I never expected the up country part of Gambia to be so completely different from the coast. Roughing it does not begin to describe how differently people live in rural Gambia.
Sand everywhere and virtually nothing has lawn, concrete or covering. Not a drop of water to clean off the dust and no electricity most of the time.
Eating virtually in the dark in Aghi’s restaurant in Barra near the Ferry Terminal of the North Bank was quite an experience.
But it was at Tendaba Lodge that everything unravelled. We arrived late, as usual, after a day where we covered almost 300kms to get to the places I wanted to see. I was supposed to have a room with A/C. Of course, the message had not gotten through somehow. I then made a fuss about having a proper mattress as the first room they were going to put me in had a decent one but the shower wasn’t working. They simply brought it over to the new room I was staying in.
I was so pleased to have got a decent night’s sleep and was getting ready for breakfast when there was a knock on the door. It was Ebrimya, my travelling companion. “Moodou is sick. He has been vomiting since 4:00 this morning. We must go on the birding tour quickly and then get him to the hospital.” I was very concerned because Moodou seemed like the sort that was indestructible. But then I saw him lurching around and realised he was in a bad way. It then seemed that someone at the lodge was going to take him to the local clinic. But, somehow, that never transpired. When we returned from the early morning birding trip, things were getting worse.
I had no idea that I was going to be the designated driver, the ambulance driver as it were. But Ebrimya didn’t know how to drive so I had to step up to the task.
Of course, first though in my mind was “…is it the dreaded Ebola?” I had said to everyone when I was going to West Africa that there was nothing to worry about. But there was no time to think negative thoughts for more than a few seconds. Within a few minutes of leaving the compound, we had to pull over to let our sick friend ‘use the toilet’. Of course, there really weren’t any toilets in these rural villages (nor running water or electricity) so I knew we were in for a long journey. And it would be a two hour drive to get to the hospital. How I managed to navigate at top speed, going off road, then, when getting on the highway, avoiding cows, goats, people, bikes…and dealing with police, immigration and police road blocks (one military guy was furious with me because I mis-read his hand signal and went forward when he wanted me to stop. He then decided to search my luggage even when we told him that there was a sick person in our vehicle). But with steadfast determination – energised by the fear that someone could die on my watch – we managed to get Modou to the hospital before his symptoms became any worse.
Not only did Modou recover, he said the only thing wrong with him was that he drank and smoked to much. I didn’t believe that for a minute.
I will never forget that 2 hour drive from the back country to Banjul.