Top 10 things I will NOT miss when we leave The Gambia:
1. Random annoying children who scream at you, throw things at you, put their extremely dirty hands all over you, pinch you, pull your hair and/or demand money, candy, footballs and bicycles because at some point they became trained to believe that “toubobs” exist to give them things. I look forward to the day when a 5-minute walk down any familiar or unfamiliar street isn’t a potential riot scene…And the day when choruses of “Tubob!” aren’t ringing in my ears everywhere I go.
Top 10 things I WILL miss when we leave The Gambia:
4. Excellent hospitality. This is demonstrated by random strangers sometimes inviting you to eat meals with them just because you walk by on the street.
6. Taking a nighttime bath under the starry sky.
7. It’s fairly easy not to be fat here, even though you may hardly ever work out and you eat a diet that is 95% carbs. There just aren’t that many appealing snack foods outside of the capital city area supermarkets and alcohol is hard to find and expensive. On the downside, many of us have experienced a serious loss of muscle too, due to lack of protein and a decent workout routine. Everyday activities like walking through deep sand, carrying buckets of water, gardening and biking don’t seem to help as much as you’d imagine.
8. People not staring at their I-phone screens 24 hours a day or having long, loud phone conversations in public places. Now, to be fair, many Gambians love their cell phones and some of them have very snazzy ones. The etiquette of not answering your phone at certain moments isn’t usually observed, so you may see people answering phones while giving or attending professional presentations or while administering vaccinations (or anesthesia, as I was informed by a friend who observed an appendectomy in a local hospital the other day). But people don’t generally stay on the phone for lengthy periods, because phone credit isn’t cheap. And you don’t see people sitting together, interacting only with their phones and not each other…you see people sitting and chatting and acknowledging each other’s presences. Amazing!
9. Occasionally, the relative lack of regulation – where things are based on personal relationships over an excess of rules, it is sometimes surprisingly efficient. For instance, in lieu of an official mail delivery system, things reach people all over the country by being handed out the windows of vehicles. I once had someone toss a bag of dewormer out of a vehicle at our police check point with instructions to give it to Mama Suso, and about 5 minutes later a small boy on a bicycle delivered it to my compound.
10. The sweet randomness. Head to the market for onions and end up riding home on your bicycle with a live rooster in one hand (because someone told you it was a present for your host sister)…through a herd of cattle…while enjoying some frozen juice from a plastic bag. Or wake up in the morning to see your 2-year-old host brother squatting naked in the middle of the compound, pooping on the ground, with a shoe balanced on top of his head…smiling at you. Or waking up to cool morning air and the smell of smoke from people’s cook fires, then greeting and chatting (nonfluently) in five different languages in the process of walking to the nearest shop, buying bread and walking home.