This post is for everyone who has asked me how my trip to The Gambia was over the last week. A lot of the time I just said it was good. Sometimes I really just didn’t know what to say. So hopefully this post will help to better explain the most interesting 15 days of my life.
First of all, I do not want to be the guy who comes back from a trip and says my life is completely changed and puts on that show. This trip didn’t change who I am, but it made me understand. Before the trip I didn’t understand how important soccer was to the country and its education system. I didn’t understand how people could be so happy with so little. I didn’t understand that a society could run so fluently with so little rules.
I could tell you about all of the amazing experiences I had at schools and community soccer fields with kids, but I feel like everyone knows at this point that that stuff happened. It was incredible, and that’s what I was there to do, but I have more interesting things I could write about.
So in short form, here are some of the interesting experiences I had;
- Every cab ride was an adventure. As I mentioned there is a shortage of rules in The Gambia, that definitely applies to the roads. There are no speed limits, No rules about passing or merging, I cant remember seeing any stop signs, and for the most part there are no traffic lights. You will come to a four-way intersection and basically just go whenever you feel like you won’t get hit. It’s a very hard thing to get comfortable with, but in the 15 days I was there I didn’t see any evidence of a car accident.
- Although cars are weaving in and out everywhere, the real thing to watch out for is animals. Goats, cattle, pigs, baboons, even dogs are all over the roads, everywhere you go. Some will move for you, but some (cattle) will stand their ground and trust that you will stop or swerve around them. I imagine this is why no cars seemed to have any brake pads left.
- There is no public transit in the cities or towns, everyone takes cabs everywhere. I took an hour-long cab ride that cost $13 CAD, I took another one across town that cost $0.19 CAD… nineteen cents… It’s not unusual for a cab driver to pick up someone else while you’re in the cab if they’re going the same direction. If you need to run an errand while you’re in a cab the driver will probably come inside with you just for something to do.
- The day I got there it was 27 degrees at the coast. When I left Halifax it was 3 degrees, so naturally I went tarps off, while all the locals were bundled up and complaining about how cold it was. Later on in the trip it was 43 degrees and locals were still wearing sweatpants, toques, and light sweaters. If I lifted my arm to scratch my face that was enough to make me sweat.
- Although most of the hotels we stayed in were…really interesting… something people seem to be surprised about is that The Gambia does have a tourism industry. There was at least three very nice resorts on the coast. Although there weren’t many people around because their end of May/early April is the equivalent of our end of September, there is people from England, Holland, and Belgium everywhere. It just seemed like none of them had any interest in venturing away from the coast into the authentic Gambian populous.
- Finding food was always an adventure away from the coast. Many towns only had one restaurant, which was often just someone’s house with a dining room in front. You’d usually have to call ahead to tell them you are coming so they will have food on hand when you show up. I think in most cases our food was still alive when we called… If we showed up unannounced it would usually be quite the wait…understandably so. Normally you would have a choice between two things. One was chicken and chips, and the other was a rice dish with a peanut butter sauce on top.
- The most interesting meal I had was a breakfast sub, probably 15” long that cost me about 70 cents, it was the only option and I was starving so I ordered it off a lady on the side of the road making them on a table. I watched her put spaghetti and fish in my breakfast sub. Sitting back in Canada it’s a hard thing to imagine eating, but at the time I was just happy to be starting my day off with some kind of breakfast that wasn’t stale bread and peanut butter in my hotel room.
- Nothing seems to happen quickly in The Gambia. Sometimes it would take us hours to get money out if the bank. We tried to rent a car, a seemingly simple task, which first led us to a car rental place that had no cars, then one that had cars but no one around that was authorized to rent them out. We ended up renting an Indian made SUV off of a random person who had a vehicle he wasn’t using at the time.
I could write 100 bullets, but you get the point. It’s just a completely different world, incomparable to North America. A place you really have to see to believe. I wrote about things that happened that I probably wouldn’t have hoped to of happen when I set out on the trip, but it’s the things that don’t necessarily go to plan that end up being the most memorable. And although I had tons of amazing interactions with children and school faculty, it’s the things that didn’t going according to plan that I will remember for the rest of my life. A good lesson I learned; embrace the unplanned.