- Walk at a leisurely pace. Too fast = too hot! Also walking on soft sand is not something that can be done quickly without compromising something.
- Walk as close as possible to compound walls. The sand is more hard packed close to the walls, as the cars and motorbikes that chew up the sand with their tires usually drive in the middle of the road which tends to be slightly more even terrain.
- Walk on the shady side of the street. Shade for the win, especially when wearing warm head wrapper.
- Carry a sturdy bag to place any purchases. One of Gambia’s new government’s first moves in office was to ban large plastic bags. (Wanjo lovers need not worry, the small clear plastic bag of wonder will be featured in a future post.) The heavy, smelly, black plastic bag, and the consequent black bag beach litter monster and the pile of burning of garbage bags in The Gambia is happily becoming a distant memory. Shops now provide soft fabric bags, which are better for the environment, but do not hold as much and are not as strong. Bringing a good bag or basket is best practice here, as it is at home. Some ladies have plastic waffle baskets with a cover that work well for keeping curious animals from investigating the fresh fish topped with cabbage and carrots that she’s bought for cooking dinner. All food gets piled on top of each other into the basket, plastic bag free!
- Gear down! All the way... or as far as your bike allows. As someone who at one time thought the harder the gear the better, this has taken some adjusting in my habits
- Look for hard pack. Aim to keep your tires on the hardest packed sand you can see. This is typically where the locals and animals are walking. To watch the cyclists and children and animals and neighbours weave in between each other is to see an amazing dance of limbs.
- Be prepared to wheel wiggle, and/or jump off the bike if the going suddenly gets too tough.
- Ride a mountain bike. The majority of our cycling trips are to visit neighbours or to go to the beach. Due to sand and variable road terrain (see more below) your best choice in bike is something with plenty of gears and shocks.
- The luxury “Town Trip”, whereby one negotiates with a taxi driver to drop you off exactly where you need to go.
- The taxi lines, which run on generally well known and high volume roads, and can be caught at known garages*, or if there happens to be room in the vehicle, anywhere along the taxi line.
We have started to reconnect with students and student leaders with-in the scholarship program. There are some great stories of progress and others facing great challenges. Over the coming weeks we will be working with the leadership and investigating ways in which the program can become more self sustaining.
May 26 in a plane above Morocco
Jody and I were discussing common conversations that come up when we mention to people we are travelling to The Gambia. “Where is that?” Or “I had a friend who went to Zambia.” (This is totally understandable)
Once we finish our geography lesson...
...we typically move on to the more exciting and definitely more complicated conversation of “what will you be doing there?”
(much harder to answer as we can’t just point at a map or tell people it is a few countries south of Morroco)
For Jody having yet to set foot on the red soil of the smiling coast, she has focused on sharing about the goal of learning the culture, supporting community development and eating mangoes.
For myself as the veteran, there is often a higher expectation. People ask about building wells or houses, schools or hospitals - makes sense, as this is what most development charities seem to be raising money for and doing - however, I don’t know much about building buildings out of mud or cement blocks or have the physical strength and heat tolerance to keep up with the young local males. (Although, starting a Gambian version of love it or list it would be amazingly entertaining)
Development of infrastructure is great things to pursue however, it can often out pace the development of the people themselves - there are seemingly endless examples of development projects (gardens, solar powered wells and Internet cafes) that sit in disrepair or no longer exist - this comes from observation and personal experience.
This has lead to a growing focus of helping people develop themselves. This is a far more abstract goal particularly went it is done in a contextual way.
A big part of this for has been Learning to walk alongside people and share in their condition. When you understand how people live and what challenges they face you can provide help in a more effective way.
Taking this a step further if you understand what people are looking to achieve you can support them in reaching those goals allowing them to take ownership of them.
It could be said our goals is to support others goals and perhaps encouraging them to reconsider or consider a few new ones. Or perhaps a bit like a coach or mentor.
When this plane lands we will begin to figure out what that means for us this trip ... seems like a good starting point.
(I’m particularly excited for Jody as she now sits beside me filling out pages of a Fula language book)