Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The end

It's unreal to consider that this is my last day here in Gambia. Tomorrow we start our day-long journey to Dakar, and eventually back to the US. Thinking back over the last 7 weeks it's hard for me to grasp everything that happened. Just looking back through pictures I've taken I couldn't believe how much I had already forgotten. Somehow two months turned into two weeks. I was expecting that a wave of inspiration would hit me today and provide some sort of meaning to everything that happened here. I figured that today everything would become clear. No such luck.

Last week we spent a few days traveling up river to a safari camp as part of our allotted vacation time. The camp represented everything I don't like about being here in Gambia. The camp was designed for tourists and everything about it just felt fake. It was a big compound with running water, nice rooms, and a fully stocked bar, all surrounded by the reality of African living. The price of a dinner at the camp restaurant could have supported a family outside the compound walls for a week. I don't mean for this be a critique on the tourism industry, but the entire trip made me feel guilty. It got to the point where I would rather walk into the surrounding village and eat food from the local shops than stay in the camp. To make everything worse, when we were settling our bill the management decided that we didn't spend enough money on their buffets or guided tours so they charged us per person instead of per room. There was nothing we could do except pay twice as much and leave bitter. The problem wasn't dropping the money, the problem was that these people just saw us as whites with money. What we were doing in the country was absolutely meaningless. On the ride back home I was ready to leave, it was easily the lowest point of the entire trip.

When we arrived back home in Jambanjelly I was reminded why I'm so glad I came here.
Seeing our friends in the village and realizing that there was no questionable motives behind their kindness was incredibly relieving. It reminded me what I liked so much about this village. The generosity and sincerity of our friends here is impressive. One of our good friends here, Mustafa, is a perfect example. He's a mason in the village and was hired to help with all the masonry work at the library. Halfway through our time here the village ran out of the funds used to pay him. We didn't even know this until last week because he just kept showing up. He can't even afford a ma tress and yet he's willing to work everyday with us for nothing. He rolls up at 8 every morning with his boom box and car battery in the wheelbarrow bumping beats, even if he's not getting paid. On top of this, he spends all his free time making shirts and crafts for all of us, just as random gifts. Seeing people like 'Stafa makes me realize how much I'm going to miss Gambia.

When I showed up here I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was hoping to find out what life was really like here, to discover what Africa is. To say the least I was incredibly naive in these goals. What I've learned over the past two months is that two months is not nearly enough time. I'm leaving with more questions than I arrived with. Yet,despite my lack of understanding, I will still leave with an experience, and an incredible one at that. Maybe all of these pieces won't click together until ten years from now, but at least I have the pieces, and in the mean time I'll still have the memories of the African biking journeys, the stray animals we took in, and all the amazing people we met.

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