Week 3 - The Land of Waiting

Sitting at a bank, waiting for a transaction to take place, gives us plenty of time to reflect on our visit to this land of waiting. 

Bank transactions*, buying goods, doctor visits, cooking meals, traveling to visit someone, all take a significant time investment here. 

Without accurate references of time, or reliable means of predicting travel times**  so it is hard to have a cultural expectation of timeliness or event have appointments for services. Because of this people here will arrive at their destination and need to wait for what ever they came for comes, or becomes available or alternatively someone as been waiting for that other person to arrive. 

Knowing this, people have instead developed the skills of waiting. Here is our rough guide to Gambia waiting competencies. 

Competency #1 Networking 
Arguably the most important skill to hone in the process waiting is to capitalize on random meet ups. Chances are people are also going to be waiting wherever you are waiting. The Gambia is small - the degrees of separation are few. Learning to leverage this kind of co-waiting makes for a more enjoyable experience, and may even present a variety of new opportunities. 

For example, we are now waiting at the bank. As others sit down next to us, they greet us, and we begin to look for connections. Usually this is starts with some jokes about last names.  Our first connection was a Math student at the university. As mathematicians are rare in The Gambia, Mike was able to assume he knew a friend of mine who is teaching at the university - and then they found about 10 people we knew in common. 

The next fellow to sit down next to us was a music promoter - it didn’t take Mike long to recognize him as a man I had met while visiting a local musician. Now we have an invite on a local music festival happening later this month. 

This connection competency makes waiting time enjoyable while expanding your social network. 

Competency #2 - public napping 

Chances are you woke up early to get to where you are now waiting. Naturally, you are now tired. If you don’t feel like choking down a cafe touba (espresso made with instant coffee and a pepper/ginger like spice mixed in) your next best option may be to take a public. 

People here can sleep anywhere and on anything in any weather. We might find it strange to sleep at the bank, on top of a load of  gravel in a truck, under a table at the market, in a wheelbarrow on the side of the highway or in your friend’s bed but here 

The fact is time passes far quicker when you are unconscious. 

Conpetancy #3 
Come eat! This is particularly common at market shops and compounds. Street vendors abound selling all sort of snacks, ground nuts, fish pies, local freezies and fruits of the season. No money no problem, giant bowls of rice and sauce are served all over the country and if you are near one you will be invited to eat at it. You need to eat sometime why not while you wait!

Competency #4 The Name Game
Best for short waits or when competency #1 doesn’t work. For this conpetancy to work you  need a local first and last name. There is a limited selection, so chances are there person you meet will have a connection to that name. 

For given names, your name might be the same as a parent, sibling, cousin, ect. In which case you are their “Toma” person who you were named after. 

For Family names it is usually a little more complex. Different tribes typically have certain names. iE. Fulas (Bah, Jallow, Sowe) Mandinkas (Njie, Fatty, Drammeh) knowing the names connects the tribe, the second is then to know if that tribe is known for eating a lot of food. This is a cultural joke as the guest always eat first and the host will eat the left overs therefore bad guests eat too much leaving the hosts with no food. 

To add the next level certain tribes carry a strong tie based of social status so the game becomes even more complex and you can learn specific jokes about events and habits tribes have.

The name game never fail to bring a laugh and a smile. Why not enjoy your waiting time!

So that is our quick guide to waiting in The Gambia fully understanding you had to wait 4 weeks for the week 3 post. Weeks 4,5 & 6 to come! (Hopefully)

* yes, that is right you need to regularly go to the bank - in a cash society with ATMs that don’t accept deposits or limit transactions one can visit a bank  many days in a week. 
** google/apple maps work but don’t take into account for taxi waiting, police check points, fellow passengers unloading a goat from the roof of your vehicle or most importantly meeting friends along the way

Week 2 - Transport

Jody Friesen

There are many options open to Mike and I for traveling around in The Gambia. By foot, bicycle or car, each has a particular Gambian flair that I have gained an appreciation for over our two weeks here.

By Foot 👣
The compound we are living in is located centrally to many local corner stores, a fresh food open air market and a strip of hardware and other general goods. To get there, the best mode of transport is by foot. A good pair of sandals that allow the sand to pass through your shoes,  a careful eye for fellow road travelers and road debris, and the following best practices will make the trip an enjoyable and satisfactory one. 
  • 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!
By Bicycle 🚲 
Mike and I have had the pleasure of connecting with West Africa Cycling Tours, and have rented two bicycles from them. Cycling is a favourite past time for Mike and I, and this is no different in The Gambia, although it includes some unique challenges. For one, I have only seen one other woman cycling here so far. Road conditions vary. If you find a paved road, it may not be wide enough for the donkey carts, cars, commercial vehicles traveling along it, let alone a shoulder for cyclists. We have a new hobby of noting all of the paved roads with little traffic. More often than not, we end up cycling in sand. Sand cycling is clearly the norm here, and I have gleaned the following best practices in my time here:
  • 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.
By car 🚕🚐
It would be remiss for me to write about vehicle transit without providing a few more details about the surfaces upon which these cars travel. 

On road conditions 
All roads in The Gambia that have seen a few rainy seasons have many potholes. As these get larger and larger, and more of a nuisance to drivers, an optimistic neighbour hoping to solve the problem will dump a small pile of concrete boulders into the hole, forming a mini mountain. The hope is that vehicles will then crush these rocks over time, creating a smoother, flatter surface. In reality, however, no one wants to drive their vehicle over this rough convex creation and instead the vehicles swerve around these piles, hoping that another vehicle will take one for the team. 

Eventually, a vehicle, having done its best, will break down on its way. Then the vehicle owner will jack it up,  remove a wheel, and climb under the vehicle, regardless of where it is located in the road. It appears to me the breakdown takes place in the nicest section of a given road surprisingly often. On the spot repair has an advantage of avoiding tow trucks, and one would hope it allows for a faster fix. This pattern of breakdown also has the side benefit of forcong other vehicles to become team players in the overall game of road resurfacing. 

On Public Transit
Gambian vehicle transit includes either driving in private cars, or taking a taxi. Donkey carts are also commonly seen on the roads, but are mostly used for ferrying goods (water, rice, etc.) within neighbourhoods. Taxis themselves have two subcategories: 
  • 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. 
*Garages are gathering / parking / turnaround points at the ends of taxi lines. 

Taxi cars, which fit four passengers, are a more roomy and faster option, if you can find one. Gillys or vans can fit up to 22 bums, plus a driver, although children and babies can be stacked on laps to accommodate more people. Gillys always have an apprentice working with the driver. The apprectice’s job is to collect fare, provide change, secure all vehicle doors (a challenging task!), attract passengers so as to keep the gilly as full as possible, and to let the driver know when to stop or go. A good apprentice also will hold a lady’s baby or purchases as she gets in or out of the van. He will also ensure the engine oil is topped up, which usually happens after the engine has started and just before the vehicle parts from the garage. A typical gilly has no interior lining, so you can see the metal paneling of the vehicle. Sliding side doors are usually full of sand and can’t be easily shut until the vehicle starts moving and then makes a gear shift. The original door locking mechanisms have long been replaced by a sliding lock. The apprentice deftly balances all the nuances of his gilly, and is often doing this from the ground as the vehicle is starting to move. He will then jump in and hang out the side of the vehicle, or jump on to the bumper and manage to stay attached to the van on with various hand grips and/or ropes. All seats are bench style, which allows rider’s personal space to collapse or expand as necessary or as comfort allows. In Gambia only the driver and front seat passengers in vehicles are required to wear seatbelts, although even these are not always in functional order. 

By boat ⛴
Next week we will be traveling by ferry across to the North Bank. I’ve been assured that many more transit adventures will come! 

Week 1

Our first week in The Gambia has been a wonderful whirlwind of activity. 

We have now settled into the routine of having no routine. Plans are suggestions as very few Gambians have day planners and fewer have watches. The haze of Sahara dust often hides the sun’s location to further mask time. 

On her 2nd day in The Gambia, Jody became the 80th member (and honourary president) of the Picadilly- Latrikunda Kafo (women’s coorperative). This group was started last time I was in The Gambia and had 24 members.  They learnt how to make and sell local mooringa and beeswax soap. (Let me know if you are interested in buying some $2 a bar) 

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. 

Jody has been amazing in her integration into the community, she has taken to morning washing and going to the market. Her attention is sought after by all the kids. She has learnt just how mischievous these little ones can be.

In general living, the community graciously upgraded the place in which Jody and I stay. There is a small kitchen space with a gas stove and running water!!! We made a stop at Amsterdam (a local store specializing in selling discarded second hand items from Dutch thrift stores) to outfit the space and it has allowed us to be more hospitable to the many guests who frequent our door. 

Thanks for staying up to date with our journeys and for your prayers and support! 

Haa Yesso! (Until later) 

A Starting Point

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)

Taking off!

Hello all!

I’m happy to announce the 2018 edition of the Gambian goat post will include a special contributor!

Welcome Jody!

Looking forward to sharing our journey with you all.

In faith hope and love,