A haulage driver has spoken of how his family holiday saw them caught up in an international crisis.
John Sharp, from Accrington, was just starting a three-week holiday in Gambia with his wife Sandra when a state of emergency was declared and the country was deemed as not safe for tourists.
But instead of heading for the airport, the couple and two friends, Gail and Harry Bolton, stayed put – and witnessed a new chapter in the African country’s history.
The crisis began when president Yahya Jammeh, who had lost national elections to rival Adama Barrow, refused to stand down.
John, 59, a driver for McMurrays Haulage, said at first everything seemed ‘fine’, but then things started to change.
Speaking to the Observer via email from Gambia, he said: “As the new president’s inauguration loomed, the Gambians began to get scared. Tens of thousands left for Senegal.
“The president declared a state of emergency and we were told to stay in our hotel.
“The British government then said Gambia was not safe and all tourists should leave.”
Tourists and Gambians scrambled to leave the West African state through the main airport in the capital Banjul.
John’s party, who were in the coastal resort of Kololi, 10 miles away, said: “We decided to dig in and stay. We sat at a beach bar and watched the planes leave Gambia.
“We believe it was bedlam at the airport.
“We then heard fighter jets and a warship was just off the coast and African troops were at the borders.
“The Gambians were terrified and the place was like a ghost town. One hotel, The Senagambia, went from 700 guests to 25.”
The warship was a show of strength but Gambia’s forces were ordered not to fight regional troops and Jammeh later left for exile in Equatorial Guinea.
John, 59, added: “One day we sat at a roadside bar and watched Senegalese troops drive past.
“The Gambians are back, but there are no tourists for them and tourism is all these people have. We’ve spread our money about the best we can.
“In some ways, maybe if things had have gone bad, we could have been in big trouble. But we thought it might have been more dangerous at the airport.
“We also knew we could have been out here for months as all flights were stopped.”
President Barrow returned to a celebratory Gambia on January 26 from Senegal, where he was sworn in at an embassy, and John said he will also be returning home soon to his two ‘worried’ daughters, Jennifer and Rachel.
He said: “The flights resume soon but not on our return date. They call it the ‘Gambian experience’ and it certainly has been.”