Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mangee ñibi Amerika!!!

I'm going back to Murka soon.
December 13, 2008

The past few weeks have gone by in no time at all. I can’t believe that it is really December 13th. Christmas is in 12 days, but it doesn’t feel like December. The weather is far too nice. The current temperatures have been in the 70s and 80s with nice cool breezes. I’m going to miss the tropics, but more so the people.

Last Sunday, Paul and I took a few gelleh gelleh’s South towards the Senegalese border, stopping in Kartong. From Kartong we walked five and a half beachside hours north to Sanyang. The beach was beautiful, but slightly more developed than the stretch between Tujerang and Sanyang. Unfortunately, whenever we would come up to a village or lodge, the beach would be littered with water sachets. We would collect the bags, filling my backpack and carrying them in our arms. When we came up to a group of fisherman or lodge workers, we would put the pile of plastic down, asking for a dust bin.

Often, the people would suggest that we place the bags on the beach, a horrid idea. Paul and I were in the Environmental Management in the Gambia class together. Therefore, we manage the Gambian Environment. In each place we stopped, we told the people that Paul was an inspector from the National Environmental Agency (NEA) and that I was a World Health Organization (WHO) journalist.

We were walking the beaches of the Gambia and inspecting them for waste based on a new NEA initiative called Operation Clean the Beaches. Paul explained in Wolof the benefits of having a clean beach. I introduced myself in Wolof as a journalist but I didn’t say much otherwise. He explained how the water sachets wash out into the ocean and look like jelly fish floating in the water. Sea turtles eat the plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish and then die. Paul asked the fisherman if bags ever get caught in their fishing nets. They said that they sometimes get caught in the nets and stretch them out so that they have to make repairs. The fisherman said that they never thought that the bags could have such a major impact on the environment.

We told them that as part of Jammeh’s Operation Clean the Nation, it was the duty of the seaside towns to clean the beach on Set Setal. Set Setal is the last Saturday of every month where everything shuts down from 9am to 1pm. People should be focused on cleaning up their compounds and neighborhood. I expect that at the end of this month the people of the seaside towns and lodges will be making sure the beach is clean.

We also told them that we would be coming back to inspect the beaches within the next month. Considering that I am leaving in a few days, and that we are not real inspectors, I question the validity of the above statement.

One of the fisherman who owned three of the biggest boats offered to be a regional inspector for us. We thanked him for his enthusiasm. Hopefully they will work to keep the beaches clean for months to come. It is difficult to change people’s habits and perceptions, but people are afraid of inspectors.

It really wouldn’t be that difficult or costly to start a beach cleanup program. Someone just needs to organize it. Maybe I will come back to the Gambia as an inspector one day.

Tabaski was this past Tuesday. Tabaski is the Muslim feast day that celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, following God’s decree. God was just joking and then told him to slaughter a ram. Every man who can afford it should slaughter a ram on this day and give out meat to those who can’t afford it. A ram is expensive, anywhere from $100 on up. The holiday coincides with the end of the annual Hajj to Mecca. I went between Ebrima Tunkara’s house and Babukar Jallow’s. I ate lots of ram that day, only after watching it being slaughtered of course.

On Thursday, Annie, Renee, Erika and I went fishing with Babukar. We took along his rod and tackle and also the Gambian style line on a spool with a hook. We ended up catching about 10 fish, a few of which were minuscule in size. We also caught a small blue crab. We started early in the morning on the bridge to Banjul, but it was breezy so the fish weren’t biting. That’s our excuse anyway. There was a man catching a lot with a net, but we had no such luck. We got all of our sea creatures at a creek that Babukar knows about.

On the way to the creek I bought some oysters. After we finished fishing, we went to Babukar’s compound, cooked the fish, ate some benachin, and then after that steamed up the oyster and dipped them in lime juice. Very tasty.

I completed my last exam this morning.

Tonight we are having a catered dinner party with everyone involved in the program and with lots of our friends. It should be a good time.

We leave at the crack of dawn on Monday for Senegal. It should be interesting being in Senegal. I don’t speak any French, but I know enough Wolof to get by.

I’ll be back in the States by Thursday morning, inshallah. Hopefuly the planes won’t be operating on GMT or WAIT (Gambia Maybe Time or West African International Time). I don’t want to leave but it will be good to see all of my friends and family. I am dreading the cold, but looking forward to coming home.



Monday, December 1, 2008

Turkey Day was spent with the Peace Corps types.

27 November - 1 December, 2008

Turkey Day was spent with the Peace Corps types. The PCVs all had to be in Kombo for a meeting on Friday, so there were around a hundred or so of these burlap sack wearing hoodwinks to share a meal with on Thanksgiving. The dinner was held at a really nice compound in Fajara where Rodney, a Peace Corps administrator lives. The food was decent, but definitely not home cooking. Julbrew donated beer for the event. The first drinks were free and 5 Delasis afterwards. There was also desert…I had brownies and pumpkin pie. Incredibly incredible. They ran out of plasticware by the time the St. Mary’s bunch got in the Turkey Day food line. Without petroleum based utensils in hand, we piled up food on our plates, and walked over to a nice spot on the lawn. Wait there is a lawn? In the Gambia? Oh irrigation. Yeah, so we ate our Thanksgiving dinner Gambia style, with our hands, on irrigated grass. It shouldn’t have been any other way.

After spending some time there, we left the dinner. Some went back to study and some of us went out. I was part of the group that went out to the Green Mamba with some Peace Corps, and not surprisingly we met the MRC there. It was not a particularly eventful night, other than recruiting some people for the next installment of the beach walk. Nothing like spending Thanksgiving first with the Peace Corps and then with a bunch of people from the UK. Not bad, but not the same.

This past weekend, Saturday to Monday, we renovated the Agi Awa Bah Nursery School in Bakau. We painted the walls inside and out, and painted a mural on the outside. We painted various shapes, and animals along the wall. There was a snake with the ABCs and an accompanying painting for each letter. The letter D stands for door, the Green Door. In honor of St. Mary’s College, the picture of the door had to be green (The Green Door is a bar close to campus that has become a part of St. Mary’s lore and tradition). Lots of work. We also put some psychedelic hand prints on the pillars around the entrance. We were accompanied by lots of the community in Bakau, and the news station Gambian Radio Television Services (GRTS) filmed some of it. It was good fun and I am very tired. Yahar, the owner of the school (as it is in her compound) had wonderful meals awaiting us on our breaks. It was some of the best food I’ve had in the Gambia. The painting and decoration really brightened up the neighborhood. I just hope the kids can still get to school tomorrow with their school looking so different.

UTG classes ended a week ago, although some of our classes have still been going on more or less. I had my final quiz of Environmental Management in the Gambia last Friday. This week I have a Wolof exam. It seems that most of my responsibilities are gone now, although I still have some papers to write for Mr. Femi’s class, African Leaders of the Modern Era and some work for my independent study.

Planned for this week:

• Tuesday: si suba (in the morning) going to the National Environmental Agency in Banjul to buy a map of the Gambia, Serrekunda market for fabric and photos; si becek (in the afternoon) to Sand Plover beach to relax.
• Wednesday: undecided/study for Wolof
• Thursday:undecided/Wolof Exam
• Friday: Rachel’s cousin’s wedding
• Saturday: Beach Walk
• Sunday: Beach Walk
• Monday: fishing on a commercial boat, inshallah.
• The rest of the week: Tobaski celebrations
• December 15: leaving for Senegal

I have 2 weeks left here, not nearly enough time, especially now that I don’t really have to show up for classes. I only have to get some work done sometime. I am not ready to leave yet, although I really look forward to seeing friends and family. I definitely want to come back here some day, and the sooner the better. If anyone is looking for a tour guide and you want to pay for my plane ticket, I’ll work for free.

Be ci kanam (Until the future)

Midweek Animism

23 December, 2008

I was in Banjul going to the medical school and there was a big commotion nearby and a bunch of people waiting in line to go somewhere. There was a group of military guys standing around the people, so I asked one of the head honchos what was going on. He asked me if I was sick because the big man was giving some healings. I said no, not really thinking. I had something to do, but now that I look back on it was the worst decision that I have made in the Gambia. I should have taken that chance to go see His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh and be healed. It would have been quite an experience and any chance I get to meet the head of any state of any nation in the future, I will never turn down. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I blame it on my Spanish independent study. That’s why I was there.

For the record, Jammeh is a respected healer. His father was also a respected healer. Do some research on Google about him if you are interested.



Tumani Tenda: Internationals (tequila philosophy continued) and the Marabou

22-23 November, 2008

Saturday morning we left for another trip to Tumani Tenda. It was very relaxing, just like last time. We canoed again, but this time we also visited the community garden and met with the herbal medicine man, who showed us some of the plants and their various medical uses.

The meeting with the medicine man in itself was another display of the tequila shot, the amazing intertwining of languages in such a small country. The medicine man explained the uses of each plant to us in Jola. A worker at the lodge translated from Jola to Mandinka, and from there our language teacher Babukar translated into English. The knowledge of herbal medicine that the man has is amazing. It took him 15 years of training to become an herbal doctor. So many different parts of different trees, roots, bushes and leaves have medicinal properties. The knowledge he have is vast and invaluable, especially when the average person cannot afford the manufactured medicine of the West. It is ironic though, that many of the Western medicines are derived from the herbal medicines of traditional healers. If only Western drug companies would take some time to relearn the ways of the medicine men, medical care would be more affordable for all, and for the benefit of the community rather than for a corporation.

The other guests at Tumani Tenda were very interesting as well. There was a retired British couple on a bird watching holiday, a group of Dutch people who just completed a transcontinental road rally, and a young Dutch couple that just came from Senegal.

There were two men and two women who just completed the Amsterdam Dakar Challenge. This Challenge is an adventure where people drive from Amsterdam to Dakar both for adventure and for charity. The cars or 4x4s driven are supposed to cost around 500 Euros, although that is a guideline only. 250 Euros are to be used for repairs. The cars are adorned with advertisement stickers from sponsors. The autos are driven all the way south to Dakar, through many changing climates. The journey takes about 3 weeks. After the rally is finished the cars are donated to a charity. The only catch is that Senegalese law states that any car over five years old cannot be left in Senegal, so the cars are donated either in the Gambia or in Mali. I would love to be a part of the trip some day.

The young Dutch couple appeared to be hippie types and were living out of a monstrous yellow Mercedes van. It was the type that is usually used for a gelleh gelleh, but this one was set up for residential use, and it had some nice paintings of vines on it. I would love to have the van personally. They had spent the past two and half months building a school in Senegal and now were taking a break through the Gambia. The weekend consisted of a very interesting group all in all.

On our way out of Tumani Tenda we stopped to talk to one of the women in the village. She is a Dutch woman who is the second wife of a Muslim Gambian. It was really interesting to talk to her, especially since she is involved in a polygamous relationship as a Christian raised in a culture where polygamy is unaccepted and illegal. It is a strange concept I know, but after living here for almost 3 months polygamy seems perfectly normal. The strange part is that she is Dutch.

The woman has been living in the Gambia since 1991 working in Agricultural development. Now that she has a family she is working for a construction company since the hours are more standard. She works in the city during the week and spends the weekends in Tumani Tenda with her husband, kids, and wife and other kids. Her kids live with her in Kombo during the week to go to school.

She said that the other wife asked her to marry into the family. It is strange, but I assume what happened is that she was hanging around a lot with this woman’s husband and the first wife got fed up with it and wanted her to be a part of the family. Whatever the reasoning behind it, I don’t know, but a particularly interesting thing is the way that the kids are being raised.

They are being raised both Christian and Muslim. Their half brothers and sisters are being raised Muslim and speak Jola as a first language and then Mandinka. The husband speaks Jola and Mandinka and likely Wolof, but doesn’t speak any English. The Dutch woman is fluent in Mandinka, Englsih, Dutch and Afrikans, doesn’t speak Wolof and is learning Jola, especially from her kids. She is a South African by birth but was raised in Holland. Tumani Tenda is a Jola village, so her kids are playing with Jolas and their brothers and sisters speak Jola. She speaks to her husband and to the people in the village in Mandinka, since almost everyone there and in most places understand it. She raises her kids in Afrikans, however. Her kids speak Afrikans, Mandinka and Jola at home, and because of the similarities between Afrikans and Dutch, they are also learning Dutch. There are studying in Kombo. Classes in the schools are held in English, so they also know English. Most of the kids in Kombo speak Wolof, so in a few years time, they are also likely to pick up Wolof.

Imagine the kids of a woman with South African, Dutch and Gambian citizenship and a Gambian man living in a rural Jola village. The kids are both Dutch and Gambian citizens, raised in a completely new blend of cultures. It is very interesting, horribly mind boggling and revolutionary. With no problem at all the kids will be fluent in English, Mandinka, Jola, Dutch, Afrikans and probably Wolof. Then if they go off to college they are likely to learn French or Spanish.

It is unthinkable to be able to know 5 or 6 languages with no trouble at all. That is the kind of place the Gambia is. People routinely know two to three languages, and usually bits and pieces of more. They know all these languages regardless of their educational background. Here multilingualism is a part of life. It is a given. If anything is the true tequila shot, then it is the kids of a Dutch woman and Gambian man living in Tumani Tenda, The Gambia.


I wrote the past sections of this blog a week ago. It has taken me a week to getting around editing and posting it. Just a few minutes ago I remembered that I’ve yet to tell you about what happened when my fortune was told to me. I’ll tell you what I remember.

In the village we went to see a particularly well respected man. He is the alkalo (village chief), the imam and the marabou. We had been introduced to him before as the alkalo, but this time we went to see him in marabou form.

Marabous are traditional healers and spiritual guides who are also village elders and very well honored. Here they are often Muslim, as it is a Muslim country, but marabous practice animist traditions. The practice is integrated with either Muslim or Christian vibes or none at all.

We each went to have our fortunes told by the marabou, translated via Babucar. I don’t know how much I buy into the validity of the marabou’s decree nor if I believe it, but I imagine he is a hell of a lot more genuine than the back alley crystal ball sequin wearing seers of the USA. Below is my mangled memory of what he told me.

He started off by saying some prayers and reading some verses from the Koran. He had his prayer beads sitting on top of the holy book and he asked me to select one of the beads. I selected one and he took it, meditated for a bit, read something in Arabic and then told me my fortune.

The marabou said first of all that I have doubts about how long that I will live, but God willing I will live a very long life. He continued that I had doubts about whether I will have a kid, and I will have one. He said that I will travel for much of my life, and wherever I go I will be very well received and I will want to stay there and settle down. I should not do this he said, but rather I should return to my home, for if I stay too long in one place I will run into misfortunes. I will be very prosperous and successful one day, but this will not be my own doing. Instead someone will help me get started and from there I will be successful on my own accord. I was missing something, but I told him I did not think that I was missing anything. He said that someone young like me took what I was missing, and soon I would realize what was gone, but I’ve yet to find out what is missing. I will be a great leader of people, but he is not sure how I will be leading people. In the near future I will be meeting with someone and the end result will be in my favor. Whatever is decided will happen. I am to wear a silver bangle on my right wrist, but only after the proper sarax (English spelling sarahh, meaning charity) is given out. This band is to be worn at all times and will be the symbol of my leadership. I then told him that I have a silver bangle but it was in Kanifing and I didn’t have it with me that weekend. He told me that before I put it back on I must go through a sarax to ensure my good fortune. He said that I should avoid crime, because I might be caught up in it in some way. Before putting the bangle back on I should give out seven candles and seven kola nuts wrapped in Koranic scripture to elders and seven pieces of bread to children. These goods must first be blessed and upon giving my charity I would in turn be blessed b y those people.

A few days later I put the bangle back on my left hand without going through with the charity. I hope that the bangle can still be a symbol of leadership though, whatever it might be.

Santa Yalla (Thank God in Wolof)

A tequila shot should be the new international public policy.

21 November, 2008

Tequila shots have a lot to do with language, much more than you might think actually. Specifically, tequila shots are a metaphor for the intermingling of languages and the creation of something beautiful. When these languages and cultures are combined harmoniously, under the same roof, in the same town or even in the same country, they are reminiscent of a tequila shot.

They are inspiring, energizing, energetic, refreshing, complex, full of tradition, precise, chaotic. The concoction of language is beautiful, abstract and free, but methodical. When it comes down to it languages are a tequila shot. The shot provides the perfect amount of electrolytes and rejuvenation, the rejuvenation that much of international political realm lacks. The salt awakens the population, getting people talking. The tequila is another group of languages, where something new and indefinite is occurring. The lime heightens the senses, a group of people full of the new awareness of a new language and of a new people. The culmination of the salt, tequila and salt is something international, a confusion of backgrounds unified, but forever diverse. A tequila shot should be the new international public policy. I think George Bush preferred Miller.

Before I go on with my story about language, I must write something directed at my mother. Do not worry that I am writing about tequila, because I know that you are. Instead, roll with the metaphor. If that doesn’t make you feel better, then just know that a certain degree of responsibility is essential to any tequila shot, the tequila shot that is language.

This past Friday night Dan and I went out to the Come Inn, the restaurant and bar that has become kind of the old home hangout for our group. It is an outdoor restaurant with a palm roof, a mahogany bar and an interesting crowd. There is the after work Gambian and sometimes a Sierra Leonean or Nigerian at the bar, and also the occasional PCV, VSO or MRC. There is one constant, though. There is always the same bunch of sorry looking of old British expatriates who we have run into enough around town to befriend, in a sense.
On this night we started out by receiving some particularly enlightening pieces of information. When we arrived we talked to a Muslim Gambian sipping on tequila and Julbrew. For those of you who don’t know, Muslims don’t drink. This man was well educated, well travelled, has spent some time in the West, and had a particular disdain for religion. In short, he is not characteristic of the typical Gambian. He was slightly off of his rocker and has nothing to do with what I am trying to write about tonight (or maybe everything to do with it), but he left us with an interesting piece of worthless philosophy.

He told us that the only things that anyone has to worry about in life are malaria, poverty and disappointment. Disappointment kills more people than anything else, because according to him if one person gets pissed off he might go out and kill six or seven people. Poverty kills more than malaria, and malaria kills less than the other two. He also said that all of the so called educated intellectuals in this world are stupid. The educated elite who lead countries are worthless and only interested in causing disappointment for other people. He said that the average person on the street would be a better leader, but as he referred to the average person as a moron, I don’t think he has much respect for anyone at all. Really I think he prefers either anarchy, or a dictatorship run by him. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about poverty anymore, only disappointment and malaria.

After enjoying a Julbrew and a shot of tequila, Dan and I left the Come Inn, but only after saying goodbye to the expats. From them I acquired some uselessly useful knowledge that I will now pass on to you. I learned that a person can be a “fucking spectacle of himself” (excuse my French), and that the owner of a restaurant down the road was a “right twat.” Old British people sure have nice things to say about other old British people and also middle aged British restaurant owners. Exceedingly useful information, is it not?

From the Come Inn, Dan and I walked down to the Blue Bar. It is a long walk down Kairaba from bar to bar, probably a good 30 minutes. The Blue Bar is a restaurant serving Western food with something of a Euro club vibe going on, only there is no dancing and there is bad American pop music. But then I suppose European club music can be quite atrocious too. It’s a classy establishment, with a good cheeseburger and an awesome plate of sautéed shrimp over a bed of lettuce. The owner of the Blue Bar may or may not be a “right twat” as I haven’t experience with him.

After showing the bartender the proper way to take a tequila shot, and paying our bill (which was discounted), we again were on our way. This time we continued to walk towards the coast along Kairaba. In no time at all some PCV and MRC types rolled by us on bicycles or by foot. Peace Corps Volunteers, like St. Mary’s students, are not allowed to ride bikes in Kombo, so for the sake of politics, all of the Peace Corps were on foot.

I had not really spent any time getting to know any of the youthful Western volunteer and working sorts of whippersnappers here in the Gambia. Most of my interaction with them had been at Fajara on beach rugby night, and as I haven’t tried my luck at the game yet, preferring instead to swim to the water or in a hammock, I got to know them better on Friday. I had met some of the Peace Corps in the area on various occasions and taken time to get to know them, but this was my first real experience with the young British types. All in all, they are nice, but they are British.

After Roxy, Dan’s unsuccessful female interest of late, and some others stopped, we walked with them to the Butik Bar, nearby a Peace Corps residence. Butiks are small stores that generally sell everything known to man, and are located everywhere, often a few on each neighborhood block. On E block in Kanifing Estate, there are over 5 within a five minute walk, all selling the same things. The word itself is a corruption of the word boutique. The Butik Bar is only the street name; its Christian name is unbeknownst to me. All bars here are Christian.

A few of us had some Chinese gin with mushrooms in the bottle, and then the Brits bought their usual at the boutique. As this was an educational evening of cultural exchange, I must tell you that the British types have integrated well with local booze. I will tell you why I call them British types in the next paragraph. In the Gambia, one can purchase gin or brandy sachets for 5 Delasis ($0.25) each. Imagine a shot of detestable liquor in a ketchup packet that costs the same amount as a piece of bubble gum from a machine, and that is the drink of choice for the MRC, VSO and the PCV. Oh and if you are lucky, they might have this gin mixed with kola nuts, but we were not so lucky. Apparently it tastes repulsive, as it is kerosene with bitter kola nuts, but the caffeine gives quite the kick. After the gin packets were purchased by the British types and stuffed into pockets, we followed the faction to a party down a road behind Blue Bar.

I call the British “British types” because they consist of a conglomeration of lads and lasses in the MRC, VSO and other groups, who might either be British, Australian or Americans who decide to identify with the British (i.e. join VSO).

Regardless of nationalities, we all ended up at our destination on GMT, to be met by more nationalities.

Continuing the metaphor of a tequila shot, the previous description is the chatter of the salt, and the shot glass is paused in time on the lips of the linguistic world. The new group of cultures is about to hit and the intermingling of the lime will unite and untie the people shortly. I am of course part of this intermingling, as are you and everyone else in the world.

The party was hosted by Italians, attended by Americans, Gambians, Brits, Australians, Spaniards, and although I am not sure, there must have been some Dutch people there as well. There is quite a lot of hollandaise sauce here. The party had a plethora of different peoples, and so a babbling amount of languages were also spoken. English was the most prevalent language, although the English spoken by Americans is markedly different than that of the British, Australians or Gambians. At any given moment, a partygoer could hop seas and oceans and go into a different linguistic realm. Generally though, people from one particular nation did not hang out together, but rather were intermingled completely.

Eventually I ended up in the kitchen speaking Spanish to a Spanish guy speaking Castellano. It was my first time speaking Spanish with a Spaniard, and the accent is notably varied from Latin American Spanish, but understandable. Dan walked in during the conversation and said something along the lines of this: “Can you speak a language that everyone can understand?” The answer is we can, but what is the fun in that.

More diplomatically, however, and more along the lines of a tequila shot, the speaker gladly switches out of their native tongue or adopted tongue to include someone else in the conversation. It is very cool though to be in one house, and be able to hear English, Spanish, Wolof, Italian and Dutch all within a few meters of each other (notice I wrote meters and not yards). For being such a small country, the Gambia seems to be a magnet for young volunteer oriented Westerners.

I’ve never really hung out with Europeans and I’ve never really considered them to be hugely similar to my culture, whatever culture that is. Maybe it was just because we are all young Western foreigners living in a country very different for our own. Maybe the huge differences between West Africa and the West make other Westerners seem much more culturally cohesive, but whatever it was, it felt very familiar. If you changed the setting, I might even believe for a second that I was at St. Mary’s. That would only be until I listened to the various accents surrounding me though. Regardless of what made the feeling of familiarity there, I think a lot of it is that we were all young, internationally minded, adventure bound people trying to figure out what to do with our lives.

Be elek.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

GMT (Gambia Maybe Time): In Pursuit of Cheese and the Birkenstock Factor.

Sunday November 9, 2008

In Pursuit of Cheese

It is interesting how a two month cheese deprivation can lead you on an extended adventure. A friend of Dan Combs, Brian Alexander, told Dan that there is a place in the Gambia that has some pretty incredible pizza. It is not just pizza that is incredible to the cheese deprived, but also to any casual pizza joint frequenter or brick oven aficionado. This pizza has even earned the respect of the Fall 2007 St. Mary’s group in the Gambia to the extent that they enjoyed it on Thanksgiving. That’s sure an internationalist perspective, or rather a confusion of cuisine identities to celebrate Thanksgiving at an Italian establishment in West Africa.

I must say, I really am quite fond of Gambian food, and I am a big fan of seafood which is cheap and plentiful here. If you were anti-fish in this country there is a good chance you would be anti-eat, unless you live in our compound, where fish is served only once or twice a week, if at all. Gambian food is also full of flavor which is very important in any good dish. There are some American foods that I miss, but generally, at least for a few months anyway, I welcome a departure from the food of North America.

With that in mind though, there comes a time in the life of every American living away from the land of dairy, when a period of cheese withdrawal hits. If there is anything I miss about the States, it is cheese. I don’t miss the processed, hydrogenated, preservative laden, diabetes causing, laboratory concocted excuse for food that is called American cheese or Cheese Whip, but a grilled cheese on whole wheat toast with Velveeta might be kind of good right now. Velveeta is just as bad as American cheese and canned cheese, I suppose, but I have to ask why any Cheese God –fearing American would put cheese substitute that comes from a pressurized can on a cracker and then attempt to eat it. I can’t be too snide or critical about fake cheese, because I have family and friends who have fallen into the trap, but really it should be avoided at all costs.

Real cheese is the creation of the heavens. When it is coupled with tomatoes, onions, peppers and spices, crisp crackers, tortilla chips or even French onion soup it something otherworldly, but a good cheese can always be enjoyed alone.
In the height of a cheese craze, Dan and I took a taxi towards Cape Point near Bakau in search of the ultimate pizza in the Gambia. We drove past a junction in the road, and like a beacon that was calling me, I caught in the corner of my eye a sign that said Italian Connection. The driver turned around and took us down the road to a truly fantastic Italian restaurant.

We got out of the car and walked through the entrance that led into a court yard. It looked as if there should have been tables set up for outside seating, but they were not yet there. To the left there was a raised covered tile patio surrounded by white metal work. The place looked very nice, but very closed. Shortly after walking in, a man with a thick Italian accent named Danilo gave us a warm welcome and assured us that he was open. Immediately he asked us if we were Peace Corps Volunteers. Apparently we give off that vibe much more than the trashy European tourist vibe, or maybe it’s that there aren’t North American tourists here. We explained that we were students and in a sense associated with Peace Corps and he asked “who sent you.” That could be construed as kind of a peculiar way to ask where the good word spread about his restaurant, as if we were spies trying to appropriate his top cheese secrets. His warm welcome assured us that he didn’t think we were spies or something of that nature.

He took us around back through a compound that I assume was his personal residence, within the walls of the restaurant. We then went into the back through the kitchen and he led us into the dining room. Without hesitation he asked us about our victory with Obama. His attitude suggested that he had a complete disillusionment with politics, and he asked if we had gotten any richer because Obama was elected. We assured him that we hadn’t yet, but hopefully change would come. There were tables set that were covered in nice white linens, lending to a very classy setting. I might say that it was reminiscent of Italy and the proprietor would probably take that as a huge compliment, but unfortunately I have never been to Italy.

Dan and I sat down to a table on the patio and the owner introduced himself. We were the only customers of the afternoon, so throughout the meal Danilo checked in on us when he wasn’t in the kitchen. He sat us, waited on us and cooked for us. He brought us out two well designed posh looking menus and drink lists. I barely had a chance to look at the menu before he asked if we knew what we wanted. We must have been deciding to slowly, or he must have been reading our minds, because he asked if the menu was too expensive for us. It was indeed a bit pricy, and he returned with a take away menu for us to order from. The options were fewer, but nothing was spared in the quality of the food.

We ordered 2 small pizzas and split them. It was more than enough for both of us, but we didn’t need encouragement to finish it. We ordered the Pizza Siciliana and a Pizza Rustica. The Siciliana was made with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, ham, aubergine (eggplant), black olives, oregano and hot chillies. The Rustica was adorned with salami, green peppers, black olives, mozzarella and oregano. Both were baked in what I imagine to be a wood stove oven, based on the taste.

A few minutes after taking our order Danilo returned with our drinks and his hands covered in flour, a telling fact that the dough was good and fresh. The pizzas were superb. Although I am cheese deprived and anything reminiscent of cheese makes something taste good, I am confident that this is some of the best pizza I have ever had. Danilo said to tell our friends to come to his restaurant, so that is what I am doing. If you are ever in the Gambia and you have the desire to eat some genuine Italian food, then go see Danilo at the Italian Connnection.

Although the food was good, I don’t know why some tourists would seek out an excellent Italian restaurant while vacationing in West Africa. If I was a European tourist I might want to eat local food, but instead many flock to European cuisine, never leaving their comfort zones. The majority of the nice restaurants serve either European or Chinese food, and in addition the majority of the patrons to these places are either foreigners or elite Gambians. I went there because it was time for some cheese after over two months, but those who come for a short stay should explore some new tastes.

The Birkenstock Factor

Birkenstocks are for suburban hippies. They are also for the outdoor type that claims no allegiance to any label. They are also for the people who claim that claiming no allegiance to any label is in itself a label. They are for ex hippies and musicians and college students and trend following New Yorkers and cardigan sweater wearers and stock brokers, kayakers, folk musicians, teachers and anyone who likes wool socks. They are for anyone who likes their comfort and support. They are for anyone who lives an active or outdoor lifestyle, pretends to, or would like to. They are also for the lazy slob. Really when it comes down to it, when the nomadic way of life hits, they are for anyone, even if it is just for fashion.

Birkenstocks are not however for rock climbing, boulder traversing, wave evading, cliff descending, seafaring or beach walking. They are particularly not for beach walking when the beach at hand involves rock climbing, boulder traversing, wave evading while on boulders and cliff descending all in the same outing. That task is for a Teva, Chaco, or a generic non water fearing flip flop.

I wore Birkenstocks to lunch at the Italian Connection, but I claim no allegiance or association to any of the above foot talk, nor do I know the source of the writing.

The sandals served me well on the walk from the Italian connection to three quarters of the way to Anna’s Sand Plover and then all the way back for Dan’s pack of fags and then back to Sand Plover. A word about cigarettes. In the Gambia and I suppose in England you don’t smoke a cigarette, you smoke a fag. You don’t smell like cigarettes, you stink of fags. I don’t think telling someone that they stink of fags in the USA would go over so well. If you don’t believe me, try it out someday. The experiment might work best somewhere in the South, or maybe in Texas.

This is the proper time to stop and take a bite of cheese, as long as it does not have artificial coloring. This is also an excuse for me to not come up with a proper transition between the previous paragraph and the next. I bit of cheese might suit you better.

The day of our lunch and beach walk was Sunday. We were doing work at the house, and the plan was to return after lunch to continue our studies, but GMT has a way of taking over. This is not the Greenwich Mean Time but the far more accurate Gambia Maybe Time. I prefer the later. It is nice to operate without planning something out and have an adventure sporadically emerge just because it can. It emerges precisely because there was nothing planned, and in fact any type of planning structured around the traditional GMT is at arms with the sporadic and freeing nature of Gambia Maybe Time. Maybe instead of Yoga classes and self-help books there should be Gambia Maybe Time lectures. Maybe someone could make a lot of money off of a self help book about Gambia Maybe Time philosophy. Unfortunately, the regimented publishing schedule of such a book and the sales and distribution and then finding time to read the book would in fact quarrel with the very meaning of Gambia Maybe. The author of the book would be labeled a time heretic.

If someone must write a book about this philosophy let it be written in some abstract setting and deposited on some beach where someone walking barefoot picks it up and learns the way. Really the purpose of this digression is to say that Gambia Maybe Time must not be taught but it must be lived. It can be lived by experiencing it or by experiencing others living it. It is not just found in the Gambia, but it is also the GMT of many places and people who don’t want to be anywhere particularly quickly. Those who live the GMT life should, if they are true wayfarers, like the trip just as much as the destination. That is also the difference between power boaters and sailors. Sailors enjoy the sail, but power boaters are in too much of a fuel burning frenzy to take pleasure in the trip. The illustrious and illusive destination is always in sight. With a prejudice towards the sailor philosophy, Dan and I ended up going on a few hour beach walk in the direction of Fajara.

As I mentioned before, after Dan retrieved his cancer sticks our journey began at Sand Plover. Sand Plover is a nice casual unassuming beach restaurant on the protected side of a peninsula. There is along rickety board walk over a marsh to get to the restaurant and beach, and once there, you can sit at a table with a sand floor. Dan and I enjoyed a Julbrew and then got on our way.

After passing some beach front mangroves, we walked south past some tourists and resorts and stopped at a resort with a Hobbie Cat out in front. We stopped there to inspect the vessel and then saw that there was a Laser as well and inside some windsurfing gear. We talked to the guy working there and worked out a deal for when we return. The tourists get to pay tourist prices. We get to pay college student prices. It is Monday afternoon as I sit here and write this, and in an hour or two I hope to be on the water. We thanked the guy and said that we would return in a few days. I am going back this afternoon, but Dan has to do something bogus and trivial like school work.

The decision was made to walk all the way to Fajara on the beach. We soon made it past Cape Point, where we had been before, and realized that the next big portion of the walk would not be barefoot sand between the toes beach walk. We ventured away from the sandy beach and onto the sand stone boulders (called laterite) cramped between the cliff above and the crashing sea to our right.

It was really pretty amazing to hike atop the monstrous red boulders with waves crashing beneath and around us. It is also one of the safest things I have ever done in my life. Whoever said that there was no rock climbing in the Gambia was mistaken. Some bumster in training (i.e. a young bumster) decided that he wanted to accompany us. When he found out that we were to walk on the boulders he decided that he would volunteer to be our guide. It’s too bad for him we didn’t need one. He was quiet enough and nice enough, and out of our business enough that we let him walk ahead of us on our way.

Taking the time to stop and look at the surroundings brought a breathtaking view; cliffs to both sides with the surf crashing on rocks below. The only catch was that we were on the rocks below. The setting was reminiscent of Northern California, only there were palm and coconut trees lining the cliffs and warm water.

For all of this I had my Birkenstocks on, as I thought we were only going to eat pizza. The shoes fared me well through the first set of rock crossings, although they were a touch slippery on the dusty or wet rocks. My other flip flops would have been a better choice. Eventually we made it past the rocks and to some resort. They had built a raised concrete bulkhead well above the surf and filled it will sand. We scaled the bulkhead and saw old European tourists with flabby skin in bikinis and Speedos. The place was kind of strange, a raised up beach with a little beach bar and a restaurant and hotel rooms further up the cliff. We stopped for a drink, and our bumster accomplice finally decided to leave us.

The place also had drums for sale and batiks and other tourist goods in these shops set up at the hotel. I guess they were supposed to appeal to the tourists, so that they would never have to leave their hotel, but the place was really very strange and tacky. Hopefully the tourists were getting ripped off, if they think that a resort run craft market is a good place to buy “authentic” African goods. After chatting with a worker and the bar tender for a while and agreeing with them that the scantily clad wrinkly Europeans were quite disgusting, we continued our excursion.

Rather than continue through the cliffs, we walked up through the resort. The place was nice, but the decorations were very strange and the pool was outlandish as well. There was a pool bar in the center and some sleazy looking people relaxing on chaise lounges. If I ever want a swimming pool though, I might go back. They would probably never question that I wasn’t a guest, but the unfortunate reality is that it is just because of my skin color, not because I am sleazy. In fact I am not sleazy, but if I was I might fit in there better.

On our way out through the lobby we saw four young blonde women, who I assume were from Holland based on their accents. They were complaining about their guide not showing up or something. Dan and I decided that we could be their guide and be white bumsters, but again we are not that sleazy.

We diverted our walk to the main road for a short time, and then turned down to a construction site overlooking the ocean where beach houses were being built. The security guards told us that we could get to the beach from there, so we tried. After following one path through the brush and corn stalks growing on the cliff, we came to a dead end…literally, if you were to jump. Some kind of nettle or something made my legs all itchy, but after turning back from the edge, we kept going. We were walking along the cliff and some security guards from some building came out from behind a fence and asked us where we were going. After greeting them in Wolof they showed us the way to a path to get down to the water and the boulders below.

It looked risky, an eroding cliff with rocks at the bottom. It wouldn’t be too bad in the States where there is health care, but here it could have been a bad choice. I found it funny that Dan was the voice of reason or fear suggesting that it might not be a good idea, but I insisted that it was. I led the way down the face, remembering the many times of my childhood that I had down climbed Cunningham Falls. Cunningham Falls is much longer and steeper, only it doesn’t have the whole loose sand thing. We made it down safely and continued our walk.

We walked on sand for a while, which allowed me to take off my shoes for again. Soon, though we were on the rocks. We met a man surf fishing, so I asked him “Naka jen bi?” He answered, “Jen bi baax na.” The fish were good. He had a great place to fish, isolated from most people due to the terrain. The beach and rocks gradually became littered with all kinds of beautiful small shells, including a few cowries. It’s really unfortunate that I didn’t have my camera with me for all of this, but when you are going to lunch on GMT, you don’t plan things ahead.

With the cliffs above it seemed that we were in some isolated region because the buildings above us couldn’t be seen from below. As we neared Fajara, the tide kept coming in closer and closer. I began a rock hoping campaign between waves and in the sandy areas, a sprinting operation to the next piece of high ground when the surf subsided. It was successful for a while, but eventually my Birkenstocks got wet. I guess it was time for them to get broken in, courtesy of the East side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our hike finally ended in Fajara, our old home beach, where Dan joined the Sunday night beach rugby game. I went back home to start writing this blog. My Birkenstocks were sufficiently wet and sandy. That is the way they should be in the end I guess. Otherwise they would just be like any other pair of Birkenstocks in suburbia. But these sandals are different. They are rock crawling, ocean evading, water worthy continent hoping Birks.

It’s good to have a lunch that turns into an adventure. It’s also good to have non hypocritical Birkenstocks, although all Birkenstocks will forever be cliché. Abandon your sense of time. Throw your dress shoes into the ocean and your day planner into a bonfire, and your lunch might turn into a beach cliff walk too.

Don’t work too hard and eat lots of cheese, but avoid the canned stuff.

Be beneen yoon. (Until next time)


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Beaches Beyond

November 2, 2008

Jeffery Nutt Hankins once suggested that I go for a walk on the beach. It is not hard to convince me to do something like that. For those who don’t know Nutt, he is a crazy wind surfer type and a friend of mine, which might make him a bit more nuts. He was here in the Gambia during Renee’s first stay in the Spring of 2007.

About a month ago I was chatting with Jeff on the internet about the state of the universe and he suggested that I walk on the beach from Tujereng to Sanyang with Kartong in mind as my final destination. Tujereng to Sanyang is a lesuirly but hot and long day’s walk, and it is another meandering day from Sanyang to Kartong. Without much thought I decided that it was essential for me to walk the beach, so I set out to do just that.

On Saturday night I sporadically decided that Sunday would be the first day of the walk. I had previously alerted my housemates of my plans, but on the eve of the journey I had no takers. Fortunately, I know of some other people who also think that walking all day long on the beach in the hot Gambian sun is a good idea. I quickly called Ebrima Tunkara and Paul Correa from my Environmental Management class, and they quickly agreed that the journey was necessary to our well beings. Ebrima and Paul are kindred spirits in that they seem to enjoy an adventure, a long walk, and the outdoors. Maybe they just like to wander aimlessly. I think I would do that if I could. But they are not aimless. If they were aimless, then I might have to call them wayfarers, but they wouldn’t be of the wayward variety. Wayward wayfarers are a fine breed at the end of the day, though.

It is my experience that aimlessness is not the style of science majors, although it is important to keep in mind that Nutt is a bio major. He might have what one could call a determined yet abstractly planned and resolute aimlessness. In the end, however, not all who wander are lost (that’s the title of a Chris Thile album, but I am not putting it in quotes, because I don’t know if he can truly lay claim to the phrase).

It was agreed upon that the expedition would start from my compound at 9am the next morning. I hailed a cab, or rather Jamie called Esa and spoke with him in French, and he came to pick us up. While I packed my internal frame pack with water for the journey, and sun shit for my white boy skin, Ebrima negotiated the rates while we waited for Paul.
It turns out that we could have taken a van all the way out to Tujereng but for some reason I wasn’t thinking about that. Esa gave a very good rate, although because of the distance of our trip, it was still pricy.

In the interim, Ebrima and I walked down the street to buy our fuel for the day to accompany the coolant that was already in the boot of the taxi. We ordered three tapalapa ak nen ak pomputeer ak Jumbo ak mayonnaise. Unrefrigerated hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, warm Gambian mayonnaise and Jumbo (an Old Bay like seasoning that makes everything taste better) on a long piece of Gambian tapalapa bread. Food for the soul. It is important to note that eggs in their raw form or hard boiled form do not need be refrigerated. Nor does mayonnaise, especially when it’s the sort pumped up with some kind of preservative that I’d rather not know about. This is definitely the filling meal of choice though for a long journey.

Soon after Paul arrived we were on our way, or so I thought. In the States, life seems to be instantaneous; everything functions or is supposed to function in an on demand fashion that overlooks the importance of conversation, relationships, greetings, relaxation and walking. Although I lived on an island all summer, and I operate on Island Time and now sometimes on Gambian Maybe Time, there is still a little bit of that American impatience breeding inside of my system. Maybe the tap water will kill it. You should be able to get transportation anywhere anytime you want it, right? You a very wrong my impatient friends. Get in your car and drive somewhere very rapidly and ignore the scenery on the way if you demand punctuality. Contrarily, if you are of the sort who kind of appreciates the concept that time is theoretical and not to be regimented, then go for a walk with nowhere in particular in mind, or come to the Gambia. I have become a fan of this way of thinking. Or rather, I would like to think that I always have been a fan, but I remain a fan. I know that to truly absorb myself in this concept of time could haunt me in the paved road reality in the land of Wal-Marts. But then again I don’t shop at Wal-Mart.

We left by around 9:30 although the driver had been waiting since 9, and after about a 5 minute drive from the house the fan belt on the engine went out. Esa drove us to find a friend who could match his price or come close, but his friend wasn’t around. Instead we found a driver who said 500 Delasis ($25) for the trip, but we eventually got him down to 350. Given the price of diesel burning in an old Mercedes-Benz and the distance we had to cover, the driver said it would cost him around 200 just in fuel.

Mr. Cab Man drove us out past the traffic light and past the nauseating attraction of Senegambia and into the countryside. After about a 30 minute drive…before finishing this sentence the Gambia in me must interject. It is a truly Western concept to quantify the amount of time it takes to get from one place to another. Any trip on any road should be variable, and in fact usually is. In addition, the time frame of 30 minutes is just an estimation from my feeble mind; an evaluation of ticking that comes from 19 years of training in an all too regimented society. Anyway, after a while we arrived in Tujereng, and Paul and the driver asked a local how to get to the beach. After some back tracking and couple more stops to ask directions in Wolof and the driver’s complaints in Wolof about the amount of fuel he was wasting, we turned off the main road.

Do you hear banjo music? The ominous kind that sounds festive at first but eventually turns into the sounds of nightmares past and yet to come. Do you hear it? Paddle faster. Do you hear it? I hear banjo music. Paddle faster, faster, faster.

Do you hear it? I sure don’t. That’s for West Virginia my friends, and Deliverance, not a tropical beach on the Smiling Coast of Africa. The driver navigated the Mercedes down a single lane sand road through bushes and palm trees, beeping every time we came to a curve in the road, because there was no way of seeing an oncoming vehicle. The road would have given quiche eating, SUV driving soccer moms and dads indigestion, but in the Gambia where football is football and not a bunch of overgrown men in body armor, sand roads have a special relationship with rear wheel drive cars.

We came to a clearing in the bush and heard the soft crash of the Atlantic Ocean on the white beach ahead. The three of us got out of the car, and I made sure to sniff the sea air, something that I have been trained to do every time I get out of the air conditioned car upon my arrival in Hatteras. It doesn’t hit you quite as strongly here when everything smells of fish, and your olfactory senses are not sheltered by the confines of air conditioning, but there is always something special about sea air.

I put my frame pack on my back, paid the driver and the three of us walked down to the beach. I quickly removed my shirt and drenched myself in Coppertone, while my dark skinned accomplices got themselves into beachwear. They didn’t need Coppertone. After loading their shirts and long pants (shorts are preferred on beaches of course) into my bag we began our walk south.

The beach was gorgeous. To the north we could see a group of fisherman pushing a boat up out of the surf and onto some timber. They rolled the boat on top of tree trunks onto higher ground, or rather higher sand. Although there were people to the north, there was not a building in sight to the north or south. There is nothing like the beauty of an undeveloped beach.

As we turned south we were immediately bombarded by a multi-ton amoeba of flesh, bones and hide. There was a herd of long horn cattle making their way towards us, with the cowboy meandering behind. I think if I was a cowboy and I had the choice I would walk my cattle on the beach side too. Even if you don’t like the ocean, it serves as a nice big road to transport the beasts from one grazing area to another. By the way, they are not really long horn cattle, they have long horns, but they are of a different variety. They are of the N’Dama variety to be exact, originating from the Fouta-Djallon highlands of Guinea. And I don’t think that a herd of cows here in the Gambia calls their master a cowboy, but for the sake of the combinations of letters you are processing, they are.

Paul, Ebrima and I walked for a while enjoying each others company and the splendor of the coconut tree lined beach that went on for thousands of miles south of us. The shoreline was peppered with Pyramidellidae or pyramid shells of all colors and sizes, and occasionally we would stumble upon some other type of sea life, living or dead (I think that that is the kind of shell from my research online. The shell is pointy and can be found on the beaches of the Atlantic in the Americas too).

Paul is a 28 year old teacher studying at the university with a knack for telling stories, and telling us about the trials and tribulations of whatever creature he comes across. I am 19 year old kayak tour guide, with a knack for telling tourists about marine eco-systems, I have an obsession of all things aquatic, and a fascination with meaningless bits of information. I’m sure that between Paul and I we would be enough to either annoy someone who would prefer to walk down the beach oblivious to their surroundings, or impress some silk shirt wearing tourist or weekend naturalist. Ebrima didn’t seem to mind us anyway.

We found the back of squid, a dead lady fish, a dead blue crab, various types of coral, and lots of ghost crabs peeping out of their holes. Paul remarked that Americans must call ghost crabs ghost crabs because they are so clever that they hide like phantoms whenever a passerby thinks about looking at them. According to Paul, ghost crabs to Gambians are just a generic land crab. But then of course there must be a distinction between the fiddler crab that frequents the river bed and marsh, and the ghost crab. I’m sure there is one, but Paul didn’t know it. There was also a typical medley of scallop and clam shells on the beach with the occasional conch thrown in. Eventually we found a natural sponge, and we broke it open. There were baby star fish moving around inside of it, and realizing that the sponge was nursery school, and bad things happen to people who destroy nursery schools, we put the sponge back in the ocean. Its tough work to walk on a beautiful undeveloped beach, but someone has to do it.

Sometime in the midst of all the pseudo marine biology talk that we were engaging in, we came to a hut built on the beach. We walked into it, and it had some kind of make shift counter top, a table carved out of drift wood, and a day bed (minus the mattress) in the center. The shack was small and open to the sea breeze; the perfect abode to transform into a surf shanty. A large tree stood watch next to it on the beach. It is the kind of place where any beach bum would be content to spend the rest of his days.

Despite all the splendor and beauty of the beach in between Tujereng and Sanyang we eventually came to a pipe. This pipe popped up out of the sand before going into the ocean. I don’t know whether the builders of the conduit intended it to be seen or not, but it was obvious that something was being dumped into the ocean. Whether it was runoff, sewer or some kind of chemical, the beach in that area was littered with a fair share of dead blue crabs. I really enjoy eating crabs, but I wasn’t very hungry for those.

For much of the trek we had been walking towards a sandy point in the distance, stopping every now and then to wade in the water. I also tried my hand at teaching Ebrima to swim and Paul to swim a little bit better. Floating is the key to swimming. Remember that. There is not much of a beach culture here, so not many people can swim. There are those that can, I would hope the fishermen can, but the number of human fish in this country is limited.

As we rounded the point we came to an idyllic cove where the crash of the ocean turned into a tranquil haven. The point was caressed with palms and an army of prickly pear cacti. Some of the fruits on the cacti were pink and ripe, so I showed Ebrima and Paul the joys of a fruit growing atop a porcupine. We all managed to get a few small hair-like needles in our hands as we peeled the fruits. In no time at all our hands appeared to be covered in blood. The deep red and staining juice of the fruit flowed out all over our hands as we ate the contents of the fruit, sucking the flesh off of the small cacti seeds. It was really a quite refreshing venture, although I think my hands would be forever red if I indulged in the fruit too often. As we were doing this, some lighter skin person passed on a four-wheeler. I’m sure we were quite the sight with our bloody hands.

Further on down the cove there were two sets of rock outcroppings with a smooth sandy beach in between. We took a rest here to relax, and continued the swimming lessons. On the land side of this exquisiteness were a few thatch roofed buildings and a hut, sheltering a large group of Lebanese Gambians enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Their Mercedes SUVs and other luxury vehicles were parked behind the structures. There were some older veiled women praying, lots of people in the water, and a fair share of men smoking hookah. From the looks of things the Lebanese here were a mix of Christian and Muslim. I went up to the hut to order a Coca-Cola which they told me who cost 20 Delasis. I told them that I would pay 15. Then they told me that they were selling fish benechin for 80, which sounded good, but I had already had my potato sandwich. 80 Delasis is a lot of money for benechin anyway. I greeted them and ordered my drink in Wolof. One of the guys behind the bar started laughing and making fun of his friend in Mandinka and then explained to me in English that I know more Wolof than his friend.

After another dip, we walked further down the beach and made it to the fish market on the beach of Sanyang. There we met Ebrima’s sister’s husband’s brother. Gambians would refer to a relative of that sort as an uncle or brother. Due to his age he was an uncle. He is a fisherman out of Sanyang, and Ebrima hoped to get some free fish out of him. He had yet to be out fishing for the day and was going out that evening so Ebrima was out of luck. There were all kinds of fish in the market, including lots and lots of skates.

Apparently skate tastes pretty good. It is similar to shark, which I have had, but I don’t recall ever eating skate. For those of you who frequent cheap seafood restaurants with buffets of frozen seafood and overcooked vegetables, you have probably eaten skate. Cheap restaurants in the States tend to take shark or skate spines, and cut them up and tell you that you are eating scallops. If you didn’t notice I don’t feel bad for you. Gambians know about fresh seafood. 85% of the seafood in the USA is imported. Americans don’t know about fresh seafood, unless you’re a Hatterasman. Then you know fresh seafood and you know not to go to Dirty Dicks, unless you think fresh is frozen fish caught from the Sysco food truck at 7:30 in the morning. Sorry naive tourists. I don’t feel bad for you either.

After smelling some fish for a while, we went to the beach for another swim, and then we joined some of the locals to kick a football back and forth. Eventually there were enough of us to play a small game of post football. Four other Gambians (the ones with the ball) and a young guy from Holland working at a clinic in Sanyang joined us for the game. After we were sufficiently exhausted we headed back to the market to find transportation home.

The three of us hoped into the back of a miniature Renault four by four. It was one of those old little utilitarian car/trucks that in town are usually used to deliver bread. This one had two side facing wooden benches built in to take people from the market to town. From Sanyang we went to a car park and caught a gelleh gelleh into Birkama. Gelleh gellehs are these big vans that are trying to pass for buses that can have chickens and goats along for the ride as well. They are generally these old Mercedes buses with raised suspensions and roaring diesel engines packed with twenty some people and a big pile of luggage on the roof. They are often also decorated with bright colors. Bright pink, green and yellow usually make the things sufficiently flashy. This one fit the description in every way except for the bright colors. Instead it was forest green. How plain of them.

From Birkama we took a smaller van into Westfield, and back to our respective homes. For each person the transportation back was 22 Delasis, plus a 50 Delasis ride from the market to Sanyang. Much more reasonable than a town trip. I learned my lesson.

It was a long walk, and an exhausting day, but well worth it. There is nothing like being a wandering wayfarer. I quite enjoy it. The beach is calling me. I must return for another adventure another day. If for some odd reason I spontaneously disappear from the real world, assume that I am on some isolated beach. Besides, pristine beaches are much more real than the drab monotony of strip mall parking lots.

Love and Peace,


PS: I believe that it is cold in the States for the majority of you by now. I am sorry. I forgot to take my camera on this journey. I am extremely sorry about that. Oh and by the way last weekend I was in Jufureh where Kunta Kinte is from and Jan Jan Bureh, a British slave trading town. I saw hippos in the river on a boat trip and monkeys in the trees. The experience was quite interesting, but I've yet to feel motivated to write about it. I might write about it another time. Ask me about it if you are interested. Cheers