IT sounded like a pretty straightforward gig on the face of it – ‘Four of you need to go to the port at Banjul and collect the palette which has just arrived from the UK’.

Simple enough, yes? Back in no time, surely?

Erm… no.

I guess the warning bells should have sounded when the security guard at the port – a chaotic, noisy, frenetic hive of humanity – refused to let us through because we hadn’t taken our passports. After much protracted negotiating, our Gambian friend Lamin persuaded him otherwise and we were into the harbourmaster’s office. Plain sailing now, surely (pardon the pun).

Nearly an hour later, and several people had come in, shaken our hands, shuffled bits of paperwork, even disappeared with a jar of coffee. But paperwork? No.

Eventually, we were given documents to take across town to the Gambian Revenue Authority for tax and valuation of our goods. ‘Don’t worry’ said Lamin, ‘The Valuation Manager is from Sintet, where we have built the Well, so we will let him know all the things are for there ‘.. Not entirely true but our first big break.

After another round of handshaking, platitudes and mutual exchanges of what a pleasure it was making each other’s mutual acquaintances, we eventually escaped, 2,500 Dalasi lighter in tax, with ANOTHER bit of paper, this time to return to port with.

Security again jumped on us – another guard this time – and after eventually being placated, through we went back from whence we’d came.

Which is when it started getting a little expensive.

‘It will cost 400 Dalasi to release this paperwork in order for you to take your goods’. Cash, obviously.

Well, OK, fair enough, everybody’s trying to make a living as best they can out here. We paid up, watched customs officers empty virtually the ENTIRE palette on to the floor to, presumably, check for drugs (there weren’t any), then very helpfully wander off to allow us the privilege of putting the Humpty Dumpty of a mess back together again.

‘We’ll need four of those workers there to help lift the palette on to the back of our truck’ we said.

‘Of course, sir. You must pay them 300 Dalasi’.

Of course we must. I was getting the hang of this by now.

So – truck loaded – check. Release papers signed. Check. Engine running. Check. All that remained was to ask the security guards to open the harbour exit gates and we’d be on our way, albeit some four hours later.

‘They will open them now for you sir. It will be 200 Dalasi’.

Yes. Of course it will…