Ramsbury: A Single Egg by Susan Ballard

I spent three months in the Gambia on a Commonwealth Relations Trust Travel Bursary in the mid 1990s and thanks to the Marlborough Brandt Group I was able to base myself in Gunjur, billeted with a family who have had an important place in my life ever since. The trip was something which as a journalist, I had elected to do but as the time for leaving England drew nearer, I began to dread the whole undertaking.

I became obsessed with taking long hot soapy baths and devouring my favourite foods, as if to shore myself up against the loss of creature comforts. In retrospect I can see this behaviour as displacement activity. In reality what I feared unconsciously was the challenge to my materialistic value system and sense of self that "total immersion" in a very different culture and lifestyle might bring.


I naively imagined that I would be able to keep myself safely at a distance from the subject matter that one of my radio documentaries explored: the transformative power of cross cultural experience for young people spending their gap year in the Gambia.

So what was the impact on me personally? Firstly, I got things back in perspective. Sharing a room with rodents and cockroaches, having to squat over a pit latrine, finding my fluffy towel appropriated by others in the compound, washing with just half a bucket of water were unsavoury and discomforting, but so much more important in terms of experience was receiving a single egg from a woman who had walked four miles to deliver it to me. This was just one of a million kind, generous and caring acts that I experienced from the friends I made and family I stayed with.

I can honestly say that it felt like unconditional love and provoked much reflection on my own rather selfish, cynical and grudging behaviour to others. I also began to question my moral capacity. Why did I think I deserved expensive holidays, cars, clothes, adornments when my fellows in the Gambia were struggling to pay school fees so their kids could learn to read and write.

I can't pretend that I have given all these luxuries up but I am certainly less extravagant than I might once have been and I am far more conscious of the impact of profligacy in the industrialised West on those with far fewer natural resources in sub Saharan Africa.

I don't think it is unconnected that I gradually moved out of journalism into working on issues to do with climate change and I suppose my reluctance to fly and choosing holiday destinations close to home is a moral choice.

All the evidence suggests that Gambia will experience worse impacts as a result of climate change than the UK so why would I want to contribute to that?