I am constantly amazed by Gambians ability to switch between languages, lots of languages. English is the official language, but Wollof is the lingua franca. Many can speak sufficient French to communicate with their Senegalese neighbours. And most seem to switch between at least two of the (7) tribal languages with ease. I just about remember to greet new people with a Salaam Malekum.
Greetings are very important and take quite some time. Passing by someone in the street calls for at least: hello, how are you? And I’m not talking about the bumsters, who can be a plague and a pest with their clever banter and way of wheedling information to entrap and manipulate as they gaily, smilingly walk alongside for quite some distance. Nor the sly beggars asking for a ‘loan’ or ‘credit’ because they’ve lost their job/wife’s sick/had a baby…the permutations are endless! The real beggars: clearly sick and old; are given small change by many locals. Respect is a powerful concept in The Gambia.
As was explained to me: greetings are the prelude to ANY topic and have to be properly conducted – even if you are bearing news that someone’s mother or father is sick or has passed away. Gradually and cleverly the topic will be raised, say through asking about the other person’s family, then they might recall that a parent is ill…and so on.
This morning I was asked to give a talk to some students who had (been) volunteered to help with distributing flyers for our current two projects: the Good Market – Gambia’s first farmers market (this Sunday) and a restaurant opening (tomorrow). It took an hour before I/we got to the point!