out. We got 2000 Dalasi each, about $50 and went to the hotel.
The Lemon Creek Hotel was somewhat difficult to find, down a couple of dirt roads, but then we arrived driving into the parking area that was completely covered in white clam shells. We were very close to the beach with several six to eight room buildings, tile roofs and many flowers and tropical plants as well as a couple of large baobobs.
The rooms were fairly large, with mosquito netting over the bed and air conditioning that wasn’t operating. Each room had a nice balcony with several chairs.
We relaxed, went to the bar and tastes our first JulBrew beer--brewed by Banjul Breweries. We liked it! We also found the wifi fairly effective and used it to communicate with Ali who was arranging dinner for us at a local restaurant with Muhammed Cham, our incoming Gambian cadet.
The cadets walked down to the beach, I caught up with photos and we enjoyed the relaxing afternoon.
Ali arrived with Muhammed at about 1730 and we all had a chance to chat in the bar area. Muhammed impressed us a quiet and very sincere--as well as very young. Ali told us that Muhammed had attended the best technical high school in The Gambia, St Peters, and that Ali had shepherded him and many others through the application process with the help of the US Embassy. He’d put them through weeks of physical training so that they would crush the candidate fitness assessment (CFA). He bragged that Muhammed could do 21 pull-ups and 72 push-ups.
In end end, Ali had gained appointments for three future Gambian officers--two to the US Naval Academy and the second cadet at USAFA. That’s just an amazing feat for a country so small.
We left at 1900 for dinner at the Butcher Shop and arrived about 15 minutes later. It was an impressive, white tablecloth restaurant with a large slate menu on the wall, nice wine selection, and very attentive staff. They proudly displayed all of their TripAdvisor awards on the wall, too.
The owner/manager was a middle-aged man of European descent who walked around with a lit cigar in his mouth.
Augusto joined us for dinner, but Idi went to prayers and had a snack elsewhere. Ali and Muhammed explained that they would be early lightly, planning to return home for a planned larger meal closer to 2200.
I asked the waitress here favorite dish plate and she recommended a whole fish stewed in a tomato garlic sauce with rice and other vegetables. Becky ordered the tuna steak, medium rare and the others picked generally between beef and chicken. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal an the owner made sure we had plenty of bread. Becky and I paid for Ali and Muhammed, while we all split the Augusto’s bill. It cane to about 750 Dalasi for each of the eight of us, or about $17.
We returned to the hotel and we're pleased to find our air conditioner dripping water outside the door, a sign that it was functioning well. We turned on the fan to provide some white noise. Otherwise, the room was comfortable and we slept pretty well, waking just after 0600.
After loading a few more photos and checking social media--plus NCAA track results, I walked on the beach with Ali who’d arrived early. He was happy to have his first day off in quite some time and wanted to spend it with us, touring around Banjul and other parts of the region.
The beach was remarkably clean by African standards with much less plastic trash than many places. There were a few stray dogs that were not aggressive and seemed well fed. They were contact to lay in the cool, wet sand.
Matt and Evan had left just before us and we're getting a workout in, running on the waterline and stopping to do some calisthenics. The breeze was cool and the skies cloudy and hazy at the same time.
During the walk, Ali told me about his situation more and I my admiration for him grew even more. He’s paid a pittance, as are his colleagues, and he received advice from many quarters not to return to The Gambia after completing his degree at USAFA. He’d endured a change of government (for the better) while in his Firsties year and returned anyway, committed to helping his country’s military rebuild the trust it deserved from other branches of government and the civilian population. He said he wanted to come back because his family and everything he knew was here.
However, having spent four years in the US, he was treated quite differently by his peers, superiors, and even friends and family. They considered him 'American,’ and many assumed that he had come back rich from his cadet time. He laughed about this and said that that was a common misperception among Gambians--that everyone who spends any time in the US, no matter what their job, is rich.
He said many Gambians return from the US and feel like they have to prove they were successful there, whether they were or weren’t, by borrowing and spending lavishly on many consumer items and entertaining family and friends. He thought his was sad and misguided.
After breakfast, we loaded up and went to the National Museum of The Gambia in downtown Banjul to start the day.