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Kortanantay (Mandinka greeting meaning “Is there peace?”),

Last week and so far this week we’ve had a really great experience at the West African Community Development Training Centre (WACD-TC). The style is quite different from any courses I’ve taken before, since the course consists mainly of discussing, presenting and working in small groups. While the course material will be very beneficial for any person wanting to do development work (course modules are: Effective Groups, Gender and Development, and Conflict Management and Peacebuilding), the best part so far for me has been to interact with the other participants in the course (all fourteen-ish of them are Gambian) and to learn from them about their culture, their views and how best to work with people in The Gambia.

One thing that has struck me so far is how important traditions, and showing respect for those traditions, are here, especially in the rural areas. For example, if a development worker wanted to do some work in a rural village, he would need to first go and greet the village head, and the village elders. After getting to know each other for a little while, they would ask him why he was visiting them, then he could tell them about what he wanted to do. Once he has shown that he respects them, the work would be able to get done, and the villagers would be eager to help. However, if he did not show the proper respect, they would see him as arrogant, and not want to work with him, even if the work would benefit them. This can seem quite different to some places back home where as long as you get the job done well it doesn’t matter how respectful you are.

The course ends next Friday, June 3rd, after that we will resume work with Soil and Water Management Services.

That is all I’m going to write about for now.  I have a few more things I want to talk about but I think they will have to wait for now.

The next post will be up soon!

Tanantay (There is peace),

Dawda (my Gambian name)

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Nanga def,

Well, we’ve been here for about a week now, and I thought I would make the theme of this post about some of the lessons we’ve learned so far. I probably wouldn’t be able to fit them all in one post, but here are just a few of them.

Going to the Market

When going to the market, bartering is a must, or else expect to pay at least three times the actual value of the item. Since we are obviously not locals, market stall operators will often up the price even more, hoping that we either don’t know the actual value of the item (which is usually the case!) or that we have money to blow (which is not the case for us!). So far we’ve been taking our time buying things, since we have three months to get souvenirs etc, and trying to shop around a bit before making a purchase. This whole bartering thing is a bit overwhelming at first but we are starting to enjoy it now. We’ve only been to a few of the markets so far, and have not yet ventured to the Serekunda market, which is the most intense and crowded one in the country.

Bush Taxis

There are essentially three types of taxis from what we’ve seen in The Gambia: private taxis (small green cars, most expensive), bush taxis (small yellow cars with a green stripe) and mini-buses (beat-up old vans of any colour, least expensive). The mini-buses are usually crammed with people, so getting a spot on them can be hard. So far we’ve only ridden in the bush taxis. They drive up and down their designated stretch of road, honking at potential customers. Basically when you need one, you wave it down, get in, and it will drop you off anywhere along its route for a set fee (usually D7 or about 25 cents). Getting a taxi usually isn’t hard because they are constantly honking and trying to get you to get in their car…while this is sometimes convenient it can also be annoying when you don’t need a taxi and are just out for a stroll.

(see Kairaba Avenue photo on flickr for a picture of Bush Taxis)

Dealing with Bumsters

Bumsters are essentially scammers who are after your money. I’m sure they can come in various shapes and sizes, but the ones we’ve run into so far usually have certain things in common. A very common occurrence is when they approach us, being all friendly and nice, and then eventually ask us why we don’t recognize them. They say, “my name is so-and-so, I am the gardener/cleaner/guard at your hotel! You didn’t recognize me?!? Where were you yesterday? I got married, and I came by the hotel but you weren’t there! Please, I want you to meet my new wife, come say hi to her before we leave for our honeymoon. We are leaving tomorrow and she is just over there around the corner!” A lot of times they will pull out a “guest list” of people who attended the wedding and donated money, and will pressure you into giving some too. The first time this happened to us, we bought most of it, because we still didn’t know who worked at our place. We did become wary though when the guy asked us to come with him to see his wife. Since then we’ve heard the “wedding story” around five times. There are also other similar stories used but the bumsters, but they all have a similar outline.

After going through a couple experiences like that we can now usually recognize the bumsters right away, and we try to have some fun with it. These people are also only in the tourist areas so it is possible to avoid them too.

Be careful where you take photos

We had an incident where taking a camera out at the wrong time caused us a bit of a hassle…although everything turned out fine. We learned when not to pull out your camera, even if your intended picture is innocent, and that certain people can get very angry if they think their picture is being taken.

Also

Don’t be alarmed if you see men in camouflage, armed with AK Assault Rifles, running towards the road shouting and taking cover behind bushes on the Atlantic Road between Fajara and Bakau. Chances are they are only training. This happened to us. We were unsure of what to do so we just kept walking. There were other soldiers on the road watching the trainees, and they thought this was pretty funny as we nervously walked past.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading! I also posted some new photos on flickr, so feel free to check them out (http://www.flickr.com/photos/62626435@N08/).

Jaama rek,

Dan

We arrived at Banjul International Airport on Thursday at 3:15pm local time, and we have already had an amazing experience!

We were met at the airport by our contact, Alpha, who then drove us to the Sunbird Lodge. The last students who went to The Gambia recommended this place to us. It is a pretty nice place and the owner, Alan, is easy-going and very friendly. After that Alpha took us to get some cash, a phone and some other essentials, like water (we’ve been told to not drink tap water or eat fresh vegetables as there may be harmful bacteria in the water that our bodies would not be used to). Alpha also took us to a local place to get some dinner. The food was good and cheap, as was the local beer, JulBrew, that we had with the meal.

The next morning we explored Fajara on our own (Fajara is the town where we are currently staying). It is quite the experience to even just walk down the road here. Taxis would be continually honking at us or pulling over in front of us to offer us a ride, and we would be approached by people trying to sell us things. The rules of the road are quite different from what we are used to in Canada… if you want to merge with traffic you have to be aggressive, and don’t be afraid to use your horn! In that sense driving is a lot more intense than in Canada, but on the other hand people will often stop their car on the road to say hi to someone they know and have a quick conversation.

After that we went to the beach for a bit…where John and I managed to get a couple of nice sunburns. The water was nice and refreshing though, probably around eighty degrees Fahrenheit. After this we met with Alpha, and he took us for a drive around the area, to Bakau and Kanifing. Bakau is the town most known for fishing, and Kanifing is more known for being industrial. Once we were in Kanifing, we stopped for dinner at a local place where we tried a few African dishes. I may have forgotten the names, but I believe they were called okra soup and plasas. One we poured over some rice, and the other had some fufu inside it (they were both mixtures containing vegetables, fish/meat and other things). Fufu is made from boiling starchy vegetables and pounding it until the desired consistency is reached. I enjoyed the one with rice (plasas I believe), but the one with fufu will take some getting used to.

Alpha also took us on a drive through the Serrekunda market. This is the biggest market in the country and driving through it was very slow going. It will be quite the adventure when we go there in the future on foot (see photo below).

When I imagined what it would be like in Africa, I pictured some kind of mixture between other places I’ve been, taking certain aspects from each one. For example, a hot and laid-back country like Australia, a developing country like Thailand, and rugged like my experiences camping in Canada. However, while there may be some similarities between these things and The Gambia, this place is so unique and different from my previous experiences. It so is much more real when you get here. I think I was also picturing something more developed in my mind, since I’ve heard that The Gambia is more developed than some of the other African countries. However, although The Gambia may be better off than some of the other African countries, poverty is still a real issue here. The dirt, dust and heat is also much more real when you are here than when I thought about it earlier. Next month when the rains come it will just get more humid and hotter.

Today we are planning to go buy some maps from a store called ‘TimBookToo’, then we are meeting with Alpha to do some language training.

Thanks for reading and I will keep you updated with what else is happening here! Feel free to leave a comment if you wish (I believe there is a comment button underneath the title of this post). I also have some photos on Flickr. The most recent four will be displayed on the left and you can click on one of them to go to the flickr site and see the rest.

Bye for now, Dan

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