Originally posted June 2014
So it has been a little over a week since I have been in The Gambia, West Africa. It reminds me so much of Ghana, but it is also very different. The land is much more flat, it is a predominantly Muslim country, a much smaller country, and everyone is definitely friendlier. It is also a bit hotter than Ghana and Florida combined. My body has spent the majority of the week still adjusting to the new heat and the different kinds of food. So, I have had my first case(s) of diarrhea, but I am doing my best to stay hydrated and healthy. It is the foods that I normally eat, it is just that my body is not used to the oil or the type of rice, possibly even the seasoning. I have also had the opportunity to eat out at restaurants but very few because most of the time I am eating home cooked meals. At restaurants I have had yellow rice (my fave!) and shrimp, vegetable rice [not too many vegetables here] and pizza!
I have spent the majority of my first week here, visiting with the family of my host family, who also happens to be the family of my love interest. It is a very big and welcoming family. But it is also similar to the U.S. where you have the family who takes you in as a child, so you have the other family. They have also given me a Gambian name, Shira Demba [Demba is the Family name]. In the Gambian culture, names are chosen based off of a person that a person closely resembles, or if it is a child, then they choose the name based off of the character they hope the child will have.
I have also had the opportunity to see the Gambian President ride by in the official vehicle [similar to the U.S. he is accompanied by multiple military vehicles] as well as the Chief of the Navy Military, and the Minister of the Youth Sports.
There is a lot of wait time; periods of doing nothing. At first, it was hard to get used to because, as a Westerner (the name referred to as American), I am always on the go, always doing something. At the same time, it is a nice change. I have been to many different parts of Gambia so far such as Kuto, Senegambia, Serrekunda, Wellingara [the town where I am staying], Brikama, and more. I will detail those experiences in later posts.
I have witnessed lots of football [soccer] here. If it is not the World Cup on the TV, it is my love interest who plays football, teaches football to young children on Saturdays, or observing the children playing during break time at the school that I am volunteering two days a week in Brikama.
It was fun to be a part of a championship game. I was a part of the post celebration with my love; he works at the airport and the airport has a football team. They played against the Gambian Police Department, the final score was 1-0. The boys are very similar to the ones in the U.S. when it comes to chants and celebrating being winners. Boys will be boys! haha!
There are so many children here, I almost feel like I can get baby fever-haha! They are just so beautiful, loving, and happy and did I mention that there is so many of them?! The love I receive from them is exhilarating! I have definitely missed this part of being in West Africa!
For the first time, I was at a Monkey Park, where the small monkeys roam around the park freely and we can feed them peanuts. When we feed them, they will walk up to you and take the food from your hand, some will jump out of the tree onto your shoulder to get the food! It is definitely fun. I also visited a crocodile park where for the first time ever [I will never do that again] there are friendly crocodiles that you can actually pet. They feel like a reptile (lol-duh!). They do look lighter than the American ones, though. There were about 20 of them that I counted laying around, catching air in one area.
I also received my first Gambian hair braiding experience. It was different because the hair is being done outside, and my hair was not washed prior [it had been two weeks since I last washed it; I was freaking out about that but then got over it] but I still love it; my hair style is a very different hairstyle than any I have ever received before.
The means of traveling to all these different places is by foot, taxi or by public transportation, which is Moto [a shared van]. It is small, and the seats in the vehicles are a little beat up, sometimes it is really hot because it is full with on average 12 people, but it gets people to where they need to go. It is also cheaper than the taxi. At least, compared to my experience in Ghana, they are safer drivers, and the roads are not as bumpy. HAHA! But taxi's are better options in case you feel too claustrophobic or need to get somewhere quicker. They have green stripes to represent the color of their country flag.
As you can see, it is a very big learning experience, a big test of patience with being outside of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. I am definitely having some breakthrough moments and always changing and learning about myself by the day.
All image sources: Yours Truly (Me!) Copyright: ©Nayyar Photography