Ok, so travelling complete and without too many problems. Security at Manchester’s Airport was busy and thorough, thus, it took some time to pass through. We even had a spot check by a very serious member of border control. In the scheme of things this is a good thing, however, when we arrived in the smiling coast of Africa it was proven that you can be thorough with a smile and a welcome. The first person we spoke to was a very militant looking guard, wearing a beret and carrying a hand gun. He asked us similar questions as his British equivalent but had a cheery way about him…welcome to The Gambia 😀
First Impressions –
It was around 22:00 and we were very tired, Paul had worked through the night and I had been traveling since 04:00 to meet Paul at Runcorn train station. We collected our bags and passed through passport control to be met by Ngange (NDMA) & Samba (Gambia Fire & Rescue) who had very kindly been waiting 30 minutes to welcome us in true Gambian style. They had arranged to use their own time outside of their working hours to collect us from the airport.
We drove through the dark streets to eventually come across a dirt track to the Palm Beach Hotel. We checked in with the help of Ngange and Samba. After making plans to meet them the next morning, we headed to the basic, but nice room. At £1 for a beer what’s a couple of students to do but go to the bar, we sat until gone midnight before finally off to bed.
We woke in the morning at 07:00 after a much needed sleep and headed for breakfast. Ngange arrived on time, as promised and signalled to us at our table that he was here. We went to meet him outside the hotel and were greeted by the distinctive sounds of African birds and a beautiful view of where the Kotu stream meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Our first stop was in at the Gambian Fire & Rescue services headquarters in Banjul. We had a very inspiring meeting with the services Chief Fire Officer. Both Paul & I were very impressed with his charismatic, holistic, common sense based and can do attitude. We were further impressed to learn that he had served forty years in the fire service and was clearly as enthusiastic today as he was as an officer cadet forty years ago. His views on investing in his workforce, whom he sees as Gambia’s people, was awe inspiring. We got the sense he had no plans to slow down as he has an ongoing project to drill a bore hole in rural Gambia, allowing access to water for fires and for locals to have fresh water to drink and grow crops.
We had a informal introduction to many people who worked at Churchill’s town fire station, all would come to attention then shake our hands. We met heads of fire safety, communications, HR and I.T. before being shown new buildings that were in progress as the new workshops. We returned to a more formal introduction with the Firefighters on duty that day; blue watch, yet another salute before Samba was telling them why we were visiting the country. He is a very open and friendly guy even though he is the boss, there is obvious respect from his crew. Once the formalities were over with we mingled around the sparse fire engine, we were both shocked at how little equipment they had available even though they attend the same kind of incidents we do in England, our respect for them was growing by the minute. They were telling us how they had to adapt to the limited resources, despite Avon fire service being very generous over the years, some of the initiative they had to use made us wince at times as it was something we couldn’t do in our own services. There is obvious pride in what they do for a living (so there should be) and also grateful of the help they have been given by their partners in the UK, Avon fire service have done a great job in assisting them this far.
Their interest in the way we worked was shown by them enthusiasticly surrounding us and asking lots of questions, we were asking them more by the end of the session. The main disaster they are affected by is flooding, it even floods in the fire station to the extent they can’t move the pumps, there is work being done to try to act against this but it takes educating communities and finance which is a large speed bump on the road to progression.
We left the guys to go to prayer and for their lunch while Rich and I sweated in the office, chatting about the day so far and what the coming days had to offer.
Cheers, Paul & Rich, Masters of Disasters having a beer!