This is a very special blog – my first ever guest post from a visitor – one who happens to be my sister-in-law. Obviously she’s biased but given this was a very different kind of holiday to their normal type and their concerns, typical for any first time visitor to Africa, I think it gives a fantastic impression. For anyone who’s fancied a visit but is worried about bringing their kids, I urge you to read. Thanks Karen:
From the moment my brother in law settled in Senegal and created the ‘Little Baobab” I have been intrigued. West Africa had never been at the top my geographical knowledge and shamefully I really only knew the country through the spattering of footballers here in the English Premiership.
I was immediately hooked to his blogs and being a visual person his photos of the area hypnotised me. Once Gulliver and then Alfie were born, it instantly seemed like I had a connection to this part of the world. Edie became increasingly connected to her cousins in a far flung land, and built a bond through the wonder that is Skype. After a while though seeing this world through a 15inch screen just didn’t cut it and we took the step to plan a visit. The flights were booked 8 months before the departure date and from my point of view were bought with mild fear mixed with excitement. Was I really doing the right thing taking my 6 year old daughter to a place I had no idea about? Could she cope with the numerous vaccinations needed?(She did amazingly). How would she cope with the heat and complete culture change? (Wonderfully). And would I enjoy our time or would I be a nervous wreck? (I did and I wasn’t).
As departure day approached I made sure we had ‘everything’ we needed for any possible event. I needed have bothered the Casamance people are the most resourceful people I have ever met and any problem is dealt with, maybe not always in the most conventional way, but nether the less there is always a way to ‘fix’ it. Of course I’m not saying don’t take anti malarias and have a basic medical kit, but if like me your flip flop falls apart, it’ll be wiped off your foot sewn back up and replaced quicker than you or I could thread a needle.
So, after a painless 6 hour flight, we touched down in Gambia and were immediately thrown into a world of orange roads, searing heat and smiley faces. Simon and, to our delight, Gulliver met us at the airport and after a chat about spiderman his initial shyness disappeared (Gulliver’s not Simons!!)
Omar, Simon’s driver, then took us on the journey to our home for the next 12 days. Due to the dispute between the two governments the boarder crossing was an experience. Clambering from one car strolling across a seemingly unmanned boarder dodging , sheep, goats, dogs, and numerous French cars from the pass, it made Heathrow’s Border control seem dull in comparison.
Whilst waiting for our passports to be stamped I realised all my fears about Edie adapting were unnecessary. I turned to see her sat on the curb with Gulliver, listening while he pointed out numerous sights and sounds. She was happy and so was I.
After another 90mins of travel where each of our senses were attacked from all angles we arrived at Chez Simon and Khady. Seeing the grand Senegalese coloured gates swing open we felt like we were entering a special place, a special secret, a special home.
Greeted by numerous family members including Alfie (Basha) Fenton and others I noticed some one was missing ‘Where was Khady?’ had she decided to do a runner as meeting her English family was something she didn’t want to do? Of course not. Simon informed us she had gone to get her hair done. She did come back a little later on the back of a motorbike with a her hair certainly ‘Done’ in a blaze of crimped blonde and brown. Her entrance was anything but subtle and I instantly loved her.
After a while and numerous introductions we started to settle into our African life. Edie was running around with the boys exploring hideouts, swinging on hammocks and digging her toes in the vast amount of sand. Jez and I were sat on the veranda of the main house thinking ‘Are we really here?’
As the days progressed we seemed to slip further and further into ‘Baobab’ life. A trip to Ziguinchor and Djembering introduced us to sights and sounds we could have only dreamed of. A sunset boat trip opened our eyes to flamingos, pelicans , kingfishers and that elusive bird only every seen on the side of margarine tubs here in the UK (a stork.) As we zig zagged our way through the oyster strewn mangrove, being the only boat on the entire river, it felt like we had been invited into a special secret and had created memories that would last forever. We had purchased Edie her own small camera and at times it was impossible for her to keep up with the amount of photos she wanted to take, (I think she takes after her Uncle.)
In Djembering the pace completely slowed down and although Jez and I were feeling a little under the weather, on Easter Sunday we swapped Easter Egg Hunts for sandcastle building and Atlantic Ocean paddling with the cows!!!
After four days away from Abene and as we once again rolled – actually more accurately ‘squeezed’ our way through the colourful gates it felt like we were ‘Home’ The warm welcome we received from everyone who stayed behind was heartfelt and genuine, and at this point I realised we had already been excepted as part of the family.
A couple of days later was Gulliver’s fourth birthday. It was a day spent collecting old weaver bird’s nests, eating Baobab fruit straight from the tree – (I am still trying to get to grips with how expensive the stuff is here in the UK.) Sipping beers at a mangrove side retreat and generally just enjoying this wonderful place. In the evening Gulliver had a party that was and eclectic mix of home made pizza’s and traditional djembe drumming and dance. For me this was the highlight of the trip. We all pitched in to make the pizzas, while the drums played there hypnotic beat and we all had a turn at throwing some shapes on the impromptu sandy dance floor. Some with more success than others!!! As the night drew to a close I found myself falling asleep with the rhythmic beats still resonating around my head.
Before too soon the time had come for us to say our goodbyes. Not before we had witness the arrival of the blue beast that was the Overlanding West Africa Truck and it’s inhabitants. As Simon switched into full host mode, with it has to be said a little sprinkling of Basil Fawlty, a feeling of pride washed over me. I knew he had established himself here, but I certainly underestimated how hard he, Khady and everyone else works.
Our trip rounded off with a visit from the Koumpo and chums. If you are a regular reader of Simon’s blog you will already know who this creature is. If not just imagine a giant pot plant that has the ability to spin itself in ways that I have not seen before. The ceremony was amazing, but alas it was one African oddity too much for Edie and she spent most of the time hiding in the bedroom!!!
This however did give me the chance to chat to her about her trip and the thing she enjoyed the most? Meeting her African cousins….and being dirty.
With a heavy heart and quite a few tears we left the following day. As the six adult filled taxi sped away from Abene I struggled to accept the fact that we were going home, and as the plane touched down in a very rainy Gatwick it was hard to accept that the trip was over.
So what will I miss the most? Obviously my extended family, but also the sense of community, the fact people talk to each other, the ‘I can sort it’ attitude and the warmth of the sun, but the biggest thing I will miss is the opportunity Edie had to just be a child. To discover new things, to run around and not worry about getting dirty, to see things she has only viewed on a screen or in a book and to just live her life carefree.
If like me you worry about your child growing up too quick and spending too much time ‘Plugged In’ and restricted, go to Abene, go to the Little Baobab, it’ll blow your mind!!!