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.
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