Medina Salaam is what you might call a primitive village. No electricity, no streetlights to illuminate the dirt track side roads, water drawn from a well or bore hole, very few cars, mainly bicycles. At night when we’re out with the head torch we see fires in the compounds, people sitting round chatting in the darkness. We’re charging phones with the solar panel and the dynamo on the bike, filtering water and messing with bikes at the project. The days are hot and the nights are clear. There’s no light pollution, very little vehicle pollution, indeed next to nothing to invade the hours of your day.
We’ve seen a cobra that visited the garden, monkeys at the beach bar and cows meandering on the sand. The dawn chorus makes for a pretty unique alarm clock.
New Years Eve was spent listening to local drummers at the bar, Christmas Day was a walk along a deserted beach.
Medina Salaam is the sort of village where primitive life can feel like a privilege.
But then we’re tourists. With the option of a quick exit if we get too much sand between our toes, we’re never going to really know what it’s like to live in Medina Salaam.
So, why are we here?
Principally, it’s all about bicycles. Re-Cycle is a small charity armed with spanners and volunteers that send container loads of unwanted bikes from England to NGO partners in Africa who work to restore them. Then they’re sold to the locals, which in turn provides economical transport for people, jobs for mechanics and funding for the NGOs.
The NGO we’re working with in the Gambia is Wonder Years Centre Of Excellence (WYCE), which provides education and healthcare for the people of Medina Salaam, as well as jobs for many of the locals. The income from the sale of the bikes helps support the work that WYCE does.
We’re here to train mechanics, fix up bikes, get our hands dirty and generally enjoy the experience of a simple and friendly life in Medina Salaam. And it’s worked out pretty much as planned. There’s a blue sky canopy over our days, shade under mango trees and on the ground there’s the steady motion of life within the WYCE compound.
Then there are walks on the beach, trips through the local villages and time to think about how life can take you to some pretty special places when you climb on your bike and pedal.