A CASE IN POINT

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RANDOM OBSERVATIONS AND ROMANTIC NOTIONS


1992

A full set of seasons have passed and once again I strike out for Africa little knowing my destiny or purpose in life. My second marriage has come to its inevitable conclusion. My career plods on with irrevocable tedium. I have sold little or nothing of my writing in the past twelve months. My painting has lost its ability to thrill.

And yet there is one glimmer of something. Leafing through a book on Mali, a sub-Saharan country to the North-East of The Gambia and Senegal, I came across some pictures of some extra-ordinary people. The men of the Tuareg. Black men wrapped in mysterious turbans with long black arms and erect bodies draped in flowing gowns of simple and unaffected elegance. I could see in their eyes and in their bearing that these men knew who they were and why they were alive. I wanted to stand beside them and look into those eyes. Perhaps I could find inspriation for my own life in them.

I have more time and more money this year. Even if I could just get close and if nothing else, I must find the clothes, and wear the flowing gowns and the handsome virile turbans for myslef. I embark, eager to live again.

30 January

I Come Back: So much has transpired since I was last here in Banjul; I am slightly at sea; so much in my life is unresolved; transient.

The Atlantic Hotel is expensive, touristy without being elegant and is not really what I want; but it is a staging post; a place to gather my wits and get my bearings.

The journey from London was tedious but not particularly uncomfortable.

Yundum Airport was as chaotic as I remember it; but I expected it, so there was no marvel; it took a long bus trip to get from the airport to the Atlantic, the result of meeting a friend of a friend of a friend who was expecting me.

Here and there, along the road, glimpses of the Africa I came to see; tall women in flowing coloured robes, crowned with intricately wrapped turbans, unsteady on high heels but determined to wear them; childish eyes eager for reaction; proud men; dark muscles shining hard against a gold pendant; flitting birds and a renegade monkey in the dry bush.

It is all here; I hope the distance is not too far nor the barriers so high that I cannot overcome them.

31 January

The Day Opens: A soft orange light as the suns seeps through an overcast Atlantic sky; there is something distinctly tropical in the twitter and caw of birds; the continual hum of air conditioning doesn't bother me as much as I might have expected it to; beyond it I hear the cheerful complaining of an African voice; I have not yet arrived ; but I am getting close.

Evening: I have changed rooms and things have changed; the Africans are beginning to work their way through the barriers; Memem has agreed to let me paint her next week and there are other encouraging signs. Over the past year my friend Clive has become bitter and unpleasant; he constantly complains about the Africans; I shall have to be very careful about where this relationship goes, but he did help me arrange for a better price, so I cannot complain too much myself.

1 February

              

The Women: They are black, beautiful and inordinately proud of their backsides; gold shines against their skin, vying with the brilliance of their teeth and the twinkle in their eye to be counted as the most alluring of their charms; these graceful women of Africa smile at me; and I; smile back.

In The Morning: I awoke today to the rapping sound and the dopey chuckle of a yellow- billed bird tapping at my window; I am tired; the circles persist under my eyes; I am like a spring that has been wound too tight and which must be released, slowly; so I sit on my high balcony; level with the treetops and listen to the sweet chatter of the Yellow Weavers and Dusky Flycatchers.

Later: I venture outside the hotel compound for the first time today; it was hot and dusty; two boys insisted on accompanying me; they were both irritating and useful; but that could not be helped. Banjul is ramhackle and chaotic but it has a charm; the red pink earth gives everything a soft of grubby uniformity; I am still tired.

2 FEBRUARY

Tanji - A Forest Awakening: Slight cool breeze; the silhouettes of shadowy palms appear out of the melting night and a Nightingale sings in honour of the coming sun; the chuckle of the doves give the paranoid the impression that the forest is laughing at our inability to find its most secret secrets; at last I have found myself in Africa.

Later In The Day: I have learned the value of a wide brimmed hat; it not only blocks the sun; but it also blocks eye contact and eye contact when you don't want it, is a nuisance; I returned to Serekunda today; the market was in full pelt; a wrecked old mini-bus full of Mandinka; heavy Senegalese music blasting and I'm in the middle of it; shit-faced happy and a long ways from where I come from.

After Dinner: Things are biting me; I nearly shit my pants today; I burst into tears listening to Natalie Cole's rendition of Unforgettable; a thoroughly difficult woman is looming around; Ramata's got acne; I was too early for wrestling; this year's style for African ladies features really bad wigs; I bought a round of expensive drinks for a group of people who didn't need them; I'm having a great time.

It's Not The Way It Seems: It's a matter of bridging two cultures without getting squashed in the middle or excluded from both; the ex-pats live a semi-detatched life; many of the Gambians can't make the connection between delivering the goods and getting the pay-off.

I love being out with the Africans but the balance is going to be hard to find; I want to work as an equal with them; then they go and ask me for my shoes; and it complicates the whole relationship; I have faith that it will come clear in time; the sun will help; the darker my skin gets, the more I will understand and the cheaper things will get.

3 FEBRUARY

              

After The Storm:Huge crashes of thunder and brilliant flashes of lightening disturb a sleep overun by dreams of the past and events unlived; I awoke to a cool overcast day; in spite of the chilly weather strategically placed tourist beach towels claim yet to be occupied sunbeds; the wind whips up the water at the river mouth between Banjul and Barra and pushes a sky full of muddy clouds across the horizon; I will try for the pharmacy and the post office today.

Small Trouble: The peace keeping force that was sent to Liberia during the Civil War has not been paid; they marched on the presidential palace demanding their money; Banjul was tense; tourists were asked to stay inside the hotel; some hours later things returned to normal; but just in case I took a boy from the hotel into town with me; he was bored and so was I; but I found the post office and picked up some vitamins; a holiday locked up in this hotel could get seriously tedious.

Sunset At Abuko: A falcon, dark silhouette against the brilliant sky; Red Colobus monkeys leaping from branch to branch chatter in the trees; the forest is noisy but there are few birds to see; until the sky turns red and suddenly they appear; a quick movement; a trembling in the leaves; then a tiny feathery shadow appears on a cross-hatching of patterns against the sunset; then darkness closes in suddenly and with the darkness an urgency to be back to the hotel.

The Journey Back To Banjul: The return to the hotel is slowed by the surprise appearance of a military road-block on the bridge to Banjul Island and I discover the issue of the unpaid troops is not yet resolved. I am looking forward to seeing Ramata and Martin tomorrow.

4 FEBRUARY

I Remember: On the way to the Sennegambia market; saw Pa Njie; says he'll make me a deal on a room at the Sennegambia Beach Hotel; I laugh and remember the Fulani Princess.

The first thing I saw at the market was a Mauritanian; his head wrapped in a turban of the same purple cloth that the Mali Tuareg wear; I am getting close.

Martin thought my name was Bill, but he remembered everything else about last year; really rather remarkable considering it was only two weeks, twelve months ago; I presented him with the painting of himself in his jellaba that I had promised him from last year and he is pleased; I also brought a copy of the painting of the market and it attracts a lot of attention and laughter; they snatch it from each other's hands and identify the characters. Photos that I have brought of the Mali Tuareg are examined and handled with a hushed respect and a good deal of wise nodding; they know these people; I explain to Martin about the turban and why I am interested in the Mauritanian; he is suspicious but agrees to help me find the material for my own.

Fibbing Is A National Pastime: Ramata has everything; brains, humour, voice, looks; but she refuses to co-operate; she takes great delight in taking everything to the limit; telling fibs is a great national pastime; and Ramata tells more than most.

While I am painting her; the ladies drift in; they are all talking, looking over my shoulder; Elizabeth says I'm making Ramata's lips too big; Ramata's friend points to my picture of the market and says Elizabeth's son Oss's head is too big; Elizabeth thinks she meant that his head was too big in reality; boom; big fight; there's Elizabeth shouting and pointing just like in the picture; life imitates art.

Martin wants me to take him up country; can't do it; too much responsibility; will have to tell him its the insurance.

Heading Back To The Hotel: A big traffic jam in Serekunda is entertaining; as we wait for the police to determine the details of a minor accident, powerful music blasts away on a brilliantly clear stereo; people pass and poke their faces through the open windows of the minibus and say Salam Malekum; we have to go through three armed road-blocks; one rather mean, aggressive looking character wants to know why I'm travelling by local transport and not the tourist taxi; I tell him it's cheaper; that he understands; mind your own business; avoid eye contact.

Safely Back, But Back Where?: The hotel people are relieved to see me back; they don't like me wandering around after dark; Clive just laughs; he's working his way back into my admiration; he's not so bitter nor misanthropic as he makes out; his advice is sound; he suggests we go back into town for dinner.

5 FEBRUARY

Out Of The Cage: As soon as I left the hotel last night the atmosphere of oppression lifted and I felt light and interested and amused; there is something very wrong with the locked in mentality of the hotel compound; the night streets of Banjul were dark and confusing; lovers and youths hung about; the occasional lighted doorway illuminated some small industry such as a tailor or a cigarette shop; I practiced my rusty French on the taxi driver; he laughed but I persevered.

A day of preparation; tedious details; a tedious day; didn't leave the compound and suddenly I was no longer in Africa; it was a heavy lidded day; hard to stay awake; attempted to paint my first bird from life; mixed success; tomorrow will be busy; tomorrow will be better.

6 FEBRUARY

The Laying On Of Hands: I have spent the day touching warm black hands and sharing the pleasure of ebony eyes; I have seen more poverty in the minds and hearts of the middle class than ever I witnessed on the streets and in the compounds of Banjul.

Martin's sister has found my turban material and I will get Madu, the Mauritanian, to show me how to tie my turban; Martin says he will arrange some JUJU to protect me on my journey up country.

The Mauritanians absolutely refuse to allow me to take their picture, to draw or paint them; they are very stern about it; they enjoy my interest in them and encourage me to talk about Allah, Kismet and Mohammed; in short abstract phrases like God is Great; I am absorbing the magic of Africa little by little.

A Compromise: The Mauritanians have agree to show me where they buy their beautiful clothes; it is the only way to take their image back to London with me; besides they look loose and comfortable; all they ask of me is to give up alcohol and pork and continue my interest in Islam; the alcohol will be no problem; I have not had a drink since New Year's Eve 1987.

Stepping Across The Threshold: At Hiceck's, one of the more articulate and encouraging Maritanians, suggestion I purchased a brilliant bubu, a large caftan like garment worn over other clothes, it's a glorious Kingfisher Blue; I plunged into the mix and muddle; suddenly there was a crowd around me wanting to see the pictures of the Tuareg; the Mali Tuareg are a powerful people with a powerful mystic and everyone seemed pleased that I recognised it.

Ida Njie who served the booze at Tendaba last year and who worked as my interpreter, helped me bring the prices down very quickly. I might have used Martin, but Banjul is Ida's turf.

Later At The Market: I spent many hours at the Sennegambia market today and was amazed at the number of people who remembered me and specific conversations that we had last year.

Martin was disappointed that I would not be taking him up country with me; he must stay that way but I felt for him; I will try and make it up to him in some way in the future.

7 FEBRUARY

Banjul: The sun nearly baked Banjul into submission today; 84 degrees in the shade; even the usually mobile dogs only moved with the shadows to stay in the shade; the town was quiet; only the dusty rumbling buses; discards from Germany, Holland and Sweden, destinations they would never see again, Den Haag and Herrenvoreen, still locked in the panel above the driver; they alone move with any sense of purpose or determination.

It's Friday; Muslim Holy Day; my money belt stuffed with cash; sharing out a tiny percentage of my present cash position with the blind, infirm and plain unlucky; they sit around McCarthy Square, not begging but accepting; a grandmother and toddler lean on each other, each pleased that they are in turn too young and too old to have to pursue any business today; I must; there are preparations still to be taken for tomorrow's departure up country.

I am leaving Banjul and the Atlantic tomorrow;I am relieved and looking eagerly to my trip up river; Bonnie, an obnoxious American staying here with what I think is a CIA cover organisation called USAID says she's here to look at what the Gambians are doing with aid money; she called the Atlantic a little oasis; I called it a gilded cage.

A Conversation:

Fatou:'I saw you in Banjul today.'

Me:'Why did you not say hello?'

'You were walking too fast but I knew I would catch up. And see I did.'

8 FEBRUARY

The Journey Of A Thousand Steps: A Giant Egret watches from the shadows of the mangrove and I am on my way, leaving the coast behind and heading up country where the serene peace is broken only by the rustle of the dry grass in the wind. My driver is a young ex-soldier named Lamin; he is silent and efficient and seems to know his business; my only doubt arose when he did not know that the ignition had to be turned on before checking to see if the indicators were working; but I think he will be okay.

On The Road Up River: The Pink-backed Pelicans float lazily above Pirang while a Black Vulture joins them for a look; a Pallid Harrier cruises over the dusty open fields as we roar through Ndemban where old men pass the day on small rough benches under the shade of a Kapok tree and children shout at the passing traffic; parched landscapes in the midday heat and the police cannot even be bothered to move out of the shade to check our credentials.

Angels Up River: We have used the Land Rover to move many people, wood and bundles of material throughout the day; this brings me much pleasure; to be part of the fate of each of these passengers; there was no plan on either part; each act affects the destiny of each party to the play; we started with a single young soldier in full uniform, in the full sweat of the day and carried on from there; he told us they are going to Court Marshal the soldiers who demonstrated over pay last week; it seems that this story is not over yet.

Later: A hawk swings in lazy circles before taking a fish from the cool river as two girls from Tendaba come to sleep next to me in the shade above the muddy bank of The Gambia.

Kiang West At Sunset: We are walking down through the dry grass and trees above the creek at Kiang; I am watching the clouds of Tetse flies swarm around Lamin's head; tall Lamin because everyone's called Lamin around here; it means first born in Mandinka; but if you say Lamin they just seem to know who you mean; I mean Red Lamin; he is a bird guide whom I met at Tendaba last year and liked; he asks me if I will take him to Senegal; everybody wants to go somewhere; even on the spur of the moment.

9 FEBRUARY

Kiang West At Sunrise: A weak sun filters half heartedly through the thin, grey, morning sky and Kiang stirs itself with scant enthusiasm to meet it; only the colourful Sunbirds prepared to begin the day; encouraged, a Yellow-Breasted Canary raises its voice in song and this is the signal that the morning is truly ready to commence; a Bush Dika skulks through the underbrush but all that is seen is a movement of dry grass and all that is heard is the rustle; and with this activity the 'Testy' flies come out to plague every moving creature.

An Abbasynian Roller stakes his claim to a perch with a clear view of a fallow rice field; his soft blue belly is set off by a heavy black streak sweeping back from the eyes and finishing on the tips of the wings and the long sweeping forked tail; the contrast is only softened by the faun coloured coverlets and epaulets of the wings.

10 FEBRUARY

Back On The Road: We arrive in Soma; there is no petrol; we do not have enough to get to Basse; we have to cross the river at Yelli Tenda to try for fuel at Farafenye; even if we waited at Soma there are so many others waiting, there is no guarantee that we will get any; but there is no upset among the people here; while they are not all jolly and cheerful, they simply wait patiently at Soma while we are fortunate enough to have sufficient fuel to try for Farafenye.

Later: Success; we found petrol; hand pumped as Farafenye did not have its electricity turned on; but we now have a full tank plus two jerry cans; one of which is leaky but repaired (we hope); Lamin keeps looking at it with some concern; we are heading back across the river and plan to make Basse tonight and Senegal tomorrow; before our money runs out; the Gambia is a big slow river.

Early Evening: If a place could be described as the end of civilisation, that place would be Basse; we reached this dishevelled, ramshackle town after miles of burned out countryside; occasionally broken by extraordinary sights such as a solidly built Short-toed Eagle lifting itself out of a leafless tree and a family of hideous Maribou Storks lounging about on clumsy nests in a young Baobob tree; but the day reached its climax when cresting a hill after a long straight piece of road a green oasis of a valley stretched out below us; Jakhally Madina; its lushness set off to perfection by twin, pure white spires standing unbowed in the blistering heat; testimony to the strength of Islam.

Later: Lamin brought his brother and friends around for to visit me at the small bungalows where I found a room for the night and caught me in my old black Moroccan caftan; I rushed in and put on my new blue one; now they are calling me Ali G; there is much laughter as Luma sucks her teeth; censuring our disrespect for tradition in a most universally feminine manner; we are just silly boys in her opinion.

I sign off today with Reggae blasting in one ear and the generator driving it in the other.

11 FEBRUARY

Dawn And Fresh Doughnuts: Breakfast is a loaf of fresh french bread; a bottle of Malta, a 'health' drink of such dubious quality that the ingredients are not listed, and fresh doughnuts.

We approach the border of Senegal; it is a series of shacks where one by one, your documents are stamped and you are relieved of your money; not too much money as it happens; and the gentlemen who tend to the business are exceedingly polite and friendly; especially the one wearing the deep shades; it's 09:00AM and he has a baby on his lap; he complains that he applied for a visa to Canada and was refused; he would like to know why; I tell him that I don't know and it was things like that that made me want to leave Canada and live in London. He nods sympathetically and stamps my passport.

Once we cross the border there are very few cars and wisps of cotton hang on the trees and cover the grass like soap suds; we are in a new country; so the signs tell us in French.

Lamin does not watch things as carefully as he should; missed a stop sign; we were stopped by a police officer with a whistle and a serious pair of shades; he didn't have a car or a telephone, but we stopped anyway and suffered a lecture; it cost us 3000 CFAs(the Senegal currency); missed a road; cost us 60km; then missed the entrance to Nikola Koba; but I didn't.

I have nothing to complain about; after rattling around in the Land Rover for hours I have seen many animals; Baboon; Bush Pig; Gazelle; Impala; Cob Antelope; thousands of Guinea Fowl; soldiers and children walking to school together hand in hand; the bush; the deep green upper reaches of the Gambia; emerald forest and a three legged stool carved out out of a single piece of wood.

The day finishes with a surprise; a delicious piece of fish on a bed of spaghetti; and this out in the bush 30km from the nearest paved road; the same road upon which we saw one other private car(broken down) and a few public vehicles (all packed to the brim); Lamin must sleep with the Land Rover tonight; there are several people stranded here in Siminti without petrol; a commodity is never more in need of protecting than when it is necessary and scarce.

12 FEBRUARY

Dawn At The Mirador: A Bush Pig wanders out of the tall grass and shambles along the edge of the water hole; standing out in dark silhouette against the strengthening light of the morning, a flight of geese takes to the air in a flutter of wings and complaints; the Bush Pig kneels to nibble on the shortest, sweetest grass, his tusks grow out of a distorted face, knarled and knobbled by huge warts; the startling ultramarine wings of a Blue Bellied Roller catches the corner of my eye.

After the total revulsion of having to defecate in the pitch dark of a western style toilet that had not been flushed in several days due to lack of water, I resolve to use the Muslim toilets from here on in.

Later - In The Bush: A light rain does not keep the Bee-eaters from their morning meal; a Kestrel whips around the lead grey sky with incomparable ease; a Lizard Buzzard sails away; the Hippos rise to the surface of the slow moving green water and blow; flicking their ears they quickly sink back below the surface as an African Fish Eagle floats along the tree lined bank; its brilliant white head and rich copper brown dressing of feathers hardly stirring with the effort; on the opposite bank a troop of Green Vervet Monkeys hassle an irritated bird until it is forced to flee but the Spotted Antelope feeding on the soft leaves overhanging the river are unimpressed by their antics.

Later: Coated in dust we return to the deserted, derelict hotel where we are camped and to a lunch of fish, potatoes and rice prepared for us by the woman who does all the cooking; one bowl, three spoons; one for Kali our grizzled diminutive guide; one for Lamin; one for me; delicious; although I am not as expert at de-boning the fish as the other two.

Afternoon Becomes Evening: The African Crested Cranes and the fighting Cob Antelope were the highlights of a long enjoyable afternoon painting at the waterhole when suddenly a huge flock of fifty or sixty Guinea Fowl which had been browsing aimlessly along the edge of the clearing took flight and disappeared into the forest edge; I pulled my glasses into the air and circling above; a pair of magnificent hawks; soaring effortlessly while all chaos broke out amongst the smaller birds on the shallow lake; Nessum Dorma had simultaneously reached its climax on my walkman (an essential appliance for the bushman); all I could say was....'Wow!'.

'Wow!' was the most important word I learned in Africa. It is the Wolof word for 'awright'. It works for yes, hello, thank you, please stop and Wow.

And Then Into The Night: I visited the riverside where the Africans bath; though I could not join them for fear of 'systematises', a dangerous water carried tropical disease, but I shared in the relaxation and the humour of the occasion and was most impressed with the vigour and thoroughness of their sudsing; white teeth and black glistening bodies.

Everyone enjoyed ridiculing the man trying to catch fish with a casting net right in the middle of their ablutions.

There were more lessons of etiquette and stories of fish yet to come; the toddling son of the main camper, who seems to have no official function but a lot of power, pressed his tiny face between the legs of the three wise men sitting around the fire; he suddenly poked his stick into the glowing coals and pulled out a small fish that he had been roasting; I jerked thinking he would burn himself, but he just went about the task of filleting out the bones with his tiny fingers and tucking the meat into his mouth; a beautiful child; the fire surrounded by the Wolof tongue and the insects coming alive, in the night that is closing around us like some strange experimental music.

13 FEBRUARY

You Must Be Able To Hold The Lion's Tail Before You Can Tame Him: We awake very early and wolf down cold rice and ground groundnuts for breakfast; suddenly we are surrounded by the other campers; they want some of our petrol; a white woman, a Peace Corps worker stranded at Siminti, wants us to take her with us; I cannot take the only other white person and leave everyone else; I am not even tempted; she got herself there; I suggest we take Kali out instead; he promised the others that he would tell the Park Rangers at the Gate some 20 km away that Siminti needs petrol.

The compromise is accepted in good humour, somebody could walk out anyway; but departure was delayed by car trouble (which Lamin fixed in the dark); the tension was evident, but I remained calm; Lamin kept looking at me for reassurance; I was not nervous and he soon calmed down also; suddenly the motor burst into life and Lamin's quick, broad smile showed his enormous relief.

It was not so much that we were in any danger, but there is great relief that we have avoided an uncomfortable situation and still have enough petrol to get us back to The Gambia; Lamin admits he does not like Senegal much.

Etiquette: Never leave your spoon in the eating bowl.

Caution: Sleep with your spare petrol near you.

Back In The Bush: The trek through the West side of Nikola Koba started off slowly but a surprise encounter with a very large Elan was just the beginning of what was to become a glorious parade of wildlife that included a marvellous view of a group of five hippos floating about contentedly, a particularly gnarled Bush Pig with two huge tusks, a Lizard Buzzard being mobbed by a dozen Senegal Wood Hoopoes, dazzling Blue Abbasynian Rollers in burned out forest landscapes dominated by greys, Burnt Sienna and Ochres.

The moment we rounded a long bend, there, in the middle of the road, a lioness; and unexplainable; an expression on her face very different from any captive cat; Lamin wanted me to put down my binoculars and take a photo; but I refused; I kept her locked in my binoculars as long as I could; he's banging on my arm; Kali (not expecting to see any lion at all) scrambled into the cab of the Landrover warning that there would be others around; but no matter how hard we looked, once she had faded into the tall grass and shrubs with a free and easy gait; there were no others to be seen.

Out Of The Bush: The journey back to Basse was a mixed bag of tricks; an argument with Kali over his fee; finding a shop full of wonderful things in a small town near the border called Tambacounda and only having enough money to buy one wonderful blanket; and Lamin straining at the bit to get back home like a horse scenting his stable; he couldn't wait to get back to the border; his speed picking up all the time; and the border guards equally happy to see us back safe, demonstrated their relief.

I did not appreciate how nervous they had all been; but looking back on it; during the three days we covered some 300km and we only saw one soldier or police officer; and he was on foot; there were very, very, few other vehicles on the road; I was not capable of communicating in either Wolof or French to any degree of sophistication; and yet I never feared for my safety nor fretted over my position once.

Back At Basse: Lamin has come back with adventure stories that he has already begun to regale his friends with; after lunch which included a conversation with a local artist who is trying his best to paint with brushes he has made himself with donkey hair; they do not work very well.

I am exhuasted but contented and have taken a shower and retreated to the pleasant solitude of my books and my own company.

14 FEBRUARY

Valentine's Day: The day is gloomy; rain is spattering the dust; money is getting low; hundreds of Egrets that roost in the huge Cotton tree in town sailed overhead in beautiful formations making their way to the bush where they will follow the cows, picking off insects that are stirred up by the restless feet of the miserable browsing beasts.

Lamin and I sit in a rickety little restaurant waiting for the fire to be made and the girl to run to the store before we can have our coffee and bread; the rain patters on the tin roof; a coca-cola(warm) is brought to tide us over; this will be a slow day.

It's Valentine's Day; we have been picking up the best looking women that we can find and explaining the meaning of the day; they roll their eyes and look at us sceptically; the day has remained subdued; overcast; but full of pleasure; every time we stop, Lamin meets someone he knows.

Georgetown: Men dressed as trees jump to the sound of drums; Kon Kor On; across the river the inane chatter of Americans having an American lunch; it's been a long drive from Basse; the bell clangs across the still air that hovers over the slow river; it calls the small children to gardening school; if a child refuses to hear; there is a penalty; but the sound is deep and mellow and friendly; couscous doughnuts and succulent oranges satisfy our hunger and seeing another monkey has become like seeing another child.

In a quiet moment Lamin recounts his principles for living; have self-confidence; understand the viewpoints of others; make friends of all; admit when you are wrong; never criticize others in public.

Later: Dinner is Benchin, simple rice and fish; but how much more savoury it was to share it with Lamin; two spoons and one bowl.

Dead Of Night: We have just returned from a journey through the darkness of Georgetown; there is no power and the ferry is waiting for parts; everyone is hopeful that there will be power tomorrow.

It is the last day of the big village circumcision ceremony; I was taken to see the boys; I felt unclean; I felt that I was an intruder; the drumming thunders behind the tapping of the rain on the tin roofs; occasionally gunpowder is ignited with a bang; there is much laughter beyond the tin door which closes me off from the compound; Lamin reminds me that we have lived six nights without electricity; but I have not missed it until tonight; for Georgetown is dark; a darkness that I do not understand.

The Drums: It is hours later; the drums have now become like a waterfall; an endless waterfall crashing next to my head; there is singing; Lamin dropped me back at the residence some time ago and has not returned; I feel he had a reason for doing so; perhaps it would be dangerous for such an obvious outsider as myself to be out on the darkened streets on such a night as this; but he will not tell me; these things are simply sensed; not spelled out in detail; much of what happens must be taken on trust; it could be that he is also an outsider and did not wish to be seen as such; I shall probably never know; but the drums and singing and the tremendous bangs are tempting.

I would love to get lost in the frenzy that goes on and on with the drums; ba da ba da boom; ba da ba da boom; But I cannot be; not now; probably not ever; this is a tradition that cannot be trifled with; it is not for the dilettante or dallier; life here is too serious for that; so I lay here beneath my mosquito net behind the corrugated tin walls of the compound and scribble and speculate about the mysterious rhythm and the high wailing of the voices and wonder why there are still some places in this world where I may not go.

15 FEBRUARY

Awake With A Bang: I awake to silence; it is peaceful and the smell in my room is of warm rain and Africa; there is the gnawing sound of a rat trying to eat its way into a bag of rice that is stored at the foot of my bed; I scare it away; but as soon as I drift back to sleep; it comes back; I spent the early hours of the morning with the candle burning.

There is a bang; the drums start again; the morning sun is weak but there are indications that the strong sun will return later; Lamin is grumpy; he is arguing with everyone; we have coca-cola, boiled eggs and fresh bread for breakfast and head for Kundung.

The hardest thing about this morning was thinking about cleaning myself after defecation with my finger and sand (one West African Muslim technique); I used the toilet paper that I had brought from Bakau.

The second was trying to sleep through another night with a mosquito coil; but one look at my ankles is testimony that I must; they are a welter of bites; nasty itching bites.

Later: Back at Tendaba; Lamin and I are getting on each other's nerves; I've given him the afternoon off; I had to ask him to make do with short money today; we are running low and he cost me yesterday with some bad decisions; we'll see if this ends in tears after all.

Upon reflection, I forgot to say that Georgetown is a fleabitten, mosquito plagued, rat infested, ramshackle pile of junk; I have no interest whatsoever in returning there; and I've got a slight case of the shits; and the Americans that I managed to avoid in Georgetown have caught up with me here in Tendaba; I've locked myself in my room hoping its all just a bad dream.

16 FEBRUARY

I Feel It Coming: It is the impending full moon; I feel it coming; I sat under it last night and felt the lunar craziness soaking into me; there was heavy mist over the river and the moon made everything glow silver; as always up-country there were drums and the slap-slap rhythm of hand clapping from a party in a compound some way up the river.

Yassim calls me to the riverbank; soft flirtatious eyes; alive with promise; gold tooth gleaming in the weak light; I cannot say that I did not enjoy her presence; but there was nothing here for me; I felt suspended; waiting for something; in the end it was only my bed and the buzz and bite of the mosquitoes and only the thin shield of the net between me and another skin full of itching bumps.

In The Morning:Dawn comes and luckily we are spared Willie's usual early morning marching music; the Americans are already on their bus impatiently waiting for their driver; desperate to go in search of air conditioning and insect repellent.

Lamin nearly broke up some ignorant German woman's video recorder; she caught him on his way to the morning shower and started the tape rolling; what reasonable interest she could possibly have had in a video of Lamin going to his shower was beyond me; I cooled the situation but had to let Lamin drive like a demon for an hour in order to relieve his frustration; I am coming to hate video recorders, especially in the hands of tourists.

We pass a long stream of horsecarts heading for the market; when we stopped for a breakfast of boiled eggs and bread and vile, oily fish cakes and a chunk of bread that had something unrecognizable smeared on it which I tossed on the ground; sheep fought over it; one of the market women commented on my ignorance and bad manners; I had to apologise to Lamin; he was gracious in his acceptance.

Later: We are now in a small village called Bintang; we are staying in the compound of an old army friend of Lamin's; this is his day off out of the ten day tour; it is a beautiful place full of generosity and curious children; we share an argument; nobody wants to tell Lamin where his friend lives; they thought we were army looking for him; but after the exchange of some cigarettes and some laughter about women and marriage and a bag full of oranges, we are told where we might find him.

The Men At TeaThere is a hum in the village of Bintang; the murmur of children at play; the chatter of women who have gathered at the corner to gossip; the rumble of men grumbling about the government; drinking tea; slurped with heavy delight; brewed three times; the third being the best; poured with great dexterity to create a sweet froth; there is no sound of traffic for there are no cars; the bleat of sheep and goats; the chuckle of scratching chickens; a wobbly tape cassette playing beat music; on this particular occasion sounding like a 45 playing at 78; but surprisingly it's not irritating.

It's been an easy Sunday; easy hospitality; the easy smile; the easy laugh; the curious stare; the quick excitement of the children; the left handed toilet with no privacy and no shame; an easy day.

Sunglasses In The Moonlight: Endless cups of strong Muslim tea; poured glass to glass under a pure silver moon that lights up the compound with a clarity that is reflected in the sparkling eyes of two little girls who are delighted by the deep 'two-bob&' voice that says 'Hello bebe'

Lamin has said he would like to go to Timbuctu; I am excited by the prospect; I know now that my meeting with the Mali Tuareg will have to wait; I was not ready; I needed this trip as a test; now I have found a partner; we are reacting and thinking instinctively together; he is full of direct wisdom.

'I do not think about food,' he says. 'I eat it.'

Know A Man By His Friends: Mouboudo, Lamin's friend, is testimony to his judgement in character; as the men and women sit separately in the moonlit compound, I watch the tea being made yet again; marijuana being rolled into giant spliffs; (Lamin has told them not to offer me any, he is nervous about me blabbing and him getting nicked for corrupting a tourist); they respect his wishes; I later suspect this is why he left me and took off into the night at Georgetown.

The women in the candlelight next to me burps her baby by beating out a rhythm on its back; an adoring elder child yawns at my feet; an infant crawls into my lap and falls asleep.

17 FEBRUARY

Morning In Bintang: A cock crows.. a donkey brays.. strong white teeth gnaw a stick of cassava; children sit next to an open fire waiting expectantly for their pot of porridge to boil (rice and groundnut powder topped with chilli and palm oil 'Bahal'); the sun is orange and clear; Lamin is grumpy but we are now used to each other; I am slowly acquiring some small understanding of the correct etiquette in situations; the guest of honour must go to bed before the host can go to bed; while the guest of honour is still around, the neighbours can still stop by; it means if I don't go to bed, the party goes on and on; I went to bed late and everyone is a little worse for wear this morning; but we are on our way; not having gone far, we begin greetings of Lamin's many relatives; shaking of hands and exchanging small talk.

We ate Ryvita from the dry rations for breakfast.

'Like eating cardboard,' I said; Lamin laughed and we shared the rest of the packet among the passengers who also thought it was a good joke; I took another drink of water from the same bottle as Lamin.

Dreams Have Meaning: For some reason the huge albino, one-eared pig snuffling around in the garbage outside the grocery store in Soma sticks at the centre of my dreams; it was the same grocery store that tried to sell me bottles of purified water that had been refilled from the taps; lucky I remembered a similar mistake in Mexico; lucky I checked the seals.

The giant Kapok tree in Pirang is called Bantang; its huge buttress roots might have been the inspiration for a Gothic church; they twist away from the main trunk, throwing huge gnarled roots twenty or thirty metres into the surrounding ground; the branches rise thick and majestic, thirty metres into the sky; they are alive with birds and lizards and a great nest of bees; cradled in the shade of its tremendous trunk are lesser trees that thrive under its protection and a huge termite nest that is reduced by the comparison of scale to nothing more than a tiny pile of sand; a Warbler sings its praise with sweet morning song.

Later: I have learned the story behind the rag-bag western clothes that seem so popular here; well meaning charitable organisations bring barrels of discarded clothing from Europe, mostly that which has not sold at the charity shops; and the Gambians, too polite not to accept a gift; accept them; although Mou'dou confides most of the time the styles are not to everyone's taste; but once accepted; well; used.

Crossing The Threshold Of The Full Moon:Back to civilization; everything is so busy back in Serekunda; so much is moving all at the same time; back to speaking plain English; with English people; I am feeling displaced; the cultural gap is too wide for me to melt into the fabric of Gambian society; not to mention my whiteness will always mean that I will be 'Two -bob'; and the English are mithering, narrow and prejudiced; those that spend too much time here become so limited that the dimensions of their conversations stretch no further than complaining about the native population of the country to which they chose to immigrate.

At the same time the desperate hustling of the Gambians also limits relationships.

Tomorrow is Independence Day and I have decided to demonstrate my independence by wearing my full Mauritanian outfit to the celebrations; if I will for carnival in London; why not here?

18 FEBRUARY

Independence Day: Up before dawn; awakened earlier with spontaneous nose bleed; spent most of the night with toilet paper jammed up my nose; decided to wear only jellaba and caftan; haven't got the turban right yet; right decision; jellaba and caftan hard enough; there is a struggle going on among the people over to wear traditional dress or to move to modern, western dress; I was very conspicuous; half the Gambians were pleased and impressed with my ability to find the genuine clothes; even if they are Mauritanian; the other half were embarrassed and laughed; sometimes unkindly; however, the name Ali G. has certainly stuck.

The StadiumChildren; so many bows, so many plaits, so many pairs of clean white socks on skinny legs; so much colour; so much anticipation; so much standing in the sun; it is a hot morning; the President is late; little knees start to wobble; there is some fainting; the march past is joyous; proud parents applaud; proud brothers and sisters yell encouragement; so many beautiful girls; so much vanity; so many different hair styles; and who else could wear an evening gown at eleven o'clock in1 the morning but an utterly innocent taste; so utterly innocent; and so much of it; when the President got up to speak; most people started to leave; we did also.

Hanging Around The Compound: Hand over hand a young girl pulls water from the well; budding breasts flexing against the weight of the bucket and the water; a baby covered in soap suds is dowsed in a cascade from a tin can; little black eyes blinking; twin gold hoops gleaming beside each chubby cheek; a quick blow in each ear and a swing from mother's arms to shake the water off; huge succulent papaya; chilli, chicken and rice; Lamin and I laughing; cheap, tinney stereo trashing; but it sounds O.K.; more people to meet; more tea to drink; this time each glass is accompanied by a small piece of delicious french bread; I'm developing an acceptably sophisticated slurp.

Back At The HotelI'm going back to Africa; can't stand it here any more; I just wish I could find somewhere in between; language is a big barrier.

19 FEBRUARY

Warm peanuts; cold soda: A sleepy morning; Banjul moving as if in slow motion; the day continues relaxed and easy; found a new place; will move tomorrow; my turbans are getting better; Madu showed me a new trick; all is well.

In The Bird Garden: Spent a quiet morning in the bird garden with Clive; he is suffering from narrowing horizons; his conversations with the ex-pats all narrow down to the same complaints about the Gambians; the same conversations; over and over and over and over; on the other hand; the tourists are all two week relationships that swing round and round in the opposite direction; how wonderful everything is; how colourful; birds; how long, yak,yak,yak; conversations that go nowhere; now suddenly he has met a woman and everything is different; his optimism has returned and he laughs more.

20 FEBRUARY

Back To Africa: After yesterday's long uneventful but relaxing day, I am on my way back to Africa; Martin is coming to collect me; he is late but it is not a problem for the moment; everyone wants to know where I am going; what I am doing; I am only just beginning to acquire the techinque of letting people know that my business is not their business.

Martin To The Rescue: I've delivered myself into the hands of Martin and he has led me to a small round hut in a beautiful garden where glorious red flowers climb on green leafy tendrils on the conical thatched roofs and the Warblers and Canaries sing outside my window.

Getting Their Money's Worth: The wise and experienced man who is my host explained to me that the tourists who populate the big hotels are mostly working class Europeans who want the sun and black servants; there is nothing to be done but to take their money; I am inclined to agree with him; I shall not miss the sight of cellulite dimpled , porquine bodies turning red under the intensity of the sun nor the sound of flushing toilets as their guts drop out of their backsides after they've gobbled greedily at the feeding trough so quaintly called; The Buffet.

No further news on the fate of the protesting soldiers but the President Jawarah has called an election; the outcome seems in no doubt.

Roughing It: My accomodation is a small round hut; the electricity is basic, a bare lightbulb; I will have to live with candles; I am also some way off from everything, but a fish man comes by everyday calling his customers to look over the catch; there is a tiny kiosk that sells drinks, sweets and tobacco; a little further exploration and I find a snack bar where a sweet tempered, mountain of a woman call Ramu will make you an omlette and some chips; she also has beefsteak and lots of people just drop by to pass the time of day; Ramu does all the cooking on two small calor gas burners; and does it well.

As darkness falls a cold wind comes up; it bangs the shutters and feels not at all like tropical air; I guess it must be coming from the North off the Atlantic; It would probably be a good day for beachcombing; but I don't trust the beach.

Breaking Down: Things are starting to wear out and break on my luggage; I'm running out of money; it will help that I've moved into cheaper, although better, accommodation, but the trade off is now I have become very wary of getting ripped off; especially for the gold pendant and Dogon mask and for my book of paintings; at least my rent, my plane ticket and my credit cards are safe at the Atlantic; I am aware of the irony of keeping my means of returning to the society that I hold in such slim affection at the heart of that society; but things on the SenneGambia coast are different; there is a more exciting, more dangerous, less predictable atmosphere.

21 FEBRUARY

Kololi: After a cold, windy night, a chilly, cloudy morning; Martin is pleased; it means that more tourists are likely to leave the poolside and visit the market; I chose very badly with the music I brought; at least from the Africans point of view; opera, folk, Van Morrison; the Africans are not interested at all; as I sit in the fruit garden a jubilant Canary is trying to compete with John Lennon on the Walkman; at the moment Lennon is winning.

Shopping At The Market: Martin's sister teaches me a trick; if you want to buy a piece of jewellery; buy the one you see the seller wearing; it's more likely to be genuine; I did; it was a small gold map of Africa.

Bijilo: The sound of the forest is the sound of things dropping from the trees; dead leaves; seeds; bits and pieces discarded and dislodged by the birds, monkeys and the wind; a Red Colobus explores the canopy of a leafless tree; his long ginger coloured tail dangling in the skeletal branches; his nimble fingers finding food where none is apparent; the air is filled with the music of Chanting Goshawks as a pair wheel over the tall, clattering Ruhn Palms and a Shirka sits quietly; his grey plummage setting off a brilliant ruby eye and corn yellow cere on the upper part of his beak.

Rush Hour In Banjul: Bus-taxi full; streets full; dust caked children run amok; chickens peck amongst the trampling feet; a sheep wanders aimlessly; a kitten dodges cars; or rather the cars dodge a kitten; women walk as women walk; their Muslim Friday finest; splendid; topped by matching turbans stylishly twisted around their clean black hair; outrageous lips made more outrageous by vivid lipstick; and they stroll in the chaos; everything is moving; and I pass unnoticed.

Old Faces, New Ideas: Haddie and Ousan, both of whom I met last year have turned up unexpectedly; curious co-incidence as Ousan brought me to tears last year; a disturbed child; a warm hug and I was leaving The Gambia a different man from the man who came; this year he did not recognise me; I did not remind him.

Haddie, last year a child at Tendaba, has become a woman; she recognised me; she was warm and lovely and we laughed about the night I danced with the women of Tendaba; I told her that I did not dance this year and she laughed; she says she will come on Tuesday afternoon to be painted; there is still so much to do; and so little money to do it with.

Back To Ramata: Ramata tricked me out of some soap, some shampoo, twenty-five Dalasi and a watch; I am very angry with her; but she is very clever and knew exactly how to use my vanity and stupidity against me; but I cannot feel too aggrieved as it all represented such a small amount of money and it isn't as if she is living high or anything; she had to give up her baby for adoption; she is bad; I know that; everybody knows Ramata is bad; but she is one of my favourites; she knew me well; she knew exactly how to get under my skin; and she disappointed me; that's it for Ramata; I paid my dues.

22 FEBRUARY

Early Morning, Too Early: Only the women collecting the morning water are up and around; they balance huge plastic tubs on their heads; not so steadily as later in the afternoon; the ever present chickens scratch around; doves and pigeons make lots of noise and a gentle sun silhouettes the Ruhn Palms.

It's back to the bush today with Clive; south to the Casamance region along the Senegal border; it is too early for the hustlers, so my walk down to my rendezvous with Clive is gentle and easy.

I have become very much a day-time person; awake by 7:00AM; asleep by 10:00PM; my diet has become very simple; my need to eat; substantially diminished; the hardest thing is to live without hot water; although I have pretty well mastered the method of getting myself clean with a bar of soap and a bucket of cold water; it's all a matter of getting the squat and splash technique under control.

I count the days I have left here by the number of Malaria pills I have left.

In Darkest Africa: No moon; no generator; no power; no light; writing by candle-power; waiting for Martin; we are going to the Yossu N'Doir dance in Bakau; I'm fighting off a headache; it is pitch black outside; been up since early morning rattling around Casamance with Clive looking for birdlife; saw every species of Roller, African Crested Cranes in flight, a Senegal Kingfisher; or was it a Blue Bellied; I can't remember which; and seventy other species including Chestnut Bellied Starlings and Temmick's Coursers; two rarities; but Clive's Coupe de Grace; a Spotted Honey Guide.

He asked me what I thought; I said, 'Small bird, brown-greenish;spotted.'

He arched his eyebrows.

I tried again, 'Like enjoying a vintage bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape?'

Like having a whole cellar full of it.' he asserted. Only seen it four times in seven years of looking.'

What do I know about birds?

God Is Great: Yossu N'Doir and his band played at the stadium; got there by taking chances; picked up by a strange car covering in twinkling lights; it came alone out of the darkness; when it turned off the main road into a dirt track I thought we might have a problem; we were totally vulnerable; but I was not worried; I have come to believe what is written is written; I sat back and enjoyed the loud music that was pounding on the stereo fully aware it could easily be the last music I would hear; there was no problem; they dropped us at the door of the stadium where the dance was being held; I gave them a small premium over the agreed price of the ride; Martin admitted to me that he was very nervous and that he was glad that I was with him.

At The Dance:The music is cool; the people you see on the streets are the same as those you see at the dance, but they are different; dressed to the nines; exotic make-up, draped in jewelry, gold and costume; it's cold but they dance in unfaltering rythym to a band that plays for six hours and doesn't flinch; the people are very courteous and everyone made sure I was always attended and I danced until my legs ached.

Talking About People: It is proper to tell someone if you are talking about them; I remark on the particular beauty of a woman to Margaret: much to my embarrasment Margarget calls her over and tells her that I said she was beautiful; the woman looks at me somewhat amused and tells me her name; my cheeks are burning but I mumble something stupid and can't follow it up; she stands there awkwardly for a few minutes then walks away; I am relieved.

Tribal markings on many young women; 'twenty two' is 11 plus 11; two marks on each cheek; just under and to the outside of each eye; I must learn it; so many beautiful women; so much to learn about them.

23 FEBRUARY

The Birds Still Sing In The Morning: A cock crowing just a few feet from my head does not care that Yossu N'Doir played last night and we are all tired; I'm tempted to go to see the Pope who is at the stadium today; I will have to wear my African clothes; my teeth hurt; too many sweet drinks; it is a new day; my adventure last night gave me a sense of freedom and mobility; I feel not so much a stranger.

Like Gassim Walking: Striding through the schoolchildren who await the arrival of the great man; I am in my flowing oyster-shell white outfit; a pure white dolphin playing in the bowbreak of Africa; deep blue, white trim, black caps of plaited hair adding to the illusion; seeing me dressed all in the white Maritanian clothes they think that I am part of the Pope's party; it isn't until a young man leaning against a wall nods knowingly at me and I answer with a friendly 'Howdy' that they realise I'm just a crazy 'two-bob' and there is much good natured laughing and pointing of fingers.

Eating Oranges Like Making Tea Is An Art: Select the brightest white peeled oranges; they are the cleanest; take a sharp knife; slice one end to create a lid; using your teeth, skin from the inside out; spit the seeds into your left hand; when pith is turned completely inside out, redeposit the seeds in the pouch formed by the empty pith; close lid; place somewhere discreet.

Waiting For The Great Man: A hat is created by stuffing the ends of a handkerchief into each ear and the crowd listens patiently to the strains and rhythms of a Scots reel played badly by a military band; a Gambian banner in national colours is belatedly draped among the many Vatican banners all hung neatly; the Gambian banner looks forlorn and bedraggled.

The Catholic Father finally arrives to waving white handkerchiefs and shouts of 'Assea Papa Assea'; after a few minutes of tedious ritual, I leave; there is something about religious gatherings that make me feel uncomfortable, like an outsider.

I Have The Treasure; Now To Get It Home:I jingle when I walk; pocket full of brass bells ; I feel like Ali G and when I am stopped and asked if I am Muslim, I admit that I am not; I am told that I should not be wearing their clothes; I say that I am sorry but that I do not drink, do not smoke, do not eat pork, drink tea and had more than one wife, and I have seen and touched the boys of the 'KonKoron'; so I must be getting close; Allah must at least understand my intentions; I am told with a smile that under the circumstances it is O.K.; I am grateful.

Later: I roll in the waves off the Sennegambia beach as Terns fall from the sky all around me, stabbing for fish in the surf.

24 FEBRUARY

Lighter Than A Hat: Tied my first successful turban last night in both the light white cotton and the heavy purple Mauritanian material; when a turban is tied correctly it is light on the head; lighter than a hat; but there is still a lot of bulk to get used to; it will take a lot more practice before I can do it without a struggle.

Morning Has Broken: And so has everything else; now to add to the inconvenience of no power; there is now no running water; the Englishman in the room that shares my bathroom is angry; talking hard words at me so early in the morning; I can't get worked up about it at all; just inconvenient.

Later: A woman suckles her tiny baby as I hold her bag in the taxi; a sweet mouth sucking milk from a nourishing breast. I spent an hour haggling in the market for some little bits and pieces; spent more than I needed to; but the Gambians need to make a living also; and now I have a place to keep my JuJu; even if I haven't got any yet.

Even Later: Everyone knows it's getting close to the time to go; Mama will have my knapsack; Ibrahim my shoes; the tall fellow with the crooked teeth my Rohan trousers; there is some welling of emotions; Ramata is forgiven; once again; but all is not forgotten; she will get nothing else from me.

The Manners Of Romance: I am being schooled in the manners of romance; but while I have seen many beautiful women; there has been no desire; no passion; I love them as images but I have not yet come to understand them as people; I know little of their expectations; and even less about their sense of loyalty or their attitude towards affairs of the heart; premarital, extramarital and every other kind of sex seems to be the norm; there is a lot of 'getting to know you' business, however; what a woman's friends think of a man is almost as important as what the woman thinks of him; marriage is not structured but conducted within the context of a compound, an extended family which may be very complicated in terms of blood relationships.

Roosters fighting on the sandy road; leaping into the air in a flurry of feathers; beaks gripping hard at the neck.

'You must not take them apart,'says David my companion. 'It is bad luck. They are like men. They will exhaust each other before they kill each other. If you want them to kill each other; you put metal spurs on them.'

25 FEBRUARY

Morning In The Forest: The steady bass roll of the surf and the snare drum rattle of the Ruhn Palms mute the twitters, croaks and cackles of a lazy forest coming to life; I sit high on a viewpoint; peaceful and content; a Robin-Chat wings by and is gone; the sea mist hangs on the horizon and there is slight chill in the air; but it causes no discomfort; my arrival in The Gambia seems a distant event long past and my departure so precariously imminent; my travelling kit has worked well; friendships have held; health is satisfactory; there is much reason to feel content.

Later: I had my first dream last night wherein I was in The Gambia; I was sitting in the Landrover; Lamin was on foot some several metres in front of the vehicle; I heard the noise above me; I looked up; there in the tree above me was a lioness; I felt no fear as she climbed down past me, then bounded into the bush; I did not say a word to Lamin and he saw nothing.

One spider eats another on the sandy forest floor; I shuffle out of Bijilo for the last time; I hope that I have not left its atmosphere of peace behind me.

One Of Those Magic Moments: An Olive Sunbird hangs upside down outside my door drinking nectar from a scarlet hibiscus while a Lavender Finch drops onto a nearby branch to see what he is doing.

Tying The Turban: I am getting quite good at it; I practice every day and I can almost get it looking good and comfortable at the same time; I have shown my efforts to a select few who are polite.

Tomorrow I shall walk through the village to the market in full regalia; it is a gesture of respect; and I think most people will understand that; I have created a whole character; I am experiencing this part of Africa; in some ways from the inside out; if Africans can wear European clothes with the sense of style and flourish with which they were meant to be worn, why can I not do the same with African clothes?

Am I Confused?: When Paul, the owner of the tavern where I am staying saw the Tuareg pictures; 'These people are not confused' was the first thing he said; I hope it will be apparent that I am not confused either; Perhaps 'Ali G.' is more real than 'G', he says when I tell him about my idea.

Later: Things have turned; its is cold; not just a touch chilly; it is actually jacket-wearing cold; I've got tummy trouble; I've just had a long conversation with Haddie Juff and her sister who swear on a stack of bibles (they are Muslim) that Gambian men threaten and beat Gambian women as a matter of course; they long to marry an Englishman and escape; but without the aid of television and very little first hand experience that can be relied upon; not only do they have very little idea of what they are escaping to; but frankly; they don't stand a chance; it would take a very rare man not to exploit the desperate need in these young women; and an even braver woman not to exploit the opportunity of escape; should it present itself.

Even Later: After a long discussion about why; I showed Haddie and Ramu my turban; Haddie understood what it was all about instantly; Knarr, she called me; her eyes gleaming; and so too did Haddie become beautiful; and we reached across a great abyss; I am not who I am; I am someone else seeking to find a shell in which to encapsulate the seed of my soul and let that soul fly free.

26 FEBRUARY

Conversation:

Allu: 'Why do you need to have a reason for everything you do?'

Ali G.:'Having a reason is the difference between living consciously and living unconsciously.'

'So which way do you live?'

A Question Of Theft: There has been a theft in the next hut. An intruder came over the wall; cut through a screen and lifted the woman's handbag; these things happen; at least he dropped her passport and airline ticket; everyone is upset.

Later: My walk through the village and market in my Mauritanian outfit and turban was quite something; all good; shocked silence; then recognition and enjoyment; Sherriff, Ali G, Knarr, they called out with much interest, excitement and sense of festival.

Sometimes God Puts The Words In Your Mouth: Ramata and I had it out; the source of our difficulties seems to have been rooted in the day I painted her a whole year before when I told her that she had purple lips; she does not like her purple lips and I kept on saying how good she looked in purple and violet and it just made her more angry.

'Ramata,' I said, 'You are my sister. If you need me, come and ask; but always wear purple.'

I saw the hurt in her eyes; and suddenly together we saw that we would always hurt each other; and understood something; and it was sad and upsetting; and we said goodbye with tears in our eyes.

27 FEBRUARY

Will It Mean The Same Thing To Me When I Get It Back To England?: What will I take back with me?; What will last? images of old men lying under the shade of Kapok trees; young men waiting for the tea pot to boil; women at the water spigot; tiny children playing like goats at the roadside; was the warmth of the hospitality real? or did I need it so much that I imagined it? is Ali G. coming home with me?

Back At Gatwick; Intact: Through customs without a blink; wondered if I should offer to help the few Gambians coming off the flight looking a bit bewildered; didn't; didn't know whether it was instinct or selfishness; probably will never know; hope to be home around midnight; no customs at Gatwick; paid duty on my treasure anyway; it's only fair.

Feelings: Calm; relieved; relaxed; looking forward.

28 FEBRUARY

A Black Beauty In London: Back; IRA bombs all over the place; quiet; organised; intense; a young woman with light, red skin, grey eyes and huge rose petal lips opens them into a shy smile for me; Britain too has her black beauties.

1 MARCH

London, The City: It is O.K. to go to Nikola Koba; provided; people on the grey streets are miserable; there are no called greetings; no wide grins; lion are on the loose in West Africa, but it's hard to see them from London.

2 APRIL

Longing To Be There: Many days later I am wearing the white turban; a good tie; comfortable; I realize that I share the Africans respect for the sun; as Rembrant's shared his respect for this style, but he called it Oriental; it is easier to paint a subject wearing a hat; a brilliant illumination in the darkness; the point of attention; off centre.

I phoned Africa today; the rich voice of a mother; I remember the white teeth; and like a shell shocked Lazarus, my spirit struggles to its feet once more.

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