What do a net maker from Senegal and a crafter from the UK have in common? Not much, you might think, and you’d probably be right. But a little while after I returned to The Gambia I had a surprising encounter.
Last year I managed to teach myself to tat. I have always been fascinated by tatting and I was thrilled to be able to produce some tatted items of my own, even if they were quite simple. One afternoon I was sitting under the trees, tatting my latest creation, when a man cycled into our compound, greeted my husband Lamin and settled down for a chat.
After watching me for a while, he moved his chair closer and started to watch what I was doing very carefully. This isn’t unusual – both the men and women are fascinated when they see me tatting or stitching, so I tried to show him what I was doing. After watching carefully for a bit, he got up, went to his saddle-bag, and produced some wooden shuttles very similar to tatting shuttles, although much larger.
His name was Sadibo and he told me his job was to make and repair nets at the nearby fishing village. Many of the traders in Gambia come from Senegal and most of the local fishermen are Senegalese. Sadibo used to be a fisherman but now he makes and repairs nets.
Sadibo gets to the beach every morning at around six, then works until about five or six in the evening. In that time he expects to make three or four new nets measuring about 40m wide. To be honest, that sounds like a huge amount to create in one day, but it seems this isn’t uncommon – net-makers are highly respected as being experts in their trade. Sadibo also mends nets.
Sadibo explained that he uses wooden shuttles which he makes himself, winding the twined round in the same way that I wind the thread around my tatting shuttle. He uses different thicknesses of twine and varies the dimensions of the holes, depending on the kind of net he is making. I had no idea that fishing nets were made with different-sized holes, although it makes sense now when I think about it. So he makes different nets to catch lobsters, bonga fish, ladyfish and all the other kinds of fish we enjoy here. Sadibo drew in the sand to show me the different sizes of holes:
We have used some of Sadibo’s nets to do our fencing here, and when my husband laid it out on the ground to cut it to size, I was so impressed with how even the mesh was.
So it just goes to show that even two people who seem to be very different can sometimes find some surprising common ground.