Rainy Season in an Equatorial Tropical Sub-Saharan Country

The title reflects what most tourists who visit during the dry season miss: Rain and humidity. Ex-Pats who live here often experience the worst of it, but in the main, they live in comfortable compounds away from Serekunda, Brikama and villages with no roads, water or power (with one exception that we know of) so in fact are not too badly affected with their 4×4’s, and solar panels. Yes, we are jealous! When this is at our doorstep after the 1st week of intermittent rain.

Wading through dirty water, with all its bugs, bacteria, excrement is not a pleasant experience for Gambians either, but they have no alternative. This is our street where we live our lavish lifestyle 😉
The Gambia is renowned as being a good tourist destination in the English winter due to the sunny climate, short flight and the hospitality of Gambians who welcome visitors. The reality is, geographically situated near the equator, Gambia is an African tropical country and sub Saharan, which means Hot! Humid! And Wet! All weather is also affected by the climate from the Sahara Desert. At a guess, not many of our visitors give any consideration to what it is like here in the rainy season for a local person. Or for us to do our jobs in such extreme weather.

Image above: All tropical African countries. Deforestation means a lot of these have lost most of their tropical forest.

The UK also has a history of flooding in winter, when the drains cannot cope with the volume of water. Corfe Castle village springs to mind. Or houses are continually being built on flood plains and the water has nowhere to go. Now imagine you have no drains. Then where would your flood water go? Into your homes most likely, far more frequently than the flash floods that occur maybe once a year. British people have seen on TV the devastation flooding can do to homes and property in their own country and on occasion South America. Usually British people have adequate insurance to compensate such disasters.
Gambian homes of poor people and those S4K support are rented; As explained in previous blogs, consisting of one room and a parlour if you’re lucky or earn enough to rent a room with a parlour. When the rainy season descends for 4-5 months every year June, poor people have no insurance. They have no possessions of financial value to insure, just their worldly goods they depend on for their livelihood’s.
One of the main problems in Gambia is the lack of a proper drainage system. The British when they colonised Gambia built gulley’s in Banjul and around the edge of Serekunda which subsequently included more as new tarmac roads are built. These concrete gulches are around 2’ deep and full of whatever rubbish a passing person decides to throw in it. They are open, not covered so often small kids fall in them along with the rubbish. Therefore, when Gambian heavy rain descends it is nothing akin to British heavy rain, those rubbish filled gulches overflow within minutes.
One year, Sol and Ginger were heading back from Juffrea by ferry, (the village Kunta Kinte of Roots was taken from during the enslavement of Africans) and had just docked in Banjul, when the sky went black and the rain fell from the sky. They arrived in Serekunda some 50 minutes or so later. The main road from Banjul to the airport (tarmaced) was thigh deep in water and running like a ravine so fast Ginger lost her flip flops immediately and if Sol hadn’t grabbed her, she would have been swept away into the brackish water.
Life in a sub-tropical climate, is not like rainy weather in blighty, where you grab a brolly and carry on with a stiff upper lip. Oh no. If women don’t wade through the water to sell their goods at market, other women have nothing to feed their families. If the fishermen don’t fish in dangerous rip tides and storms, they sell no fish and have no money to pay their rent, and their customers and their families go hungry. If kids don’t go to school they miss their exams and will not graduate into the next academic year. Same for the teachers who teach the kids. One of the biggest differences between Gambia and other European countries we have experienced is “understanding”. Life is hard in Africa, Gambia is no different. Gambian’s have a saying “It’s not easy” and it is not. But regardless of the dire circumstances people experience every day of their lives during rainy season, they have understanding. Not just for the extra time everything takes. Or the wet dog smell that emanates from the kids who’ve had to practically swim to school. And the potential our kids have is what inspires us to keep going when it’s not easy. The 1st day of rain this season and a small group of kids came up with the Gambian Titanic:

Sol took the photo and it appears to have been built from the roof of some old vehicle. Whatever it is built from, treasure the ingenuity and intelligence of these boys. Who most likely are not in school. What a waste of the next Nobel Prize Winner.
As they set sail into the horizon, Sol reported the Titanic was taking in water. Given the depth of the rain water that’s fallen over the following 6 days, they could well be anywhere by now!

You may note the stash of broken TV sets that were all the rage in 1970. Anything you throw away (not your food detritus) is cannibalised and re-used here. So those TV’s may look like a dump, but the owner would have taken parts from each of them and used them to fix whatever a customer brings to him for repair. Another hidden victim of the rainy season. And below: Brikama market.

All it takes is for one of these people above to have any kind of open wound, scratch etc on the feet, legs for a multitude of infectious; and without proper treatment- fatal diseases. In addition to no drains, there are no bins. Or rubbish collection services unless you can pay a donkey man (below) to collect your compound rubbish yourself. Most people throw their rubbish on the floor as you see the floating plastic bags above.

These boys haven’t even taken the hobbles off the poor donkeys’ fetlocks.
Below: This is the crossroads of sand where a lot of kids usually play

A few hours later when the depth has receded out they come to play in the filthy water!

Kids too young to understand the dangers of dirty water and below a typical village house made of mud, which does not fare well with heavy rain.

Sol has literally waded his way from our flooded street (below) to the highway to get another batch of kids registered for September as we sponsor all over Gambia even in traditional villages like the one showing the house below

The rain, floods, risk of water-borne diseases will not stop us from getting these kids enrolled for September.

From Nursery, Primary and through to Senior all our kids are super excited for this coming years’ schooling and the new challenges it will bring. Squeezing 8 kids into a taxi not so much!

Working in tropical conditions for Sol (I am still immobile and getting a bit freaked by the prospect of spinal surgery), is no easy task. The kids live a fair distance from the schools they attend/will attend and all the back roads in local areas are inaccessible due to the rain. Even Taxi’s will not go to most of these areas now as the water is so deep and hidden ruts and holes cause serious damage to vehicles.

We woke up this morning to find our roof had partially caved in. Most likely along with 80% plus of our families’ homes. The strange thing about renting here is: The tenant pays for all repairs NOT the landlord as if you were in the UK! For us as tenants we must pay for any repairs to the house from the weather and the same for our families who no doubt have buckets in their rooms as their roofs’ will be leaking. For example, this job to remove old corrugate roofing strips, make good the wood batons underneath, fix and make good the new corrugate cost us the equivalent of £20 plus £10 for the helpers; like the man who climbed the Mango tree which caused all the damage. £20 to us on a tiny budget is manageable but will mean no internet top up. For our families £20 spent on the roof is 20 days’ worth of fish money. Gone.

When not fixing roofs and swimming ashore Sol is managing to register all the kids on his own this year, an incredibly difficult task on his own in this climate, and he is doing an amazing job.

The head teacher must be getting RSI from counting all the Dalassi by now.

Meanwhile, Ginger back at base camp has a hefty job of editing and sharing these hundreds of pics to share with their sponsors. On GMT, as the morphine is definitely not making her faster and more efficient! More like making her brain that of a mere mortal and having to write things down in a scrawl Einstein couldn’t decipher.
The 1st 100 kids have been registered, now onto the 2nd hundred. In the rain. This is why school fees must be paid before 1st June. Late payments mean delayed registrations and there’s no stopping the rain when it decides to fall and make everywhere inaccessible.

How many kids can you squeeze in the back of a taxi? 8 at least. T.I.A 

Some ex-pats call the rainy season the “green season” because after months of scorching sun and lifeless colourless streets of sand, now the Bougainvillea bloom, flowers seeded by birds’ months before, erupt in a range of colourful displays and colourful birds come to suckle nectar from the blossoming stamen’s. Like the Hibiscus below and the Bougainvillea blooming over Cape point.
If you want to see birds in Gambia you need to be an early bird yourself. Or you won’t be catching worms! Gambia is well known by Ornithologists for her wild array of our beautiful feathered friends. The best shot Ginger ever got, was of a Kingfisher while sailing up The river Gambia and an Eagle while at the former Eagle heights.

A Hibiscus flower Bougainvillea at Cape Point

A stunning Eagle at take-off; at the former Eagle Heights in Abuko Nature Reserve.

Without the rainy season these birds, the insects, mammals and pollen on which they feed would be gone. Like an English gardener will say “we need the rain” and as inconvenient as it is here, it is very true we do need it. To fill the reservoirs that fill our water tanks. To water our crops. To sew our seeds and harvest our rice and maize. Rain has been here since day one. As all societies progress and build towns, cities, roads, airports, homes on flood plains, de-forest the forests etc etc the need for natural rain increases. But in poverty filled lands like much of Africa the urbanisation without thought for ecology and the impact of rain on people and their livelihoods when they no longer live in villages and tend their crops daily is immense. People now need to get to market to sell or buy to survive. People are reliant on giley giley to get from A to B but with no accessible roads this becomes more than a hassle. No getting to work = no pay. No pay = hungry kids. Like everything the world over it all comes down to money. We pray now that we have a new era of democracy in Gambia the money will be spent in the right ways in the right areas. Time will tell…..

A Kingfisher spotted on a trip up the River Gambia, without the rains-low river levels mean  birds.

I don’t know enough about birds to write a blog post on them, but have just included these few in reference to the rainy season being a positive for our animal friends and the water we all need to survive. Like the Weaver Bird below and the Weaver Bird’s nests!

Rainy season or not, skoolz4kids have a job to do before escaping this torrid tropical rain in late August to seek an orthopaedic/neuro surgeon about what will happen to Gingers’ back. Until then the rain, the humidity and all the horrors that accompany it is our daily bread. The only way to make this bearable is the look on our kids faces when they enrol in class and the beautiful parts of Gambia like our birds and flowers.

Abli looking unfazed with it all and Jakaria and Sainey wearing their PJ’s we donated them over a year ago as their” best” clothes to register in school….

As the rainy season progresses I’m certain they’ll be things to add here, with some more colour from Gambia.


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