For many of us we are too young to know the "good old days" – or perhaps the good old days is more of a myth. However, spending time in an African village is about as close as I believe I could experience these legendary days. Over the last four days I been in such village on the North bank of the Gambia.
The village itself is situated on grassy plains just south of the Senegalise boarder about a mile from the Northern main road. Perhaps 100-200 residences depending on how many are in town (many youth and adults spend the growing season in town and leave for the remainder of the year).
Life is simple – meals are predictable and redundant (but never the less satisfying), work is primitive, horse, donkeys and simple tools, it is physical yet not ambitious and aside from the Alkalo(chief) social law is the governance.
In general, my stay was a welcome reprieve from my typical life in Central Kombos (the major population center of The Gambia). My body had been in marginal condition*. With-in a day of the village’s rhythm (and a meal or two of straight millet & sauce) my body had seemed to have centered itself again.
For the men a day starts in the fields – in this season the activity is harvesting ground nuts (peanuts), millet and corn have already come. Left with a manageable time schedule one can finish the day’s work in 6-8 hours. The remaining day is left to drink tea, visit friends, relax and listen to the radio.
For the woman, the tasks are a little more arduous. Fetching water from a 10m well across town, cooking and washing while minding the children is not an easy task yet they seem to manage with a distinct swagger and grace. Further still they seem to find plenty of time to preen and braid their hair – by far their favourite past time.
Village life in Africa does have its proper quirks and mentality. There was a Spanish man who had been sent by an NGO** to the village. His task to build a school, install water pumps with distribution and a few other small development projects. Of course the village was pleased with the thought and donated some land of some of the families (outside of the governing circle – small village feud ensued).
However, the village became dissatisfied with the man's help soon after he asked for voluntary aid for digging water lines, making bricks and pleaded they'd keep the kids from repeatedly destroying his water pipes. “Why would we help when you will not pay us?” Naturally, the villagers had concluded this man was getting paid to do his job and he should get on with it and not disturb the regular life of the villagers.
After several attempts the frustrated Spanish man, accused the villagers of being lazy and withdrew most of the proposed project. Additional arguments later broke out regarding not being able to use the generator for things other than it’s intended purpose (why can’t I run it all night to charge my cell phone? Or to run the TV I've been thinking to buy).
As it stands, the man (now referred to by the villagers as “Work-O”) no longer lives in the village, the school is mostly complete, the water pump project has been abandoned and however the locals use his pumped water whenever they get the chance (he has a temporary pump installed to get water for his building project).
At the end of the day both sides have been hurt and offended. From a western perspective the issue seems confusing and ridiculous; however, I have seen it (in my projects) and continue to see this time and time again all through out the Gambia. It is with some level of intentionally I have still yet to propose a project with this village despite consistently visiting it over the past 3 years.***
The African continent has not developed because the African continent now expects someone will develop it weather they want it or not. After all life in a village isn’t that bad, struggles exist but they pale in comparisons to the challenges it faces if it wishes to be developed. Finding the voices that want help and are willing to work for it is a challenging proposition it such environment.
I believe there are hard lessons ahead – maybe the West will be able to learn them.
Anyways, some photos for your enjoyment. :O)
The Farming team for the Bah family(the other sons are not in town so the girl manage the fields with the brother)
Removing the ground nuts from the plant for the evening's dinner.
Breakfast in the fields - millet, sauce and some tasty squash.
--- notes ---
* I was suffering from a condition I know as the Afri-bahs – stomach issues, sinus congestion, slight fever and general malaise.
** Non-government Organization
*** Time and resources are really the two most prominent factors