"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seeing The Gambia with New Eyes: A Story in Pictures

After 11 months of cultural integration, I have finally had a visitor. You may have noticed that my posts have become less and less written and more and more pictorial.  Slowly even that has gone away as I have stopped seeing this country as anything but ordinary. My fascination with the following things in The Gambia have ceased to be amazing and just started to be normal: 
  • Goats
  • Small Children
  • Trash
  • Dangerous Public Transportation
  • African Dress here
  • Cool Birds
  • Scary Spiders
  • The Beautiful Crafts and Craft Makers Here
  • The Level of Poverty in the Gambia
  • Wild Dogs with torn ears and bones sticking through their skin
Everything now is just same old same old. 


Well the Presidential Elections of the Gambia were held on the 24 of November, and Peace Corps fearing violence which seems so prevalent today in Islamic presidential elections ordered that we stay inside our houses for ...4 days. This was a very lonely thing to do on Thanksgiving so I cooked up a colorful thanksgiving feast of 

Pasta with some veggies. It was quite tasty though I had no one to share it with. Thankfully for my Thanksgiving lock down there was no violence and The Gambia had a peaceful election and we were freed after 4 days. Or as I call it the 4 day yoga, GMAT, magazine, book reading retreat.

Mom's Trip
ACT ONE: I Think I may have pushed her a little hard off the plane

So, if you want to see America with new eyes go to a country and see this getting off the plane. This is the Bakau fish market in the evening right as the fishing ships are coming home and the fish are being sold on the streets near the boats where they are caught. 

So you can see the fish on the street. On the right you can see a Gelly... the SUV public transport of the Gambia!
So with very little sleep I took my mom bright and early to watch a seminar I was teaching on how to teach illiterate women business skills, something that I have had experience with in my time at IRD and working with wives of cashew farmers attempting to process cashew. 
Here are my visual aids complete with pictures of the village to illustrate complex business concepts. 
Afterwards, we saw a fascinating presentation on FGC/FGM Female Genital Cutting, a practice that affects about 3/4 of the women in Gambia. This is horrifying!

Then lunch at a small shack... with Omar the guy who loves to cook for Peace Corps volunteers. The next day was the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Parade... where we walked and walked and walked... and then met everyone's NGO's and counterparts from across Gambia an idea sharing conference called Peace Corps in the Park which included traditional dancing and drumming and one African bush squirrel.      
Walking down the Main through fair of Gambia. Happy 50th Anniversary Peace Corps!
Some of the best African dance I have ever seen!

WARNING: Secret Squirrel....

So my future employers at the bee keeping NGO: Bee Cause has a son who is taking on an animal rescue project called "having a pet squirrel" I forgot the kid's name but I will refer to him as "Mick's son" for this brief exchange I saw occur when first seeing the squirrel.  

(My Peace Corps friend) Beth: That's a nice squirrel you have there. Does it have a name?

Mick's Son: Yeah.
Beth: What's is its name?


Nice :)!

The Bakau Market
 = lots of cool crafts and craft makers and one eccentric rich guy with a collection from around africa.

Well still on the lets go everywhere do everything tangent, the next day we go to the Bakau Guest House where there is one man who has collected literally thousands of masks and figurines from throughout Africa!

So... this is Ali, he is an Egyptian collector of everything African

My good friends Beth and Sharon!
And a ton of really interesting stuff from around Africa!

Afterwards at the Bakau craft market, we meet a mask maker and seller

And an incredible weaver of fabrics...

Act Two: The Village and My Continuing Baby Goat Obsession

Don't ask... just look at the pictures, just know that no goats where harmed in the making of this play! Although one was very very afraid...

So I take my mom to the village where I culturally grew up and became Momodu Ngum. The African dancing pink kaftan wearing Gambian.

After bonding... my mom is elected head of the village and given a seat of honor

Rich Gifts are bestowed on her for her magical "Nurse Powers"

The primary gift was...

All the children in the village are now under her care. The little one does not approve!

On a serious note, we sew my family again and gave them our love and sorrow for the son they lost recently to Yellow Fever. My mom, just as I did fell in love with my name sake Momodu and are now committed to figuring out a way to get him to university in America as he is incredibly bright and has no means of getting an education that he needs to be a meteorologist, something that he aspires to be. So perhaps one day we are seriously considering paying for his ticket and letting him stay with us to go to university… if we can just figure out all the paper work. Here is Momodu frothing the Attai the sugary green tea famous in West Africa as a sugary caffeine filled alternative to alcohol, something that Isam does not permit.

And finally, here is my family, now sadly missing Malik.

Act Three: Babies, Birds, and Baboons

Never have I been to My friend Sharon's site, she is a nurse practitioner working up country at a health clinic in the village. So we decided to visit her on at a "baby weigh clinic" to see how health care is practiced differently in the Gambia.

My mom was impressed at how much all the women cared and were trying to be involved in their children's health care. They come to make sure that their baby's maintain good weight and get all the necessary vaccines to protect form all the illnesses present in West Africa.

To promote children's health here. Baby's get healthcare for free and adults for about 50 cents a visit.

People try to hand me babies and I am always afraid I will break them, they are so fragile!

We also took a boat trip with a few tourists at the local eco-lodge
A flock of Pelicans
What are you looking at? I'm up here!
Colorful Mr. Kingfisher

Pelicans, Kingfishers, Storks, River Otters, and Ospreys were everywhere, it was great to finally see the wildlife on the River Gambia, for which it is so famous.

Finally we went to the River Gambia National Park a protected area where wildlife still abounds. We saw monitor lizards, crocodiles, hippos, 3 different kinds of monkeys, not including chimps and baboons. Sadly my camera ran out of battery and the one I borrowed didn't have the zoom of mine so the best pictures were sadly not taken but the memories will last longer...

The place we stayed at was a Chimpanzee rehabilitation center specializing in helping chimps who used to be pets, at zoos, or part of experiments re-aquatint with the wild. They are placed on an island and left to be free. Most notably Lucy the chimp that learned sign language was released here though she died many years ago.

All in all, my mom had a wonderful time! She came, she saw, she conquered... she was tired and sick at some times, but I feel that a true adventure might need such things. Hopefully she will go back and see America with new eyes. As I will try to go forth and try and see the Gambia once again with a sense of wonder.


Finally, if you are going to make a donation this holiday season please consider donating to my friend Sharon Kimball's Project!!! Sharon is my good friend (Pictured above) and she wants to help her women with rebuilding a fence for a community garden to improve health and nutrition in the village. This is a community led project and the women have already raised 25% of the matching funds needed. Unlike any contribution you will make to an aid organization or NGO 100% of the funds will go straight to the impoverished women and children of Sharon's village of Kwinella, The Gambia. Also there is not much time as Sharon wants to help them this coming season as this begins the second year of her service. 

Donate To Sharon's Project

The babies me and mom visited and weighed such as this one will be directly helped by your contribution. THANK YOU AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


aka Alex, Momodu Ngum, The Goat Officiaonado, or the Dancing Toubab

The River Gambia at Sunset
Spend the Day in Peace


  1. Xander, first, I donated to the Community Garden Fence project involving Sharon. Hurray for Community Gardens. My work at one became one of those select few special memories that stands a chance to last a lifetime. Second, despite the void of comments from me, I have been reading your blog and marvel at your retrospection and observations. At this point, I am happy that you have acclimated to the point of sensing your environment as ordinary. So, I hope that, regardless of that truth, each day will register as special. Through your eyes, I certainly have cherished the vicariously personal experience of Gambia. Thank you. Stephanie

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