Saturday, 7 November 2015

Back to school, Gambian style.

Just a thought before I embark on a new day: when I say 'we did this or we did that' I mean the charity, GOES, did this or that! True, much of the funding comes from us or from the sales of the eBooks in the Malinding series of Kindle books, or from events staged by Vale Royal Writers' Group, or from donations by family or friends. Anyway, it's all done in the name of Gambian Occasional Emergency Support (GOES). On with the story!
Ams, on time as usual, collected us after breakfast and took us to visit one of the schools we support.
Sorry! One of the schools GOES supports! We greet the headteacher in the usual way - Is there peace? How are you? How is/the family? Is everything fine? When the exchange ends we are invited to visit each of the classes. As we enter the room the teacher greets us and the children stand up and say 'Hello.' Sometimes we are invited to sing or tell a story or recite a poem and then the whole class will sing for us. We return to the head's office and are shown inspectors' reports on the progress of the children. The school is doing well; the staff are all qualified, the school compound is securely fenced and there is a good gate to exclude intruders. (Thanks again to GOES) Together with one of the teachers I try to fix the office computer and come to the conclusion that the printer needs a new cartridge. A price is agreed, the head suggests that a repaired printer will require paper - we agree - money is handed over, we are given a receipt, and the teacher departs for the market. Later in the day we are invited to a demonstration of the printer working and given change (which we count carefully) because the teacher haggled a better price than we had expected.
Why did we count the change so carefully? It was a small amount by our standards - did we not trust the man? Of course we trusted him, but we were required to count the money to demonstrate that he was honest we were not foolish.
We looked around the outside of the school and noted that beautiful pictures had been painted on the walls by another member of staff - initially at his own expense. We discussed staff wages with the head and agreed to make a contribution every month.
At one o'clock the school bell rang and all the children (about 100) trooped through the staff room to shake hands and say goodbye. The school seemed a friendly place, the children were happy and proud to demonstrate their knowledge.
Ams drove us to the head's compound and we greeted the extended family - trying our Mandinka and being gently corrected when we said the wrong thing. The head's sister in law had been cooking - fish Benechin - and we all sat round the bowl to eat as part of the family. We are not skilled at eating rice with our fingers but we tried yet again. We do try, but were quite happy to be given spoons to eat with. We drank Ataya, prepared by the head's oldest son, laughed and joked with the small children, nursed the babies and caught up with the gossip since our previous vist a few months ago. Ams drove us back to the hotel. We agreed to fund a very bright seven year old girl (how many seven year olds do you meet who speak six languages?) through her next year at school. We were too full to eat a full meal so we settled for a sandwich and a Malta. A five piece Jazz band rolled up, and we danced for a while wirh one another, then some of the staff joined in. We slept well that night - we did the accounts next morning before breakfast.

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