(Amazon) 2011
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)



My life is like water cupped in my hands, trickling through the crevices of my fingers and I am unable to stem its flow. A life of dreams, of castles of spun sugar in clouds of fleece and pink skies, only partly satisfies the needs of a man whose roots reach deep into the soil of reality and who must embrace the wind and ride the plunging steed of passion. My eyes are cast toward the darkness of Africa and the darkness within myself, to seek those regions of my heart, my mind and my soul that have been left untouched by the light of understanding. It is a journey of fear, a venture into the blank areas of the map where only word of mouth from dark skinned guides with knowing eyes and smiles can name the price of passage....

22 October,

London: A rocky night's sleep on the sofa and setting my alarm without changing the time from Istanbul time (going off two hours early) has left me feeling dopey and unreal; the journey through the cold dark streets of London was eerie; the neon lights reflecting off the wet, empty pavements added to the feeling of departure; my white linen suit standing out in absurb contrast in the predawn darkness; I tried to get both my bags onto the plane as hand luggage but was unsuccessful; weight, not size, was the problem.

The Touch Down: What was dry and yellow in February, is lush and green in October; The Gambia is bursting with energy and optimism; they have had the best rains for 23 years; everywhere is verdant; the people are cheerful and looking forward to the season; I breezed through the airport and its formalities without a sideways glance; however, a few minutes later my taxi was stopped by the police and my bags searched again; I didn't bother to ask why.

Later: I visited Ramata and Martin; Martin is as sanguine as ever; Ramata has a new baby; a mistake, she claims with a grin; she also got the other one back; the German couple who took her, brought her back; but Ramata is as cheerful as ever.

I Feel Like A Fish Out Of Water: I decide to stay back at Kololi village but the tavern is under construction and a mess; but it only takes a few minutes to find somewhere else; better and cheaper.

There are new houses, restaurants and hotels all over the place; everyone is in new clothes; there is a whole air of new modernity in the people; they are right up to date on the UK; right up to the pit closures; the night has fallen, the stars are out, dogs growl and fight in the village and there are frogs everywhere.


Dawn At Kololi: There can be few times or places more beautiful than the little village of Kololi awakening at sunrise; sleepy workmen shuffle along the dusty lanes; the roosters compete to be the loudest heralds; Cattle Egrets fill the sky in formations of three; children laugh and squabble; there is no rush; the awakening is slow; languid; a centipede makes a curious track along the path; a glorious bird called a Red Bishop displays in the Cous field; breakfast is a cup of strong Nescafe and unbuttered French bread.

The Killing Heat: Thirty degrees centigrade in the shade; 90% humidity; sweat pouring from my starch white skin; I take a bus-taxi ride into Banjul to see my friend Clive at the Atlantic Hotel;..he is around but not to be seen; I am waiting at the pool bar; it is too hot to go anywhere else.

Of Bumpsa And Aku: A pleasant dinner is spent laughing at women who shriek when they find a beetle has crawled into their spaghetti and Moumou telling me about the lies the hotels are telling about 'Bumpsas' ( big, strong, young men who are looking for opportunities); i.e. hustling tourists; and the Aku (families with European names who used to control things but haven't since Jawarah and democracy changed the old order); speaking of the beetles in the spaghetti; they are everywhere.


Morning At Bijilo: The sweet smell of the forest soaks into my sleep muddled mind; the rich green creepers cover the forest floor giving the birds ample cover and you hear them all around you, but seldom see them; I have come through the barriers so quickly this year; I am comfortable with myself here and converse easily with both Gambians and other tourists; I am happy; there is peace in the forest and far off I can hear the thunder of the ocean.

The Heartbeat Of The Surf: Clouds of orange and white butterflies float over the lavender and pink oceans of Morning Glory like wind blown petals of fruit trees; the Bee-eaters swoop among them, taking their pick and I watch from my perch in a smooth barked tree and I hear the pounding of the Atlantic surf as though it were the beating of my own heart.

Melting The Distance: Red, black Haddy, skin the colour of midnight, eyes that sparkle like fireflies melted the distance between myself and the faraway land where I can let my spirit rest, where there is no quest for love but where it rests easy like a tranquil pool of water, still but not stagnant, where there is playfulness without childishness, inexperience without innocence.

Wrestling In Serekunda: Men being men in a dusty quadrant thundering with drums; men with bodies wrought of concrete and iron; they challenge; as men challenge; with humour, malice and arrogance; the Jola are in town with something to prove; bodies are locked together in earnest struggle; pride and money are at stake; legs fly; a thud of dust; a man is down; the crowd roars; the drums are lost in the wall of sound; shouts of victory; laughs of derision follow; the crowd is getting edgy; there is a fist fight in the crowd; I leave; I hear rumours of trouble up country; I am not interested in trouble.


I Cannot Make It: Rattling over washboard roads looking for birds with Clive this morning dispelled any idea I had of travelling upcountry by road; well almost; I am of two minds about so much; I cannot make it up about anything right at the moment; I shall wait for a sign; meanwhile sitting in the cool shade next to the green rice paddies watching Egrets, Squacco Heron and a tiny Malachite Kingfisher; I cannot feel too much inspiration to go anywhere else; however, I close my eyes and there they are; squatting in my mind; those people; dark robed; jewelled; somewhere out there; perhaps in Mali; perhaps not; blood red dragonflies whizz in piggback duets over the muddy rice paddies.


Serekunda Roars: Passing through Serekunda at 08:15 on a Monday morning; everything is awake; buses and taxis roaring; kids in uniforms and crisply plaited hair heading for school; everyone is smiling and nodding hello; the air is electric with high expectations for the day..and already it is beginning to get hot; the sweat is rolling down the groove of my back as I walk along munching French Bread and gulping an ice-cold coke...'We will kill and kill until all the killers are killed' is scrawled across the wall outside a ramshackle compound enclosed by a fence formed of odd bits of rusted and torn corrugated iron sheeting; I find the message unsettling; I sense something but I cannot put my finger on it.

In Abuko There Is Peace: There is no doubt that life is a journey; you are given no true map and only the scantest of hints and suggestions on how best to proceed; my mind is full of argument; whether I am fit of mind and body to attempt Mali? do I want to travel anymore at all? do I want to settle down and try marriage again? for each desire there is a price; I stand here; next to this peaceful scene of water and lillies and birds that call in the forest; I am content; but my legs are stiff; it is hot; I know that I cannot stay here; and on the return is the noise and the chaos

I wonder if it would have been better if I had never seen Eden; if I had never loved and been loved; could I have floated through this life in someway without getting attached; without aspirations and regrets; I am seeking evidence of the correct path with every step I take; I am looking for symbols in every living order; from the swooping Giant Kingfisher in Abuko; to the tiny Yellow-Bellied Sunbird that feeds on the vivid red Hibiscus that stand outside the windows of my room.

The Sign Comes: Word of trouble upcountry is coming thick and fast from all directions; therefore I am sticking in The Gambia; no sooner do I overcome my fear of these situations than events overtake me; it seems that no sooner do I confront and resolve one inner dilemma than another takes its place; now fear has given way to indecision.


Return To Mecca: I journeyed into Banjul today to see the Mauritanians; they were delighted and we had a much laboured, very complex discussion in French; I told them about wearing the 'Tabac' to Carnival and they were very pleased; They asked me if I had gone back to eating pork; when I said no, they all laughed and chattered to each other in their own language; I suspected the whole deal about asking me to stop eating pork last year was a joke; but no matter, I will stick to it; a promise is a promise.

They like my idea of a black and gold outfit; but black cotton damask is very rare this year and they 'tut' a lot and tell me I will be lucky to find the right material; meantime almost everything I own is totally soaked in sweat; my watch strap disintergrated today and I had to take it to the watch doctor to get it fixed.

28 October

The Difficulty In Readiing English: It doesn't look how it sounds; appearances aren't everything; it's the symbol of how things really are; every truism will find its manifestation in some symbolic way; teaching Haddy to read as she teaches me the differences between Wolof and Mandinka is a clear case of who's teaching who; she explains to me that in Africa it's up to me to determine whether she is telling a lie; not her responsibility to always tell the truth; if I can catch her then I can rightfully punish her; however It's entirely up to me to choose the appropriate method of punishment; feels like a lot of responsibility to me.

29 October

Now The Pressure Builds: My friend Lamin with whom I travelled to Senegal last year has turned up; he is not giving me the right vibes; now I have too many relationships developing; relationships take time and money; it could all get out of hand if I am not careful.

I am to go back to the bush with Clive in the morning; the crescent moon hangs over the evening star just as it did in Muslim Istanbul; the Koran, Allah and the faith is starting to dominate many conversations; I wonder where it will all end; I'm starting to say..in for a penny; in for a pound far too often.

Serekunda After Dark: Suddenly the vendors selling cloth, watches and creams are now selling candles, flashlight batteries and food; groups of men huddle around fires; there is a huge rush of traffic and people; bus-taxis hawking for their last rides home; calling out the names of villages; Banjul, Lamin, Brikama, Bakau; young boys play in the darkness just out of the light of the fires and shops.

Music plays loud; the level of sound not threatening or aggravating; but chaotic and confusing; I walk purposefully; knowing where I am going; but curse myself for forgetting the torch that I brought especially for these occassions.

An evening spent with the mother of a friend of mine in London was delightful; she welcomed me with warmth and honesty, humour and food; she shared her insights and struggles; a woman who after spending twenty five years in Europe has returned to her native Gambia only to find jealousy, prejudice and obstruction from the very people with whom she shared a common ancestry; she faced these obstacles and made a success of her business and her return to her home by employing an iron will that was hammered out in England...’After what I faced as a black African in England; these Gambians pose no threat to me'...later she would not consider letting me face the Serekunda night alone and drove me back to my bungalow; we parted wishing each other well and asking God's blessing on each other's lives; I understand her son better for our time spent together; and admire his mother for her strength and generosity of spirit.


Spiders: I awoke today covered in nasty red bites; not on my ankles where the mosquitoes normally attack; but on my back and bottom; they were almost like a rash and not itchy like mosquitoes; I have since found a huge variety of spiders some small; quite inconspicuous in my room; I think they are the culprits; the evil creatures of these tropics.

Robert: An Englishman staying in the next bungalow to mine bought a car today so with the prospect of unimpaired mobility so near, I dragged him all over Banjul and Serekunda; I have ordered a new outfit from the Mauritanians and have bought the material; black damask; I could only afford a chemise and pantaloons; the grand bubu will have to wait until next year.

If the next two weeks are as full of wonderful escape as this week; I will surely be back.


Snake And Ladders: A Green Mamba hanging in the trees; great Monitor Lizard creeping across the forest floor; red flashes of wings as a Violet Turacao sails through the upper canopy; the forest is resplendent in all its sounds and smells; Robert was startled as I was with the threatening behaviour of the caged lion at Abuko.

Wrestling was cancelled today in respect for a champion who died in the ring on Tuesday; the hot, sticky night is closing in on me.


Serekunda vs Banjul: After a quiet day on the beach letting the sun burn away my tiredness, I made my way to Independence Stadium in Bakau for the Gambia Cup Final; Serekunda East vs Banjul; chaos as expected, but emotional, exciting football; with the crowd surging and pushing dangerously (my watch was stripped from my wrist by the crowd but recovered).

I was back at the heart of Africa where emotion is more important than common sense and where argument is an acceptable form of communication.


Oumie: Green slate sea; lead grey sky; at least it is cool; the birds are more active; flocks wheel in the sky in ordered confusion.

I met and painted Oumie today; she is a gentle, serious girl from the Sennegambia Market; she sat quietly and smiled a huge toothy smile when she saw the results.

Martin took me into Banjul to meet his most important friend, John Gomez; a pleasant man, very small with bright humourous eyes; with Martin's gamey leg and John's diminutive stature, they must have found close affinity as boys.

Dealing With The Mauritanians: I found myself well out of my depth again; the Mauritanian tailor who is making my chemise and pantaloons has bumped up the price and stretched out the time he needs to make the garment; now I am committed to serious money and nervous; yet they are affable and easy and are constantly telling me not to worry; I am in the hands of Allah.


What The Hell Am I Doing Here?: It was almost predictable that I would go through a 'What the hell am I doing here?' day; Lamin was supposed to come early today; didn't; but turned up at dinner time instead; I didn't buy him any.

A Senegalese whore turned up at the bar; Robert gave her a lift; and she thought she had two Engishmen set up; I can play the game hard when I want to and she had to leave after wasting her time.

Haddy was sick and I couldn't help; she has a fever that is prelevant.

Towards the end of the day; after a long exhuasting trip down to Kartong; caked in red dust; overwhelmed by children begging for pens and pennies; my mind started to clear and it became evident to me that there was more going on all around me than I realized; while I have been able to maintain my detachment; I have been soft; I have not demanded a fair exchange for the money that I have spent; I have been using it as a sort of charity; and while giving me a feel good factor; it has been destructive in my relationship with the Gambians; and here I have just tripped on the edge of an understanding about the devisive nature of the disparity between material qualities of life; still unformed; it requires more attention.


African Breeze: Cool midnight breeze stirring the curtains and rippling the white clouds of mosquito net above my head; In a fitful sleep I dream of Istanbul; of a woman I never met there; petite; with dark eyes, long black hair and pouting red lips; I kiss her arm and the back of her neck as we stand on the balcony of Aya Sofia; she responds with easy compliance and ready co-operation; we agree to meet later; once committed; I realize that I have other obligations; with a groan I awake; I feel a yearning today.

Aduna Da Fa Bahri Tanka: 'Life has many turns'...the Weavers squeak in the noon day sun as I let the languid hours crawl by; my sleepless night has left me heavy lidded and careless; even the sharp coolness of a late morning shower cannot break my lethargy; yet I am happy; I move slowly as I prepare myself to visit the beach; I am on holiday.


A Still Pond Still: A feather falls through the still air and lands upon the stagnant green surface of the pool; Paradise Flycatchers flit out over the water; their brilliant chestnut feathers flashing red under the afternoon sun; a Pygmy Kingfisher wisks by in a flicker of dazzling blue; then is found hiding beneath a veil of leaves; a Giant Kingfisher covers the water with a single swoop but finds nothing of interest and moves on; the jungle is a crescendo of sound but there is little chance of finding the source in the dense foilage.

Later: It is Haddy's turn to cook at the compound and I stop by for a delicious fish Benechin; there is peace in the compound; but also boredom.


Getting Hard: My campaign to make myself harder in the face of the pressure to give money away for nothing; to pay over the odds because I am a tourist, to always be affected by tales of woe is paying off; people treat me with more respect and trust me more; they are quieter and speak more directly to me; I can't explain this; it seems ironic that they react more positively too a certain coldness in me when they are such warm people; a paradox to be explored.

Not Tonight Josephine: It was a wonderful Friday; Muslim holy day; streets full of colour with women dressed in their most elegant attire; vivid pinks, brilliant yellows and oranges copied from the brightest lemons and tangerines.

I was hard all day, demanding mutual benefit from any money spent; a fair exchange; a product or a service for a price; something of use for me; a profit for the vendor; it is an honourable way of life; a path I will continue to follow.

I also applied myself strategically; predicting correctly a change of plans on the part of Jagga N'jie; adjusting my other plans accordingly and finding that face could be saved on all sides; I was also able to arrange a job interview for Haddy; in all it was a simple, rather delightful day; the same could not be said for the night.

It started with drinks with Martin and John Gomez; neither of whom had a great deal to say and nothing to spend; after 3 hours Robert and I moved on to Serekunda where the power was out and we ate pizza cooked over wood fires; tasty; the place was run by Pascale, an incredibly handsome young man from Marsellies just out of the army who came to Africa to be with friends and stayed; the restaurant is situated between a shop that cleans used motor oil and makes battery acid on one side; and one that sells tyres on the other; hardly the ideal location for an upmarket restaurant.

My new friend Robert is a serious party animal; so after that we were off on a club crawl; the first stop; a pub where a man is trying to make tours following Mungo Park's explorations; he wanted to know if I wanted to invest; I was more interested in making the bar girls laugh.

Next, we found a junkie bar where seriously ugly people kept tottering off to the toilets; then coming back stunned and vacant; it was gruesome.

This was followed by a grim, dirty, unhappy disco; draped in black it was full of Gambians hanging around hoping to make friends with a tourist; Robert, myself and two girls were the only tourists there; with those odds and that atmosphere; we left.

It was 1AM; we decided to try one more; one the way home; boom; this one is clean; the music is good and it appears to be filled with middle class Gambians with no interest in tourists at all; I go for a bop on the floor; a tall, well dressed young African woman catches my eye; she smiles; I smile back; after a few dances she asks Robert and I to join her and her friends; we do; she is from Sierra Leone; she is fleeing the troubles; they have just evacuated all the Gambians and many other foreign nationals from Sierra Leone; after twenty minutes she asks if she can stay with me tonight; I think she must be a whore.

However, I am curious about just exactly what she is up to.

I ask...'What are my responsibilities if you stay with me?'

She is offended; she says I think she is a prostitute.

I thought she would name a price; I would then say I couldn't afford her and face would be saved all around; instead she tells me that she is an exile in a strange country which does not want her; the Gambians don't like her; she thinks the Gambians are dirty; and I think she is a prostitute.

I am quite taken aback; but my instincts tell me all is not so simple; at the same time I recognize that I am capable of profound prejudice and totally misreading situations such as this one; I do not want Josephine (her name) to come home with me; at the same time I am deeply curious about the truth of this very odd situation.

I propose a compromise; Robert will drive her to where she is staying tonight; I will see her in the daylight tomorrow; she is even more delighted; if she had been a prostitute; she would have stayed on at the club looking for a trick.

I will keep my word; I want to face my prejudices; Mamou tells me there is nothing particularly unusual about a woman offering to stay with me; women go looking for men as men go looking for women; here is another small lesson to be learned; another barrier to be broken down.


When You Ain't Got Nothin': You Ain't Got Nothin' To Lose: Heavy surf hammering my body; pounding it with white frothy fists; tearing the illusions from my eyes; I rise to the surface; salt water tears streaming down my face; a flock of seagulls flies low over the chop, through the orange dusk of the dying sun.

Josephine in the daylight was too big a problem for me; I feel some shame, but I neither know what I could do to help her, or how I could determine whether or not she was genuine, I kiss her cheek and leave her behind.


Breakfast On The Run: Pale sun rising through the palms; fried balls of cous tucked into French Bread soaked in spicey oil; Lebanese men with shotguns and bandeleros filled with shiny brass cartiges cruise the bush looking for small birds to blast with fine shot; I am with a party that includes the soldier who will arrest them.

Later: We are stranded on a hot dusty stretch of road only to be rescued by an affable Gambian with a fully operational luxury car who shows us where the beer is 'cheap and cold' while Jagga N'Jie, the leader of our expedition and his soldiers take the Lebanese that have been apprended away to face charges.


Swept Out To Sea: Cool windy morning breaking after a night of the full moon and a sad discussion about two young men swept out to sea and drowned by the same surf in which I so cheerfullly played yesterday.

I am getting lonely and craving the companionship of a woman; it is not Haddy although I have a great affection for her I have come to expect more from a relationship than sweet affection.

While Robert's company is lively and witty; he is also pious and judgemental; how many discussions can you have about how the Gambians are; we cannot know 'how they are'...for they are a people with many faces.

It has been many days now since I have put colour to paper or glowed with the illumination of a new understanding; I have degenerated from a traveller into a tourist; and while it has been entertaining and relaxing; I feel the time for rest is over; progress must be made; it is now time to focus on the future; to set out a route for my life; and to follow it; to overcome the natural and psychological barriers which will test my resolve, my ingenuity and my courage; the process of tempering the metal of my character has come to an end; it is now time to take the blade which has been hammered into shape by experience and used to fulfill the common destiny; the desires must become more than whims; they must become commitments and those breaks in the trail; those dalliances that trip the momentum of the journey; must be eliminated; the pitfalls avoided; and the pleasures sacrificed; the time of youth passed many years back.

The time of middle age is melting away; the grey of my hair and my beard has replaced the deep black that once was called my crowning glory; and visiting my garden; the Sunbird; brilliant purple and iridescent green as it clambers among the deep red flowers and licks at their nectar; the sun is up; there is business to be done today.

Moonlight In The Garden: Dark shapes under the full moon; flowers which under the sun vibrate with colour are rendered deep blue and violet; sombre in tone and atmosphere as Carmina Burana chants over the tiny speakers of my stereo; my chemise and pantaloons are a success; there are small flaws; but this is Africa; I walk slowly; letting the robes flow; the material moves in honour of the tailor's art; there are 'Thank yous' from the Africans that I pass; many admiring nods; many jokes about Al Haj G....there is a new respect on both sides; but on the same day I had to buy a drum; a drum that thunders like the heart of Africa; the drum is the heart; the Koran is the mind; the chemise of the Maribou is symbolic of that mind.

Voices Out Of The Past: A telephone call from Yassim of Tendaba; a dalliance of flirtation from last year that never came to anything; probably a joke instigated by Clive who thought it all very funny; I have no interest but it is another test of my new steel; Robert is very good about it all; he Listens to my stories and makes witty observations; it is nice to have a friend, but there is still no woman at my side.

More is learned in one long night of brilliant conversation; take a bag of rice to a woman's compound and you make a commitment; to approach a woman; you must be direct...say 'I love you' and you await your answer; you may deliver the message through a friend or subordinate to save face if you fear the answer will not be what you want to hear; much gossip to be heard about leading members of the community; intricate discussions of various scams perpetrated.

A man owns a kiosk that sells soft drinks, he hires a man to sell bottled drinks; each drink sells for seven dalasia; bought wholesale for two dalasai; he sells ten; buys five more from another wholesaler at five; tells his boss he only sold five; pays boss 35 dalasai; pockets 25 dalasai for himself..neat trick.


The Things We Leave Behind: Droplets of water glistening on the bare african arm; water cupped in the pink palm of a black hand splashed onto the face and wiped clean; they walk with such casual dignity, these women left to their fate; some intimidated, threatened; their money extorted by a combination of physical menace and emotional guilt; they hope; as if by magic they will be rescued; that for some reason unexplained; a man will come and provide for them; to take them away from the sadness, the poverty and the misery; they are left behind; left to their fate; as Allah has willed it; their life sacrifices I may someday have to face myself; that I may appreciate my own luck; that I may not forget that the price of understanding is the pain of knowing the worst as well as the best.


Coming To The End: Under the pure white canopy of the mosquito net I disappear beneath the bleached canopy of the white sheet; the small breeze trickles through the open window and stirs the etherial drapery rippling its cloudy folds above my head; I awake to wonder at the work of God and dispair at the plight of man.

Rythmic guitar; dark fingers pluck at the strings; playing it like a Kora; the voice building in chanting steps; the rich smell of coffee lifting my heavy eyelids.


The Overnight Rain: The air has been cleared by a steady shower that lasted through the night; it has made the morning air fresh and light.

There Is Nothing So Sad As Unresolved Feelings: Yaya wanders up and down the beach; he is the tape man who has no tapes; he once had tapes; taken on consignment to sell to tourists on the beach; but his boss wouldn't trust him with the expensive tapes that the tourists would buy and he couldn't afford the price of a vendor's license when it became necessary to have one; he still wanders up and down the beach; shaking people's hands and telling people he knows where to buy tapes if they give him the money; nobody does.

A Blood Red Sky: You must beat the earth to make it yield its bounty,...the streak of sundown through the window of the aeorplane that is carrying me home is the blood of my wound as I tear myself away from Africa; I left so much behind; Yabou faint with a malarial fever; Oumie with my watch; Robert with my affection, my respect and my torch; my softness comes creeping back in as tears come to the corner of my eye; even Ramata giving instead of taking; am I changed?

'You must change as things change; find the money tree, sit beneath it and watch it grow.'

My laziness and indolence is my own inner enemy; I have set many things in motion that hold the potential for far reaching consequences; The Gambia has so many contradictions; it is at once the most conventional and most unpredictable of all places; Al Haj G. walked the beaches and the streets an important man; all showed respect and the the respect held the next day; who was Al Haj G. anyway?

I enjoyed the attention immensely; yet there is an unease about it; there is a lack of discipline within me; I have the ability to raise people’s expectations; and for my own selfish reasons; I do it; but it is impromptu; spontanteous; and potentially dangerous; who suffers the consequences; yet if I don't do it; I feel empty and dissatisfied.

Is it their fault for taking me seriously? Is it my fault for indulging my whims? for looking for cheap thrills at the expense of others? I am seriously unsettled.

There was sickness on the airplane; card to be completed; twenty one days to wait; perhaps to be afflicted; perhaps not; in the end you cannot protect yourself from life; is the journey to Mecca next? I have embraced other parts of Africa; Why not this one?


(Amazon) 2012
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