My Wollof is still terrible but I intend to keep having some more lessons. They cost 60 dalasi for an hour and half which is really cheap (about £1.60) but I have to remember that I have to live on £4.50 per day…
The culture lessons/sessions have also been really useful. At risk of simply being sensationalist I’ll fill you in on some of the more interesting ‘issues’:
- HIV/AIDS - Official stats show that compared with many African countries, the incident of HIV 1 and 2 are low. About 6% of the population are tested positive. However there are some concerns that the real figures are higher and they are definitely increasing. But most worrying is that the President of the Gambian has claimed that he has developed an herbal cure for AIDS! Therefore getting the message to many Gambians about preventing the spread and then treating the disease is incredibly difficult. The President also tends to get rid of anyone that refutes his claims and so there is almost nobody prepared to go against what he is saying.
- FGM and Female Circumcision – Is very widely practiced in the Gambia. Up to 85% of girls are circumcised. Depending who you talk to, the seriousness of the procedure varies from a 'tiny nick' to complete female genitalia mutilation (causing serious medical problems/complications). However you look at it, I find it hard to accept that this is carried out on young girls and even babies, but it is part traditional practice for almost all the tribes.
- Traditional Beliefs – I simply couldn’t list them all but suffice to say that there are many! In particular, people in the rural areas tend to strongly practice and defend the beliefs. Often western medicine is rejected in favour of herbal remedies and/or prayer. In addition there are a huge number of practices that I have tried to memorise so that I don’t offend people (e.g. Don’t take picture of anyone pregnant or even mention the fact they are pregnant, don’t ever show your legs from the knees up - no problem flashing breasts though!, don’t offer to shake a mans hand until he offers his, never forget to greet people numerous times even when just passing in the street…..)
Family – Is really,really important in The Gambian. I have already been given so much sympathy that I am still baron (no children) at 35! It is difficult to get to grips with who is who in the Gambian extended family set up. Your Mums sisters are all called your Mum and your Dads brother are all called your Dad. I can’t remember the exact formula but a similar thing exists with cousins and they are referred to as sisters and brothers. In addition your other Aunts/Uncles play a huge role in your life and can even overrule your parents over certain issues (who you should marry for example? - Over to you Auntie Hills?) In many ways I think this is a great part of the Gambian culture. It means that even really poor people are looked after, and families really do count on each other.
Recently the Gambian government spent a huge amount of money on a brand new, modern old people’s home. It was a total waste of money as only a few non Gambians used it. No Gambians would let thier family go into a home, it simply doesn’t happen and they are looked after in the family compound/home.