Today we thought we would kick off our Gambian features, and cover a little background information about our beloved Gambia, the smiling coast of West Africa!
As my (Isatou’s) home country, and where Paul and I first met through Voluntary Services Overseas nearly 10 years ago, it’s a country close to both of our hearts.
With idyllic peaceful beaches, all year round sun, colourful fishing boats coming in from the sea, a central meandering river with mangroves and dugout canoes, traditional arts and crafts, performing masquerades, the national sport of wrestling, traditional drums, ancient Baobab trees and wise village elders, nature reserves and eco-lodges, it’s no surprise it has a thriving tourist sector.
Over the course of these blogs we hope to cover a closer, more personal account of this beautiful country and the rural communities that we work with. An account that doesn’t always get seen from the confides of the hotels on the coast.
First off, here’s the basics…
Did you know it is the smallest country on the mainland continent of Africa?
The country is surrounded by Senegal, as an enclave, and borders the Atlantic Ocean from the west. With a geographical size equivalent to Yorkshire and a population of around 2 million people it’s a country of close community, where everyone seems to know everyone. Smile and the whole world smiles with you!
The main West African tribes of Mandinka, Wolof, Jola, Serahule and Fula are prominent and while the French language seeps across the border from Senegal, as a British ex-colony English is the official language. Despite the countries challenges, poverty levels, limited industry or ‘mineral wealth’, the country is nicknamed “The Smiling Coast of Africa” for good reason! It’s friendly, peaceful and welcoming people are known for their smiling hospitality. The tourism on the coast is popular among Europe’s winter season, but venture into the rural areas and you will be invited into the homes and lives of beautiful welcoming communities. As part of a darker side to its history, the country is also famous for being featured by Alex Haley’s 1976 novel and proceeding film series ‘ROOTS’ as the home country of Kunta Kinte before he was captured and taken as a slave.
Popular among ‘twitchers’ for over 550 native bird species and a beautiful variety of rare birds (bat hawk, crowned eagle, red kite, yellow billed stork to name a few) that can be found among mangrove swamps, sprawling grasslands, river inlets, beaches and forests. With an absent big 5 the country does have hippo’s and crocodiles in certain parts of the river, with leopards, wild dogs and hyena known to roam across rural areas of the country. Aadvarks, monitor lizards, wathogs, vultures, vervet monkeys, red patas, red colobus monkeys, bush babies, baboons and chimpanzees are also highlights to be found. It has the oldest Chimpanzee sanctuary in the world. Spend a little more time in rural areas and you will find a culture very closely connection to nature. You can almost hear a Raffiki chorus of the ‘circle of life’.
The country celebrates religious freedoms and recently re-entered into the commonwealth following a peaceful democratic change of government. Paul’s ex boss as a minister in Education brought the request to formally re-enter the commonwealth, during a visit that we hosted in Glasgow early in the year.
As an ex British colony, it is said that country border follows the outline of The River Gambia deliberately as the distance that British navel ships could cover with their cannons.
The Gambian flag
Blue – The River which runs through the heart of the country and gives the country its name.
Red – The African Sun, with the country close to the Equator and dry savanna.
Green –The agriculture and forests that the Gambian people cherish and rely on.
White – Peace and Unity (Words still prominent in the national anthem)
And on that point, here’s the national anthem….
“We strive and work and pray, That all may live in unity, freedom and peace each day. Let justice guide our actions towards the common good, And join our diverse peoples to prove man’s brotherhood. We pledge our firm allegiance, Our promise we renew; Keep us, a great God of nations, To The Gambia ever true.”
Now you know the basics!
Tune in next time for 10 traditional must see things in The Gambia, and look out for our upcoming posts on community development projects ahead of our return visit later this year.
Have you been to The Gambia? Would you like to go? We’d love to hear from you
Comment below or message firstname.lastname@example.org / @drinkbaotic on social media.
Isaotu & Paul