After the countless days on the road through Mali and Senegal, I reached my Gambian family’s [link] compound at 2am when everybody was fast asleep. They weren't expecting me. I had promised that I would return when I left in February, but with no contact since then they had no idea where I was or when we would see each other again.
“Penda! Open the door!” I shouted in a hushed voice as I knocked on her window pane. Her mother Ami heard me and opened her door shouting “Kimmie!” a little loud for the time of the night. We knocked on Penda's window pane for another five minutes and when she finally opened her door, all disorientated from sleep as well as completely naked (the probability of having to answer the door in the middle of the night might have seemed unlikely), she jumped on top of me shouting in excitement as she instantly recognised who it was.
I woke up late in the morning after my tiring journey the previous day. By late morning I mean late in African terms; about 8am. I stepped out the bedroom door into the open air square compound and there they all were; the family I had missed so much and who I had thought about so often during my trip. They screamed and danced and shouted “Awa!”: my adopted African name.
I spent a wonderful few days in the Jonga family’s compound, immediately being reminded of the incredible happiness that surrounds them all individually and the reasons that I love them so much. Many changes had come whilst I had been away. Sister Ami had given birth to her baby; to my relief they had decided on another name, not Kimmie, when it turned out to be a boy. Two of the wives had become pregnant, Fatou and Safi; both promising that if any were girls they would be named after me. Nena, a young friend of the family who lives nearby, had gotten married to a man who lives far away and who she has only met a few times. In two weeks time she would be moving away from everything she knows, from the tiny village to chaotic Dakar city, to be a typical wife-servant for his entire family; the expectation for women in most of rural Africa. Mamoud, one of the oldest brothers of the family, had found a job. Great news for the family as the other brothers, who work so hard from morning until night every single day of the week, occasionally come home from work with no money in their pockets. Other than that, everything else was the same. Oh, and one little thing not to be missed was that the huge tree in the centre of their compound, which the whole family use for shade every day, had hundreds mangos ripe and ready to be picked! Breakfast!
My time re-visiting my Gambian family ended after just three days. Here’s what happened:
From the moment I first arrived I was completely in love with everything I saw and experienced and learned about Africa, but I was finally reaching my tipping point. I had been feeling sick for weeks; from almost constant diarrhoea to absolutely no appetite to vomiting in plastic bags when on the move, and I was becoming so tired of feeling like this and having nothing to comfort me. I was yearning for the comforts of home and of the easy, privileged life us Westerners all have. I was so desperate to eat something other than rice and fish; even with a variety of food sometimes available at a costly price in West Africa (which was now impossible for me to buy), it could never reach the standards my stomach was yearning for. I wanted a clean, flushing toilet and a hot shower and a thick duvet on a bed to hide from the cool British night air. I wanted to return home faster than I had planned (for my best friend’s wedding in summer), but the problem was how?!
At the time I felt like I maybe had a tiny insight into what it feels like to be a person stuck in the “poor world” who so desperately wants to reach Europe. But, of course, that is entire bullsh*t because I have an easy British passport and people who can lend me money to catch a flight home. And that’s what I did. I’m writing this post from home. I actually feel guilty for having these privileges. But I do.
For the past half an hour I’ve been trying to think of some philosophical thought to explain this feeling of how utterly nonsensical life can be, but all I can think of is…
[Look it up. Or better still, do a trip through Africa and find the true meaning.]