Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Flying solo.

As I've been in the Gambia for several months this time, I really felt it was time I learnt to do a few things independently, rather than relying on others to help. So I took my courage in my hands, and made a start.

Firstly, I thought I would tackle the public transport, and take a trip to Serrekunda on my own. Serrekunda is the biggest urban area in the Gambia, and very busy and crowded. I wanted to get some cash (there are very few ATMs here), and also get some supplies which you can't get elsewhere. This meant I had to take a gelli-gelli.

Gelli-gellis are basically minibuses, which operate as a bus service, but they are quite an experience! Seats are laid out across them, but it's not uncommon to have five people on a seat, and sometimes the apprentice (the young lad who collects the fares), crouches on the floor or hangs on outside. There is no timetable or bus stop – the gelli-gelli goes when it's full, and you just have to know where to wait, (although the towns have large 'garages' where all the gelli-gellis start and end their journeys).

Thanks to Sarah for the photo!

To get to Serrekunda I would have to walk to Gunjur (about 30 minutes walk), unless I was lucky enough to have a gelli-gelli from Kartong pass me on the way, which is rare as few people travel that far down. Then I needed to travel to Brikama, walk through the market, and then catch another gelli-gelli to Serrakunda. To get home I had to do things in reverse (although Lamin did agree to come and pick me up in Gunjur, as it's a long walk back in the heat of the day).

I was quite nervous about getting the gelli-gelli from Brikama to Serrekunda, partly because there was no bus stop, and also because the only way you know where the gelli-gelli is going is to listen out for the apprentices shouting. Lamin was completely baffled by this! As he said, it's much easier than the London Underground, and I have no problems negotiating that(!).

So off I went. I have been on the gelli-gelli to Brikama with Saffie a few times, so that part was quite easy, and I walked through the market to get the second one, trying to ignore all the lads who were asking if the 'toubab' (white person), needed a guide, or if I wanted a taxi. I was also determined to manage everything in Mandinka, so I managed to refuse politely, and finally jumped onto a gelli-gelli heading for Serrekunda. The apprentice put me in the front seat, and we set off. The gelli-gellis are often decorated by their drivers, and this one was no exception. There was green and white tinsel draped across the front, and two carefully placed coke cans on the dashboard, with tinsel attached (even though it was a while since Christmas). There were pictures of Bob Marley (a big hero here), and naturally the windscreen was broken. It's a point of honour that apart from my wedding car and our own, I have never been in a vehicle here without a broken windscreen! In fact, people often make a feature of the cracks, and seal them up with holographic parcel tape! The radio was playing on the way, with a rather bizarre mix of Whitney Houston, Rihanna, and a very jazzed-up version of the old Matt Redman song 'I'm Trading my Sorrows”.

The driver kindly told me where to get off, and I managed to get cash and do my shopping almost entirely in Mandinka, so I felt quite proud of myself. I even managed to find my way back again, changing gelli-gellis without a problem, and meeting Lamin safely back in Gunjur.

Since then I have gone to Brikama regularly, and I'm gradually learning to shop in the market in Mandinka, and have also made friends with the girls who sell bread. This is my treat when I go to Brikama, as I need to leave early before it gets too hot for walking, so I get breakfast from the street traders – french bread filled with 'nyebe' (beans), and 'sosso' – fish balls in a spicy sauce; it's absolutely delicious! I am gradually finding my way around the market (which is an experience in itself!), and learning what prices should be and bargaining for a good deal. I am even greeted by the mechanics who work in a garage near where I get the gelli-gelli home, and the girls who sell water and 'ices'. I usually buy myself an 'ice' to have on the way back, because it's fairly hot by then. This is made from 'juice', which is actually a powdered concoction to which water has added – I doubt if fruit has been anywhere near it, and it probably contains enough food colouring to make me glow in the dark, but it's then sealed in small plastic bags and frozen. The young girls put it on trays and carry them round on their heads to sell for about 10p.

It certainly feels nice being able to do things independently, although I still haven't tackled driving here yet, so maybe that's my next challenge!

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