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Published: December 17th 2016
The smiling coast of the Gambia
The tourist strip of The Gambia in Senegambia is a small strip popular with European tourists.
Between November and April, which is the dry season of the Gambia, the streets are lined with restaurants bars and small stallholder marketplace business.
The Gambia is known as the smiling coast of Africa. And it's true, the people there are friendly and hospitable. However, part of the reason for that smile is the expectation, especially among the bumsters and young men, then you will line their pockets with your money.
It's funny to watch the European tourists march up the street, head down and trying to avoid all calls and approaches for interaction from the locals.
Though tourist police mark the ends of the strip to prevent bumsters coming in and harassing the tourists, they still find their way into the strip.
For many tourists, this is a nuisance and something that prevents them returning to the Gambia. For me, this is part of the charm. You can either attempt the impossible task of trying to duck and hide, or you can engage them, enjoy the banter, and perhaps even learn a thing or two along the way.
A great place to interact with locals, eat local food and get fleeced - if you're not on your toes.
I chose to engage them. This often meant that what should have been a 5-minute walk down the strip turned into an hour long diversion.
But, if you're interested in the culture of other countries, particularly that of West Africa, then you will find the time well spent. Rather than trying to dismiss them or avoid them, get to know them.
I found that by engaging them I made friends and allies who would later help me out. Sometimes I would give them money, sometimes not. But during my whole time there I was never harassed or in any danger. In fact, many of the bumsters would later come out in my defense if I was in the throws of haggling or being harassed by a newcomer to the strip.
Befriending the bumsters did not cost me any money. On the contrary it, it saved me a lot of money. When it came to haggling for produce and marketplace art and craft, I was more likely to get a sincere deal because I was known to them and considered a courteous visitor.
Countries like The Gambia are frequented by people who want to either escape the
The marketplaces are not for the faint-hearted.
western world or perhaps hook up with a younger man or woman
. Many of the tourists are there for that reason and that reason alone.
The Gambians know this and do not appreciate it. And so they are prepared to fleece you without guilt. Let's face it; that's what many of the tourists are doing themselves - fleecing the place of its young men and women.
The best approach with the bumsters and the locals in the Senegambia strip is to show them kindness and hospitality. It costs you nothing to stop and chat and learn a little about their life and culture. It can also serve as a protection later on.
This is important because there are genuine scammers right alongside the genuine poverty. And so, it is good to know what tricks they have up their sleeve
before you venture out.
The decision to engage them and not simply pass them by or push them out of my way was well rewarded.
Being willing to stop for a coffee or a beer or perhaps even a mealCertainly ate into my time, and yes, it was tiring times having to stop hear their story and negotiate.
But it has left me with a genuine inside view of life in West Africa. It is alsoLeft me with many rich, wonderful friendships and experiences that I would not have otherwise had if I had just dismissed this impoverished people and consigned them to the state of an annoying beggar.
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