Going home

After a full year working, I have decided to take a few days off to rest. I was feeling a burnout coming, not only because of work but also because I have decided to become more social and attend a few events. My Grandpa's anniversary was coming up. He passed away four years ago in March. Every year, my family in Gambia do a little ceremony to commemorate. They invite Imams to recite the Coran and we give away some food and drinks.

This year I decided to attend. I took the bus with my Dad to go spend a week in The Gambia.

The famous Arch

The Gambia is like a second home to me. I have been going there nearly every year since I turned 6. My grandfather lived there with half of our family. Every Summer we would all go and stay in my Grandfather's compound for one week to 10 days. Sometimes my cousins from Senegal would join us and the house would be full. When I became a teenager, I would go for one month. It was great that my Aunt, the last child of my Grandfather, was the same age as me. I had a companion who would show me around town and introduce me to the Gambian way of life.

I have to admit that it has been a while since I came home. The last time I was there it was back in 2005. Things have changed since then, not only for me but for the entire country. For one, The Gambia got rid of its dictator, a man who made numerous people, my family included, suffer for 22 years. The country is finding a new sense of freedom and it is scary and exhilarating at the same time.

What I like the most about Gambia, is that time seems to be slow. I am sure it is because I only go there on vacations. But people do not seem stressed or pressed. They seem to be easy going. Whenever I go, I can relax and go with the flow. This time, I woke up late, ate breakfast at 11 AM, visited family, ate lunch at 3 PM, took a nap, read a book or went shopping, ate diner at 7PM, watched some TV and went to bed. I have not been that relaxed in a long time.

Gambians like to treat guest well and they do it by pushing food down your throat. The breakfast is a very serious affair. We would have either sweet bread, Tapalapa which is another soft bread and the normal french bread as options. For the main course, we would heat the left over dinner : fried chicken, fried fish or my personal favorite: oysters in tomato sauce. Finally my Dad would by Akara- which are beignets made of beans flower- from down the street. I could either eat one thing or the other but the rest of my family will eat everything lathered with butter or mayo and drink coffee or tea. I was so afraid of getting fat after spending two days there. For lunch, my Grandmother would always ask me what I wanted to eat. And I always ask for my favorite Gambian food: Mbahal Guerte wich is rice made with peanut flour, Thiou Kong wich is tomato stew with smoked catfish. Delicious.

Mbahalou Guerte

It was also great to visit family. My faher had family on both sides living there because he was born there. So we got to see some of them. People were always charming, offering us food or gifts. I got to listen to old stories of my grandparents or their friends. At home I spent some quality time with my other Aunt, whom I realized I share the same traits character wise. It was a shock to me because growing up, I was afraid to approach her for she was so bossy. Maybe I am opening up to her more now that I am older. Anyway she was a blast, always making me laugh.  We got to cook together two times, one for the memorial ceremony of My Grandfather.

My Grandma and Aunty serving the lunch for the anniversary

For the memorial, we invited family and Neighbors. Imams recited the Coran at first, then we distributed gift bags filled with cookies, juice, water, mint and cola nut. Then for those who stayed behind we served a nice lunch of rice and meat. I also went to visit my Grandfather's grave with my Dad.

My Grandfather's grave
 During my stay, I also got the chance to connect to another Aunty, daughter of my Father's uncle. We only connected on social media for I have never met her before. This time we saw each other and she took me out twice, once to Q City which a newly open leisure center with parks, swimming pool and cinema, and another to an Italian restaurant. She is funny and loving life. I liked her energy.

With my "Aunty" Assy
The only sad moment of my trip was when we went to see our old house. My Grandfather had another house when we were growing up. We we would stay there whenever we went on vacations. It was big with the main house (living room, diner room, four large bedrooms, a huge bathroom) two smaller houses for my Grandfather and his youngest son (complete with living rooms, bedroom and adjacent bathroom), the kitchen, and a huge garden with many fruits trees, a vegetable garden and a well. It was a pleasure staying in that house for we had all the space we needed to have fun as kids. We barely went outside the house. Unfortunately my Grandfather had to sell the house to get funds to help my uncle immigrate to England. My Uncle was in the police before Gambia became under the rule of Yahya Jammeh. In fact, the former president used to work under my uncle. When he succeeded his coup, he jailed my uncle for years. When he finally released him, my Grandfather fearing for the life of his son, sold his house and gave him the money for him to immigrate to the UK. He has been living there with his family in exile ever since. He finally set foot back in Gambia last year after the departure of Yahya Jammeh. To see the house again being divided into two houses and in lesser state that what it used to be, broke my heart. It was my childhood home and I was this close to cry.

I grew frustrated from time to time because there was no electricity. We could stay an entire day or an entire night without light. It meant that we could not watch TV or charge our phones. There was also lack of running water. My Grandmother sometimes had to wake up at 4 AM to fill her tanks with running water. To top it all, I wanted to stay conncected so I bought mobile credits with a local company. Even though I got good internet speed, the cost were staggering compared to Senegal.

Finally, I managed to go crazy during my Holiday, buying fabric at the market like it was candy. I went looking for tie dyed fabric that I absolutely love. And since there was a tailor right across the street who was cheap, I ended up making three dresses, one skirt and one skirt and peplum top ensemble in less than a week. I am happy I did not stay longer for I would have been ruined. I also enjoyed shopping at local stores for most of them are Indian owned, which means they have goodies from India. I bought some spices that I used back when I was living in India, but also some crackers the kids used to enjoy.

Found this gem my kids use to binge eat while we were living in India 
I cannot wait to go back to the Gambia because there is so much more I want to see and do. It would be great if I manage to take the kids and my best friend for they would love it as well. God willing, it will happen.


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