We were shaken by our visit to the HIV clinic but more determined in our drive to raise awareness”.
Charlie Curtis : 4th April

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Starting from their departure in London on 14th March 2009.
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25th March
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4th April
Senegal again!
8th April
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9th April
11th April
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Nigeria 20th June
Cameroon 16th July
Gabon 30th July
Congo 6th August

Click the photos to see the gallery of The Gambia

Click the photos to see the gallery of The Gambia

Click the photos to see the gallery of The Gambia

DIARY : The Gambia Imagery: ©2009 Terrametrics
Map data: ©2009 Europa Technologies

4th April : Banjul & Bakau

After spending 2 weeks desperately trying to muddle our way through countries in French it was a glorious relief to get into The Gambia. God bless British colonialism! Following a pretty standard border crossing we spent the night in what we thought would be the delightful port town and capital city, Banjul. It was not delightful. The next morning we packed up and headed for Bakau. 15km along the coast it was a different world.

Stunning beaches and friendly, chilled out (stoned) locals. Camping on the beach in Bakau on our second night we got talking to the head of security for a local hotel, which is owned by the government. Interestingly enough, this hotel is used as an investment for social security services for the people and all profits go directly back into state welfare. On explaining our aim for the trip to support One2One kids in the building of more shelters he offered us help in The Gambia as he knew a few people.

And so the next morning we found ourselves, suited and booted, or as as far as our travelling clobber would allow, and standing outside the office of the chief medical officer of The Gambia. Unfortunately his schedule did not allow for a full meeting; however he was kind enough to refer us to the head of paediatrics for The Gambia. We met with the doctor working in conditions that while clearly aiming high were falling short. Old wheel chairs and beds littered the open spaces within the hospitals grand grounds. Within all of this we saw a man who was clearly both passionate and saddened by the situation he faced. The Gambia simply does not have the required funds to treat children infected with HIV. The sad truth is that the majority of funding is directed to the treatment of adults whom it seems take priority for reasons not explained. The other major hurdle they face is that some in the country still hold a belief that ‘traditional’ medicines are able to cure HIV. Whilst I have no medical knowledge on which to base my predictably pessimistic conclusions, the look of exasperation on the face of this doctor trying desperately to help the children of his country told me enough to know that no amount of herbs was going to save many young lives. We were left shaken by what we had seen and heard but were uplifted by the thought that following our conversation and continued correspondence, ‘One to One’ might be able to begin supporting another much deserving clinic in its never ending fight against HIV in Africa.

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6th April : Paradise Beach, The Gambia

The next day we were told of a fabled beach somewhere down the coast of The Gambia. It involved finding a small village that was not marked on any map; following a sandy trail for a few kilometres to reach a fishing village; Then taking a path through the mangroves that is only accessible once a day during the lowest tide. This would bring us onto a stretch of pure white sand that led unbroken and unpopulated all the way down the Senegal. The source of this information was Joe, an east-ender (London) we met in Bakau. Joe used to work in Libya and knew his way round Africa so we took him at his word and after several wrong turns and many directions from locals, we finally found our way to this paradise beach. It was everything we had been promised. The added bonus, being an old run down beach bar that consisted of a small shack and some blown down palm tree shades, run by a local guy named Omar.

Omar’s first words to us on arrival were ‘Come in my Dutch friends.’ After clearing up the confusion we settled down to a few cold (not hot) beers and barracuda cooked over a camp fire.

It seemed Omar was trying to keep the bar running now that his brother, the owner, had left for Europe. Things didn’t seem to be going that well given the lack of tourists this time of year. Realising, fairly swiftly it seemed, that we were basically filthy he kindly offered to take us to his home in a nearby village to meet his family and ask his mother to do some much needed washing for us. His home was far from anything we had seen before. He lived in a mud brick ‘line house’ with his father, a retired professional Gambian wrestler, his mother, a stereotypically matriarchal woman, 8 brothers and sisters and an array of uncles, aunts.

We were immediately introduced to everyone as special guests and had tea thrust at us from all sides. Of course this was only after the half hour long preparation that is typical here. His advice on preparation was that it takes as long as you have and it can take hours.

What followed was an incredibly enlightening few hours where we talked of the difficulties of making a living in this beautiful country. While they were as self sufficient as possible, growing everything from mangoes and oranges, to peppers (blindingly hot) and cashew nuts, they were still reliant on bringing in money like everyone else. The loss of his older brother, and main income provider, to cholera the year before had been a terrible blow and one from which they did not seem to have recovered emotionally or financially. In spite of this the entire family showed a sense of humour and togetherness that was remarkable. Even while they talked of how they struggled to afford basics like candles (they had no electricity), they still laughed hysterically as the mother pulled out yet another filthy shirt with footprints on it from our bag. Omar and his family are typical of a million families in The Gambia and I am sure across this continent. And unlike the hustlers we have met in the tourist hot spots, not once did they even hint at us giving them any money. They are proud of their home, proud of the money they earn and proud of the lives they lead. How much longer this will last I am not sure as it seems the children all have aspirations of leaving their homes and heading for Europe to make money. Extended across the country one can only speculate on the impact this will have on the communities we have seen.

It’s very difficult to explain the thoughts and emotions we experienced during our time with Omar. Even though we empathise with their plight and insist on helping with what money we can, we cannot escape the fact that we were spending comparatively vast sums on our trip around Africa. Sums which whilst hopefully would do some good in raising awareness for our chosen charity be used to such enormous effect by families like Omar’s. Though it may not be a question of right or wrong, I still feel a certain amount of discomfort at the thought.

Omar summed up the differences beautifully for me though. ‘We are all in different situations’ he said. He was lucky to have his health and a supportive family. He uses this opportunity to go to work, to bring in money for his family and to try to prepare for a future he hopes will take him to Europe. By comparison we are lucky to be in the situation whereby we benefit from a certain amount of financial security and are able to travel freely around the world, at times able to help those less fortunate. The only wrong, he says, would be if we failed to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded us.

7th April : Paradise Beach, The Gambia – still chilling!

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