The Gambia – the experience

When entering the Gambia you are immediately received by sign post commercials about the smiling coast, the relaxed vibe boasting the countries uniqueness amongst the to some extent troubled Western Africa. People themselves throw the slogans around like it’s more a part of the culture than should it have been made up by a copywriter at random tourist company. Experience, experience, the proper experience is hummed around you as bumsters and hustlers are throwing themselves at you, pretending to mean well. “There’s good and bad people here”, is a common phrase and always said implying that the person itself is, of course, the good kind. To our luck, arriving in the pitch night, police and security was beyond helpful and honest. Free pick up from our apartment complex took us to our two room, three beds, pool and garden, walled compound which quickly became our refuge. Out in the street, since it’s still off season, we are surprisingly popular in this very touristy area. Glad to already have gotten used to the attention from previous travels, used to ignoring and being quite bitchy we are safe and sound. Hustlers don’t have as much patience when there’s easier money to be made around the corner with a less bitch of a tourist. So far we’ve been taken well cared of by as many random people as have tried to cheat us – there is indeed good and bad people.

The Gambia is dirtier and the roads are in a worse condition than even in India, but the atmosphere is completely different. Religion is secondary, nobody really cares about who’s a Christian or a Muslim or if you’re Wolof or Mandinka. People are friends within The Gambia and that is quite nice to see. The people in the service business knows not to push us, while the boys on the street is firmly more pushy. It is evident that we’re not locals and we will never be treated as anything than exotic around here. Though women, men and kids are way, way prettier than most other white people, tourist enclaves like this reminds you of who’s world order it really is. Both the exclusive resorts and less pretentious habitats are owned by foreigners. The NGO’s massive influence have people speaking Swedish more here than in any other country outside of Sweden, and since the cheap flights go from Madrid and Barcelona directly it’s more common to hear a Hola than even a Hello. The area around the coast where we’ve been residing is surprisingly varied from place to place though. Half an hour south you’ll find the most intense local markets with stinky fish and half rotten fruits lying in pile after pile after pile as far as the eye can see. There nobody really cared about us, a random hello, but no stopping, no showing around, no further interest. While it’s here, in the areas with the most tourists that people hustle and push. We had a lovely afternoon in the art village of the late Eto Ndow where his nephew had us share some Ataya tea for hours while getting bit by mysterious white mosquitoes. He turned out to be a very pleasant acquaintance to have made and one of the brilliant examples of what travelling is for – the people you meet. As an artist one must be a little crazy. And a little crazy is good to let your guard down and share stories and jokes with people who just walks in to your garden unannounced. Imagine that happening in Sweden. “Hey stranger, can we just walk around your private, innermost, creative domains a while?” “Sure, would you like some tea?”

The quite different experience mostly evident to us is that a man or a male will never, possibly understand what it is to be a travelling female. Through all the countries I’ve been to, males always feel like they need to take care of me. There’s the advice always to get a cab (your life is worth more than two dollars!), carry your bag on your belly, never get drunk, never go out after dark, never go out alone, never never never do anything a guy would be perfectly safe to do. This time the advice comes from Scandinavian ex-pats, local service people, guide books and everybody who ever had an opinion on anything. Yes, I know I am easily a victim because of my gender. But 31 years and even more countries travelled I did manage to pick up a thing or two. I didn’t suddenly wake up unprepared in West Africa, stricken dumb with the bustling of life around me. Thank you, male population for your care and your protection. But wouldn’t it be better you stopped acting like ass holes so we wouldn’t need it? Gambia, Sweden, Italy, India, Thailand. There’s good and bad people everywhere, but that’s no reason to expect the worst.

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