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!
Yesterday was depressing as I discovered the stark reality of getting things done here in The Gambia: nothing, NO THING would happen without Chris and me on the projects we are supporting. We are launching a restaurant on Friday and a farmers market on Sunday. Walking alongside locals to enable and empower is exhausting: the minute I walk away having answered questions and encouraged initiative, either zip action is taken or everything goes back to what it was beforehand! As one German lady commented in an encounter on a Sunday morning walk along an almost deserted beach: no wonder their President has become increasingly dictatorial over time.
Yesterday I phoned around to get the stall holders for the Sunday ‘Good Market’…..it’s a bit difficult to have a market with nothing on sale. The list of possible stall holders had few contact names or details, so that was a challenging starting point. I managed to get farm fresh eggs, shrimps, artisan breads, organic fruit and veg, honey and bee products, jams, peanut butter, medicinal herbs, soaps and natural beauty products. A chef from an upmarket hotel is going to do ‘a taste of the real Gambia’ tapas dishes and local juices, coolers and smoothies. However, the entertainment HAD been organised, so everyone involved is looking forward to having a good time! Today, I have been to two local radio stations to get publicity sorted…one radio station agreed to do a talk show and interview a selection of the stall holders as some of their personal stories are amazing. For example, The Gambia imports 95% of its eggs and the 5% produced locally is often dodgy: the layers fed on cheap fish food and bio security ignored. The egg guy I was introduced to by a restauranteur and guy from the US started selling fresh eggs from his bicycle when he was 15. Six years later he has 5000 layers, full bio security and is expanding fast unable to satisfy demand. Meeting young entrepreneurs like this keeps me going… It is such a pleasure to support them in their passion.