It’s only 10 am and the market is crowded. Vendors line the left and right in small wooden booths and converted shipping containers. In the center are an array of ladies with large bowls holding rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and an array of other vegetables while other vendors move throughout the market, one carrying brightly folded material on his head, another with a basket of fish in her hand. People press against each other to move through the mass. Voices rise as vendors shout their prices, a girl in a tatter of a dress stands quietly in her own small space waiting for her mother to finish a transaction.
A medicine man told my boyfriend that in order to ensure health, happiness, and abundance, he needed to buy a racer chicken and leave it at the house to be cared for.
When he brought the tall, white chicken home, I dubbed him Percy. Percy spent his first few days sleeping in the house as we didn’t yet have a chicken coop. We commissioned one made by a local carpenter, yet Percy is still in the habit of searching indoors for his bed. That means that there is a small chase each evening as Percy tries to settle in to the living room and the children and I chase him around until, cawing his displeasure, he is caught and carried behind the house to the chicken coop. During the day, Percy runs around with a small brown hen. She comes looking for him if we don’t let him out early enough. When awake, they are inseparable.
We wait seated on a board balanced precariously on two bricks on a homemade bench in the shade of a broken down building behind which young boys use a generator-powered pressure washer to wash motorcycles. Most taxis drive by already laden down with the customary six people – four squeezed in back and two sharing the front passenger seat. We are three, so we need at least a half-empty taxi. Finally one stops, appearing empty on first glance. As we get closer, we realize the driver has his baby in the passenger seat. He takes hold of the nine month old long enough for two of us to climb in front, then hands the boy back for us to hold for the ride. Baby is quiet, entranced by the new faces and eager to chew on anything he can find. Sunglasses, a cell phone, and finally a bag of water placate him.
We’d talked our way into a private pool, an oasis of chlorinated blue on a steamy African day. Walking there, I looked up as the sky flooded black when the prayer bells scared a group of birds, I thought, up in a cloud from the mango trees. Sitting at the pool, I had a better look at the creatures flying overhead. They were the largest bats I’ve ever seen! Easily as big as crows, backlit by the noonday sun, their leathery wings looked paper thin and I could see their long legs hanging behind them.
The missionary family we’d met up at the pool weren’t too fond of the bats, but I enthused to be able to see such large animals so close up. The day was filled with good conversation and some great tips for newbies to town, such as the locations of supermarkets selling cheese from France and learning that Chinese hotels or restaurants are sometimes code for brothels in Guinea
TowE – chicken, Soso
Mama hen has been sitting on eggs for weeks. When we first got Percy, he (accidentally?) stepped on some of her eggs. She ate the yolks up and continued to sit. I had my doubts about whether there were any chickens in those eggs. Three days ago the eggs hatched, and mama hen is happily sitting beneath the lime tree picking through the dirt for goodies to eat. The family ties one leg to the tree to ensure that she and her chicks stay out of sight of the hawks flying overhead.
We visited the nearby village of Kolaboi so my boyfriend could catch up with an old friend and spend time playing the djembe. After the taxi dropped us, we four walked to a compound with many children running around as their mothers did laundry in the yard. We waited a time while somebody went digging for a key to the theatre where the djembes are kept. We then walked a short way into a palm tree forest, the ground covered in beautiful green and the trees spaced enough to provide cool light and shade. The boys set up wooden benches and purchased bottles of palm wine, then set to playing the drums. As the music filled the forest, I went for a walk to explore.
While I didn’t see wild animals, I did see a lone cow grazing on the green plants, surrounded by small white cranes in an oasis of sunshine. A short hike away brought me to the butcher, something the locals were eager to show me. The smell of meat hung heavy in the air and I saw a rotting pair of cow horns discarded nearby. The path wound it’s way through backyards, past a protective mama goat and her baby, around a well surrounded by young girls collecting buckets of water to bring home, and looped around to bring us back towards the boys and the drums.
On return, I received a drum lesson from the talented Morlys, a dreadlocked man who’s spent considerable time in Gambia and has some of the best English skills I’ve encountered. As I sat drumming in the palm forest, I reflected on how much gratitude I felt to be there, learning new drum skills and surrounded by such beauty.
The smell of sulphur hangs in the air after the evening’s candle is lit. I’ve only just become accustomed to 3-5 hours of electricity, and now there is less. The electric comes on in spasms, sometimes at 8:00, sometimes a half-hour earlier or later. Used to be, the electric would stay on until midnight. All week long, it’s been erratic – sometimes going off at 10, sometimes only 10 minutes after it came on, and then returning for another hour or two later in the evening.
Even this sporadic electric, though, is a blessing. I learned recently that other towns do not even have that luxury. So, I count myself lucky and plug in my laptop and cell phones along with everybody else, each device unplugged when the electric leaves and reconnected when it returns. Nobody complains, they just accept what comes their way.