Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/
Date : 14th November, 2016
Time : 1h 08’ 28”
Total distance run to date : 880 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1458665274
Every so often on these trips, I have the honour to meet and/ or run with cancer survivors. Their stories are never less than inspiring – as well as being a powerful incentive to raise as much money as I can for cancer research.
Judith was no exception. She was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in her twenties and, after treatment, made a full recovery. And then, two decades later, came the dreaded news that she had cancer again. Which was inconvenient because she was due to run the London Marathon three months later. For cancer research.
Now, as anyone who has run the London Marathon knows, it takes place in April meaning that you do most of your hard training in February and March. Unfortunately, Judith was in surgery during February and March and I think it’s fair to say that many people would have decided to give the marathon a miss. At least for that year.
Judith took a different approach. She realised that, because her scar tissue needed time to heal, there was going to be a break between her surgery and her radiotherapy. And that the marathon was taking place during that break.
Crazily, despite not really having had a lot of time for training, she decided to give it a go. And made it to the finish line. Where Paul, her boyfriend, was waiting with a ring and a proposal (picture below). Which seemed like a fitting reward for her determination, commitment and bravery.
And how did I meet Judith? Through one of those combinations of kindness and coincidence that seem to happen when you’re travelling.
Ted, from the local Hash Harriers, was good enough to pick me up from Banjul airport. Ted, whose wife runs the Peace Corps in the Gambia, is an engineer and he has just started working with the rather wonderful eWATERpay project which focuses on ensuring reliable water supplies to villages in the Gambia. The project is the brainchild of Rob Hygate who, along with his family, also owns the Mango Lodge just outside Banjul. Ted took me to the Mango Lounge to get changed and that’s where I met the Hygate clan – pictured above – including Judith. And, since I’m running for cancer research, Judith decided to join Ted and myself on the run.
The Gambia is an unusually shaped country. Basically it’s a horizontal strip, never more than 30 miles wide and about 300 miles long, with a little bit of Atlantic coastline and otherwise completely surrounded by Senegal. It’s the smallest country in mainland Africa and Ted’s theory is that its shape reflects the range of the guns on the British warships as they made their way up the river Gambia. (The Gambia was a British colony and Senegal was French.)
However Gambia’s borders came about, Ted was determined that we see as much of it as possible on our run. Out the back of the Mango Lodge, down a couple of village streets and then we launched into a few kilometres of bush running. My antenna were attuned for the local wildlife.
A big noise. Me, stopping, “What was that!?”
Ted, ” Um, that was a dove…”
Having failed my David Attenborough moment, we continued with our run out of the bush and around some mangrove swamps. Shoes off to ford a stream – picture below – and then onto the beach. Along the coastline, past some beach footy and a fellow selling mini sharks – picture below – before returning to the Mango Lodge.
Thank you, Ted, for the great run and for taking such good care of me. And thank you to the Hygates for all the hospitality and the donation. I was only in the Gambia for a few hours but it was memorable!
If Judith’s story inspired you at all then I know Cancer Research would be grateful for any and all donations.
PS I never know whether readers are most interested to read about my runs and the people I meet – or the countries I visit. In an effort to tick all boxes, I’ve included some more information about the Gambia below courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Gambia, officially the Islamic Republic of The Gambia, is a country in West Africa mostly surrounded by Senegal with a short strip of its coastline bordered with the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. It is the smallest country in mainland Africa.
The Gambia is situated on either side of the Gambia River, the nation’s namesake, which flows through the centre of the Gambia and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its area is 10,689 square kilometres (4,127 sq mi) with a population of 1,882,450 at the 15 April 2013 Census (provisional). Banjul is the Gambian capital, and the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese, during which era it was known as A Gâmbia; later, on 25 May 1765, the Gambia was made a part of the British colony when the government formally assumed control, establishing the Province of Senegambia. On 18 February 1965, The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom. Since gaining independence, the Gambia has had two leaders: the first was Dawda Jawara, who ruled from 1970 until 1994, when the current leader Yahya Jammeh seized power in a coup as a young army officer.
The Gambia’s economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and especially tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there—following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river’s north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856.
As many as three million slaves may have been taken from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; others were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and others were simply victims of kidnapping.
Traders initially sent slaves to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with liberated slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives. The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816.
The Gambia achieved independence on 18 February 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as Queen of The Gambia, represented by the Governor-General. Shortly thereafter, the national government held a referendum proposing that the country become a republic. This referendum failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to The Gambia’s observance of secret balloting, honest elections, civil rights, and liberties.
On 24 April 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum. Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara assumed the office of President, an executive post, combining the offices of head of state and head of government.
The Gambia was led by President Sir Dawda Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first shattered by an attempted coup on 29 July 1981, which followed a weakening of the economy and allegations of corruption against leading politicians.The coup attempt occurred while President Jawara was visiting London and was carried out by the leftist National Revolutionary Council, composed of Kukoi Samba Sanyang‘s Socialist and Revolutionary Labour Party (SRLP) and elements of the “Field Force” (a paramilitary force which constituted the bulk of the country’s armed forces).
President Jawara immediately requested military aid from Senegal, which deployed 400 troops to The Gambia on 31 July. By 6 August, some 2,700 Senegalese troops had been deployed, defeating the rebel force. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during the coup and the resulting violence.
In 1982, in the aftermath of the 1981 attempted coup, Senegal and The Gambia signed a treaty of confederation. The Senegambia Confederation aimed to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies. After just seven years, The Gambia permanently withdrew from the confederation in 1989.
In 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) deposed the Jawara government and banned opposition political activity. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state. The then 29-year-old dictator remains president to this day. The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referendums.
In late 2001 and early 2002, The Gambia completed a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings. President Yahya Jammeh, who was elected to continue in the position he had assumed during the coup, took the oath of office again on 21 December 2001. Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections, though it has participated in elections since.
On 2 October 2013, The Gambian interior minister announced that The Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect, ending 48 years of membership of the organisation. The Gambian Government said it “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
The country’s present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France. It is often claimed by Gambians that the distance of the borders from the Gambia River corresponds to the area that British naval cannon of the time could reach from the river’s channel. However, there is no historical evidence to support the story, and the border was actually delineated using careful surveying methods by the Franco-British boundary commission.