Published: March 8th 2007February 22nd 2007
A Street in Jeshwang
Part of my route to get to school everyday
My title is one of Gambians' favorite sayings. It's true for them--they're very friendly. Wherever I'm walking to, it's guaranteed that at least 4 adults say "Hah-lo" or "How ah you?" as I walk past. It's too much at first, but now I'm used to it. Some days it gets annoying, but it actually is nice to connect with people, especially the ones I walk past everyday. On the other hand, random guys come up to us and ask us how our holiday is, where we're from, where we're staying, what our name is. It's best to have a made-up name and story ready for those ones.
Now, kids are different. Some will say "Toubab, how ah you?" Toubab=white person. Others just yell, "Toubab!" and if I'm lucky, I'll get just a "Hallo, how ah you?" without the "toubab". If I don't acknowledge the "toubab" screamers, they'll keep yelling, so it works to wave at them. Also, we just learned "Man, duma toubab" in Wollof, which means "Me, I'm not a toubab," which sometimes works if they shut up for long enough to listen, and if they know Wollof.
So what do I, as an especially picky American eater,
Garbage on Street
This is worse than average, but because there is no public waste system here, people just throw their garbage on the street--it's the norm to litter.
consume here? Mostly tapalapa, a local bread, that can be bought for about US $.20. Now, you can make sandwiches, or they'll put eggs or potatoes (the best) on it. There are many chicken, fish, and beef dishes that they put with rice, vegetables, and sauce, which are decent. Also, a main dish is domoda, rice with a sauce made of peanuts ("groundnuts"), a meat, usually beef, cassava (like a potato), and bitter tomato (which I don't eat). It's my favorite African dish so far. There are fresh bananas and oranges sold everywhere. As for just regular American food, there are a couple of supermarkets which have most basics, like cereal, jam, mayo, etc. The main difference in food is their lack of interest in dairy products. Cheese is expensive, and we haven't found cottage or cream cheese anywhere. Also, there are a decent amount of international restaurants here.
Getting around is a little challenging at first. The main, and cheapest, transport is the bush taxi. These are privately owned vans with 4 rows of seats which follow a certain route, say from Jeshwang to Westfield. You can get on or off anywhere along the route. The "boy," or
A traditional ceremony that's supposed to bring good fate to the kid. We ate with our hands (the way most Gambians do). It was rice, it was hard, but we did it!
"apprentice," yells where they're going out the window, and if you're walking along, just flag them down and pile in. The "boy" gets out to let people on, and then jumps in as the van is pulling away and shuts the door as we're driving. It's a rough job. At some point, pass your 5 dalasi fare up to the boy, then get off at your stop. You may have to yell "Boy" or hit the roof in order for them to stop where you want them to. If bush taxis aren't your thing, you can also take a "town trip" in a regular taxi. That will get you exactly to your destination. It's more expensive because you just make a deal with the driver, maybe 60 dalasis, depending on the number of people and where you're going. Otherwise, you can walk. I walk more here than I've ever walked in my life, at least 4 miles/day.
Walking is important here, especially relating to speed and footwear. Gambians walk ndanka, ndanka (slowly, slowly--another motto for them). As Americans, we tend to walk much faster than them, and it's actually hard for me to walk as slowly as they do,
but I guess we compromise. The other aspect of walking is choosing footwear. It would be a good idea in theory to wear sneakers because of all of the walking, but my feet get hot and the sneakers don't look good with all of the skirts I wear (me the fashionista, right?). Sandals are preferred, although my feet need to be washed twice a day because I end up walking through a lot of sand and dirt.
Besides washing my feet, another thing I've gotta do everyday is wear sunblock. The sun beats down; we're in the tropics, and it's probably 85F most days. But there's a breeze, so it's not usually too hot in the shade. It only rained one night, when I first got here, because we're in the dry season right now.
I also needed to make more interpersonal adaptations. One is greeting because they're a major hand-shaking culture. At first, I was bad at it because I'm an American hand-shaker (need to give a strong hand-shake). Theirs are gentle, just gripping a little, then sliding off. Depending, though, they'll just stand and hold your hand in hand-shake position while having a conversation. When someone arrives, they shake everyone's hand and greet everyone. I like it.
The hardest adaptation for me has been to live in a place where most people speak to each other in a language I don't understand. Although most know English and talk to me in English, in everyday life, most speak to each other in local languages. The most common here is Wollof, which we are learning, but many also speak Mandinka, Fula, and Jola. They like it when I say, "Nanga def?" ->"How are you" in Wollof, and when we try out other phrases we're learning. But overall, I will be happier the more I understand them because it's frustrating when I don't know what's going on.
Hopefully this gave you a clearer view of how it is to live here, and now that you realize it's not too scary, you should come and visit!