Tim, John and Paul have travelled up to Northern Senegal and Tim has invited me to write a little about the trip from a volunteer’s point of view. The second group of volunteers said goodbye to them on Tuesday afternoon to fly home and yesterday they were departing the Paradise Inn in The Gambia to travel over the border into Senegal and drive North almost to the Mauritanian border on the bumpy Kaolack road so aptly described by Chris in the YouTube Video Diary No. 4. This time they were travelling without JJ, our wonderful guide, but in a 4 x 4 with a driver, it will have been a very long day for them and I certainly don’t envy the border crossing – with JJ we didn’t have to step off the bus so it will be interesting to see how they fared without him.
One of the highlights of the second week was a visit to Tanji School, with 1200 pupils, 600 attending in the morning, and 600 in the afternoon. All education in Gambia is paid for privately, with the aid of their parents, these children are fortunate. Throughout our travels on the bus we were always greeted by lots of children running from the dusty areas in front of their village and town huts, they waved frantically at us calling ‘hello’ and were overjoyed by a return wave from us. We were not disappointed when our bus pulled into the dusty playground of the school. Most were dressed in the blue and white uniform and as they eagerly gathered around us it was a joy to see their smiling faces. We were introduced to some of the teachers and a group of children was selected to fill one of the classrooms to listen to what Tim had to say about Ospreys. To illustrate his talk he used his laptop and book ‘Birds of The Gambia and Senegal’, which he promptly presented to the Headteacher afterwards. Whilst Tim was speaking, John was drawing an Osprey on the blackboard – the children watched on in awe, as too did we. I would imagine that drawing is still on the blackboard. Other children were clamouring at the doorway next to me and also at the open brick windows, but as much as they pushed and pulled they were extremely polite to us. Once Tim had finished talking we started taking photos of the children and the excitement and wonderment of seeing themselves in the photos was a joy to see, they pointed at the photo and giggled with each other, such a simple pleasure. I know Tim will be working hard to establish that link between Tanji School and one of ours and things have already been set in motion to raise money for those happy smiling schoolchildren.
As far as the birds are concerned, I’m going to leave that to the experts, who will be reporting on their return, unless they can get wifi whilst on their travels. I will say, however, that there seemed to be a certain element of lighthearted competition between Week 1 and Week 2 as to who could see the most species. Well, let’s just say that as a volunteer from Week 2 my smile is as broad as any that I witnessed from the lovely people of The Gambia! I shall not mention any numbers but Paul carried his notebook everywhere and studiously recorded them all. These figures and names were handed to Liz Jameson, Project Information Officer, who will be typing them up for us all – it was almost like the Olympic Flame being handed over.
One more thing before I sign off. Three of the volunteers visited Isle des Oiseaux (Island of the Birds) with the rest of the team. Sadly the rest of the volunteers decided not to come along because of the journey itself. It was a long journey; breakfasting at 5.30am, travelling by bus in darkness to Missira, in the Sine Saloum delta to get in a fishing boat to take us out to the island. It was a distance of 16km but avoiding the mud flats more like 20km – 1hr 45mins. The sea was quite choppy and some of us got soaked. We waded from the boat to shore on arrival at the island. We were the first people to set foot on the island since Simon King’s visit last year and we felt very very privileged. Words are going to be totally inadequate to describe what awaited us. The first week Tim said he could see 11 birds on the tapering sandbar at the end of the island but George and I counted 14 this week. I could see 6 Ospreys in my binoculars without moving! We were very close as they fished right in front of us, taking their catch back to the sandbar. This was really what I had come to see; Ospreys in their wintering quarters and nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle unfolding so closely.
More updates next week.