I had a couple of errands to run in the Gambia and decided to combine them with an airport pickup – the very lovely Glyn and Sharon from Cornwall who will be with us for the next two weeks (having discovered us via my Guardian article).
By the time I met them, I remembered why I tend to use my friend Omar, a driver with his own 4wd, to do such pick ups.
The trip started okay – I took the back route up to Brikama and popped in to see my mechanic, Amadou Landrover. I could feel the clutch pedal beginning to weaken – the damned rubber again, or so I thought. Monsieur Landrover was very busy but no bother, I’ll go to my other mechanic in Serrekunda. I phoned him and arranged this for the next morning before the 2pm airport arrival – it was a simple job. Famous last words.
I spent the rest of the day renewing my Gambian papers (residency, aliens card, driving license, road tax, road worthiness certificate, all of which require renewal every year) completing some jobs online and met up with a friend in the evening. Some “bumsters” joined in:
“Oh my English friend, we are brothers, blah, blah, blah…”
When I reached my room I realised that my smart phone was missing from my pocket. Damn, bugger and arse. There goes my Gambia SIM, my Senegal SIM and my Guinea Bissau SIM, along with all my numbers (mostly backed up thankfully).
The John Cleese like car moment
So, the next morning, unable to contact the mechanic as I didn’t have his number, I found a rasta dude dancing beside his car as I drank a coffee. He organised a mechanic who turned up half hour later. By now the clutch had failed totally and I was unable to change gear. After a quick look, he showed me a part that was finished (when I asked the name he told me it’s the “down bit”) and explained I should replace it. We phoned the shop and they told us 800 dalasi. So, I gave him the money and bus fare and off he went. It took forever and he returned at 12 noon, smiling.
“Did you bring the part?”
“Where is it?”
“I didn’t bring it it.”
Oh dear, another African conversation. It transpired that when he arrived they decided 800 wasn’t enough and todays price was 1800 dalasi (£30). Well, I was screwed and had guests arriving in 2 hours.
“Can we drive without a clutch?” – we had to go direct to the shop to by the part as time was running out.
“Of course.” The word “no” is not an option.
He started in gear and we spluttered forwards but of course, we were unable to stop and stalled at the traffic light and then at every junction. Rather than go a slightly longer route on quiet roads he took the busy road through the market town of Serrekunda that is usually congested. I suggested pulling over and taking a taxi. The mechanic headed off and so I mooched around, finding a shop selling cheap Chinese copies of phones. I bought one, the mechanic returned, fixed the part and I arrived at the airport as the flight arrived.
Crossing the border from Gambia to Senegal, I discovered another African problem. I’d paid for the new years driving license but they’re not issued until February. In the Gambia this is not a problem – at any checkpoint the police will remind you that they must be renewed by March. In Senegal it’s a different matter though. The expiry date on both the residency card and driving license is 31st December and after that they are no longer valid, despite the fact the Gambian government hasn’t issued new ones yet. Catch 22. For a small fee of course, the Gambian authorities will provide a certificate to explain you’ve paid for the renewal. The rather beautiful customs lady at the border asked my details and then for my phone number which I duly gave. She wrote the number in a separate book.
“The number’s for me” she explained. “Will your wife beat me if I call you?”
“Probably not, but she’ll possibly beat me” was my response.
Gotta love Africa!
All photos by Daddy Cool.
PS – Hi Mum & Dad, I promise Kermit will be fine for Thursdays pick up.
PPS – Gulliver jumped up on my lap, cracking the new phones screen (it was in my pocket) and rendering it useless about 6 hours after purchase – if anyone has a decent phone they’re not using that they want to donate to a worthy African cause (me), please contact.
PPPS – anyone trying to call me or email…this is why I’m not responding immediately.
PPPPS – On Sunday I drove to Kafountine to try and post this blog. After a 30 minute panic where I couldn’t find my keys (I’d hidden them somewhere for safe keeping), I went. When I arrived, the internet wasn’t working so I decided to try a different cafe, got back into Kermit, turned the key…nothing, dead as a Dodo.
This is Africa and there’s always a problem but this Africa and there’s always a solution – I was next to a mechanics workshop. He took a look, checked and explained the problem in French. A new something or other was brought over (it looked expensive, but wasn’t), popped in and before I could say “I really must learn some basic mechanics” I was off again. I stopped at another internet cafe which was working. Fan-dazzy-dobey.
Then two minutes later there was a power cut so I went home to sulk.