For some months, one big thing has been on my mind – my parents visit. Their first to Africa proper, their first to meet Khady and their first to meet their first grandson, Gulliver.
I wanted it to be right and aimed to impress, showing them I haven’t gone crazy, have a good and comfortable lifestyle and to help them understand the bigger picture of what I’m trying to achieve. As usual, Africa ganged up on me making this trickier than expected.
The first set back was when it became apparent the ground wasn’t going to dry out and we couldn’t finish the toilet and shower in time. Khady and I were determined they’d stay with us and we built a temporary jungle bathroom, complete with (bucket) flushing loo and a prawn shell decorated shower (photo to follow).
Kermit’s been very reliable over the months, but chose the morning of arrival for several problems in the steering to manifest. I raced to the garage and they worked fast, but we were cutting it fine to arrive at the airport on time. As the mechanics finished, someone parked in front of me and disappeared, leaving me sat helplessly for ten minutes in the sun – don’t you love those moments?
Finally, we arrived at the airport – we were on time but they’d arrived early and were standing looking worried having been waiting a while. As we greeted, the airport mechanic checked some worrying grating sounds – the ball bearings had gone on the front left wheel and the previous mechanic hadn’t seen that. So, we drove down to the nearest town, saw a helpful looking man who of course knew a man who could fix anything – that’s the great thing about this part of the world – there’s always a fixer around, and with him joining us in the back, off we went.
This was a pretty serious introduction to Africa for the folks – we drove for about five miles down bumpy pot hole ridden dust tracks, through forests, deeper and deeper into the bush. Just a bit further, the fixer kept saying and I could see the folks were anxious wondering if we were being lead into an ambush. Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time to me and Khady was speaking in the local language and knows exactly who she can trust. Finally, we arrived at a small house in the middle of nowhere, where the mechanic just happened to have exactly the right materials. We were all given chairs and sat, catching up whilst chickens clucked around and curious kids curtseyed to us and asked our names. Welcome to Africa!
Two hours, £10 lighter and with Kermit sounding much healthier, we set off towards the border, reaching it as the darkness fell, passing a ceremonial procession with a lion dancer who jumped on the side of Kermit and hissed through the windows as we slowed down to look. The Senegalese side was closed, so we continued as illegal aliens (not a problem, we know a back way back into Gambia with no Senegalese border post) until we reached the first town where the military had decided to close the road and said we’d have to sleep there. Now this wasn’t what I had in mind for Mum and Dad’s first night and it was around this point I started thinking things weren’t going to plan. But Khady spoke to the guy and eventually he let us sneak past down a side road and we were on our way again.
The Senegalese say that when you have your own land and house, your life can be tranquil and good. Khady’s sister had prepared the house and a huge platter of fire grilled fish, rice, salad and a strong mustard and onion marinade. I had a few bottles of Julbrew, Gambia’s finest, chilling in my new cooler along with a bottle of lady petrol (rose). We gathered around and ate in the communal African style in the cooler evening air, listening to the jungle noises beneath the African starlit sky.
The next day, I was able to show them around properly. We have a nice shaded jungle glade where set up our table and chairs and relaxed for the morning. Although they’ve been to many parts of the world including India and south east asia, they said this was without doubt the hottest – and it has cooled slightly compared to the previous months.
Khady and some friends had some surprises – Backary, the guy who’s been helping me with much of the clearing, fencing and roofing arrived leading a goat. This was introduced to us before being led round the back for dispatch – for the next couple of days we ate it, grilled and stewed. Babies Simon and Khady were brought round for inspection and then in the late afternoon, we heard drumming and chanting. A procession entered our land including a koumpo and ngoma (the gorilla mask). Everyone sang and danced and obviously Mum and Dad got dragged up to have a go. Palm wine appeared, more goat came out and as I saw Dad playing with the children, Mum all wrapped up in Gulliver and Khady dancing, the troubles of the previous day were forgotten.
For the next few days, we explored the village and met everyone, relaxed on the empty beaches, visited markets, walked to the nearest town and took a boat trip in the nearby mangroves, viewing an island with hundreds of pelicans. Dad even helped me clear some jungle for a couple of afternoons. Although my life might not be for them, they could see I was in my element and I think felt much happier.
We then drove down the bush tracks to visit Khady’s mum and family. My Dad, who isn’t one for sitting around, and I walked around – most people know me there by now, and then we returned for some beef stew before carrying along the bush tracks into the Gambia. They stamped us in, no questions asked and it was as if we’d never been to Senegal. Then after an hour of bumpy dirt tracks we hit the main road and the bright lights of the beach resorts. For the next couple of days we’ll be relaxing, eating in great restaurants and perhaps seeing a crocodile or two, before their return, although I suspect they will be back.
I’ll leave you with a few words from my Mother – the first entry in our Guest Book:
“If you want to experience true African living, the culture, the food and to mix with locals, then this is the place for you. The Little Baobab has it all. Hospitality is second to none, food is prepared the Senegalese way – fresh, organic and very very tasty. Thatched dwellings are set amidst palms, fruit trees and jungle growth – the perfect African setting. The Senegalese are friendly and welcoming, days are spent relaxing in the sunshine and our busy hectic English life feels a distant memory. Abene, with it’s beautiful beaches and gorgeous scenery are close to hand – at the Little Baobab you have it all”.