|Are you going on
a safari? That's what others
asked as I shared my travel plans for Banjul, The Gambia - - my first
trip to Africa. From their questioning, it dawned on me that many
picture Africa as a country,
not a continent, and a place where people and animals run wild through
bush. In reality, with its bright blue skies, dusty red roads, and
atmosphere, The Gambia brings to memory family trips of yesteryear, to
towns in the American South.
Gambia is a small country, about twice the size of Delaware, USA.
The Atlantic Ocean bounds the country on the west. and Senegal on all
sides. The River Gambia slices through the middle of the country. With
50,000 people in Banjul, the capital city, and more than 1 million in
metropolitan area, The Gambia has one of the smallest capitals in
an eight-hour journey across the Atlantic Ocean via Ghana
Airways, me and two other Port of Harlem staff members arrived
in Banjul on a mid-Monday morning. We then made the Kombo Beach Hotel
our home. It was a small culture shock to have a room without a
first tourist stop was the Gambia National Museum. The exhibits on
its three floors included depictions of their traditions, culture,
agriculture, and history. A stroll down Independence Avenue landed us
at Albert's Market. Vendors in the open air market sold practically
everything from fresh fish to toothpaste! The bartering was a bit
daunting at first. I quickly learned the need to quickly say no and
thanks, in a pleasant, but very firm tone.
was extremely insightful. We visited the Nyato
School in suburban Nema Nasirou. It was an honor to visit the staff
and well-mannered students on their first day at their new location.
it saddened me to learn that many parents cannot pay the less than
yearly fee for their children to attend the school. At that moment, I
that every child who is slacking in an American school could have been
my seat and hopefully became fully aware that education is not
waited at a junction for a public van back to Albert's Market, it
became apparent that very few females get behind the wheel of any
vehicle. At the Market, it also dawned on me that beyond their work on
small farms and at the Market, I saw relatively few women working
outside their homes.
On the other end of
Independence Avenue is The Arch 22nd . The
government built this gateway to Banjul to celebrate the
coup that brought the country's current president to power. (The Gambia
has since elected him
in a process that many say was less problematic than the 2000
Presidential elections in Florida, USA). The museum there is small, but
the views from either side of The Arch are marvelous.
was our day
to begin experiencing The Kairaba Beach Hotel.
From the cold towel to wipe our faces and cool drink to quench our
thirst that the greeter handed us as we checked in, we knew we were at
a grand hotel.
at the end of a small hill along a strip cut into the bush. We did
to get a glimpse of a farmer's goats, but no wildlife. The strip,
includes a variety of restaurants ranging from Gambian to Lebanese.
There are also nightclubs, grocery stores, Internet service providers,
and handicraft shops.
lunch, we went to the home of a tailor who lives in
the neighborhood of my publisher's friend. They call their homes
often consist of more than one housing unit. Extended family members
in the compound. Many compounds have electricity and telephones.
joined a tour
group arranged by West African Tours and spent the
following day traveling by small boat up the River Gambia to Juffure
and St. James Island. Though not as elaborate as some slave forts, St.
James is Gambia's "point
of no return" or the last place Africans saw before Europeans forced
to take the cruel journey across the Atlantic.
local museum near Juffure, we walked to the village
of Kunta Kinte. In the Mandinka tradition, our group of about 40
permission from Chief Tako Taoi to enter the village. She is one of the
few female chiefs in the area.
descendants including 90-year-old Binta Kinte. Ms.
Kinte requested that my co-worker, Rhonda, sit by her since she was
"family," while her grandson Omar recounted the story that Alex Haley
made famous in Roots. The other three African-Americans and the Black
British person in the group instantly felt the connection, too. Omar
also shared that Louis and Khadijah Farrakhan fulfilled a promise made
by Haley. They donated $50,000 in 1997 to build the village's mosque.
the day before our
departure to Baltimore, another friend, Suwareh
Jabai, organized a wonderful dinner in our honor. We arrived at his
house and many other friends greeted us. Conversations ranging from
marriage customs to world
affairs were continuous.
dinner, Mr. Jabai's first wife, Sally Touray, and second wife, Dala
Nyabally, cooked chicken in peanut sauce, afra (local term for grilled
meat - not me!), rice, and another grain similar to couscous. They gave
us a bowl
and spoon to eat with, though eating and drinking from a communal dish
customary. For after dinner entertainment, we went into the village's
area. Traditional African drummers and dancers entertained us.
While Banjul's tourist
attractions can't be compared with those in many
Caribbean countries, its size allowed me to really get to know the town
truly experience an African country and its wonderful people. I can't
that I saw any elephants to ride through the bush. However, I will
and hold this trip close to my heart just as I do my trips of
to the American South.