Dart Valley Writers U3A




Lindsay Ellwood


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Charity Bananas



I stood with my face turned to the yellow disc of the morning sun, and sighed, with a sense of release.

Senna, my guide, turned and put his finger to his lips to indicate quiet, and pointed to a dark shape, high up in a tree. He handed me his binoculars, and the blurred mass became clear, once I had adjusted the lens.

'It's a huge owl!' I stated, rather obviously. I had never seen an owl in the wild so clearly before, and It was stunningly beautiful. It was perched on a high branch, absolutely still, with its eyes shut.

'It's Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, one of the largest of the true Owls.'

'That's amazing!'

The bird was far too high to take a photo, so we continued on our walk through the bush, with Senna pointing out wonderful, colourful birds as we went along.

I was staying in a lodge along a tributary of the River Gambia, taking some time off from visiting an educational project. The Gambian Schools Trust had raised enough money to build a new Nursery School, and to set up two new libraries. As a Trustee, I had volunteered to visit the area to see how the projects were developing, and to report back to the board in the U.K.

I had been keen to make the trip to visit the projects; I love The Gambia and its people, but it was also a good reason for me to get away from my situation at home. My husband, Peter, had recently dropped a bombshell - the classic mid-life crisis - an affair with a colleague, which I had found devastating. I had thought our marriage was pretty stable, but when I looked back, there were tell-tale signs, which I had chosen to ignore. He had moved out to live in a flat near his office, and it felt as if pieces of my life had been thrown into the air, and had landed in random places - the same pieces, but disconnected, somehow.

We arrived in a clearing next to a lake. Senna pointed across to the opposite shore, where there was a plantation of palm trees. Goats were resting in the shade, and chickens were scratching next to a lean-to construction.

'That's it, over there,' he said, pausing only briefly before setting off in that direction.

We passed through the plantation where many of the trees had plastic water bottles attached around the trunk, to collect the sap for making palm wine.

We reached the lean-to, and Senna entered, softly calling a name into the gloom. To my surprise, a figure moved from under the pile of coloured material, strewn on a wooden bench. The ancient fortune-teller sat up slowly, revealing a face that was as cracked as the dry earth. He invited me to sit on the bench, and he gave me a hand mirror to hold, which he angled, so that he could see my face.

Senna translated from Mandinka, one of the tribal languages,' You are a healthy woman, who will live to an old age, but you are unhappy. You enjoy being in The Gambia, and there is a life for you here in the future. But you must do an act of charity for this good fortune to come about. Buy two bananas, and find a mother with a baby on her back. Give one banana to the mother and one to the baby.'

I thanked him, and handed him a hundred dalasi, which is about £1.50. Senna and I then began the walk back to the lodge. On the way, I began pondering on his words. I had no plans to return to The Gambia in the near future, but he was right about one thing - I was unhappy.

'Senna, I want to buy some bananas!'

He gave me a broad smile, 'We can go to the market tomorrow morning.'

Early the next morning, I met Senna at the entrance to the lodge, and we drove to the market in Brikama,the nearest town, which was a vibrant mass of people and colour. The food stalls sold glossy fresh vegetables, herbs, spices, dried fish - the mixed aromas were intriguing. Women dressed in beautiful patterned fabrics of purple, green, orange, with scarves wound around their heads were selling produce or buying food for their families; some were balancing baskets on their heads, others haggling over prices.

We went to a stall and bought a bunch of bananas, and immediately afterwards a woman with a baby of about nine months strapped to her back, walked past. Senna stopped her and explained the reason for the charity, and I gave her and her baby a banana. She smiled, thanked me, and went about the rest of her shopping.

"Thanks Senna. I was thinking - I might arrange to stay a little longer..."