Monday, July 10, 2006

LISA WRITES FROM GAMBIA: the fish report with a beat

The busy fish market
7th July Diary

In light of the long and productive day we had at Abuko National Park yesterday, it was thought best that Friday should be spent as more of a casual affair (some of us having trekked round the park twice!), so that the group could rest up ready for the long trek that lay ahead on Saturday. I found this an excellent idea as I was beginning to suffer from what is medically known as ‘Banjul belly’; thankfully only a mild case which I can only liken to watching a terrific storm out to sea, and praying that it does not blow inland.

While at breakfast it was discussed that we may venture down to the local fish market, as it is not much more that a 10 minute walk away (it can be seen from the veranda of the hotel, being situated on the beach just down from us) to see if the local fisherman’s catch of the day had anything unusual or of interest to offer. but first in light of the large amount of information that had been amassed at Abuko we all set about making notes and comparing information.

While Oll was busy with his blog entry, and after we had finished documenting our information, Richard, Dr Chris, and myself went down to the sea for a swim and to have a look around the shore line for anything of interest. This ‘Atlantic’ refreshment was greatly needed, as today there is no cloud which is making for a very bright day with intense heat; I also found it soothing to a certain degree with my stomach complaint!

Dr Chris and Richard wandered off to a large outcrop of rocks in search of potential things of interest, while I had a look along the small shore line. While doing this I came across a ‘cuttlefish’. At first glance I thought it may have still been alive, as its cromatophores were still active, however they can carry on working for some time after death. I named him ‘’Cthulhu’. Although dead, it was nice to see such a creature in its entirety, rather than stuck in the side of a budgie cage.

The catch of Cthulhu

After returning from our Atlantic refreshment, Suzi, Oll and Chris M were off to the internet café to send off the latest report. Richard and I went to look out on the veranda to see if there were any signs of life at the fish market; as we looked out we could see that the market place was bustling with life, so we decided that we would leave a note for the other guys for when they returned, letting them know of our whereabouts if they wished to follow us down. Dr. Chris, Richard and myself gathered what we needed, and made our way down to the fish market, which was a straight 10 minute walk via the main road just outside the hotel.

Now when I say straight walk this implies that you do not get accosted by the locals which hang around outside the hotels wanting to be your guide, which is what happened to us, so a 10 minute walk became somewhat longer. We did not obtain this guys name as we were trying not to encourage him, if you do not require a guide then the rule is to politely ignore them and they will eventually drop back, disappear and seek out their next tourist, however Richard made the mistake of conversing with him. We eventually arrived at the fish market with an extra member in our group.

The market was full of people going about their business, cutting/drying/salting/smoking various kinds of fish. We made our way toward the pier where the larger types of fish were being kept in a manner that would have caused the UK’s Health & Hygiene officials to have a breakdown, but it must be remembered that this is Gambia and things are done differently; people make the most of and utilise what resources they have at their disposal.

A box of barracuda

Drying catfish bladders for export

Sole has no eyes

A butterfish

The rusty battered freezers were lined up all along both sides of the pier (not plugged in, naturally). Wherever there was a gap void of a freezer, families crouched on the floor eating together, in some spaces individuals slept after a long days fishing, and mothers nursed and cleaned their children. Richard asked a local fisherman if he could look inside the freezers to see what they day’s catch had brought home.

On the whole there was nothing of major interest contained within the freezers, mainly just a mixture of ice, sole fish, butter fish, and barracudas, but because Richard had sparked up another conversation we now had a second person joining our group who promptly took it upon himself to give us a tour of the market. In effect we now had stereo guides, (not an ideal situation I thought), who Richard unwittingly facilitated by asking more questions.

At this point I began to start feeling a little uncomfortable with the developing situation, as this second ‘unofficial’ guide lead us to the less busy smoke house area of the market. While en-route to this part of the market I was approached by a man who leant over my left shoulder and said, in a low voice, “My name Saul I work African village hotel”, at which point he showed me his pass card. “Be careful these men dangerous”. On hearing this I felt my suspicions vindicated and discreetly told Richard what had be relayed to me. To my ‘horror’ Richard said ok and promptly carried on conversing with the two men.

I now began to take on a different approach to the whole situation, my main objective as I saw it was to get all three of us back to the hotel ASAP, without too much hassle. I casually mentioned getting back and we started to make our way out of the fish market and up onto the main road. At this stage I was at the back of Richard and Dr.Chis, observing what was going on around us and looking for any signs that may indicate a potential situation. However, while making our way back to the main road the fisherman had started to tell Richard of the need for cement to carry out repairs. Richard believed the man’s story, as he found it refreshing that the guy was not asking for money and thought his story credible, and had agreed to buy cement.

We finally reached the main road and, as I thought, averted any potential danger; alas, I was wrong. We crossed over the road to head down a rather dingy and not to say dodgy looking alley. The only thing this alley was lacking was a soundtrack similar to those you get in B rated horror movies, you know the sort, the music which implies something nasty is just about to happen!

I asked Richard,” where the hell are we going now”? he replied, “to get some cement”. I replied “I’m not going down there! I’m going back to the hotel”, thinking that the guys would see sense or get the fisherman and the other local to bring the cement to them. But to my jaw dropping horror they followed them down the ally and disappeared to the left. I began to make my way back to the hotel thinking how on earth do I explain this, I then became aware of someone shouting me, thinking it was another local trying to make a quick dalasi I ignored it. The next thing I know I am being tapped on the should by a Gambian policeman who looked very concerned. The man that had first warned me had got one of his friends to ring the police.

The policeman asked in a very concerned manner where have your friends gone?. I explained to him that they had gone down the aforementioned ally and that I had refused to do so. He replied “good lady”, he went on to say the man, meaning the fisherman is very dangerous and bad, and that bad thing may happen to your friends, “we must find your friends immediately, come with me”, he exclaimed in a very adamant, concerned manner.

Even with an official I was still rather hesitant to go venturing down the alleys and back streets of Bakau. We searched the corrugated shack filled alleys, asking the locals which direction they had been taken in for some time until we found them, at which point I hung back while the officer went over and fetched Richard & Dr.Chis, who were still seemingly totally unaware of the potential danger they had put themselves in.

The officer explain loosely (as by now a small crowd had gathered) regarding the fisherman’s modus oprandi and lighheartedly said “there are good and bad people wherever you go, in future listen to the lady she has sense”. Needless to say, the moment the police man appeared on the scene the ‘fisherman’ disappeared.

Babu the police informer

Thinking the worst over we began to make our way back escorted by Babu, the man who had telephoned the police, but again to our dismay he also began to try and obtain money by mentioning that he had got married yesterday and why weren’t we at the wedding?

Wanting to get back I took matters into my own hands. Being ill earlier that day, I explained that I was unwell with ‘Banjul belly’ and exaggerated my condition, which, in light of the situation, I felt was justified, and needed to get back to the hotel to take my medication. Faining this illness served us well, so much so that Richard thought that I actually was severely ill. We gave Babu a few dalasi for his troubles, as after all he had called the police, which stopped a potentially serious incident from occurring, and made our way back to the hotel where we retold the afternoon’s events to the rest of the group.

I think that the moral of this story for today kids, is that sometimes adults should not talk to strangers, if they do, they should think long and carefully before doing so.

All in all just another day on a CFZ expedition!!!!


Smoking catfish


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like the Roger Waters references, and "Catch of Cthulhu" indeed. You'll loose 3D6 SAN for that. ;-)


11:16 PM  

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