(Part of the Gambia 2018 Tour Series) Sustainable development.
Travelling back to the Gambia is always emotional. I have said it is in many ways like a pilgrimage for me in how it re connects me to humanity, people, communities, my inner self as well as the environment and planet at large. Despite an often hectic schedule it also somehow forces me to slow down, reflect and find the goodness in others and the world around me. It’s often a challenging as well as a happy emotional journey, but it is always a life enriching experience. That’s partially down to the culture, but most certainly also down to the people
The Smiling Coast of Africa
It’s through people that we find friendship, empathy, common understanding and interest. It’s also through people we find happiness, memories, laughter and joy and its often through people that we find purpose.
Baotic’s mission itself is to empower and inspire healthy communities around the world, and this is very much focused on people.
I often struggle knowing how best to communicate this experience. During this particular trip, I have noticed the best way I have been able to summarise a response to the question from back home ‘How is the Gambia?’ has been to say ‘Heart warming and heart breaking in equal measures’. So I reflected on some of the experiences that have bought that feeling to the surface. Let me try to explain a little, through a few small examples.
Arriving back in The Gambia is one thing. Arriving back in the village of Mansajang is another. So many emotional experiences, memories and relationships living in a close knit community over the years, and to return after having been away for a period of time means there is a lot of catching up to do.
Visiting the family of Susso kunda in Mansajang village, I was met with warm welcomes. They are one of many families that I came very close to since way back in 2008, and our lives became very connected through village life. The traditional and cultural greetings flowed…
“England, Sumoo Lai” – How is the family there in England?
“Eii Baama lai?” – Where is your mother? (how is your mother?)
“Eii Faama Lai?” – Where is your father? (how is your father?)
“Kori Ebeh Kaira Konoh” – I hope they are fine?
“Eii Kot toll nir eii dokoll lai?” – How is your brother and sister / Siblings?
“Korii aal nata kaiyera Konoh” – hope you’ve come in peace?
“Doo kuo beh neya di” – How is the work?
“Heey Al naa ta!?” – Hey, so you are here / so you have came?
“Aah kaitaa faamooti!” – Its been a while.
As more and more members of the family came out of their houses to greet me. It was delightful to see a few of the women that are part of the Mansajang Women’s garden and through some of my own questions Hows the family, ‘How is the work? How is the garden?’ I got an instantly happy and positive response of how good it has been, how it has helped. How strong the last harvest was. How there are challenges and its not easy but how “everyone is enjoying”.
I use to enjoy sitting out under the cool evening air with the women killyans (street vendors) outside their compound as its a busy and vibrant space central to village life. Now one daughter’s married and they have been able to build a bitiko (street shop) starting a little business and providing a new place for different killyans to sell their food. Stopping by one evening to try my usual cassava and beans I found a slightly new recipe, which also included chopped tomatoes and cucumber from the Mansajang women’s garden. A healthier twist! Delightful. Old stories and memories were shared, as we sat laughing at some of the good old times. They remembered that I was always fascinated by the night sky, drifting off into the stars. They joked about the time I made 50 people from local families screech and run for their life as I had picked up a frog, whilst we all sat watching a movie on TV out under the night sky! Another reminded me of the time we went to fetch medicine from the bush for an elder, the computer classes we use to run, or the time a fierce sand storm hit us whilst out farming. The time we repaired the neighbors straw roof during rainy season. So many memories fresh in my head, and so many I had almost forgotten, it was refreshing to remember the rich experiences that have bonded our friendships.
As well as coaching a boys Westside football team for a year, I use to help out at football training for the Mansajang village women’s team, a great opportunity for some of the younger women to bond, be empowered to confront, share and discuss women’s issues, be healthy, and have time away from other aspects of their hardworking lives. I was happy to find that the team was still going strong and Susso Kunda was still playing. Amie had stopped but had picked up running instead and had formed an informal group of girls that would run some early mornings. Another daughter, Muma, was married, had found employment working at the local hospital and had just welcomed a healthy new baby boy. In fact the extended family had a few new playful children running around my feet and throwing high fives at the tubabo (whiteman) before running away in laughter.
There were rekindled bonds, friendship, progress, new life, healthier food, fond Memories, development, hopes and dreams.
All heart warming.
A little deeper into the conversation, I found the elder mother of the compound sick and lying on a straw mat to one side of the compound. She recognised me and gave out a greeting, painful like a moan. I went over and greeted and I sat there and chatted with her for a while but it was deeply sad to see that she could barely rise and her speech was slow and often struggling. Soon after I was informed that one of the father’s, Lamin, my tomma (Gambian namesake) had passed away in February earlier that year. I use to sit out with Lamin and play damm (drafts) in the evening. He had been the one to lend me land when I started my own corn farm with the help of the village in 2008. which further built my love for farming (and appreciation for how difficult, taxing, labour intensive, and fundamentally at risk to the elements subsistence farming truly is… a few weeks of draught meant our corn sadly died out that year. All our efforts came to nothing).
On one return visit around 2010, I found Lamin as he had been bitten by a snake on that same piece of land. He had to take his farming knife and cut into his own hand to try to bleed out the venom to save his life. Despite a wound he recovered well. Unrelated, during my last visit years later in 2016 he had suffered a stroke, found it difficult to walk and speak and was forced to rest in the shade in the compound for large parts of the day. Lamin’s passing was very sad for me. He had provided great companionship and support over the years. He was a wonderful member of the community. Sadly ill health, sickness and death was far too common.
A baby snake found in the house, raises other questions…. where on earth is its mother!?!?
Almost every compound I visited had serious health issues. So many compounds had at least one person almost crippled in one leg from illhealth and swelling, no real official diagnosis possible from the local health centres and what we can only imagine is partly down to a labour intensive life and poor nutrition (high salt/sugar oil diets and high blood and diabetes being far too common).
Further chatting to the women and the children in the compound I found another young Lamin of 3 years old who 6 months ago had suddenly passed out leaving him blind and paralysed from the waist down. Recently his sight had returned, but his mind was still slow to respond and his legs still did not function. Through conversation it was clear he needed rehabilitation, and exercise to build up his legs, but the hospital could not offer more than that, with no support or even a mobility walker around to help him. Access to support was limited. I contemplated how hard the environment is for anyone to grow up in, even without having the disability of your legs.
All seriously heart breaking.
Access to support
Little Lamin was someone that I lost some sleep over during the following days. Just something as small as a walker/mobile might help to totally change this whole boy’s life, and allow him to grow back the strength to walk and participate in society as normal. During one return to kombo (the coast) I searched tirelessly for something that can support, but had to settle on an imported plastic baby walker from China (the strongest and highest I could find) and I prayed it might help. Delivering it and building it in front of the family bought me hope. Their happiness and thankfulness for this tiny bit of support was typically overwhelming.
So we continued to travel, and meet and greet numerous communities with emotional reunions and new experiences throughout our trip. This was just one small anecdote I can share from this trip alone that builds on our experience to better understand the burning platform of ill-health. It motivates ourselves that the bold (and often ambitious) ideas that we have can continue to help develop opportunity to have an impact. Hopefully to contribute to solving some of these issues and improving the pain, the struggle and the suffering, whilst improving the quality of life.
Many mixed memories, but all heart-warming and heart breaking in equal measures.
Our journey continued. Find out more in our next blog: Part 4: Invited to The United Nations, World Food Program (coming soon) Follow the full blog summary list as we publish, or on social media for updates: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Being deeply connected to people and communities that you serve can be a blessing, and it can also be an emotional journey, but it certainly motivates you towards the crazy vision to build something that can have a positive impact!
Thanks, in many ways, for sharing that vision also. Thanks for reading!
Stay Healthy, Happy and Helpful!
Paul & Isatou
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