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Echo’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 28 Oct 2007

Location: Gambia

Map I really can't tell you all enough how much I love it here. Right now we are in the hottest month of the year and let me tell you it is hot. Just typing this entry makes me sweat so you can imagine what standing and teaching does to me every day. It only rains in Gambia during the months of June, July, August and September and then after that the rains stop. I was told that we may have the odd rainfall but it is very rare.

Gambia itself is a fairly poor country. Although tourism is its main source of income not all people benefit from it. This is why bumstering was created (for explanation of a bumster please see previous blog). Tourist season just started here and every day planes come in carrying tons of twobobs (the name for white people here). It is even announced on the radio how many tourists have landed in the airport, crazy but true. The streets are now lined with tourists in some of the areas and the bumsters are out in full force. One of the good things about the beginning of the tourist season though is that the police are also out in full force trying to deter the bumsters. They comb the beaches and the tourist areas and gather all the nuisance bumsters and take them away to do hard labour for a few days. I guess they try to do this to deter them from doing this but during the course of the season they also become lax and then the full bumstering resumes.

Now though I feel totally comfortable walking down the road and I am able to walk without too much hassle without being a complete bitch. It helps that I have an Ipod and I can't hear them as they yell at me. Plus I think that many of them are getting used to seeing me walking around. It is really too bad that this exists here but you really canít blame the boys here for trying to make a buck from all the tourists.

Gambia is made up of a few different tribes of people. The main languages spoken here are English (but not everyone speaks it), Woloff, Mandinka and a couple more that I can't remember at this time. I am trying to learn a few things in Woloff cause then it will be a little easier to speak to people in the markets and the small shops. It is not a very difficult language but I need to practice it a lot. Plus Woloff is a language that is spoken across Senegal, and Mali as well.

There is one aspect of Gambia that I do not like though; this is the other community of people that exist here. There is a huge Lebanese community in Banjul and the surrounding area and man that is a different world. The Lebanese own almost every major business that exists as well as have the market on exporting and importing. From what I have seen so far they are a tight community that do not branch out too much from their own people. They have local people work for them but the wages are basic and they do not treat the people very well or at least what I have seen. There probably are some good Lebanese people here but I have not met very many of them. Many of them are second or third generation Gambians but barely any of them will say they are Gambian they all say they are Lebanese and I have not seen that many of them who have married out side of their group.

The Lebanese make up the largest group of people at our school and it is crazy the mentality of these people. The other day we had a program for UN day so the kids did presentations to celebrate the day and many parents came to watch. We started off with a parade of nations and every kid decorated a flag and then we walked alphabetically around the parents. It was really cool because the amount of countries we had represented was amazing. When the group of Lebanese kids came walking out all of the Lebanese parents that were there started cheering and clapping really loud but didn't do it for every kid. In fact no one was cheering except for them. I know that is petty but that is not it. One of the Lebanese parents after her daughter finished her presentation pulled her chair over to where her kid was and proceeded to talk to her really loud (and her daughter was in kindergarten). Another one answered her phone in the middle of the presentation and slowly walked to the back of the parents and continued talking at the back of the crowd. It was unbelievable. I even had one mom yell at one of my kids because she didn't have a part in my class's presentation. She even called me on it. The thing was that she took her daughter out of school for the week and half before the presentation and her daughter showed up for the day of the presentation. My kids did all their own paintings and their own little speeches so there was no time for her to complete the same thing that the others did so she didn't have a part. She said that she understood but her daughter should have been given the mike and told everyone that she didn't have a part cause she was on holidays. How crazy is that. Let me interrupt the kids presentation to let one child stop and have the spotlight on her to say "I don't have a picture cause I was on holiday for two and a half weeks, sorry".

Okay enough of a rant about that and on to my house and compound. I have finally hired a gardener and a cleaning woman/cook. The gardener was working next door at my landlords and knocked on my door asking if he could clean the front of my compound outside my gate cause he said that it didn't look very good. He explained that he was a gardener at a compound down the road and he needed extra work in the evening. I told him that I would give him a try and see if his work was good and we would go from there. The next day he was back next door so I went to see what his work looked like and my landlords yard looked fantastic so I knew that he knew what he was doing so I invited him into my yard to have a look to see if he was up for the challenge. Since I moved in I have not done any work in my yard and it truly looked like crap so after his initial shock he said that he was excited about working for me and wanted to start that night. Let me tell you, he did an amazing job in the front yard of my compound and I will take pictures soon I promise. You guys thought my house looked good before just you wait and see. My camera is in the shop getting cleaned right now so when it comes back there will be many pictures. He is coming back on Sunday to clean the rest of the yard.

As far as my maid/cleaner, she is a friend of one of my fellow teachers at the school. She has known her for three years and she is very trustworthy. Her name is Anna and she is wonderful. She has a beautiful one and half year old little boy named Easy who comes with her when she cleans. He is now starting to get used to me and when I leave the room now he starts to cry instead of when I come into a room. Anna is a single mom and the dad is useless so she is desperate for work. So she is going to come two or three days in the week on her schedule cause she also sells in the market and cooks and cleans for her family. I think it is going to work out perfectly. My house is looking nice and my fridge is stocked with food. She is even going to teach me how to make tons of African dishes so be ready when I come home, I will be cooking all of you and African feast fit for a queen. We are going to trade cooking lessons. I am going to teach her how to cook "western" food and I will learn Gambian cooking secrets.

One of the problems here is the poverty and this makes finding good staff very hard to find. You really can't trust many people. I have talked to so many people that have had their screens slashed and stuff fished out of their houses. We all have bars on our windows but you can't keep anything of value on your counters cause people will get it out. It is crazy. I think that the two that I have are good though and I am not worried.