Sunday, 10 June 2012

West Africa part 5 - The Gambia

English version available at the bottom of this page.

Atlanterhavskysten  
– Happy birthday Mr. President!

Et av reisens store høydepunkt var å skulle møte mine og Christopher sine foreldre i Gambia. Vi tilbrakte en utrolig hyggelig uke sammen med dem ved kysten av dette bitte lille landet.

Gambia er omkranset av fransktalende Senegal på alle kanter, mens landet selv var en britisk koloni. Gambia er ett av Afrikas aller fattigste land. Dette gav seg til uttrykk, blant annet, gjennom en veldig desperat turistindustri. Tilbudet av turisttjenester var disproporsjonalt stort i forhold til antall besøkende. Taxisjåførene, fruktdamene, massørene og suvenirselgerne sloss om de få turistene som var. I det man trådde ut av hotellets trygge murer, startet kampen for å riste av seg innpåslitne selgere med innøvde teknikker for å klistre seg på deg og ikke gi slipp. Vi fikk aldri en dag alene på stranden. Etter hvert tiltrakk vi oss en hærskare av individer som ville sørge for vår velvære. Det var regler på stranden som innebar at den selgeren som tilnærmet seg en turist først, fikk monopol på denne turisten. Dette monopolet ble det arbeidet hardt for å opprettholde. Flere av dagene hadde Christopher livvakten sittende på solsengen sin, noe han syntes ble litt intimt i lengden. Etter hvert som vi ble bedre kjent med våre selgere ble vi fortalt flere og flere historier om hvor vanskelig livet var i Gambia. Livvakten og massasjedamene ønsket at vi skulle bli fadder for barna deres slik at de kunne få anledning til å gå på skolen. 

Barn utenfor en skole
Resortområdet ved kysten hadde også en veldig synlig sexturismeindustri. Overalt så man par med underlige sammensetninger av gamle vestlige menn og unge gambiske kvinner, hvite damer og unge rastagutter. Det var fryktelig å se og en grov utnytting av den dype fattigdommen.

Vi hadde det veldig hyggelig for øvrig. Området vi bodde på ved kysten var nydelig, med et eksepsjonelt rikt fugleliv. Det var et stort fuglereservat like ved hotellet vårt. Hotellet i seg selv var en liten oase med masse planter og dyr som for eksempel apekatter, skilpadder og varaner (store øgler). Vi dro på båttur på Gambiaelven, til Kunta Kintes fødested.  Han er hovedpersonen i boken Roots av Alex Haley. Boken følger ham fra han vokser opp i landsbyen Juffureh i Gambia, blir solgt som slave og fraktet til Amerika. Dette var et spesielt besøk med utallige påskudd for at vi skulle gi fra oss penger. Blant annet måtte vi kjøpe en obligatorisk diplom som sa at vi hadde vært i landsbyen. Men vi hilste på noen damer som angivelig var etterkommere av Kunta Kinte, besøkte et interessant slavemuseum og var godt fornøyd. Vi besøkte også en liten øy med et gammelt slavefort. Underveis hoppet delfiner rundt båten vår.

En dag besøkte vi det store, livlige markedet i hovedstaden Banjul. Midt i Banjul er det satt opp et stort, lysende juletrelignende monument ved siden av et stort lysende skilt som sier «Happy birthday Mr. President ». Rundt omkring henger det lysende bursdagspresanger. Vi ble fortalt at det var ganske lenge siden presidenten hadde hatt bursdag, men han syntes å være veldig glad i oppmerksomhet. Når vi kjørte i området i og rundt hovedstaden, dukket det stadig opp store plakater med bilde av presidenten Jajah Jammeh. Plakatene var av to sorter:
Den ene typen var plakater med bursdagsgratulasjoner til presidenten fra ulike bedrifter. Antallet lykkeønskninger var overveldende, så det kan være rimelig å anta at gratulasjonene var strengt forventet av næringslivet. Muligens med negative konsekvenser for utebliende gratulasjon.
Den andre typen plakat var reglerette propagandaplakater fra presidentens eget kontor. Et eksempel på en valgplakat var: «In president Jammeh’s Blessed hands Gambians and Africans shall prosper in freedom and dignity. Divine duty to vote for him in 2011. » Ved siden av ham selv er det bilde av Haile Selassi, Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Martin Luther King og en rekke afrikanske uavhengighetsledere. Mennesker han tydeligvis liker å sidestille seg med. President Jammeh er en tvilsom type som tok til seg makten ved et kupp i 1994. Han mener selv at han har helbredende evner, og han har til og med kuren for AIDS. Men den vil han helst holde for seg selv. 


 En annen dag besøkte vi en skole og en barnehage opprettet av en norsk stiftelse: Butterfly Friends Foundation. Stiftelsen hadde, ved hjelp av norske faddere og givere, bygget flere skoler i Gambia hvor de fattigste barna i området fikk gratis grunnskoleutdanning. På Gambiske offentlige skoler er lærere svært dårlig betalt og det er vanlig at de krever bestikkelser fra foreldrene for å rette barnas prøver. Dette, i tillegg til flere kostnader knyttet til å gå på skolen, gjør at mange ikke har råd til å sende barna sine dit. Lederen av Butterfly Friends, som mine foreldre var kommet i kontakt med via en bekjent, viste oss rundt på skolene. Vi fikk beske klasserom hvor barna opptrådte med ‘Jolly Phonics’. Et pedagogisk opplegg basert på sang, for å lære alfabetet og knekke lesekoden. Som i mange afrikanske land er språket som undervises i skolen det administrative språket i landet – Her, engelsk. Det er jo kjent at man lærer best på sitt eget morsmål. Men i land med så mange stammespråk er det selvsagt en utfordring å skulle produsere skolemateriell og gjennomføre undervisning på de ulike språkene. Dessuten ansees disse språkene gjerne som uakademiske språk og et nasjonalt skolespråk er en del av nasjonsbyggingen (og vi hadde jo sett plakater med Jammeh beskrevet som «The Master Peace Builder and Champion Nation Builder»). Dette stiller antakeligvis de lokale språkene i en svak posisjon med tanke på utvikling og bevaring.

Kjøkkenansatt på ABC Nursery School med kampanjetskjorte fra presidentvalget

 Janjanbureh (Georgetown)
– naturreligion og grigri

Etter å ha avsluttet et fantastisk opphold sammen med våre foreldre, dro vi for å besøke River Gambia National Park. Vi oppsøkte landsbyen Janjanbureh lenger øst i landet, som skulle være et bra sted for å organisere båttur til nasjonalparken. Vi ankom i bekmørke, etter en lang reise med ulike transportmiddel fra kysten. I siste transportetappe havnet Christopher ved siden av en marabout (en muslimsk lærd og religiøs leder) som han kunne snakke arabisk med. Marabouten var veldig begeistret og ville gjerne invitere oss på te hjemme hos seg.

Janjanbureh ligger på en liten øy midt på Gambiaelven. Vi skulle bo i en camp med bungalower på den nordlige elvebredden. Vi måtte ta en liten ferje for å komme oss dit. Fergen fungerte så lenge det var etterspørsel så det var ingen problem å komme seg videre. I det båtføreren skjøv ferjen fra land hoppet tre gutter opp i båten og innledet samtale med oss. De insisterte på at hotellet vi skulle bo på var fullt og at vi heller måtte bo på et sted de anbefalte. De ville også organisere tur for oss til nasjonalparken og i det hele tatt fikse det meste. Disse var typiske ‘bumstere’ som foresøkte å livnære seg ved å klistre seg på turister. At hotellet var fullt var selvsagt tull og vi klarte å riste dem av oss. De viste oss også et ark hvor det stod at de samlet inn penger for å kjøpe en ny ball til fotballaget sitt. De hadde en liste hvor man kunne skrive navnet sitt, landet man kom fra og hvor mye man ville donere. Vi gav en liten slant for ikke å være for avvisende. Like etter lærte vi at dette var et skittent triks, og vi så det samme arket mange flere ganger før vi forlot Janjanbureh. De som jobbet på hotellet var irriterte på bumsterne fordi de kom og plaget turistene.

Faste gjester på hotellet vårt i Janjanbureh
 Vi dro på båttur neste dag. Nasjonalparken lå flere kilometer nedover elva og utflukten varte fra tidlig morgen til sen kveld. Landskapet vi kjørte gjennom var fantastisk. Elvebreddene svulmet over av frodig vegetasjon og ulike eksotiske fugler fløy rundt oss. Med jevne mellomrom synliggjorde fiskere seg, i bitte små kanoer. Vi stoppet ved en liten fiskelandsby for å låne kokeutstyr til te (Ataya) og lunsj. Landsbyen besto av to stråhytter hvor fiskere fra Mali kom og bodde deler av året for å tjene penger å ta med tilbake til familien. Konene deres ble ikke med, for det var for kostbart. Underveis videre så vi flere flodhester, som kikket opp av vannet og gjespet høyt i karakteristisk stil, masse apekatter og bavianer som slang seg i tretoppene.

Selve nasjonalparken var et beskyttet område bestående av flere øyer. Parken var opprettet av en britisk dame som drev et prosjekt som gikk ut på å reintrodusere sjimpanser, i fangenskap, tilbake til naturen. Dette startet i en periode hvor lovgivning i flere land forbød å holde ville dyr i fangenskap (eller noe i den duren), så damen fikk sjimpanser tilsendt fra store deler av verden. En av dem hadde holdt til på en restaurant i Belgia hele livet for plutselig å bli plassert i vill natur midt i Afrika. På øyene bodde nå både bavianer og sjimpanser, i tillegg til en rekke andre dyr. Vi møtte en ‘park ranger’ som fortale oss om dyrenes adferd og om de intrikate sosiale spillereglene som gjaldt i flokkene. Sjimpansene og bavianene likte ikke å komme ut og vise seg, men vi var heldige å få følge med når de skulle mates. Da slang de seg ut på grenene som strakk seg over vannet og rasket til seg det som ble kastet til dem. Vi fikk et blinkskudd av en luring med en pose peanøtter i munnen, et brød i den ene foten og en mango i den andre – mens hans henger seg med begge hender fra en gren.

Neste dag spiste vi frokost på hotellets kafé ved elvebredden. Like ved hotellet bodde flere titalls apekatter og disse skjønte fort at det var kommet mat på bordet. De sirklet seg rundt oss og hadde fryktelig lyst på maten vår. De var harmløse men veldig frekke. Plutselig kom en og rev en brødbit ut av hånden på meg.

Denne dagen besøkte vi selve byen Janjanbureh. Vi hadde falt i klørne på en bumster som skulle vise oss rundt i byen, sammen med en annen fra hotellet som også ville være vår venn. Det var disse som hadde organisert gårsdagens båttur for oss. Det er ofte en stor fordel å ha med seg en lokal når man vandrer rundt. Hvis ikke må man gjerne avvise en armé av mennesker som ønsker å guide deg eller tilby deg alt mulig annet.

Janjanbureh har opprettet en falsk slaveindustri, muligens inspirert av den blomstrende slavehistorieturismen i Juffureh og James Island beskrevet ovenfor. Vi ble vist til en kirkegård hvor det angivelig var gravlagt slaveherrer. Historien holdt ikke helt for den gravsteinen vi ble vist, og den eneste hvor inskripsjonen var synlig, var fra 1900-tallet og slaveriet i de britiske koloniene opphørte i 1807. De hadde også en ‘slavegård’ i et bygg som var bygget langt senere enn 1807. Ellers var Janjanbureh en fredfull og hyggelig liten by og vi likte oss godt der. 

I Janjanbureh sentrum

 Ulike naturreligioner er vidt utbredt i Vest-Afrika. Felles for religionene at objekter i naturen anses som hellige fordi de representer, eller huser, en ånd. Denne typen religion praktiseres ofte i kombinasjon med islam eller kristendom. En dag Christopher lå og slappet av i hengekøyen på hotellet kom han snakk med en av dem som jobbet der. Han fortalte om åndene som bodde i Gambiaelven og om personlige erfaringer som understøttet at det fantes ånder der. Han viste at han gikk med et lærbelte rundt magen og rundt overarmen, som heter griri. Når han gikk med griri var han usårlig mot slag, knivstikk og skudd. Vi så veldig mange som gikk med slike bånd. De hadde gjerne koranvers inngravert i læret eller utrevne sider av koranen flettet inn.

Basse Santa Su
– og den onde elva

Vi fulgte elven videre innover i landet til den lille landsbyen Basse Santa Su. Hotellet vårt var et gammelt, kolonialt lagerbygg som lå og kikket utover Gambiaelven. Stedet viste seg å være den lokale drikkebula og det var full fest da vi kom. Stemningen var nok ekstra høy for dagen i dag var Gambias uavhengighetsdag. Ved ankomst ble vi møtt av en kraftig bygd mann, religiøst ankledd. Han var drita full – så på Christopher med store øyne – og leverte en lang lekse. Christopher var en usedvanlig god mann, det kunne han se med en gang. Christopher elsket meg, og jeg elsket han, men noen ganger hadde jeg ‘two minds’. Og det var negativt etter ansiktsuttrykket hans å dømme. Det kunne ikke poengteres nok ganger at jeg måtte respektere Christopher og lene meg helt på hans dømmekraft i livet. Det var Gud som hadde sendt Christopher til Afrika. Blodet som rant gjennom årene hans var så godt og en million mennesker ville drept for å ha beina hans. Som om ikke dette var nok hadde Christopher i tillegg hjertet til (ganske nøyaktig) 42 menn. Christopher ble overveldet av ros, mens jeg følte meg uglesett og mistenkt for ikke å respektere denne guden av en mann tilstrekkelig. Det var en annen full mann i lokalet som fulgte med på det hele og som kom med små kommentarer. Han var en skolerektor og syntes å ha en mer rasjonell tilnærming til tilværelsen. Han stilte stadig spørsmål ved hvordan den første fylliken kunne vite det han stod og sa? Svaret var at Gud hadde fortalt han det.

Vi fikk to goder venner i Basse. Peter fra Ghana og Moussa fra Sierra Leone. Basse er en grenseby og syntes å være sammensatt av mennesker med mange ulike nasjonaliteter. Peter jobbet på hotellet og Moussa traff vi i baren der. Moussa hadde flyktet fra Sierra Leone under borgerkrigen og bodd i Gambia siden. Han fortalte mye om borgerkrigen, hvor han hadde mistet begge foreldrene og noen søsken. Han fortalte hvor vanskelig det var å være utlending og kristen i Gambia. Kort tid tilbake hadde han mistet sønnen sin i en drukningsulykke i elven. Han var skredder, men for tiden hadde han ingen forretning. Han hadde ikke råd til alle utgiftene det innebar å ha butikk og i tillegg var det så og si ingen kjøpekraft i Basse fordi det var dårlige tider. Fjorårets avling hadde slått feil og ingen hadde penger. Han brøt ut i gråt når han fortalte og sa han var så redd for å dø her i Basse. Det eneste han ønsket var å vende tilbake til Sierra Leone hvor livet ville være lettere for han, sin kone og sin ene gjenlevende sønn. Men reising er dyrt og han hadde ingen mulighet til å få det til. Vi ble fullstendig bergtatt av historien hans og lovet etter hvert at vi ville hjelpe han med midler for å vende hjem.
Den andre vennen vår, Peter, var en karismatisk type med sterk kristen tro. En kveld tok han oss med på bar for å drikke palmevin. Vi var innom flere barer, som var bakgårder med mange mennesker samlet. Vinen var ikke kommet enda så alle satt forventningsfulle. Endelig kom en moped med to store plastkanner festet bakpå bagasjebrettet – og stemningen steg. Vi fikk palmevin tappet over på hver vår flaske. Det smakte ikke akkurat godt. Peter ble ganske raskt beruset (han matte drikke mye av vår vin også) og ble enda mer karismatisk. 
Moussa, Christopher og Peter i drikkebula på hotellet
Jeg satt ved siden av en mann med noen interessante historier. Han snakket tysk fordi han hadde bodd som flyktning i Oest-Tyskland på begynnelsen av 90-tallet. Han hadde kommet som en av de første asylsøkerne etter murens fall. Han hadde også bodd tre år i Libya, og hadde vendt tilbake til Gambia like før krigen mot Gadaffi. Han beskrev reisen sin fra Gambia til Libya. Han hadde reist på et lasteplan som fraktet 47 mennesker, tett sammenpakket uten særlige bevegelsesmuligheter. De hadde reist gjennom en rekke land og krysset lange sterkninger gjennom Sahara-ørkenen. På vei gjennom ørkenen hadde de møtt en annen lastebil, også full av mennesker – men alle var døde. Bilen hadde kjørt seg vill og gått tom for mat og drikke. Mannen som fortalte beskrev en baby som fortsatt hadde leppene klamret rundt morens bryst. I Libya hadde han jobbet i en fransk forretning. Det var tøft å være svart afrikaner i Libya for alle tok deg for å være en av Gadaffis menn (siden han rekrutterte leiesoldater fra Tsjad og Niger osv.). Christopher hadde samtale med en Polisario-mann fra Vest-Sahara. Basse var sannelig et sammensatt sted. Det var flott å sitte i den lokale bakgårdsbaren med disse spennende menneskene og den klare stjernehimmelen over oss.

Vi hadde også flere samtaler med Peter denne kvelden. Han mente at alle beundret og respekterte oss hvite mennesker og at han følte seg så stolt når han gikk rundt med oss. Vi lurte på om det ikke også eksisterte negative følelser mot de hvite på grunn av kolonitiden? Dette ble avvist med et kraftig «Noooooooooooooo!» Det måtte vi aldri tro. Han sammenlignet slavehandelen med dagens lotterier hvor man kan vinne «green card» for å få tillatelse til å reise og arbeide i Amerika. Han mente at disse to tingene (slavehandel og «green card»-lotteri) var akkurat det samme. De som tidligere ble sendt som slaver var dagens vinnere fordi de ble brakt til en kontinent hvor det fantes arbeid og muligheter. Han mente også at «The black man can’t help the back man – only the white man can help the black man». En holdning som antakeligvis ikke er særlig positiv for utviklingen i landet og kontinentet for øvrig. Han mente at afrikanere ikke alltid var så snille mot hverandre og at spesielt de fransktalende afrikanerne var «wicked» (med unntak av dem i Burkina Faso, siden landet lå så nærme hans hjemland Ghana). 

Hovedaktiviteten vår i Basse var å dra på, nok en, elvetur. I Janjanbureh hadde vi møtt en tysker som anbefalte en båtfører ved navn Mamadou. Vi spurte etter vedkommende på hotellet og han dukket opp kort tid etter. Neste dag tok han oss med i båten sin som ble drevet fremover av kun én åre, festet på akterenden. Turen var utrolig fredfull med den lydløse båten, oss og elva. Vi hadde håpet å se masse kobraslanger, men så kun én og raslingen av en annen. Moussa mente at elva ikke var god (han hadde jo mistet sønnen sin der). Mamadou fortalte oss også historier fra elva. Både fjor og i år var fiskere blitt drept av flodhest. De var kun aggressive når de hadde barn. De hadde trodd at fiskerne var på vei mot ungen deres, og da var fiskerne forsvarsløse mot sinte mammaflodhester i de små kanoene sine. Han fortalte også om et tilfelle i nærheten, hvor et lite menneskebarn var blitt spist av en krokodille mens han badet. 

Båttur på Gambiaelven ved Basse Santa Su
 På tilbakeveien besøkte vi noen franskmenn som hadde en jaktleir langs elva, ikke langt fra Basse. Eieren Jean-Pierre var prikk lik Asterix. Han hadde besøk av vennen sin Jean-Claude, og sammen dro de hver dag ut og jaktet på fugler og villsvin. De snakket ikke engelsk, og var prisgitt en senegalesisk ung mann som jobbet der sammen med dem. Han kunne fransk, kommuniserte med de andre som jobbet der på wolof, og oversatte på den måten det franskmennene ønsket å formidle til sine ansatte. Det ble litt av en oversettelsesfest når vi kom på besøk: Vi snakket til den gambiske servitøren på engelsk, han oversatte til senegaleseren på wolof, som i siste omgang oversatte til Jean-Pieree/Claude på fransk. Svaret måtte selvsagt gjennom samme språkkarusellen på vei tilbake til oss. Jean-ene spanderte lunsj på oss med rikelig av vin og pastis og andre drikkevarer. Helst ville de at vi skulle ta ettermiddagsluren vår hos dem, men vi insisterte på å komme oss videre.

Tiden kom for å reise videre til Senegal. Moussa og Peter fulgte oss og sørget for at vi kom oss i en Sept place (delt drosje med 7 seter) i retning den senegalesiske grensen. Vi hadde sett mange tvilsomme kjøretøy på vår ferd, men denne bilen var i eksepsjonelt dårlig stand. Det var nærmest kun et karosseri igjen. Underveis nektet den å starte ved to anledninger. Alle mennene i reisefølget (inkludert Christopher) hjalp å dytte bilen, mens én person satt på panseret og pumpet drivstoff til motoren manuelt. Det gledet oss at vi slapp å betale ved grensen. Vi ble sluppet av i en støvete senegalesisk grenseby hvor vi kranglet oss inn i et nytt fartøy, retning Tambacunda.  


***

THE GAMBIA



The Atlantic Coast
– Happy birthday Mr. President!

One of the highlights of our travels was to meet mine and Christopher's parents in the Gambia. We spent an incredible week with them by the coast of this tiny country.

The Gambia's only neighbor is the French-speaking Senegal, but the country itself was a British colony, and today it is one of Africa's poorest countries. Its poverty was apparent to us through, among other things, a very desperate tourism industry. Services for tourists were abundant, and very disproportionate to the number of actual tourists. Taxi drivers, fruit selling ladies, masseuses and souvenir-sellers ought over the few tourists that were there. Once we stepped out of the safe bounds of our hotel the struggle to shake off persistent salesmen armed with techniques of gluing themselves to us began. We never had a solitary day at the beach and in time we had attracted a following of individuals who were all very concerned with our well being. The unwritten laws on this beach seemed to suggest that the first salesman to approach a tourist for the day would have a monopoly on this person, a monopoly which he would fight hard to keep. For several days Christopher had a 'life guard' sitting on his sun bed - a slight overstepping of intimacy limits. As we got to know some of these salesmen, we were told more and more stories about the adversities of life in the Gambia. The life guard and the masseuses wanted us to sponsor their children so they would have the opportunity to go to school.

The resort area on the coast also had a very visible sex-tourism industry. Odd couplings of old western men and young Gambian ladies, white ladies and young Rastafarian boys were frequently spotted. This gross exploitation of extreme poverty was a horrible thing to witness.
That aside, we had a very nice time in the Gambia. The area we stayed in on the coast was beautiful with exceptionally rich bird life. Just by our hotel there was a large bird reservoir, and the hotel itself was a little oasis with lots of plants and animals including monkeys, tortoises and monitor lizards. We travelled the Gambia river by boat down to the birth place of Kunta Kinte - the protagonist of "Roots" by Alex Haley. The story follows him as he grows up in the village of Juffureh in the Gambia and is sold as a slave and transported to America. Visiting this village, we were taken aback by the numerous ploys to get us to part with our money; among other things we were forced to buy a diploma stating that we had indeed visited. We met some ladies who claimed to be descendants of Kunta Kinte, visited an interesting slavery museum and were after all very pleased with our visit. We also visited a little island with an old slave fort, on the way to which dolphins were frolicking around our boat. 

One day we visited the large and lively market in the capital of Banjul. In the middle of Banjul one finds a large, Christmas tree-like monument accompanied by a sign reading "Happy Birthday Mr. President", encircled by dangling, glowing birthday presents. We were told that the president's birthday had happened quite some time ago, but he seemed to relish the attention. Driving around the area we frequently spotted large posters adorned with the president, Jajah Jammeh's face. There were two kinds of posters: One where Birthday wishes to the president were presented from various businesses. The abundance of these was overwhelming, so one may assume failure to congratulate the president would impact negatively on businesses in question.

The others were archetypal propaganda posters from the president's own office, for example: "In president Jammeh’s Blessed hands Gambians and Africans shall prosper in freedom and dignity. Divine duty to vote for him in 2011". Next to the president would appear images of Haile Selassie, Nelson Mandel, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and several African liberation leaders - people he apparently would like to be associated with. President Jammeh is a somewhat suspicious character who gained power through a coup in 1994. He claims to be a healer who can cure AIDS with a secret procedure he likes to keep to himself. 

Another day we visited a school and a kindergarten founded by the Norwegian "Butterfly Friends Foundation". With support from Norwegian donations they had built several schools in the Gambia where the poorest of the locals would get free primary education. In normal Gambian schools teacher's are severely underpaid, and it is common to demand payment from parents who want their child's exams corrected. This, in addition to other costs associated with schooling, means that a lot of people cannot afford to send their children there. The leader of the Butterfly Friends, who my parents had come into contact with through a common acquaintance, showed us around the schools. We visited classrooms where children performed "Jolly Phonics", a pedagogic system devised to teach the children the alphabet and how to read. As in many African countries, the taught language in schools is the administrative language of the country, in this case English. Although it would be easiest to learn ones own mother tongue, in a country with so many local languages it would be difficult to produce textbooks and offer education in all the various languages. Also, these languages are often seen as "unacademic" and a national schooling language is seen as a part of nation building efforts (Jammeh was keen on this, posters hailed him as "The Master Peace Builder and Champion Nation Builder"). One can only assume fatal consequences for the local languages with regards to development and preservation. 

Janjanbureh (Georgetown)
Nature Worship and Grigri

After finishing a fantastic stay with our parents, we travelled on toward the River Gambia National Park. We first went to the village of Janjabureh, further East, which was meant to be a good place for organizing a boat trip to the national park. We arrived in the dark of the night after a long journey using various modes of transport from the coast. On the last leg Christopher had sat next to a marabout (a Muslim scholar and religious leader) with whom he could speak Arabic. The Marabout was very excited and wanted us to come for tea at his home. 

Janjanbureh lies on a little island in the middle of the River Gambia. We were staying in an encampment of bungalows on the northern shore, to which we had to travel by a small ferry. This ferry seemed to operate whenever there was demand for it, so it was no problem to get to the island. As the skipper pushed the ferry off shore, three boys jumped on and started conversing with us. They insisted the hotel we were meant to stay at was full and that we should stay somewhere else. They also wanted to organise our trip to the national park and seemed keen to help with just about anything. These were typical "bumsters" who tried to make a living by sticking to tourists. They also showed us a sheet of paper where it said that they were collecting money for a new football for their team. There was a list on which we could put our names, country of origin and donation amount. We gave them a few coins to not to seem too dismissive. We soon learned that this was just another dirty trick - we saw the same sheet of paper numerous times before we left Janjanbureh. Our hotel was of course not full, and we managed to shake them off. Those who worked at the hotel were clearly annoyed with the bumsters for hassling their guests.  

The next day we went on a boating trip. The national park was several kilometers down the river and the excursion lasted from early morning to late evening. The landscape we travelled through was fantastic: the shores were overgrown with lush vegetation and various exotic bird species were circling overhead. At times, fishermen appeared in tiny canoes. We stopped by a little fishing village to borrow equipment to make tea (Ataya) and lunch. The village consisted of two straw huts where fishermen from Mali came and lived parts of the year to earn money to bring back to their families. Their wives would not accompany them, that would be too expensive. Underway we saw several hippos, glancing up from the water and presenting us with their characteristic yawns, lots of monkeys and baboons frolicking in the treetops. 

The national park itself was a protected area consisting of several islands. The park had been founded by a British lady who ran a project which aimed to reintroduce incarcerated chimpanzees to natural habitats. She had started this at a time where several countries had changed their legislation to forbid animal incarceration (or something along those lines), so the lady was sent chimps from large parts of the world. Apparently one of them had grown up in a restaurant in Belgium, only to suddenly be placed into the African wilderness. The island now housed both baboons and chimps as well as several other animals. We met a park ranger who told us about animal behaviors and the intricate social rules in the various herds. The baboons and chimps were quite private creatures, but we were lucky to witness them as they were fed. They threw themselves from branch to branch, grabbing the food which was thrown at them. We caught a snapshot of a clever little one with a bag of peanuts in his mouth, a bread in one foot and a mango in the other - his hands busy clutching onto a branch.   

The next day we ate breakfast at the hotel cafe by the riverside. Close to the hotel lived several dozen monkeys who soon realized there was food on the table. They circled round us and clearly had their eyes set on our breakfast - harmless but very cheeky - suddenly one snatched a piece of bread from my hand.

The same day we visited Janjanbureh itself. We had fallen into the claws of a bumster who was showing us around, together with another one from the hotel who also wanted to be our friend. These boys had also organized our boat trip the previous day. It is often a great advantage to be accompanied by a local when wandering around, if not, the day can be spent trying to shake off an army of people who want to show you around or offer you this and that.

Janjanbureh seemed to have created a fake history of slavery for itself, perhaps inspired by the flowering slave-tourism industry in Juffureh and James Island, which I earlier described. We were shown a graveyard where slave keepers were apparently buried. Their story didn't quite hold water as the gravestone we were shown (the only one where inscriptions were still visible) was from the 1900's, and slavery in the British colonies was forbidden from 1807. They also showed us a "slave yard" in a building, which was clearly built much later than 1807. Otherwise Janjanbureh was a peaceful and nice little city and we enjoyed our time there.  

Various forms of nature worship are very common in Western Africa. Common to these is that objects in nature are considered holy as they represent or contain a spirit. This kind of religion is often practiced in combination with Islam or Christiandom. One day as Christopher was relaxing in a hammock at our hotel, he got talking to one of the people who worked there. He told of the spirits that live in the River Gambia and of personal experiences which supported his theory. He revealed a leather belt around his waist and over arm, called a grigri. When wearing this, he was protected against punches, stabbing and gunshots. We saw a lot of people wearing these straps, often engraved with Quranic verses, or with torn out pages from the Quran woven into the leather.   

Basse Santa Su
 A river possessed

We traveled up river till we reached the small village of Basse Santa Su. The hotel is an old colonial storage building overlooking the Gambia River. It turned out to be the local watering hole as well. Today was Gambia´s Independence Day and the atmosphere was festive and drunken. On arrival a powerfully built man (in religious attire) who wasted out of his mind, greeted us. A long prophetic rant followed. One look at Chris and he could tell he was an exceptionally good man. He could see that we loved each other, but that I sometimes had “two minds”. His facial expression indicated that this was a negative quality. I had to respect Christopher and his wise judgments – something he couldn’t seem to highlight enough. According to him Chris had been sent to Africa by god. The blood running through his veins was good and millions of people would kill to get his legs. As if this wasn’t enough he had the heart of exactly 42 men (no more, no less). Christopher was showered with compliments and I felt suspected of not respecting this god of a man sufficiently. Another drunk man sat nearby. His attention switched from the TV (showing a military parade) to our conversation. He was a school principle and seemed to have a more rational outlook on life. Each time the first drunkard’s testimony got too colorful he would interrupt and ask how he knew this. He had been told so by god was the response.

We made some good friends in Basse – Peter from Ghana and Moussa from Sierra Leone. Basse is a dusty border town and seems to be composed of many different nationalities. Peter was working at the hotel and became our guide. We met Moussa at the bar. He had fled Sierra Leone during the civil war and had lived in Gambia ever since. He had lost siblings as well as his parents in the war. He talked about the difficulty of being both a foreigner and a Christian in Gambia. A short while back he had lost his youngest son to the river in a tragic drowning accident. He was a tailor by trade, but had no business these days. He was simply not able to afford a work permit or set up a shop. In addition the town fallen on hard times. Last years harvest had been a disaster and many were left penniless. He began crying as he described his fear of dying in Basse – so far from his home. The only thing he wished was to return to Sierra Leone with his wife and son. There at least the prospects for work would be better. He had also not seen or spoken to his surviving family since the civil war. He had no means of traveling or acquiring the funds. We were deeply moved by his heartbreaking story and decided to help him and his family to return home.

Our other friend, Peter, was a charismatic guy with a strong Christian conviction. One night he took us with him to drink palm wine. We visited a few different bars. They were all tiny backyards with a lot of people (mostly men). They were all waiting impatiently as the wine had not yet arrived. Finally a moped arrived with two large plastic containers of palm wine – the mood became festive. We were given a large bottle of wine each, but it was too sweet for our preference. Peter became drunk very quickly (as he had to give us a helping hand with ours) – becoming even more charismatic.

I sat next to a man with some interesting stories. He spoke German as he had lived in Eastern-Germany as a refugee in the early 1990´s. one of the first refugees following the fall of the wall. He had also lived three years in Libya, but had returned to Gambia right before the war against Gadhafi. He described the trip from Gambia to Libya. He had traveled on the back of a truck with 47 other people – not being able to move at all. They had traveled through numerous countries and long stretches of the Sahara desert. Crossing the desert they had encountered another truck, but one that was full of dead people. The truck had gotten lost without sufficient food or water. He described a dead baby that still had its lips around his mother´s breast. He had worked for a French business in Libya, but described the difficult situation for black Africans during the war. Gadhafi recruited a great deal of mercenaries from Chad, Niger and Mali who were brutal in their repression of Libyan discontent. Black African migrant workers became scapegoats and many were killed. Christopher spoke to a member of Western Sahara´s POLISARIO. Basse´s population seemed to be composed of many refugees and foreigners. We had a great time sitting around talking to people. The dark sky above was crowded with stars.

We had a lot of conversations with Peter that night. He said that everyone admired and respected white people and that he was proud to walk alongside us. Don’t people have negative feelings as a result of colonization and slavery? We asked. “Noooooooooooooo” he almost screamed in a high-pitched tone. “You should never think that”. Han compared the old slave trade to modern day green card lotteries (whereby one can travel and work in the US). The slaves taken from Western Africa were brought to a land of work and possibility – they had become the winners of today. He was firmly convinced that: “The black man can´t help the black man – only the white man can help the black man”. This sort of opinion seems damaging for future development of Gambia and the continent at large. He also mentioned that Africans could be less than friendly towards each other, but especially so for the “wicked” Francophone speakers. The exception being Burkina Faso – because it lies close to Ghana.

The main activity for a tourist in Basse is to go on a trip up the river. In Janjanbureh we had met a German who recommended a boat driver named Mamadou. We mentioned his name at the hotel and he showed up shortly. The next day we set forth up the river with a single paddle connected to the stern of the boat. The ride was slow and peaceful with little other sounds than the paddle, the river and us. Generally one can see large amounts of Cobra snakes sunning themselves in the trees along the banks. Unfortunately we saw only a few that disappeared as soon as the boat was near. Moussa had told us that the river was not good (having lost his youngest son there). Mamadou also told us stories from life on the river. Hippopotami had killed several fishermen in the course of previous years. They become threatening and lethal when protecting their young against seeming threats. The fishermen had gotten too close in their unprotected canoes. He also told us of a small child that had recently been eaten by a crocodile while swimming in the river.
We continued up river for four hours, but on the way back we stopped off at a French owned hunting lodge.

Jean-Pierre, the owner, was a spitting image of Asterix. Accompanied by his friend (an ex-boxer) Jean-Claude they would set out each day to hunt birds and wild boars. They did not speak a word of English and were completely reliant on a young Senegalese employee. He spoke French, but Wolof whenever the owners wished to communicate with their employees. So when we arrived we spoke to the Gambian waiter in English, who then translated into Wolof for the Senegalese man, who could then talk to Jean-Claude/Jean Pierre in French. Each question or response had to go through the same language carousel. The two Jeans (Pierre/Claude) insisted we stay for lunch and gave us copious amounts of wine, Pastis and Cognac. They would also have preferred that we took a midday slumber in one of their bungalows. We had to decline gracefully and get back on the river.

The time had come to travel onwards to Senegal. Moussa and Peter followed us to make sure we got into a “sept place” (a shared taxi with 7 seats) heading for the Senegalese border. We had traveled in a lot of makeshift transportation in the course of the trip, but were surprised by the moving garbage pile that showed up. The insides had been ravaged completely and only the skeleton of the car remained. The car broke down on two separate occasions. All the menfolk (including Chris) got out and began pushing whilst the driver sat on the hood – pumping gas manually into the engine. We were overjoyed at not having to open our wallets at the border. They dropped us off in a dusty Senegalese border town. We had to argue for a bit, wait a few hours and we were on our way to Tambacounda.


Translation by Sofie Flakk Slinning and Christopher Lindberg Brekke.

 


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