For nearly half a year, I have built my life in West Africa. I have jobs, I have a house, I have friends (Gambian and non). I know how to speak their languages, drive in their bush taxis, shop in their markets. I know their villages, their roads, their customs.
I worked in The Gambiaâ€™s capital city, Banjul, which is a hectic and dirty place. Suddenly, I was sharing the roads with businessmen and sheep, goats, and chickens. I taught approximately thirty women about computers every morning, and in the afternoons, I built the countryâ€™s main hospitalâ€™s website http://rvth.dosh.gm.
Iâ€™m used to waking up to the sounds of roosters and falling asleep to the sounds of drumming. I can drink their water and not get sick, and my body says itâ€™s cold at temperatures under 24 degrees C.
Tie dye has become beautiful, people carrying things on their heads, normal, being dirty all the time, natural.
Iâ€™ve lived through the Rainy Season, where it pours day-and-night, the Dry Season when it doesnâ€™t rain at all. In the Rainy Season, the air is thick, in the Dry, your skin can dry and crack. Iâ€™ve felt the Harmattan, strong and hot.
Iâ€™ve become use to being stared at in the streets, and being called toubab, boss lady, nice ladyâ€¦ the list goes on.
I eat oranges sold out of a wheelbarrow on the street. I drink yogurt out of a bag. I eat bread that was handed to me wrapped in half a sheet of a foreign newspaper. I eat eggs that have never seen the inside of a refrigerator. I eat salt straight from the ocean that comes in clumps and is gray.
And if I want to, I can walk five minutes out my front door and see the ocean.
I live near baobab trees in flat rice fields. Iâ€™m surrounded by THE friendliest people Iâ€™ve ever met. Iâ€™ve become a master of small chat.
The pace is slow, the English is basic, but The Gambia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to.
Mosques instead of churches; slow instead of fast; black instead of white; palm instead of pine; hot instead of cold; Mandinka and Wolof instead of French and English; right instead of wrong and also wrong instead of right.
When I signed up to VSO, I wanted an experience that would make me uncomfortable. I see too many people spending their lives in the same job, the same house, eating the same foods, watching the same television, with the same peopleâ€¦ and I couldnâ€™t think of a more boring way to exist. [Note- this lifestyle may make some people happy- I respect that- but itâ€™s not the way that I would like to live.]
And so, when I was given my options of countries to go to (there were four in total), I decided on The Gambia because I thought itâ€™d be the most difficult, the most challenging, and the most different.
It has proved to the different- so different, in fact, that when arriving, I hardly had any culture shock (the roads paved with shells, the lack of toilet paper and public bathrooms, they perhaps, effected me some).
The problem with leaving isâ€¦ in all the places Iâ€™ve lived, Iâ€™ve always had to restart my life, and itâ€™s usually been a challenge, BUT, picking up and moving to West Africa is on an entirely different level. Every single day was a challenge. Iâ€™ve worked SO hard to create my life here. Iâ€™ve learned how to teach, the language, the roads, about the religion, transportation, food, weather, people, customs, etiquette… and no one will ever know what it was like. I can write in this journal, I can post pictures online, but NOTHING really shows what my day-to-day life was like here. My friends, they know, but in a couple of days, Iâ€™ll be thousands of miles from them, and Iâ€™ll have no one around me who can comprehend one of the biggest experiences of my entire life.
Iâ€™ve felt sad about leaving places before, but this is totally different. Itâ€™s never been such a struggle just to exist before. Iâ€™ve had to adapt my mind and body to so many different things, I think Iâ€™ve only been able to identify a fraction of themâ€¦ some Iâ€™ll notice when Iâ€™m thrust back into the place that we here deem â€œThe Real World,â€ and some things Iâ€™ll probably never recognize.
Itâ€™s a weird feeling to be in such a strong limbo between wanting to go and wanting to stay. Iâ€™ve got baobab trees vs hot showers; heat vs cheese, mushrooms and tofu; ocean vs travel; these people vs my people.
I have been an outsider for five months. Someone who couldnâ€™t be more obviously from somewhere outside of The Gambia. I look different, I talk different, I do different things with my spare time, I eat different foods. But Iâ€™ve also been Alimatou Bah. Iâ€™ve been told by many people, â€œYou are a Gambian now.â€ I co-exist.
There are days when I do speak their languages, do the same things they do, eat their foods, walk their streets, live like a Gambian. And although Iâ€™ll never been on of them, Iâ€™ll do my best to embrace all that they are.
This was My Gambia.