Many of my dear friends and family have heard from a little birdie (my mother) that I will be leaving for Africa in, what is now, less than a month. However, Africa, the second largest continent in the world, is extremely vast and varying in climate, terrain, politics, religious tolerance, diet, technology, and so on and so forth. With that being said, I wanted to share a more specific explanation of where I will be living for the next 27 months of my life!
Welcome to The Gambia!
Although The Gambia is Africa’s smallest nation, it has a very big history and is densely populated. Normally, when I talk to people about The Gambia there is always a time in the conversation where Kunta Kinte and the topic of slave trade arises. Roots has informed many of that dark time in history and should be recognized. Some three million slaves are believed to have been taken from the region during that period. The French and the British made The Gambia their battleground for control of the slave trade and as a result of this, created the strange, ridged shape that the country is today. Eventually, by 1965 The Gambia gained independence from Britain and by 1970 former Prime Minister Dawda Jawara became the nation’s first president.
Fast forward to modern Gambia. On July 22, 1994, Dawada Jawara’s 30 year reign ended and the current president is now Yahya Jammeh. Talk about a little more than a four year presidential term…In more rural areas of The Gambia there are still traditional chiefs that retain certain preferences. To not completely snooze you with a lengthy history lesson, however, here are some current stats to catch you up:
President: Yahya Jammeh (1994)
Land area: 3,861 sq mi (10,000 sq km); total area: 4,363 sq mi (11,300 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 1,925,527 (growth rate: 2.23%); birth rate 31.75/1000; infant mortality rate: 65.74/1000; life expectancy: 64.36; 150 people per square kilometer
Capital (2014 est.): Banjul, 489,000
Monetary unit: Dalasi
Languages: English (official), Mandinka (Currently attempting to learn this language…key word ATTEMPTING) , Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars
Ethnicity/race: African 99% (Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Serahuli 9%, other 4%), non-African 1%
Religions: Islam 90%, Christian 8%, indigenous 2%
Literacy rate: 52% (2012 est.)
The environment that I will be living in will be mostly grassy flood plain and is a subtropical climate with distinct dry and rainy seasons. From November to mid-May there is uninterrupted dry weather, with temperatures as low as 16 °C (60.8 °F) in Banjul and surrounding areas. As a general country, The Gambia is one of the least developed countries in the world.
There are five major ethnic groups, a few minor ones, and a large number of foreigners that make up The Gambia’s population. The Mandinka make up about 40 percent, the Fula 19 percent, the Wolof 15 percent, the Jola 10 percent, and the Serahule 9 percent. Interestingly enough, much of status is determined by birth starting at the top of the social ladder as being decedents of traditional noble and warrior families, and working downward to farmers, traders and lower cast (blacksmiths, woodworkers, weavers, etc.). Around 80 percent of Gambians live in rural villages, and while urban migration, development projects, and woman modernization are bringing more and more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the extended family, as well as indigenous forms of dress and celebration, remain integral to parts of everyday life.
The Gambia is well known as ‘the smiling coast’ and from what I have been told, Gambians are among the friendliest people you could hope to meet and they certainly smile a lot. I am beyond excited to immerse myself into this new and unfamiliar culture. My hope is to have many opportunities to offer my western knowledge on health, learn endlessly, explore fearlessly, and integrate into a new and beautiful part of this world.