Green pastures of The Gambia
“Salaam maleekum” – the local greeting meaning “peace be with you” is the mantra of the Gambian people. They value peace above all things and maybe that is why it is one of very few African countries that has been untouched by war.From the moment we flew over The Gambian river dividing the fields into dense green pockets of land – we felt like God gave us a peace of his promise in Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters”. And the Lord knew we needed it after our unplanned whirlwind tour of West Africa that took us through South Africa, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and finally The Gambia. Thankfully also we got out of Nigeria just in time before the bus explosions took place in the main city. After being treated like criminals on our journey to get here – it was a breath of fresh air to be welcomed by a friendly Scottish couple that runs the guesthouse at the WEC headquarters in Banjul. They helped us navigate our way around and find our feet for the first week. This was not such an easy task as replacements for our lost luggage had to be found. Most girls would be excited if they had $1000 of insurance allowance to spend on essentials – more of a chore in a developing country. Life lesson learnt: ALWAYS pack at least 2 sets of underwear on your carry-on and split your clothes between you and your travel mate! During our first week of orientation in Banjul we slowly got used to the frequent prayer calls from the mosque next door, the hot (and humid) weather, and the reality of the struggle to make a living. Like most African countries, the people are desperate to make a buck out of anyone that seems better off than them. Children will often wave and run after you shouting – Tubab!! Tubab!! (meaning white person) – and ask for a ‘minty’ (lolly) or some dalasi (local currency). The Gambians see “tubabs” as an opportunity for a better life, a way out – yet when you stop to chat with them they seem content, friendly, at peace. Most of them practice Islam (98%) as a religion which includes the 30-day fast known as Ramadan. Our arrival here was right in the middle of Ramadan – so we had many sleepless nights from continuous 3-hourly prayer calls. They are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, dance, listen to music or swallow their own saliva during the hours of daylight. It was clear the locals were struggling in this heat without a drop of water during the day. Without energy and continuing hunger pains they drag their feet walking to the nearest vendor to line up for fresh bread and dates for the break of the fast at 7:30pm. Each sunset awaiting a night of feasting, drinking and praying to Allah. We were only at the preliminary stage of discovering the cover of the book that is The Gambian way of life…so much more to uncover, learn and experience about the people of The Gambia and how we can help them in the next 2 months of our time here.