We’ve hired a car. It has a hand brake that works, a wheel in each corner, tyres that have some tread, functioning indicators and lights (though the switch is dodgy, needing a gentle touch with a matchstick to operate the lights) and a selection of gears. We even have air con, though we prefer Gambian AC: open windows.
Most potential hire cars we viewed had at least one problem – smashed headlights, no handbrake or lights, and the test drive experiences were pretty hairy around the sand tracks of Brufut.
Our first trip to work was smooth and comfortable. We found top gear, cruising along Bertil Harding Highway avoiding donkey carts, dogs and other drivers. There is no Highway Code in The Gambia, so it as well that most drivers rarely exceed 50kph. However, I missed the life-affirming chatter of the unroadworthy to downright dangerous shared taxi vans.
The afternoon journey was spiced up by a policeman who pulled us over at one of the mobile checkpoints. We had been warned that ‘toubabs’ are frequent targets of less than trustworthy officers who can make up offences which will be waived for a ‘contribution’. We had several photocopies of Chris’s driving licence ready to hand over so we didn’t have to pay baksheesh for its recovery. Inspector Drammeh confiscated every piece of paper we possessed: driving licence, insurance, vehicle registration documents. Apparently our tinted rear windows are illegal and we were not displaying road tax.
The two lovely guys from whom we rented our Volvo swept into action. Our car was not registered because it is a new plate (not a new car) and the 2016 road tax price and discs have not been agreed nor published by the government. They dropped off a strange little VW which sputtered us home. Ousman used most of the petrol at D100 per litre (£1.75) we had put into the Volvo running around various government agencies and police offices to get a temporary disc and recover the papers. We weren’t bothered about the driving licence. We have several more copies!