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The Gambia Diary


By Enuma Chigbo

. . . slept well. I woke up in the middle of the night though. I think Ndidi may have been partly responsible. She had woken up quite a few times. I think she said she was feeling poorly. Well this is one of the downsides of having to share a room. The major one I have to admit is having to refrain oneself from doing the most natural thing- you know, when your systems are all messed up and you just have to relieve tension. Yes, you may come out feeling better but there is usually an offensive smell which lingers on. Having released a couple of times the normal gentle amiable Ndidi started to send out very stern signals. I had to weigh my options – either to hold my peace or get another room. Now, with Ndidi, it’s easy to just let the maggots grow… things get organized. I am usually a very organized person, but my friend is many steps ahead. Things get done. The room is organized. She jumps to answer the door even when the person at the other end is looking for me. And I just do nothing. Truly I am spoiled rotten. So for this reason, I hold my peace as uncomfortable as it may be. I hold it. We go down for breakfast at 9am. A lavish buffet awaits us. I really want to eat healthy so I go for fruits and veggies. I look out for yoghurt and I see none, and then behold, I look even harder and voila…there it is, right next to the chopped water melons. I fill my cup with the locally made Gambian yoghurt and pile on the chopped water melon in a different saucer. Ndidi meets me back at our table with a plate of salami and cheese. I tell her how refreshing the yoghurt is. As I do so, I put in the chopped water melon. Indeed my joy is complete. I finish off breakfast with a salad – cabbage, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes, topped with a nice vinaigrette dressing. Ndidi meets me back at the table with her ham omelet. It looks divine. We round up on breakfast and hit the streets immediately. First on the agenda was the Albert Market, but before that we went to the gift shop. I see beautiful post cards of the Gambia and I buy six. In fact there was one of an older white woman and a young Gambian boy. They were lovers. She loved the boy, he loved her money. Ndidi was right. This is a sex town. I buy six post cards and give the shop owner a few Mary Slessor post cards I brought with me and a brief talk on Mary Slessor’s role in the stopping of the killing of twins back home. I also give her a copy of our very own Carnival Calabar Queen magazine. My shoulders are sore and I say that much to Ndidi before we leave. That was where the pleasant young man massaged yesterday. He said I was very tense. I didn’t realize how tense I was. I make up my mind to have a full body massage much later today, but it will be done by a lady. This is a sex town. Anyway, we head off to the Albert Market in the company of our tour guide whom I’ll call Adam. He is a twin. His twin brother passed on a while back. He tells me his Gambian name but I forget. The same way I forget his twin brother’s name. Anyway, I will remember tomorrow. I was of the impression that his Gambian name is very popular and synonymous  with  twins,  reminiscent  of  our  Taiwo and Kehinde back home. I ask him if he’s heard of Mary Slessor. He says no. I tell him she was instrumental in stopping the killing of twins back home. He sounds impressed. Albert Market, Banjul is not far, so we walk. Indeed, it’s been a very long time since I did anything like this. I recall decades ago when I would walk round Tejusoho market in Lagos for at least two hours looking for the right fabric. Those were the days…naaah…but anyway, I was a wakabout back then and the markets in Lagos where I resided just seemed to beckon at me. In one day, I would do Tejuosho, Tinubu and Alaba markets, which were at the opposite ends of town. Perhaps now, I am like Okonkwo in literary legend Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, who remembered the times of his suffer-head days with a slight shiver down his spine after he became a successful farmer. Anyway, we walk round Albert Market, our tour guide shows us other significant land marks as we walk. Gambian food is interesting and slightly different from ours. The okro, according to my friend, Ndidi, can be best described as purple and green fingers. We saw red coloured smoked catfish, purple egg plant, popularly known as garden egg back home, and bitter tomatoes. We bought stuff – traditional beach dresses with matching sarongs, I’m contemplating converting my sarong to a table cloth when I get back to good old Calabar. We go through the meat market and see a bit of art and craft. It is lunch time and we stop at this quaint little restaurant. We have to go by taxi. Yet again another of those Ndidi’ taxis. On our way to this taxi, we see two oyibo women dressed in African outfits. They look ridiculous but happy, and I guess that’s all that counts. We finally get to a taxi ramp and I see this nice Mercedes Benz taxi. Ok finally a comfortable ride and I express my happiness to Ndidi. “This will definitely be too hot,” she said. “It’s been parked out here for a while and it seats are covered with nylon.” She opted for a crappier looking one behind. Darn…this woman is such a spoil sport! At lunch we sit at a table opposite this nice looking oyibo family. “Those people dey stay for our hotel,” said Ndidi. Oh yes, I remembered them. I remembered because of their two daughters who had cornrows braided all the way backwards from the crown of their heads. Again, they looked ridiculous but happy and I guess that’s all that matters. Our hotel is indeed very interesting. We are the only black lodgers. Everyone else is white. Apart from us, you will find black p e o p l e   a t   t h e   r e c e p t i o n ,   w a i t i n g   o n   tables and cleaning…interesting… The manager of the restaurant like the average Gambian is very black and very friendly. He recommends the local Gambian soft drink – Youki. I order the pineapple flavor, Ndidi orders the grapefruit. Not too long after, lunch is served. Shrimp in onion garlic sauce for me and chicken in peanut sauce for Ndidi. Actually that sauce has a local name but yours truly has forgotten yet again. Ndidi is asleep right by me and I dare not wake her. We order dessert after, which I am truly ashamed to write down…let’s just leave this as it is. Anyway, we go on another walk. To get to see the whole of Banjul, you have to get to the top of the national monument, which is a gate into the city. You walk up the very long, narrow and windy steps or take the elevator. I opted for the former as punishment for my gluttony. Ndidi and Adam get into the elevator and meet me on the other level.

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