I love the cast of curious, inspirational, eccentric and adorable characters that I have met during my time in The Gambia, both local and expatriate.
Uncle George heads the list for the most well-connected, and the snappiest dresser. A former national footballer, and president of the National Olympic Committee, he is the ‘fixer’ in the team due to his impeccable connections with the who’s who of the country. And he is always the epitome of sartorial splendour in his co-ordinated safari suit and pork pie hat.
He’s also an amazing host and invited me to his home for dinner last week, laying on a fabulous spread of Gambian dishes including a super indulgent Benachin, the most delicious spiced fried onions I’ve ever tasted and peanut sauce baked chicken pieces.
He also had a most interesting guest list – myself and Ndimbalan, the runner-up in the Miss Africa pageant (a long-legged beauty with the appetite of a horse and an equally eye-candylicious brother as an escort) and a trio of gorgeous young Gambian girlies.
Maurice, the co-proprietor of Safari Garden and Sandele Eco Resort, is also another memorable resident. Gruff, irascible, a stickler for service consistency and a great dry sense of humour, he is old school expat meets Victor Meldrew, but in the nicest possible way. And he makes a killer chocolate and beetroot cake.
Add to the mix, my quartet of colleagues at ASSET/Plymouth Banjul – the quiet but deep Ndimbalan, sassy Sarah the admin and finance manager, smart-mouth Daouda who should really be in politics, and tenacious Badu; as well as Adama – my big boss who has been such an inspiration – and his daughter Mariama, the new face of Gambian businesswoman.
My expat friends – the Fajara Massive – including construction manager and drum n’ bass diva Gemma, her partner DJ Two-Bad Toubab Dave, Sam the card sharp/ architect, ‘too cool for school’ hospitality student Fatou – the Gambia returnee - and Tom (Foday), the absinthe fairy (long story, don’t ask), all contributed their own individual magic.
This post has dissolved into an Oscar-worthy thank-you speech and before I get too maudling I shall end with a quick vote of thanks to the Safari Garden team, who took such good care of their often only guest – Lamins 1 to 4 including PaBoy the model, Mohammed, James from Guinea-Bissau, Serrah the general manager, Fernando the silent but special, Kemo, Manjiki, Bakary and Adama the chef.
The volunteer culture mixed with the weird and wonderful world of international expatdom plus a heavy dose of Africa makes for a heady brew and strong cast of characters. It almost reads like an exotic soap opera. Colonialisation Street.