I spent most of my 2013 living in The Gambia, West Africa. It was a tumultuous year. A year that I experienced theft directly in my home while my family and I slept, a year that found me unable to discern whether it was worth it to continue being in the country when I had invested so much of my time, effort and money. But all wasn’t sad, being in Gambia for that length of time, and out of the american psyche, out of the american racist machine that constantly parades its racial inequities as diet, was indeed very healthy for me. My mind is always refreshed to my memories of seeing all Black people everywhere, and listening to the pulsating riddems and sounds cascading in the African air. My observations as an African American repatriate in The Gambia is mostly positive, because I found that despite all the things the media, the news, and even the political situation in the country, Gambians are proud and remain a beautiful people. They are not defined by these things, not even their President. It is really the Gambian people who make him look good. The very essence of Tendaba, a natural hospitality that Gambians have is in all spheres of life. While the individualistic norms of western culture are pervasive and interfering in the qualitative natural culture of Gambians, it has not totally impeded it yet.
I learned in 2013 how to have neighbors, how to be and live in a community, a real community. To me a community is living in a place where everybody knows your name, they know your kids, and vice versa. You eat at each other houses, you share intimate stories, you shop and borrow all in the same place. This was a community for me. In my community in The Gambia, for many of us even shared the same water tap to fetch from, when the rains came we helped clear the roads or put bricks in for easier passage, we shared certain vegetables and fruits from each others gardens, we shared garden tools even to plant before the rainy season. There was an intricate daily interaction without becoming intrusive or annoying, it was something you expected. I looked forward to drinking attaya with my neighbors, a green tea that is cooked on open coals, like most things. I learned how to cook all the Gambian dishes from my neighbor Adama, who was so dutiful and patient with me, I found myself staring at her natural beauty and calmness of her daily routine of going to the market and cooking. She was a deep inspiration for me, for she was at least ten years younger than I, and yet she was well rounded and mature, a mother of 5 and pregnant with her 6th. We’d sit in her yard under her cool mango tree and cook. Always intrigued by it all, I often felt like I was in a world that was not in this world, this fast paced dog-eat-dog world. But living in Gambia reminded you, you were in a country that is a work in progress. I have solar, but no batteries so I didn’t have light, so I had to know how to survive without it, I had a borehole but no generator, so I didn’t have running water, and I needed to know how to fetch buckets and carry them on my head. It wasn’t the kind of work I had hoped to be doing in Gambia, but it was the work that made me a more stronger woman, a person with more character.
I had hoped to be over there filming and taking pictures of the extraordinary and ordinary culture and life of the Gambian people, because I find Gambia to be all the things that we know not. I had taken many exquisite pictures and film until that fateful day a thief came in my home and stole all of my equipment underneath my nose, my phone and tablet. It was heart breaking, and i was deeply deeply saddened, as I had experienced having my shit stolen in Gambia many times before, but this was the first, I think, that had impacted me the most because all my images and pictures was telling the story of a place that was beyond any beauty i had ever come in touch with. I’ve been taking pictures in the Gambia for years, but due to the length of my stay, I had captured a real quality this time.
I ended up returning to the US to regroup, and to try and recapture the moments that were snatched from me. But some things pictures can’t tell, the gentle warm breeze in the night, the consoling songs and the familiar smells of food cooking on charcoal somewhere. There are many things pictures cannot tell, but I was determined to capture what I could. In 2013, I had lived like an average Gambian, without any special treatment and was afforded a certain richness I know I’ll never receive in America. Living like this will humble you, and make you grateful for the things that america does have to offer, things that most of us just simply take for granted, but american life has always numbed me to the dull. In Gambia, even without light, people are humane, and understand this is the way it is, they understand you have to charge your phone if they have light and you don’t. They understand if you want cold water if they have it and you don’t. I had to learn the challenge of not having. In america, you wouldn’t get that kind of help if you don’t have, that’s why people have to depend on the government so much because the essence of human connection has disappeared. Despite that, I’m back in america, to attain my hustle again, earn my money so I can go back to the Gambia, and do it all over again. Learn.