I arrived at the international airport in Banjul with my cousin 48 hrs ago, with no plan, hotel booking or local person to greet us. Now I’m sitting under a cloudy night sky in 33 degrees C and 70% humidity watching fireflies fly over us. I’m 2 shades darker and have probably drank 4L of bottled water since I arrived, and have made many local friends and plans since then.
Our first night started late, landing at 10:30, and driving around for half an hour with our new taxi driver friend looking for a hotel to call home. We ended in at Babula’s in Senegambia, and the guard took us out to town for fried fish and local beer, Juls. The next day we walked 5 minutes to paradise, sitting on a sandy beach with straw umbrellas and snoozing in and out of our sunbathe. I found a horse to gallop on the receding tide only a few hours later, a tall skinny stallion that I rode barefoot on the sand.
We are now at our couchsurfer host, Hamza, whose idol is Barack Obama and his favorite artist is Celine Dion. He lives in a suburb area, where the dirt roads still show the tolls of a wet rainy season, and all the little kids follow us screaming ‘tubab’ (white person) when we walk through the neighborhood.
Today Hamza and his friend Youssef showed us around a few markets, including the biggest one in Gambia at Serrekunda. The smell of hot fish, rotting fruits and car exhaust didn’t make me particularly hungry, but the market made me feel happy and alive. On the way home we watched a local soccer game, on their half-sand half-turf field, and Villi paid the entrance (about 15 cents) for 20 children waiting by the gate on our way in.
Gambia is called the smiling coast of Africa, and I totally understand why now. Everyone here is incredibly friendly, greets is with ‘tabab’ of ‘hello’ or sometimes ‘how are you?’, and often offers their hand in a gentle shake. People are black as night, barely breaking a sweat in the noon sun, and walk so slowly as if they have nowhere to go. The women and children laze on little mats on the ground, cuddling and breast feeding as if they have no other place to be, and I’m starting to feel as if I have nowhere better to go either.