The travellers dilemma

The short week spent in The Gambia came to an impulsive end. It is a beautiful country and actually most of the people we gave the benefit of a doubt proved to be mostly helpful and resourceful. Banjul is one of the most neglected capitals I have seen, and through the stinky, pot holed, garbage ridden streets there was a lot of shouting, hissing and different ways of not making us feel welcome. Blessed we were, running into the city’s angel, a good hearted man with a clear mind and vision of wanting to make things better. No places to stay in the whole city, this man owned a few rooms currently occupied. But a good man don’t shrug his shoulders at lost souls – he immediately let us have his private room while he stayed other places during our visit. And people say Muslims are not a peaceful people. The city had not much to offer, except for this kind man, his stories and ideas to make Banjul a more communal place to live in. The sad history of this country as with so many other former colonies traces back hundreds of year and is still so present today. The slave trade, the hardships of colonization, the post independence period and neo colonialism have made people bland, flippant and their very crucial day to day living makes it hard to care for the future. When you have no social security, no back up from the government and no sense of what a society is supposed to be or do for you, people tend to care for little but their reality. A reality which is far more real than a western reality. Mind you, people of the west, we still have no idea how spoiled we are, how privileged we are and how much damage we have done – and are still doing. Good hearted people are born in the most difficult of conditions, and the greediest souls are born into richness. Unfortunately it is evident in many people here, they let the circumstances beat the goodness out of them. A traveller becomes a tourist – a “toubab” – becomes a bag of money – becomes a resource – becomes a need. Hence we wouldn’t be left alone. Kids, grown ups, men and women constantly asking for money, for sweets, for company, to look into their shop, buy something, eat something, give us something. Country side as well as in the capital as well as in the touristic sea side. I won’t buy the kids sweets no matter how many tourists before gave them the habit. This experience is so crucial. What we’ve seen so far is so complex, and any way I describe it will only make it sound negative. But to see those structures in the world, the structures of imbalance, of the contra points of rich and poor, the way people behave when they have too much or too little. That’s the education, that’s the difference between the traveller and the tourist. The Gambia is after all a functioning country, many people love it and there’s many people to love within it. Most taxis, most food stores and most hotel services are not trying to cheat us of our money, the fares are the same if you stick to local buses, and the food wares all have price tags on them. I would still hope that people coming here keep in mind the consequences of history, how there is a red line strumming through the last five hundred years that we, “the west” are blissfully ignorant of today, whilst here, it’s visible in every part of the culture. To be proud still, to appreciate freedom, to have and to share, or to seek and to hope. I expect all West Africa to give us it’s truth, the rest of the story we never heard. There’s no Ebola, no malaria, to internal war, no pickpockets, no aids and no kidnapping so far. The Gambia is hereby classified as safe. Now, ridden yourselves of prejudices. So far we haven’t seen any other traveller along the road.

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