Shopping? Serekunda market. At least half of the city is a 24 hour-open-market, crowded and full of life. You’ll find any possible thing there. Banjul is much quieter and sometimes I’d say even too quite.|
Bargain for ANYTHING you intend to buy. Take your time, relax and never pay more than half of the initial requested amount. But if you get a good service, give a tip.
The two main cities are Banjul, where the government is placed and pretty calm, even boring, and Serekunda, much more African city.
No lights in the streets or roads at night, but no real danger either. Don’t fall down on a hole, that’s all.
Green taxis provided by the government for tourists. You are on your own. Fix the price before getting on board. Yellow and green, shared taxis, up to 4 passengers. Vanettes or “bush taxis” for everyone, up to 13 –17 people, long distance (between Banjul and Serekunda, for example).
Gambian people are very quite. Specially men. Remember: forget about your watch.
From Atlantic Coast to Sindola (inside the country, mid-way, where the President was born), the roads are ok. If you’re driving further, better get a 4WD car.
Don’t take pictures of embassies, airports or military areas. Ask permission before taking a picture of someone.
Don’t buy or get with you anything forbidden: the entire luggage is open before departure, at the airport. Your luggage will go through scanning also upon your arrival, after picking it up, when you arrive to the country. So don’t take with you any forbidden thing either.
“While in Rome, do like Romans do”. For women, I recommend wearing a boubou (African dress): it’s beautiful, fresh, and comfortable and if you wash it at night it will be clean and dry in the morning. Wear also the scarf around your head: it will protect you against the sun when it’s too hot, and is better than an umbrella when it rains. In most cases, there is a good reason for local people to dress, eat or move in a certain way. So the best advice I could give you is: imitate. Look, learn, ask and do the same, as long as you feel comfortable with that.
Ok, around 85% of the Gambian population is Muslim. Around 10%, Catholics, and the rest, animist. But in the end, everyone respects and shares a bit of all those religions.
Respect and Solidarity is what you’ll learn from Gambians and also in many African countries, if you just take the time to get to know the culture and the people. A human being deserves respect just for being who he / she is. No matter if you’re tall, short, fat, thin, clever or idiot. We should learn from them as fast as possible. Do you think YOU are the one who has something to teach them? Forget it.
The compound is the plot where Gambian people live. There’s usually a simple house for a big family (grandparents, uncles, lots of kids…They all share the same space. Everyone has a place and responsibilities, also the kids. The water comes from a well or from the water bomb in the village; it is women’s job to collect it, wash dishes and clothes, even the elder girls wash their brothers, also the ones that are just as old as them. No electricity: candles if light is really needed, but whenever you’ll see only darkness, most of the Gambians will be perfectly able to walk around just as if the sun was shinning high in the sky. It makes you feel like a blind idiot to walk by them in the night, falling in every hole while they seem to float effortless.
Instead of “hello”, in Gambia you might be just recognized by your name. This is a much personal way to greet someone: you know the name and that means you’re very close. Remember if you say “hello”, next thing will be that you’ll be asked about your name. This is the “protocol” : “nanga def?, how are you”. “Mangi fi, nanga def?,Fine, and you?” “Fine, what’s your name?” “My name is Bintou, and yours?” “My name is Lamil”. Then, you shake hands. You’re now part of the community. Shaking hands is so important in Africa.
There are some pools packed with “holy crocodiles”, that only eat fish. You can touch them but only when you’re told to do it. Last summer, a woman was bitten by a female pregnant crocodile. The staff at the pool knew, but the woman didn’t ask them before trying. Women who want to get pregnant swim in crocodile pools, they believe this will help getting pregnant soon. Dalasi coins also show a crocodile: it’s the shape you’ll see on the moon surface from The Gambia.
Makasutu: they say is a holy place. What you can be sure about, is that the lodge is a paradise on earth. Check it yourself: www.makasutu.com
Palm Beach Hotel, in Kotu Beach, was my first destination, but that was before the management changed. A Gambian man was running the hotel, now it’s a Dutch woman. The staff was much happier before, and the new manager fired most of them without previous warning. Still, the place is nice and right by the beach.
If you see a woman with two little feet on her sides, at the height of her waist, is a mum carrying her baby behind, on her back. In a big piece of clothe, tied around her body with tow knots, one above her breast and around her waist. This leaves her tow hands free to hold other kids’ hands or carry shopping bags. And also her head: shopping is kept inside a round big bowl packed inside a piece of clothe that keeps sand away from food. Babies sleep close to their mummies’ body. They all seem to like it. They don’t cry and the woman can do her normal life with her baby hanging behind her.
When you’ll go to the Albert Market in Banjul, be ready to share your space with thousands of flies at. But it’s funny; you don’t feel the flies on your skin like in Europe. They seem to be lighter, so light that your skin doesn’t notice them. If it’s praying time, most man will not be attending. But there is always someone ready to work and sell.
During the rainy season, disabled people drive a three wheel “bike” that it’s moved with the hands, by rolling the handlebar connected with the wheels. It’s practical and allows them to move along the muddy roads.
Tailors in the market or in the villages can make you a dress from a piece of clothes within a few hours, sometimes less, for less than 100 Dalasi (3 euros).
Kids learn very early not to cross the street and stay away from cars. But as they grow up, they loose fear and can get too close to ask you fro sweets or presents. I won’t get tired of repeating this: be very careful while driving, especially if there can be kids around. You should also drive slowly on the roads inside the country, as many animals cross unexpectedly and they won’t stop. By selling an animal, a family can send a kid to school for one year, and school is the only way out for those kids, so think twice before speeding up.
There is a whole new sea shells collection with every low tide. If you find a crick-crick shell, this will mean good luck for you. They are used in amulets for new-born babies, as they are believed to protect whoever wears them (also in most African countries). Those amulets are tight around the waist and the rope that holds them is renewed as the kid becomes an adult. The person will wear it forever more underneath his or her clothes.
In Kotu Beach, you can meet Daddy Joe fishing on the sea shore, with a round small net made by him, wearing a short plastic coat that barely protects him against the rain. For some cigarettes, he showed me how to fish, and how to throw the net when the tide is getting high, bringing the fishes close to where he stands.
Small fishes are always thrown back into the ocean, also for the fisher men that use bigger nets and push them to the beach. Everyone helps, the net is very heavy because there are many shells and fishes and also a green sea plant used to attract them into the net when it’s placed into the water. While the adults collect the bigger fishes (Barracudas!), the kids catch the silver small ones to throw them back into the water, so they can become bigger and next time they go fishing, there will be plenty of them. The mid-size fishes stay on the sand, and the kids put them together by stringing a thin rope between the mouth and the gills. When they have 5 or 6 together, they go to sell them to the market or on a side of the road for 25 Dalasi. That’s the price of a soft drink. Vimto is a delicious one made out of hibiscus leaves into boiling water and sugar. Recommended, you’ll like it and can even get addicted to it. Also perfect for your kids. Palm wine, though, should be drunk only by adults, uff!
Boys are circumcised during a ceremony in the woods, when they are old enough, and after that they are considered adults. Only men are allowed to assist and the boys can stay there for several weeks, as this is also the time to teach them how to survive in the wild. Back in the village, boys rest in a hidden place until their wounds have completely healed. Male family members take them water, food and medicines. Unfortunately, seems like also girls are still suffering from ablation. Nobody talks about that, though.
Red Cross Gambia has projects all around the country. Mainly to inform about AIDS, and also to prevent other diseases like malaria or the ones coming from Senegal, as to reach the southern part of that country it is much faster to do it by crossing The Gambia. Up to 25.000 volunteers work for the Red Cross and most of them are younger than 30 years old. They visit people who suffer from AIDS and can not leave their homes, to make sure that they receive their medication and that they actually take it.