In this extract Jodie, a wheelchair user, meets Sirra, the ex-Alkalo (Head) of Malinding village while they are both visiting Gladstone's Library in North Wales.
'Sorry if I was staring. I'm Sirra Ceesay, from Malinding village, in the Gambia' and held out her hand.
'And I'm Jodie Sonko, from darkest Cheshire. My mum and dad are over there, talking to people. How do you do?' Get me again, all this white tribe ritual.
'Hello, Jodie. Is it OK to sit and talk for a while?'
'Yeah, so long as you don't try to …' I was going to say 'try to molest me' but I managed to switch out of potty-mouth mode. I could sense Rachel beaming at me. Where had she been for the past couple of weeks? Sirra smiled.
'No, nothing like that, whatever you thought'.
I tried again.
'Do you live in a mud hut with a thatched roof? Are there lots of wild tribes fighting each other? Do you … ' I know when I'm being laughed at. As soon as we got home I was going to ask dad to sponsor me for a brain transplant.
'Sorry, Jodie, I wasn't laughing at you. Of course we don't do any of those things, anymore than you do. We do have several tribes, I'm Mandinka. There are also Wolof, Jola, Serehula and Aku. Some people do live in mud brick houses but they may well have piped water and electricity. And to be honest, it's far too hot to fight. And to explain why I wanted to talk to you, well, you look like a Mandinka girl.' Was that an insult? Was it better or worse than looking like a girl from Widnes? I could hear Rachel telling me to shut up and listen. Fat chance.
'I'm here because my mum and dad wanted me to be here. I'm adopted. My real mum's dead. My legs are like this because I was in a car crash. I'm rubbish with books and I'm so stupid I'm a plank. I'm a half caste and a half wit.'
'Jodie, that's not you. I suppose you could call my children half caste. My first husband was a white man. He died a while ago and I came back here to help remember him. I've two children. My son is the Alkalo, the chief, of our village. He's also a university lecturer. My daughter is a lawyer and she's also a member of parliament. And you don't seem to be at all half-witted. You can listen, you can express yourself fluently and you're not afraid to ask questions. I'm a teacher. Don't look so scared, I won't bite. We have crocodiles to do that for us.' It took me a moment to see that she was joking. I hoped she was, about the crocodiles, anyway. I was having a conversation with a stranger. What was happening to me? I was having meals with the wrong names. I was being fairly polite. I was staying in the sort of place that normally wouldn't let me in. I was in the sort of place I didn't know existed.
'Tell me about Africa?'
'Don't look for the differences. Look for the similarities. Start small. Let's start with Malinding. A couple of hundred compounds - places where people live. Men, women and children. There are three schools, a clinic, half a dozen mosques.'