The Gambia: Last week

I have during these weeks done numerous visits at the school, visited a Study Center and a Private International School. I am so grateful for all the teachers and students that have participated in the interviews and letting me attend lessons, record, and take photos. I now have ten full interviews and ten lesson observations in different subjects. I couldn’t be more pleased about the material that I have managed to collect for my field study in The Gambia. A lot of work remains to be done, in writing the thesis of my Master, but I am looking forward to summarizing, reflecting and analyzing through text about my topic.

My stay in The Gambia has been unforgettable. It’s hard in just a few words to express all the feelings and experiences that comes with a long stay abroad. I have made life-long friendships with people here and the memories I will forever keep in my heart. It’s not until you get to know people and a society close-up, that you really are able to understand and realize how different our conditions in terms of living are, and yet at the same time, realize we are very much the same.

The most difficult part for me, I must say, has been the loneliness and the long time being apart from my family. I’ve learned to solve problems in a way I didn’t know I was capable of before. I think it is good to struggle when the feeling of longing home gets too strong. It only makes you a stronger person. This, I couldn’t have managed without the help from my loving and caring host-family in The Gambia and from my family, friends and colleagues at home, always encouraging me by texting over WhatsApp. I will forever remember all the friendly smiling people here, and I admire the way they take things as they come. Showing me that a simple way of living can be rich in many other ways.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you The Gambia!

The Gambia: Visa and Cleaning Day

After one of my school visits I went to Immigration Office as I have the right to stay in The Gambia for only 28 days, and now needed to apply for a Visa. When my driver was going to start the car upon my return, the battery was not working. In less than 30 minutes he had solved the problem, lending a new one from another driver.

I had now interviewed six teachers and was thinking of getting the students’ perspectives as well. I therefore asked 5 students whom I had observed during previous lessons to participate as they seemed quite active. It turned out to be very interesting since they all had different local languages: Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Jola and Serer. The following day four of them came to the teachers’ office with a consent from their parents. I recorded it all and it turned out to be very good material for my thesis.

Saturday was the National Cleaning Day. Every last Saturday of the month it’s Cleaning Day, where you are supposed to clean your house until one o’clock. After one o’clock you can go back to regular work duties. I was told almost no one takes this seriously any longer (they did with the previous Government when president Jammeh was ruling). A better word for the day in my opinion, would be “National Sleeping Day”.

The Gambia: Lesson observations

During every taxi ride to the school, I am accompanied by a woman from Sierra Leone. She’s a lawyer and is working for an American organization for a project to observe the human rights in The Gambia. She told me she studied Migration Policy in Lund, Sweden a couple of years ago. The world is indeed a small place! When I arrived at school, I was very surprised to see the crowded schoolyard. All students and teachers from Upper and Secondary School (about 3000) gathered for assembly in the morning to listen to my presentation. The principal introduced me like a royalty and handed me the microphone.

I could after the long wait finally start attending lessons and the first one was math. After the lesson I was asked to run a lesson, because a teacher who was sick didn’t show up. So, I did, and as I was unprepared I had to improvise. I chose to teach about languages, Swedish, English and Gambian local languages and comparing them. Many students were asked to get up and write on the blackboard and I noticed they were not used to do this.

The Gambia: Wedding

I was invited to join a wedding ceremony in a village outside Brikama. It was a Muslim wedding where all the women and children were gathered to wait for the wedding couple to arrive by midnight. The children stared at me, pointing and shouted Toubab (white person)! One little girl looked terrified and started crying. After a while they got used to me. The children took care of themselves, and the women were chatting and eating from one and same plate, sharing the food. Soon the drums started to play and people were dancing!

Arriving home after the wedding, I lit the lamp and saw a big cockroach running on the floor. I tried to kill it with my shoe, but it was hiding behind the fridge. I hardly slept that night… The day after I had the room cleaned with insect’s spray, too strong to inhale so I had to move temporarily into the main house of the compound.

The Gambia: Transcriptions of interviews

It’s very interesting to relisten the interviews for transcriptions, but it takes a lot of time. In my room, there is no fan working or any air condition, so it gets really hot in the daytime. I don’t have a proper working space or comfortable chair to use where I am living, and it often happens that I am without electricity for a while. However, this being a temporary issue and not something I will have to cope with at home in my everyday life, so I will get by and manage. When I am sitting here in my room or outside writing and reading, the other tenants in the compound often stop by to have a talk and socialize. It feels very nice and heartwarming. Like today, I was told by one of the young girls in the house, that if I had problems or was feeling sick, she could recommend me to see a Marabout. This is a kind of medicine woman that can spell your future and also give some good advice. When I asked the girl why she believes so strongly in this, she replied that it was obvious, because this woman can read it in your hand and she throws a bunch of herbs on the ground to see a certain pattern.

The darkness arrives very suddenly in the evening. It is so dark and no streetlights at all outside. I always bring my flashlight because there are many holes in the ground and street dogs are lying everywhere. The cars are in a very bad condition, some even broken without windows or doors. At times you have to jump quickly a side as they are passing by very fast. You see old lorries from the 60’s and wagons pulled by donkeys, crowded pick-ups and at rare occasions some brave bike riders. Poor kids come running with plastic bags between the cars to sell their goods to the taxi drivers. It looks very dangerous. It’s not unusual to see goats or cows crossing the road. The drivers have great skills to manage this kind of traffic and how to avoid getting stuck in the sand. They are often very patient and try to help each other if one gets stuck.

The Gambia: More interviews

I got an opportunity to meet one of the French teachers for an interview. She preferred to have it in French. The teacher told me about all the difficulties in teaching large classes with a minimum of 60 students. In Upper School, French is a compulsory subject for three years, as the official language in their neighbor country Senegal is French. Actually, The Gambia is situated within their neighbor country. In Secondary School it’s no longer compulsory but an option of choice to continue learning French.

As I was starting to relistening to the recorded interviews when I got back, I noticed that my computer was acting a bit strange. I opened a word document to start writing transcriptions, but then suddenly things disappeared on my desktop! Whitin a flash of a moment, I could not use many of the apps and tools that I am so dependent of! This was just too much! First the school strike and now this! I must admit I panicked, but then decided to make a call to Sweden to get help. As I reached out for my cell phone, I had forgotten my code and password during my panic over the whole situation. This had never happened before and as the stress came over me, I simply couldn’t remember the right numbers any longer. I told myself to calm down, and layed down on the bed for a couple of minutes. After resting for half an hour, the numbers returned to my mind. Very relived I sat down on my bed and by mistake broke my glasses. Luckily, I had brought an extra pair. What an unlucky day! Was it possible that it had something to do with the date of today, Friday the thirteen…?

Later that day, I was chatting with a young student, who was renting a room in the same compound. He is a very ambitious young man, working and studying. He told me he wants to start a plantation of bananas, and is now waiting for a response from his application for scholarship, to study for two years at Washington University in the US. I wish him all the luck! My hostess went to Senegambia in the night to join a very popular music concert with the Gambian singer Jousu Ndure. During spare time, people here like to watch TV series from Senegal or Nigerian films.

The Gambia: Interviews

Today I have been in The Gambia for one week! I am slowly getting more and more used to the life and routines here. Now, I even sleep well during the nights. I had a visit from our foster child and she brought her kids as well. It was so nice to see them again and to hand over the presents I had brought from home. I also called the teacher Mr. AM, and since there are no lessons yet because of the strike, I suggested to start doing my interviews instead. There is no time to lose so this was arranged for the following week.
No Wi-Fi for a couple of days now….

All the people I meet here are very friendly and open. Even though poverty in the country is a very big problem, people often seem quite happy despite their hard life. The Gambia was the last country in Africa to get independency from the British colonialization in 1965. The average salary is approximately 1500 – 3000 Dalasi (300-600 SEK) per month.

As I arrived at the school, I met the principal by coincidence and was lucky to get his written consent. He was very interested in my upcoming project and asked me to join and introduce myself at the assembly when the strike is over, before starting my lesson observations. Time in The Gambia is something you can’t control. I had an appointment for interviews with a teacher and had to wait for more than 40 minutes. Just the traffic alone can be hard to deal with on a daily basis. It turned out to be a minor problem, having to wait, because as the interviews were done, I was so pleased to have very good material for my thesis. I arranged a focus group of 4 teachers, teaching different subjects and willing to participate. All gave their written consent, generously shared their opinions about the question, of how to facilitate for the students to understand the topic, with support of local languages as English is the language of instruction. It was very interesting. My assistant Ms. WEN was also there to help me with local expressions and words. I recorded the interviews on my I-pad. The discussion about languages and learning continued after the interviews and other teachers came to join. It was obvious that they all started to reflect and look upon this topic as a serious problem.

I was also invited to visit a Study Center in Bakau, where my assistant Ms. WEN is working, to attend lessons, as I am just waiting for the school strike to stop. What a successful day! They are all doing their best to help me! The Study Center is open for students that need help after schooldays during the week and Saturdays. They have lessons in small groups in different subjects that they need to improve. The language of instruction is in English. The lessons I attended was in history and French. I was also offered a job as a teacher, if I would be interested.

The Gambia: Bad luck!

This morning I finally succeeded in calling my contact, teacher Mr. AM and I am so excited! Already tomorrow I will meet him at the School in Bakoteh. I am hoping to meet up with the principal cause I need his written consent to start the process. I also contacted my Gambian “assistant” Ms. WEN, who also will be joining us. The taxi driver, who is my neighbor, will be driving me to the meeting. During the evening I was preparing everything. I am really looking forward to it!

We went to Bakoteh early in the morning because of the traffic. Just outside the school there was no proper road and many cars got stuck in the deep sand. It took us nearly an hour before we reached the school. We still managed to arrive 30 minutes early and therefor had to wait in the hot taxi car for Mr. AM to arrive. We entered an empty schoolyard full of palm trees and sand. A few young students were sitting talking, and gave me a curious smile along the way. On the second floor Mr. AM opened the door to the teachers’ office. I gave him my gift I had brought from Sweden; some office supplies such as paper, notebooks, pens, pencils and two pair of glasses. Mr. AM also dropped some troublesome news, that because of the hard conditions for teachers in The Gambia, the union had called for an urgent meeting. It was most likely there would be a strike! He couldn’t provide me with further information regarding a possible upcoming strike, due to negotiations still in place.

Let’s hope for the best, he said smiling, I think it will be OK. I suddenly felt very disappointed and frustrated. I thought to myself, have I travelled so far by car and for no use at all? My assistant Ms. WEN arrived a little later. Her younger daughter had malaria and they had stopped by the hospital. The girl looked very weak upon arrival at the school.
On my way back towards the compound, I bought a local mobile phone for local calls, without needing access to any Wi-Fi connection. This was necessary to be able to reach the important people with whom I needed to make appointments with. For my own sake, I cross my fingers there won’t be any strike next week…and for the teachers, I do hope the government will accept their demands.

The goats within my compound have been washed with a special soap to prevent more attacks of vermin which smelled disgusting. I’ve been coughing a lot lately, and at first, I thought it was the special goat soap that was causing it.

After reading the label on the spray bottle against mosquitoes, that this was a very strong product, which should only be sprayed on your body outdoors, I realized that this must have induced my coughing. Since then, I have sprayed only outdoors, and haven’t had any cough since.

The Gambia: Crazy traffic

I got up early (5:30) to join EM at the market in Serrekunda. First, we had a walk on sandy “roads” for about 30 minutes and then take a local ”taxi” for about another 30 minutes, which actually was a very old and shabby van. I counted the passengers, 15 of us were squeezed in tight and close to each other. The van stopped every now and then to let either people jump off or on.

At the market you could find different types of vegetables, fish, meat, chicken and rice. Thousands of flees were buzzing around the baskets of food. The smell was very intense from all the merchandises. In a corner I found a man selling shampoo which I had forgotten to bring. He also sold a cream he called conditioner for hair, so I bought that one too plus batteries for my flashlight and a towel. Before leaving the market, we stopped by a tailor to fix my broken handbag in leather. He fixed it in a couple of minutes, and I only had to pay him 100 (GMD) Gambian dalasi which is less than 20SEK. On the way back it was difficult to find a taxi because of the lively traffic. We had to change taxi or van twice and the last part of the trip, we had a small tuk-tuk with already another passenger inside, so we were four, the driver included. As we almost reached our compound the tuk-tuk was very close to get hit by another car! The tuk-tuk that drives on only three wheels almost rolled over on the side as the driver had to quickly maneuver the tuk-tuk to the opposite side. I was shaking a bit during the last walk towards the compound and thinking how lucky we were not to get hurt!

At home I washed my hair in the shampoo from the market. It was more like some dish liquid and the “conditioner” was a kind of grease that I hardly managed to get rid off, even for many days. Before bedtime I tried to phone the teacher, I had contacted earlier from Sweden. Unfortunately, without any luck.

The Gambia: Many new impressions first days

In Dakar (the town very close to Banjul, my final destination), the plane made a short stop. Over the speakers I could hear one of the cabin crew from Turkish Airline thanking the passengers for a pleasant journey. I felt a bit unsure if I was to get off the plane here but sat still and watched about half of the passengers disembark. A great number of new passengers arrived shortly after, and it felt more like a big “Air bus”, the way passengers were going and coming, rather than the giant jumbo jet it was. Luckily, I didn’t get off the plane and arrived in the wrong country. When I arrived in The Gambia it took me two hours in a long narrow crowded line to get through Security Check and Passport Control. An amount of 20 USD plus money for Customs had to be paid directly. Outside Security the taxi driver who was supposed to pick me up, was waiting with a sign in his hands with my name printed on it. What a relief!

After a very long and hot trip in the car I arrived at the compound where I was going to stay for my two months in The Gambia. The landlord OB and his wife EM welcomed me and showed me my room in a small annex behind the house. I was totally exhausted after more than 20 hours of travel. I quickly unpacked all my things and tried to get a shower but only a few drops of water came out the tap in the bathroom. I laid down on my bed under the mosquito net and fell immediately to sleep. A few hours later when I woke up from my nap, I was served a vegetarian stew with rice. Outside I heard goats running around in the yard of the compound. The extreme heat, the new sounds, the spicy food, and smell of animals – it was overwhelming!

I hardly slept a minute during the night. So many sounds outside as there are no windows to the annex, only holes with a mosquito net attached. I could hear cats meowing, insects buzzing and dogs barking all night long. EM forgot to tell me that during the nights they let out two big dogs to guard the compound. They went crazy, chasing the monkeys that were running on my roof (made of tin so the sound of steps was extremely loud).
In the morning I got Wi-Fi connection so I could talk through WhatsApp with my family. It was a marvelous feeling! The hostess EM works very hard every day as she runs a small restaurant business in her house and by the street outside. This afternoon I helped her with the dishes.

I usually get vegetables with different spicy sauces and rice. Mostly dishes like Stew, Benechin, Yassa or Domoda. In the evening I went on a walk with EM on the beach and we also visited her cousin at a Craft Market. She had nice tablecloths that I might buy later for presents to bring home. There was not much to see or do in the neighborhood, so EM took me to the one and only hotel where we had a pineapple juice to drink.