THE middle-aged women chatting and sipping cocktails on a sunshine holiday feel they’ve picked the perfect spot for a break.
For The Gambia — a country known as the Smiling Coast of Africa — fits the bill for just what they are seeking.
And that, put simply, is love. The smiling, obliging and charming Africans give them the kind of attention that some of them may not have enjoyed for years.
Many of these unlucky-in-love women want to return home from their two-week break with a tan, a smile — and a new lover in tow who can give them the affection they have craved for years.
The young men, some of them teenagers, target the white women. Marriage to a “toubab” — a white foreigner — is their goal. They see them as their ticket to a new life in a country with endless opportunities.
In a country where half the population live below the poverty line and the average wage is £30 a week, a European girlfriend seems to make perfect sense.
But a happy ending is not guaranteed.
Solomon Minding thought he had hit the jackpot when he married an older British woman — but now warns local young men NOT to follow his example.
Speaking from his village home 20 miles from the bustle of the notorious seaside pick-up joint of Kololi, he said: “Young Gambians realise how beneficial a British woman can be for them.
“I tell them to be careful. They are looking for benefits and a new life out of a Third World country.
“They get to the UK and the old woman who wanted a man in her bed for the first time in 20 years becomes boring.
“Many of the relationships obviously don’t work in the real world. Our lives, our cultures are too different.
“I tell the boys not to go unless they are guaranteed a job, because if the marriage doesn’t work, they’ll be homeless in a cold country with no friends and no way home.
“They don’t love these women, they never did — so therefore it can never work. Often they are already married, because we can marry four wives here.”
He added: “Poverty here is a disease which makes common sense disappear.”
Solomon was one of the first wave of Gambians to marry a Brit — holidaymaker Catherine, who he met in 1992 when he worked as her tour rep.
He said: “She was nine years older than me. She had not been loved. She had grown up in a care home and run away.
“Life with a caring Gambian who romanced her was probably amazing. We got married so I could go to the UK but I felt trapped there — it was boring, just me and her.
“When we had our son Peace, who is now 17, she didn’t like my Gambian lifestyle any more. She got annoyed with me smoking wacky baccy, hanging out in the pub and chilling out.
“I went to the council and got my own flat and she had hers. We split up.”
Just how the wooing process works became clear at the Club One bar and restaurant on the Senegambia Strip in downtown Kololi.
At the end of dinner, tables were pushed back, a Bob Marley impersonator took to the microphone and the women who were quietly sitting together rushed to the dance floor as the young Gambian men eagerly pounced on them. The transformation was both remarkable and shocking.
The women gyrated their hips into the groins of the men — known as gigolos — who are often young enough to be their sons or even grandsons.
Some even started kissing, despite The Gambia being a country where couples are rarely seen holding hands.
This is a secret life for hundreds of British women who can get a package holiday here for as little as £400 for a week.
Sylvia Eastment has just married her Gambian husband Alagie — despite knowing he was planning to wed a young local woman.
The 55-year-old single mum, from Ramsgate, Kent, has been using her Disability Living Allowance to fly to see Alagie up to five times a year since they met. But Alagie’s antics are so well known to hotel staff that they refuse him entry and Sylvia has to stay with him in his home, which has no running water or electricity. Now she pays his rent and is trying to secure him a visa to the UK.
She beamed on their wedding day as she told us: “This is the happiest day of my life.”
Divorced mum-of-one Helen Sykes spends as many of her holidays as possible in The Gambia since starting a relationship with Ousman Njie, 32, four years ago.
Helen, who is in her 50s, has helped him to buy his own café and bar and said: “I’ve always wanted to set somebody up in a restaurant and now Ousman has one. He’s a wonderful man, adorable. I’m so happy I’ve met him.”
Ousman said: “I love Helen for real. One day we may marry but I am not looking to live in England as my business is here and it’s cold there. She is older than me but age doesn’t matter with love.”
After 30 years in London, Polly Francis moved to The Gambia when she met hotel receptionist Lamin Sarr eight years ago.
The retired nurse, who is in her 50s, used inheritance money to build them a home. She said: “I know I’m old enough to be his mum and that people must think I just came here looking for a toyboy but I didn’t. I fell in love.
“He is a gentleman — quiet and strong, my best friend.”
Polly — who has just had a hip replacement — can’t afford the £800 UK visa for Lamin and they are not married because she is not yet divorced from her husband.
She said: “Our home here has no running water but I wouldn’t swap it for London. I don’t miss the rushing around. I do miss my family, though.”
She has a daughter and two sons — aged 40 and 30 — and said: “My elder son found my relationship hard to accept but my younger son has been to visit us. He and Lamin get on well.”
And Lamin, 33, said: “I love Polly. I call her ‘the wife’. The men who marry for the wrong reasons are trying their luck.
“I don’t blame them. But Polly and I are real. She makes me happy — she is wonderful.”
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