Hey everyone! Sorry for the delay on blogging, but it’s taken me a few weeks to get back into a regular routine and to readjust to life in America. Two Fridays ago I said my tearful goodbyes to Musu, Mari and the many others that have touched my life and boarded a plane to Brussels, connecting to JFK and finally to Charleston. After recovering from jet lag and taking time to reconnect with my loved ones, I have had some time to reflect on my experiences in The Gambia, and I know that I have come away with much more than a research project.

While there were times when I was frustrated with some of the attention I was getting, exhausted from the inescapable heat and exasperated with the research process, I know that what I saw and what I lived have made me look at life through new eyes. The basic struggles of life in America seem so miniscule compared to some of the daily struggles that I witnessed Gambians going through on a daily basis. Though citizens are not allowed to talk about the hardships that The Gambia is going through (or they will be brought to court to defend their statements), it is not hard to tell that the country is facing severe economic, political and social problems. Economically, salaries remain low, yet prices for commodities are constantly on the rise. There were a considerable amount of beggars in Serrekunda whom were happy to meet with a few dalasis (mere pennies) each day. Sadly, the economic situation only seems to be deteriorating. The country’s main source of income is through the tourist industry, and as tourists don’t generally come during the rainy season (June-October), the country struggles financially without the crutch of tourists to hold up the economy year-round.

Politically, this is a country that may appear to be stable, but is suffering from the leadership. I was not able to speak previously about the politics in my blog because I did not deem it wise while I was in a country where free speech is not right of the people. The president, who calls himself “His Excellency President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh” is neither a professor, nor a doctor. He seems to be well-liked by the uneducated, tolerated by the general masses and despised amongst the educated professionals. While claiming to be a president of a republic, one can easily see through the facade of Jammeh that shows a dictatorship tightening its hold on power. Government sponsored posters of Jammeh are EVERYWHERE with slogans that read “We Are Ready to Die For You President,” “You Cannot Afford to Continue Hating Yourself By Not Voting For Jammeh,” and “Master Peace Maker and Champion Nation Builder, From Darkness to Light.” There were several “disappearances” of members of the opposition while I was there as well. Needless to say, the political climate there was tense and many seemed worried about the future of The Gambia with Jammeh as president.

The social problems were some of the most difficult issues for me to deal with, namely the treatment of women. Culturally, women busied themselves in the roles of housewife and mother. Everywhere one looked, women were constantly cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and chasing around their children. While I did see many women professionals in the work place, it seems that the topic of education for women is only now receiving the attention it needs. Though polygamy is a widespread practice amongst Muslims in the area, not all women appear to be happy with this arrangement. I spoke to several women who felt betrayed by their husbands who took on other wives, but they had no choice but to stay in the marriage because they would have nothing if they left. In several ethnic groups, girls were married off as young as 14 years of age, sometimes even before they began menstruating. Domestic violence is another common problem these women deal with. As a strong-willed, independent woman, I really struggled to keep my thoughts to myself and I felt very angry for a lot of my stay due to these issues. I really just wanted to hit every single man that approached me with their proposals and cat calls; I wanted to call up the husbands of women in polygamous marriages and give them a piece of my mind; I wanted to defend the women who seemed so helpless in their marriages…not being able to stick up for other women, let alone myself, was a struggle and I do not miss feeling that way.

Though I saw and experienced poverty and strife, I also experienced great happiness and friendship. The friendship networks that Gambians create are extensive and meaningful. At the weddings I attended, the hundreds of people seemed to know everybody. Music is constantly playing and brings joy to the kids playing soccer in the streets and the women grinding spices on their porches. Laughter is everywhere, as well as constant greetings and conversation. The people here are extremely strong and showed me how to truly make the best of any situation. They treated me with respect and so graciously welcomed me into their culture. Though I am not sure when or if I’ll be able to return, I will never forget the people I met. They gave me perspective, wisdom and humility, and they will probably remain as some of the most remarkable people I will ever meet.




Hello all! With just 4 days left in The Gambia I am wrapping up the trip and putting together the final pieces of my research until I return to Charleston. It’s amazing that I’ve been here for a month, and I truly feel that I’ve changed from this experience. I cannot wait, however, to come home to cheeseburger pie, an ice cold beer, new Arrested Development, and my boyfriend.

Saturday was quite the eventful day, as I attended the world cup qualifier between The Gambia and the Ivory Coast. Dr. Sarr told me to not expect much from The Gambian team and he was right. While some of my friends watched in awe of the skills of the two teams, Dr. Sarr and I sat complaining and yelling about the lack of ball control and recklessness in which the Gambians played soccer. I’m a big fan of soccer, and I’ve always felt so much frustration in watching the US play sometimes, but that frustration was nothing compared to the frustration I felt watching The Gambia play. I swear that my high school soccer team could’ve kicked their butts. Maybe I am too hard on them, but they need some real discipline if they’re ever going to improve. We had a bit of a hiccup before the game that caused some issues for my friends and I. As we were entering the gates to the stadium it became very crowded and one of my friends was pick pocketed. I happened to look down and see a hand reaching into my purse and I quickly grabbed the man’s wrist, dug my finger nails into him and shoved him away. I ended up getting lucky and nothing was stolen. It has made me a lot more cautious though…I have been wearing my bookbag on my chest as opposed to my back. I may look stupid but there’s no way in hell I’m getting anything stolen!

Today Dr. Sarr told me that I should try going to the archives on my own. I was really nervous because I do not know Banjul very well and I’ve never taken a van taxi on my own but I sucked it up and hopped on a van to Banjul. The driver did not speak English so I got off in the middle of the city and sought out a woman in the military who directed me to the street I needed to get to. It was only a short walk, but I was amazed and relieved that no one hassled me. I felt like doing a little victory dance because that’s the first time I’ve gone out by myself and no one proposed! I must be looking really rough or something 🙂 Once I arrived at the archives I was able to knock out about 3 hours of work and then the man who runs the archives invited me to lunch. We went to a Nigerian restaurant and I got beans and rice with chicken in some sort of spicy red sauce. It was pretty good and I really enjoyed talking with a new friend. After lunch, he directed me to the van depot and I was on my way back to Serrekunda. The whole experience had me on edge, but I feel pretty victorious about going into the city by myself.

I’m not sure what the rest of this week will bring, but I’m sure it will fly by. I can’t wait to see you all once I’m back in America!


Oh Yeah Baby, You Stir that Pot

Hello all! I am entering into my final weekend here in The Gambia, yet I have a full schedule ahead of me. Tonight I am going to Leybato beach bar for what could be one of the last times I hang out with my friends here. They have elevated my experience here and I will truly be sad to leave them. I guess I will just have to travel the world so I can visit them in Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Spain. Jean Marc, Rachel, Sandra and I had quite the successful dance class on Wednesday. The instructor and the drummers are from Guinea and are very talented. I felt pretty silly at first but all I had to do was look over at Jean Marc’s attempt at being coordinated and I felt better about myself (sorry if you’re reading this Jean Marc!). We all had a blast and I even got someone to record a video of us (which very few people will ever see). We will be getting together again for the soccer match tomorrow. I will be wearing the Gambian jersey I bought for my brother and apparently Dr. Sarr has a jersey he’s wearing as well so we’ll be twins:)

I almost started bawling at the airport when Ousainou and I picked up Dr. Sarr today. I don’t know where the tears came from but I was so happy to see him and it felt just like home hearing his voice. I spent a few hours with him and Ousainou and it felt so right. I also feel a lot more confident about my research after discussing my issues with Dr. Sarr. Next week we will be embarking on a trip to the Northern bank of the Gambia to visit his home village and several sites of memory of the Atlantic Slave Trade. I will probably be out of touch during this time, but I am excited to see more of the country!

Last night when we were watching tv at home I got to experience the world of Gambian R&B and rap. It’s similar, yet different to rap music videos in the US. The objectification of women is a common theme, but it is manifested in a different way. Instead of scantily-clad women sliding up and down poles, drinking alcohol and grinding against guys, the women in these videos sashay their hips as they carry a bucket of water on their heads, or sensually stir a pot of food over a fire. Women’s sexuality here is very much connected with domesticity. It made me laugh at first, because I wasn’t convinced that stirring a pot could be sexy but this woman in the video pulled it off!

Well, that’s all you’ll get from me for today! Until next time…


A Day in the Life

Hello all! I know that my blogs have been broad strokes of my experience here, so I want to give a more detailed account of what daily life consists of here in The Gambia. Every morning between 5:00 and 5:30 am, the mosque behind Musu’s compound makes a call to prayer, which blares loudly out of megaphones and makes my bed shake. Within an hour of the call to prayer the roosters begin to crow like crazy and they won’t shut up for about an hour. If after all of this I am still asleep, I will begin to hear sounds of the day starting, whether it be women grinding up spices by mortar and pestle or babies crying. The mornings are not too hot but it does not take long for the day to heat up. After bathing and taking breakfast, I usually walk around for a bit and take in the sights, sounds and smells. My neck of the woods is called Dippa Kunda and it is characterized by dusty, rocky roads and an assortment of compounds with corrugated tin roofs and mosaic tiled pavement. There are small shops, tailors and seamstresses on almost every street corner. There are people gathered everywhere in the shade, both men and women, and they can be there for hours at a time. A common sight to see is small children running around and little babies strapped to the backs of women. It is amazing how frequently women have children here so there is always an abundance of babies…ergo, an abundance of crying babies. The soundtrack to my days is ALWAYS characterized by crying babies, but also African drums and singing coming from the Quaranic school nearby. The wildlife in the neighborhood is dominated by dogs, cats, chickens, goats and crows. The crows here are very different-they are larger and their chest is white, making it look like they are all wearing white tank tops. I’ve seen my fair share of roosters and hens mating, believe it or not, and it’s actually quite violent (Not gonna go into detail on that one). There are also giant lizards that are quite colorful that bask on the tops of compound gates. There is always a variety of smells that can change very abruptly as I walk. Spices are a major part of cuisine here, so that is often a predominant smell. Depending on the area, sometimes rotting garbage or fish will pervade the air and, as you can imagine, it is extremely unpleasant. Once one reaches the main road, Kairaba Avenue, the street is overwhelmed with taxis and people. The driving here is INSANE. There is one traffic light that I know of, and other than that it is basically a free-for-all. The first time I was in a car here I was scared to death, but I have adjusted to feeling like I’m going to die every time I get in a car. For such a dusty and rocky environment there are a surprising variety of trees that grow along the roads and in the neighborhoods. Mango trees are the most prevalent, but there are also Baobob trees. All kinds of people line the streets from kids in school uniforms to women selling various items to Imams praying. I always see men relaxing in the shade and brewing chinese green tea. The act of brewing and drinking chinese green tea is a mainstay in the daily lives of men here. They crush up the tea leaves, put them in a kettle and pour the tea into shot glasses. I’ve been offered a sip several times but it wasn’t until this morning that I tried some with Ousainou and his co-workers. The tea was so bitter and strong I almost spit it out. Ousainou and his co-workers were roaring with laughter, and I had to laugh too because I can only imagine what kind of face I made. As evening rolls around, the sounds around me become more magnified. I usually fall asleep to the sounds of drums. The evenings can be very cool, which is nice, but often the inside of the compound is very hot, making it difficult to sleep.

Tonight I will be attending an African dance class with some friends, so we’ll see how that goes. I cannot wait until Saturday, though, because I will be attending the world cup qualifier match between The Gambia and the Ivory Coast. We have a huge group of us going that includes Jean Marc, Rachel and her boyfriend, Akho, Josie, Dr. Sarr and possibly Ousainou. I think that Dr. Sarr, Ousainou and I might be the only ones rooting for The Gambia, but it always makes for more fun if the group is divided on who they are supporting. I hope you all are doing well! I can’t believe I have nine days until I’m back on American soil…it’s bittersweet leaving here, but I’m ready to return home.


Lone Wolf

Hello all! Since I am still awaiting the arrival of Dr. Sarr, I have decided to be a little more independent. I went all over town today, making stops at the book store, post office and the JulBrew Brewery. I have a little extra time on my hands, so I thought I’d upload a few more pictures for y’all!


The beloved beach bar at LeybatoImage



My Wedding Posse



The Art of Bargaining

Hello all! I think I am FINALLY finished with weddings (though Musu has informed me there are two next week if I want to go…no thank you). While it was a valuable experience to attend these events, they are exhausting and I’m really ready to start in on some work. Dr. Sarr gets here today and I am chomping at the bit to visit some old slave holdings and to get some more direction with my project.

Yesterday was a much needed day of shopping and beach time. Dr. Sarr’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth, took me into Banjul to walk through the Albert Market. Unlike most Gambians, Elizabeth and her family are from a Catholic ethnic group, which constitutes about 2% of the overall population. Next weekend she is going to take me to mass with her so I can see what a Catholic mass is like here…I imagine it will be very much the same as the masses I’ve been to back in the states, but with some added African flavor. Albert Market was a lot quieter than the Serrekunda Market, so I felt a lot more comfortable there. As a white person, I am charged a steeper price at each stall in the market, so you have to adjust quickly and learn bargaining techniques to get the price down to where you want it. For instance, I wanted to buy my brother a Gambian National Team soccer jersey and the man wanted to sell it to me for 500d (about $17). Elizabeth told me that’s too much (I didn’t think so) so I told him the most I would give him is 200d. He said no way, and Elizabeth told me to use the most important bargaining technique…walk away. About five min after I walked away he sent one of his shop keepers to find me and make the deal for 200d (about $7 or $8). Elizabeth was a huge help and was really good at charming the shop keepers…a lot of times they would not only give me the price I asked for, but they’d throw in something small for free. Elizabeth is taking me to her tailor in the coming week to get a shirt made for me. The shirts women wear here are very similar to the peplum style of shirts that women wear in America, so I’m dying to get one!

After an afternoon of shopping I joined Jean Marc and my other friend Akho and we went to our favorite beach: Leybato at Fajara. We made friends with a lifeguard named DooDoo aka Spiderman, and he lent us a few boogie boards. Akho finally admitted that he had no idea how to swim, so he stayed in the shallow areas, but Jean Marc and I went a little deeper and caught some pretty big waves in. I haven’t used a boogie board in years, but my childhood was characterized by riding boogie boards at the beach. For Jean Marc, however, that was his first time. After the waves tired us out, we went up to our favorite bar and got some JulBrews and sat and talked with DooDoo and another woman we met from the UK named Rachel. We had only planned on staying a few hours but the conversation was so stimulating and the beers just kept coming. We ended up ordering a few pizzas and staying for 5 hours. The bartender/waiter even had to shut off all the lights in order to get us out of there. It really was a wonderful day and gave me a new sense of motivation for the coming week.

Today I plan on reading more of “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela (I highly recommend it) and then attending a first communion after party (yes, those exist haha). I will be checking in soon, I hope you all are well!


It’s Wedding Season in The Gambia!

Hello all! It’s another hot and sunny morning in Africa! I’m feeling a lot better than the last time I blogged, in part because of the lovely emails and messages that some of you sent me. The support is overwhelming and each message made me smile! I will try to respond to each of you over the next few days.

Between now and Sunday I have  two wedding receptions and a first communion to attend. That’ll make 3 weddings within a week and a half span. I’m not sure why there are so many weddings right now, but my guess is that everyone is trying to fit in their weddings before the rainy season starts (mid june-october). Weddings here can literally take place on the spot. Musu was telling me that engagements can be as short as one week…can you imagine planning a wedding with only a week’s notice?!

Yesterday I visited another beach with Jean Marc, and this one was by far my favorite. It was really quiet and it had a bar and restaurant right on the beach. We cooled off in the ocean for a bit and then went up to the bar for some beer and pizza (so American of me, I know!). Then two people approached me and said they overheard my accent and wanted to come say hello to a fellow American. It turns out they are peace corps workers and one of them happened to be from Aiken, SC! I was so overwhelmed with happiness to meet a fellow South Carolinian and her accent was so comforting. Jean Marc commented afterwards that he was glad I didn’t have a southern accent because it was annoying. He also asked me if the peace corps was apart of the military and I found that pretty funny.

Before I left America, there were few times that I identified myself as an American. More often than not I though of myself as a South Carolinian or an islander. Obviously I’m an American, but it was never how I thought of myself immediately. Being here, I think I finally know what it’s like to identify as an American and as a part of something bigger than just my home town or home state. When people ask me who I am I proudly identify myself as an American, and I feel a strong love for my home country. It’s like that feeling everyone gets during the Olympics when the USA goes up against other countries…that’s how I feel here and it’s kinda cool. In the words of the frat boys of the south ” ‘Merica, F*** Yeah!”

I’m so excited for Dr. Sarr to get here in 3 days! Again, thanks everyone for the support, I miss you all!