Hooray! I’m finally in The Gambia, the smiling coast of Africa. Exploring and enjoying the culture, food, and the people. It’s my 1st of many trips to The Gambia. Our trip to The Gambia from East Africa was interestingly long. A 24hr trip through Germany, Belgium, Senegal and into Gambia.
Gambia is one of the smallest countries in mainland Africa. You can literally drive across it in an hour and drive along the long side within 4 hours, maybe less.
We attended a luncheon with the JOYE Gambia team. The meeting was productive, with great ideas put on the table and a few challenges to be tackled. The group was pleasant and there was great energy among them. You however couldn’t leave this meeting without noticing two cartoon characters, Jadama and Ayo aka DT or Donald. Their exchanges were hilarious, and by the time the meeting was over I had a little more understanding of The Gambia to tack under my sleeve. With all their jokes, one should not underestimate their brilliance.
Picture of the JOYE Gambia team
After the meeting I went to pick a change of clothes. I had chosen to spend the night with a JOYE beneficiary. There is no better way to understand the needs of the JOYE kids without a walk in their shoes. So, Alphy and I drove through Yundum, Farato, Brikama, Mandinaba, Faraba, Amdalai East and to Bulock to a JOYE beneficiary home.
Jarriatou is the JOYE beneficiary. Her father has never been part of her life, and she is the only child the mother had. Unfortunately, Jarriatou lost her mother at the early age of three. Her aunt took her in as her own after her mother’s death. The aunt’s husband has two wives. This means he manages 2 compounds. The first home had Jarriatou, and her aunt’s kids. The second home had about 3-4 other kids.
A picture of Jarriatou’s home. A glimpse of the second compound can be seen under the tree.
Jarriatou is affectionate and has a constant smile on her face. At first sight Jarriatou looks shy, but don’t be fooled. She has an outgoing personality and I see why she has a number of friends who are glued to her. A journalists is what she wants to be, and her personality fits it. Determination, goal-oriented, passionate and optimistic traits show in her grades, and how she carries herself. She is the head girl of her school and a distinction student.
Upon our arrival at Bulock, Jarriatou along with 6 of her friends met us at the main street and they guided us to her home. There are no paved streets on the inroads in this part of the country. Their paths which are dirt roads were formed by people repeatedly walking following the same trail. At some places, the trail splits and if you are not careful you easily end up in someone’s compound. For those not familiar with compounds, it’s a plot of land usually in the rural area with house(s) belonging to family members. To be sincere, on my own it would take me at least 2 weeks before I could figure out the path. There were quite a few turns to her home and don’t expect any street signs and in some places there were no homes to use as a landmark.
There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the compound. There was about 25 people including Jarriatou’s friends. Most of them were her family members and about 7 of them were friends.
They guided us to a room with nothing but the four walls. On a normal day they would sit down on the floor of this room and have their meal(s). On one corner there was an orange covered bucket with a big metal cup placed on top of it. Jarriatou walked to this corner, picked the cup dipped it into the bucket and handed the cup of water to Alphy who was nearer to her. In The Gambia one would take a gulp and pass it down to the next person. I was glad Alphy sat by the basket, because I would have held onto the cup without passing it on. Though it’s customary to share from the same cup and bowl in The Gambia, not all homes do it. I was thirsty, hot, tired and sleepy, but all this was not going to get in the way of me mingling. I did not hesitate to reach for the bowl of watermelon. Though the pieces were big I was not too bothered by it. I gladly bit into this juicy fruit and the juices got all over my mouth and dripped from my hands down to my elbow and it felt like heaven.
Jarriatou left and walked back in with three metal bowls stacked on top of each other. The bottom two had kosam with chere. The third one was empty. Kosam is fermented milk that is left outside to churn naturally. The steamed chere is cracked millet. She scooped some chere into the empty bowl, added kosam and some sugar to sweeten it. We used bowl-like spoons to eat it. It took me 3-4 scoops to get used to it. I waited for my stomach to churn because of the kosam but to my surprise nothing happened. After the chere and kosam, Jarriatou brought cooked rice in a huge round tray about 12 inches wide and on it was chicken domoda. Domoda is a peanut stew with your choice of meat.
The first picture: the chere, kosam, and sugar bowls. The second picture: the chere, kosam, sugar mixed and ready to eat. Third picture: from left we have Jarriatou, I and Alphy.
In the Gambian culture, their togetherness comes by sharing from the same utensils. With this domoda dish we all dug our hands into this 12 inch tray to eat. Jarriatou held the bowl at a slight tilt with her three fingers to prevent it from moving. She would also distribute the chicken pieces to everyone’s side of the bowl while she is eating too. It was interesting to watch. As it was described to me, it is the youngest person’s responsibility to hold the eating bowl. It is also seen as a sign of respect. I remember being skeptical about domoda on my first encounter with the dish. I could not wrap my head on the idea of peanuts in my meat stew. I actually enjoyed every bit of domoda.
Most of the family elders left after dinner, and we had a moment to check on Jarriatou’s welfare. All along we could hear Jarriatou’s friends outside, chanting songs and stamping their feet. One of the kid rhymes they chanted were “my mother and your mother were washing the clothes”. It’s a circle game in which a player is eliminated on the last letter of each color that is spelt out. I recalled playing the game as a child. They were having too much fun we had to join them. I asked for a replay of one of the stomping game. They sang “mama Lester, baba Lester, nene Lester…”. It’s a 2 person game where the lead player would stomp and land on either the right or the left foot, and the other person would stomp along with the lead player and try to guess which foot the lead player would land on. If they both land on the same foot (right or left) the game continues otherwise the game ends. Due to lack of resources they play games that require no equipment.
I tried to learn a thing or two about each of her friends. Some of them were Jolas and the rest were Fulas. They all lived in the neighboring compounds. I find culture to be interesting, it tends to shape who we are and how we act. I had to dig into their culture and tribes, and learnt that the area was predominantly occupied by the Fulas and Jolas two of the many tribes in The Gambia. As they showcased their tribes and enlightened me about their ancestors and history, they sang the traditional songs as some girls volunteered to dance to Jola, mandinka, and Fula dances. It was entertaining and I thought to myself that if I could twist myself like them in a dance without pulling a muscle that would be lovely.
We talked about their hobbies and how they pass time. They formed a fan club where they go support the local soccer team whenever they have a game, and two of them actually play soccer or football as they would call it.
There was just too much to talk about, enough laughter and somber stories that would have never ended. At 11pm we all agreed it was time to go to bed. The next day was going to be an early one. To experience a walk in Jarriatou’s life we had to wake up at the same time as her 5:30 am. So we crashed in Jarriatou’s room which was adjacent to the room we had our meal. From Jarriatou’s room there were 2 doors. One led to her sisters room and other led you outside to the bathroom and shower area. None of the rooms and outside door had a lock. The bathroom was about 5 foot high and 6 feet wide of corrugated iron sheet walls on only 3 sides, with no roof. Standing up in the shower I could see people doing whatever it is they were doing and they could see me too.
A typical day for Jarriatou begins with cleaning the compound and going to fetch water. It’s followed by a shower and off to school. In the evening they go fetch for water as needed and help with the cooking and cleaning of pots after dinner.
Even though they fetch water from the well, the community has water restrictions and they can only fetch water from 7am – 12pm or from 5-8pm. The well is hand pumped and runs on fuel. For this reason everyone has to pay as a contribution to the fuel consumption.
Alphy and I accompanied Jarriatou to school. It was approximately a 15 minute walk. It was hard to imagine her going to school on an empty stomach. Our last meal was at dinner and the next meal is the JOYE sponsored meal at 2pm, followed by dinner in the evening.
Taking pictures with part of Jarriatou’s family before our trek to school. In the second picture of me and Jarriatou’s family you can see millet on top of the roof. It’s been put to dry away from the animals reach.
At her school we spent approximately 2hrs visiting with other JOYE sponsored kids who go to the school. We talked to the school principal and other members of the administration regarding our commitment to our beneficiaries education and requested for their continued support as a liaison between JOYE and the students to ensure all needs are met.
Photos of JOYE beneficiaries with the school assistant principal and one of their teachers
It was time to head out to other schools to visit other beneficiaries, but we had to figure out our way back to Jarriatou’s home. We had talked, laughed, and shared stories with the students on their way to school and didn’t do a good job marking or memorizing our trail back to the home. Alphy and I found ourselves in a maze. We walked into other peoples homesteads, tracked back, made a couple circles until we eventually found ourselves at the right home. We wrapped up our visit and left the home feeling broken by the needs of the family. Alphy and I knew that they had gone all out to cater to us. It made me feel we should not have given them enough time to allow them to prepare. We wanted to go hungry if they go hungry, we wanted to sleep on the floor if that is what they do. We had experienced a good portion of Jarriatou’s day-to-day activity. How would you know someone’s pain without walking a mile in their shoes.
Jarriatou shared how fortunate she felt to be a JOYE beneficiary and desperately begged for JOYE to help the other kids in the compound. In her welcomed family they struggle to get all their kids to school and all she wants to see is at least one if possible two of them would be JOYE sponsored. It takes $250/year to sponsor a child’s education. Her other plea was for JOYE to help her aunt fix the house. The house is made of mud and the doors are made of corrugated iron sheets and can use some help. The uncle who she calls dad said he needed 2 mules. He had 2 mules that he used to cultivate the land. He would then sell a portion of the harvest to support the family. He lost the mules and has not been able to farm at full potential. As a one-man team he can only do so much manual cultivation. He asked for help replacing the two mules and said a mule costs D7000 which is approximately $150.00.
Once again, greetings and sincere gratitude comes from Jarriatou and her family. They pray that you continue to be blessed as you support them.