Eating akara, dancing to Baatin and saying goodbye to The Gambia

Thursday morning and it’s our last full day.

After another school visit in the morning (on behalf of The Gambia Experience’s School Development Fund), Shelagh and I spend the afternoon visiting our Guinean friends to say goodbye. More chatting, more singing and a few more photos. We are really touched when they give each of us a wooden carving. They are wonderful but I can’t help thinking that they shouldn’t have. No, they really shouldn’t have. They have so little. I will treasure the carving and when I am sitting at home on a cold English winter’s evening I’m sure it will bring back many happy memories of my friends in Africa.

That evening we enjoy chatting to some of the other guests at the hotel who we have made friends with. They really are a lovely bunch of people.

There’s a band playing on the restaurant’s terrace – an interesting mixture of reggae, jazz, blues and traditional West African music. It’s our last night and when some of the waiters and waitresses start dancing I join in and soon most of the other guests do too.

Afterwards I have a chat with the band. Baatin, means something along the lines of righteous passage or telepathy – a higher plane of thinking perhaps. They sing in Wolof, Swahili, Portuguese as well as English. Ebrima Touray, the male lead singer and co-leader of the band has a lovely gravely voice well suited to the blues. Kumba Sowe, who sings female lead for some of the songs has a beautiful rich, velvety voice. Originally from Senegal, Baatin met Ebrima in The Gambia and he introduced the band to the blues. You can find out more about Baatin and listen to some of their music on myspace although the information is rather out of date.

Our last morning, and as I step out onto the open stairway outside our room I breath in the smell of burning churia banta. A type of wood sprinkled over charcoals or heated in clay pots to perfume the air. The walk through the gardens to the restuarant is lovely in the morning sunshine.

I have never tried the local breakfast dish akara so I pop three of the small round balls and a little of the sauce onto a plate and sit on the terrace overlooking Ngala’s gardens with a glimpse of the sea through the palm trees. The akara is great and I’d wished I’d tried it sooner. The balls are made of  black-eyed peas grounded into flour and deep-fried, served with an onion, chilli and jimbo (seasoning) sauce. I found them really delicious, crispy on the outside and smooth and light on the  inside.

After breakfast there’s plenty of time for relaxing by the pool before we have to head off to the airport and I think over what a wonderful week it’s been.

This is my last diary entry until my next visit to The Gambia, but I’ve lots more to tell you in the coming weeks from this trip including an interview with the fascinating chef at Ngala Lodge, my morning with Ida cooking fish benechin and I have been given a Gambian cook book to review so I’m really looking forward to trying some of the recipes when I get home. Plus I’ll be answering some questions, such as why do you see flip-flops nailed to trees in West Africa and how do you play wuri?

Time to start planning another journey! Where next?


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