Devizes MP Claire Perry faced a very long, hot day when she opened the new market hall for the people of Gunjur – the Gambian village linked with Marlborough.
It wasn’t a typical Sunday (January 13). Gunjur’s market square, next to where the new hall has been built, was packed with locals, lined with rows of seats and covered with large gazebos to protect people from the very hot sun.
The day started with an all female troop dancing a traditional African dance, accompanied by a group of very enthusiastic drummers.
Dignitaries, locals and even the odd inquisitive tourist stopped to watch what was happening. Many crowded around the central area where the Master of Ceremonies – a local primary school head – presented a long line of elders and village officials.
Each had a speech but the sentiment was the same – the new market hall would make a world of difference to the women who sold their fruit and vegetables in the village every day.
It was recognised more than a year ago that these women needed a covered area to sell their wares.
During the rainy season they need cover. During the hot, dry season having a roof over their heads means their vegetables do not perish so quickly. So less waste and more chance of making money.
Nyama Janneh, a local vendor, told the crowd: “Our vegetables only last one day when we are outside. But this new market hall means they will last longer – possibly up to three days.”
The building, with its corrugated tin roof and open sides and painted in mint green, was built in only twenty days in a collaboration between villagers and students from St John’s Academy and Marlborough College on their visit to Gunjur last summer – organised by the Marlborough Brandt Group. (The photograph shows the students handing the building over to village leaders at the end of their visit.)
And so the ceremony continued.
Claire Perry sat patiently alongside Dr Nick Maurice – Brandt Group director – in a long line of dignitaries. Her turn to speak and then officially open the market would come in time – in fact four hours after the start.
In the UK this would be seen as an arduous, painfully long process. The searing heat didn’t help and I could see some people wilting.
But this is Africa. People like to take time on something as important as this and although one Gambian admitted to me the speeches “did go on a bit,” it was a very special day for Gunjur.
Ms Perry made her speech saying; “I know how important this market is for the livelihoods of the women and their families. This is a wonderful example of the link.”
Then it was time for her to cut the ribbon, strung across the entrance to the new hall – the scissors did their work followed by a loud cheer from the patiently waiting crowds.[It was not possible to transmit photographs of the ceremony from The Gambia.]