“Psst.” Someone is trying to get my attention. “Psst, Brother, please.” The young man behind bars was looking at me and making gestures meant to communicate that he wants food. “Please, Brother, I give me something so that I can eat.”
There was a wonderful farewell dinner with WARC staff before returning to the hotel room to pack and rest for a full day of travel. By 8:30AM Sunday morning, the van was loaded and leaving Senegal. After a grueling 14 hours van ride through this semi-desert land, which also included a 30 minute ferry ride – van and all, we arrived to Paradise. That is, “Paradise Suite Hotels” located in the Greater Banjul area outside the capital of city in The Gambia.
“Gambia is like a tongue in the mouth of Senegal,” is the way that one Senegalese described it. “I wonder what Gambians would say about that,” someone retorted. Well, I wondered the same thing too. So I asked Mr. Michael Jusu, member of the History Department at the University of The Gambia, what he thought about Gambia being characterized by such a metaphor. He laughed and said, “Gambians don’t expect Senegalese to say anything nice about them.”
These two countries share the same language – Wolof is the majority native language spoken in both places – and many of the same people groups (e.g., Fula, Jola, Wolof, Mandinka and Serer). Of course, the two countries have very different colonial histories. Senegal was a former French colony and The Gambia was colonized by Britain. In fact, The Gambia was, according to Mr. Jusu, the very first British colony. The major difference for me, however, is that English is the official language of The Gambia.
This is a relatively small country with a population of 1.7 million. Like Senegal, Islam is the majority religion (90%) with Christianity a distant second (9%). The Gambia received its independence in 1964.
Our daily lectures occur at the University of The Gambia (UTG). The lecture topics have included: “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Gambian History” and “Education in The Gambia.” Established just 10 years ago, the UTG has a student enrollment of 1,500 with 95 faculty across 11 departments. There is even a medical school.
One of the highlights of the visit has been meeting students. They are ambitious and engaging young men and women – the faces of new Gambia – with promising futures. Indeed, UTG boasts a 100% employment rate for its graduates.
There is so much to learn and experience in The Gambia, but saying goodbye to Senegal was tough. As tough as not being able to respond to the “Psst” and pleads of the detainee being held at the border crossing between Senegal and The Gambia.
Welcome to The Gambia.
In photos: Top, Tim Lake and his traveling group have arrived in Gambia. Lower left, Tim with Dr. Saja Taal.