I remember being pregnant with my last child (3rd) and thinking how this move would affect him/her. My two daughters who were born in america and were 3 & 5 years old had tasted what being in this country was about. Its not something you think about growing up, because you are where you are. It was late 2005 and I was already in the first phase of moving to The Gambia. My house was unfinished and I wanted to be there so that when it was finished, my family and I could move in. How this would affect my then unborn, I wasn’t sure, but I was sure that i wanted them all to have a different approach and understanding about life and who they were as Black citizens of the world, not just america.
When my son was born, it was clear to me, that moving to the Gambia was best for him. I did not want america to have him, have his mind or body. I wanted him to be free of the unfortunate shackles of being a Black male in this society. In June of 2006, my infant son was 6 months old, when we left the US and moved to The Gambia. He couldn’t speak a word, but his eyes and ability to adapt was amazing. By 9 months he was walking and by 11 months he was speaking small bits of english and understanding Wolof. My daughters also had made the transition fairly smoothly also, and had picked up on the Wolof language enough to help translate and be an interpreter for me. It was by far a high achievement, hence no one in my family on my mother’s or father’s side spoke no other language other than english. A default tongue that has been with us since our enslavement in american shores. To know that my children broke the cycle and paradigm by not just speaking another language, but speaking a mother tongue of their heritage was tremendous. That in and of itself is liberating. Raising them in the Gambia was like seeing a new world for them to be a part of, a world that I wanted them to participate in, an Afrikan world of the 21st century that had new opportunities, but with old traditions and modern updates to them.
For The Gambia today remains a place steeped in African traditions, mysticism, behavior, motifs and cultural norms. For example, all children when greeting adults, give courtesy, shake hands and there is a level of respect that is given and shared. Children play and run almost freely, with no fear of ‘where are they’ or limitations on where they can go outside. The usual fears of them being outside without direct supervision were melted away, hence everyone on the entire 2 block radius knew them. There was no one that was really a ‘stranger’ in the sense that children were deemed to fear.
Afrikan children have an open door policy to visit friends and neighbors and to play… a simple rule that they all seem to follow without any regard. Sure there is some watching tv, but most children spend most of the day outside, not boxed in the house playing video games. That activity is usually for the night, but even in the night Gambians are outside, and socializing is a continual pattern after parents get home from work. I loved having this access for them, as they grew, and them gravitating to the cultural norms, the Afrikan dress, the prayer times of Salat, hence Gambia is a mostly Muslim country. The food and the way it is cooked, the sharing of food in one bowl that is the traditional way of eating. These norms shaped them, and opened them I believe beyond any negative stereotype they could have ever heard or be conditioned about Africa. Because they were living in this tiny country on the continent, they were just pebbles on a large beach on this glorious continent. Not marginalized, not having to feel any sense of racial inadequacies or any idea of what racism is. They were able to be a part of a majority, wherever they went they saw reflections of themselves from the high to the low in all spectrums of society.
By the time my house was finished it was time for me to head back to america to earn money to support my family. Like so many African migrants who go to europe or america to achieve this end, I truly understood the immigrant experience, for I too felt like that same migrant, and I understand why they go. Because often African money, in this case the Gambian Dalasi, is not enough to suffice when your needs are in dollars or euros…
The many business ventures I had embarked upon had not panned out, and thus I had to return, I left my children in their new home, that was all theirs and they remained in the Gambia for 7 years. I had returned on vacation stints and stayed for 3 weeks or 1 month at a time, but each time I was amazed at their growth and fluency of Gambian culture and language. My son had become a fluent Wolof speaker and was picking up Mandika, my daughters were also fluent, and were well entrenched in the Gambian lifestyle. Being american didn’t have any meaning to them, and at a point they became inquisitive about this place because it was mysterious as to why many people talked about it being so great, none of which they remembered. My kids went to a Gambian school called The Swallow which was run by a German woman with donations from Belgium and Europe that gave it a unique international edge. Most of the children were Gambian, and they were taught the varieties of Gambian culture, history pre european arrival up to modern day.
When I had to leave, I knew they were ok, because I was leaving them in the arms of Mama Afrika, and God Almighty who would care for them in my absence. Their father, a Gambian, kept them safe while I went back to america to work. But my heart would not be happy until I knew I could reunite with my family for good and remain in The Gambia, in my home. That would happen in 2012 which I finally decided to leave and return to Africa and stay. With all good intentions, I have had to leave again, but this time, I brought my children with me back to america, and now they are re-learning the ways here, but with a much more different value system. Having raised 21st century Afrikans, I pray their experience of living in Gambia will give them a more enlightened approach to being in america, and to know they have roots and they are always welcome to return to them when they choose.