Week 4 - Up Country

4 days away to see the ‘real Gambia’. Between the volunteers, (and maybe the Gambians?) there is a bit of competition/debate about the experience of living in the Kombos verses living up country.
Certainly before I arrived, my idea of volunteering was more like the realities of rural living and not what I have found in the Kombos. Up-country people are economically much poorer, speak less English and have access to far fewer facilities. They are however, just as happy (happier?) and are able to live far more cheaply as there are simply aren’t the things to buy and no tourists to inflate prices! I’m now very happy that I have the relative luxury of the Kombos but would have also been content to settle up country where I suspect I may have become closer to the people and also learned the language more effectively.

I have had to remember that I’m here for the benefit of the Gambian people not really for myself and therefore it is inevitable that I would be based in Banjul/Kombos. The call for Business/HR advisors in rural Gambia is fairly limited! Although I might have enjoyed the experience, my skills would not have been used at all. Anyway, life will be easier for me on a practical level where I am. All that said, I have friends up country and I will certainly be going to stay with them regularly.

Our 3 days included a number of visits. Firstly to the local chief, (just as you might imagine, I felt as though I was in some kind of play/tv drama!). Then a traditional heeler who told my fortune (I’m apparently a very lucky and influential person and I ought to give white gifts to people as this will spread both my luck and influence?!) Finally to the local Islamic leader (The Imam).
We also met a local women’s group. They had set up this group almost as a self-help group for baron women. All are either infertile or have had at least 3 babies that have then all died. They have a number of dances, rituals and prayers to perform which they hope will help them to become pregnant and then have a healthy baby. It was brilliant to meet them. Not really for the dances etc (although they were good fun), but to see them just laughing, joking, messing about and hugging each other. It was so funny as I thought in many ways it was similar to when I get together with my friend or sisters! I really enjoyed that part of the trip.

I also taught a group of Gambians, Kenyans and Philippines how to play Yahtzee. I added a new rule that when you get Yahtzee you have to jump up and run around the table shouting Yahtzee at the top of your voice. It seemed to add to the overall excitement!! I intend to introduce ‘shut the box’ next month and by the end of my years stay we’ll have a large collection of games to play together!

My attempts to join in with the local dancing!!

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