By ENUMA Chigbo
_barely slept. We had arranged to meet with our tour guide amiable Adam at 8am. To do that meant we had to be awake at 6.30am – okay for a normal day, but not when you are on holiday. When I have to wake up early the following day I never really get to sleep properly for fear of waking up late and missing out on all the action – standard procedure. I should have slept though…I got to find out at 6.30am that Ndidi’s alarm is loud enough to wake the entire floor…oh well, we are dressed and have breakfast at about 7.30am. Still undergoing penance for my sins of the previous day, I opt for fruit and fresh Gambian yoghurt. This time it’s paw paw, and very very sweet…Ndidi does her famous omelet – ham, cheese and mushrooms –the mushrooms being the extra condiment I introduce her to. Yes, I had searched the entire restaurant for mushrooms the day before only to find them sitting pretty right before my very eyes this morning, and my dear friend seizes this golden opportunity and gives a part to the man who makes omelets just outside the restaurant…na wa oa… Anyway, true to his word, Adam meets us outside the hotel at 8am. We head off on our roots tour. Gambia is the birthplace of Kunta Kinte, the main character of Roots, written by Alex Haley, said to be his sixth descendant. To get to James Island, where slaves were kept back in the day, we take a taxi to the terminus where we join the ferry to get to a village called Barra. Of course by this time my desire for comfort has been thrown out of the window. I have no choice in the matter anymore. The taxi is not so bad though… we arrive at the terminus and share a room with different people heading towards different destinations. The Oyibos are on tour, some on the same tour as we are, others on Safari tours, which Ndidi says are strictly for Oyibos. I had a good laugh when she said this. It was sometime yesterday on our way back from Albert Market. Adam, whose Gambian name is Ousainu, showed us vultures “sunbathing” at the 22nd July Square, where the country had celebrated their Independence in July 1965. “Vulture’s sunbathing?” I asked Adam, where are the corpses or are any animals being killed nearby?” “No,” he said to me. “Here vultures are just like ordinary birds, they just come and laze around. I could take you where you can feed them,” he offered. I obliged. He also talked about feeding crocodiles and baboons, I get very excited. “Enuma, this is for white people,” Ndidi says in her usual manner. I wonder what her problem is…then Adam tells me it’s all about wildlife and these animals are not caged. For once, I agree with my friend…me I no bi Oyibo o!
Anyway, back to the terminus… most of the black people are heading for Senegal, the atmosphere is laden with the aroma of a particular scent that is synonymous with Northerners. I share my observations with Ndidi. She concurs and tells me it’s an Arabian scent. “Do you remember what it’s called?” I ask her. “We used to call it Sosorobiac in jest back then,” she laughed. I had a good laugh too as I remembered how naughty we were in our taunt of those who came from the Northern parts of the country. In Federal Government Girls College, Benin City, where I attended secondary school and spent most of my formative years, people from the North were christened Bororos (cattle Fulani) little wonder they hated us then and perhaps still do…somehow, in my mind I wonder if the issues we face down South originate from our insensitivity to our brethren in the North…Lord forgive us all our trespasses!
The terminus is very interesting…the hawkers are there, some come and ask us if we want to buy freshly baked cakes all nicely and neatly wrapped in clear nylon. The cakes are of two sizes – cupcakes sitting pretty in their pink and white floral paper cases and pound like cakes wrapped in thicker nylon. We decline. In fact, as I sit in the terminus, I am reminded of Oyingbo and Iddo Bustops in Lagos. In fact the commercial areas in Banjul remind me of Broad Street, Tinubu Square and all adjoining streets in Lagos. The only difference is the Gambians are a whole lot more organized. Here you don’t have to constantly look over your shoulders in fear of ‘area boys’ who are fast becoming the lords of Lagos. And then, unlike Lagos and in fact, Nigeria, with Gambia’s population at 1.8 million, you fear no crowd. Perhaps Lagos was like this in the early 70’s…a very long time ago…