I ride in a Peace Corps jeep to my new home in Illiasa. Bob Marley is on the
tape player singing "Is this love?" and although I don't realize it at the time, in the future I will always think of this moment when I hear this song.
My site is on the North Bank of this tiny country. Gambia is shaped like a pencil, long and
narrow. And it is split across by a river. No matter where you are in the country you are never
farther than 15 kilometers from the river or Senegal.
The capital - Banjul is on the South Bank. The S. Bank is more developed than the N. (of course!)
My site is in the least developed spot on the least developed bank.
There are 2 ways to get there. The first is to take a bus, straight from the capital, across the
N. Bank. This is a 3 hour trip on a horrible road. The road was paved once, but has so terribly
disenigrated, it is a mess of pot holes. It is a ride that rattles your bones and is guarenteed to give
you motion sickness.
After your 3 hour jolt you land in a town where you must grab a taxi to the ferry.
(Let me define GRAB A TAXI - You see, a taxi won't go unless it is
filled with paying customers. You need to run towards a taxi and elbow your way on.
If you don't get on the first one that is filling quickly, then you will be stuck
sitting in one that won't go until the next bus load of people come by and
run to fill up the taxis. This happens at ferry landings too. And when ferry's
only come by every 2hours, you don't want to be stuck sitting in a
taxi waiting that long for more passegers!)
So, you get to the ferry and you wait
until the ferry is ready to go, cross, and grab another taxi to Farafenni (15 minute ride). Where you
once again try to grab a taxi to Illiasa. After another 30
minute ride you are home.
The trip takes about 6-7 hours.
Now, I prefer the other way:
At the capital take a taxi to the mouth of the river.
Wait for the ferry that leaves every 2 hours or so.
Take the 2 hour journy. Once across grab a taxi. Ride an hour or so to the NEXT FERRY. Wait for it to
fill with people (hour or two). Take the 15 minute ride across. Grab another taxi! and sit in
the back while the car rockets down the dirt road. (No paved roads up in Baddiboo, my distrcit).
You will be covered with dust, you need a hankechief over your mouth to breathe. But you will finally make it.
Provided you car doesn't break down. (Oh yes, it has happened to me.)
No matter which way you travel it will take hours and you will surprised to know you have travelled only 60 miles or less. >
When you are dropped off you are standing in a dirst road, and the dirst is blood red (due to it's high iron content). It will
undoubtedly be hot. You see a cement platform, about 2 feet high, maybe 10' x 10'. Old people sit and pass the day on it.
You walk down the path to Illiasa. You see Baobab trees and silk cotton. Trees you have never seen before. And the are so tall and grand.
Their trunks are probably 15 feet in circumference.
To your left, across the field are women punping water from the villages only pump. The water you drink will come from here.
As you walk further there are square mud huts to your right. They are convered in thatch. Goats are tethered about.
Now on the left is the Mosque for most (all?) Gambians are Muslim. And next to the aging Mosque you will be surprised to see a glass phone booth.
From here you can call home to America. Amazing, isn't it?
Sounds beautiful, I am sure. But what do you hear? Besides the birds and the pump, what do you hear? Do you hear it? It is someone yelling the word "toubab".
And toubab means "white man" or "foreigner". And you had better get used to hearing it, because it will be yelled and spoken to you EVERY TIME YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME FOR THE NEXT 2 YEARS!
Sounds like no big deal, right? So what if they call you "toubab", right? that is what I thought too. When the vetran volunteers told stories of going insane from hearing "toubab" I though
"What's the big deal?"
Well, it IS actually a big deal. Little children run up to you SCREAMING ON THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS "TOUBAB TOUBAB!!"
Old people greet you with "eh, toubab." Even though you have told them your name a hundrend times.
The women at the pump all stop to yell "toubab!"
When people pass by your home, and you are hiding inside they will still yeel into your windows "Toubab!"
You will always know when one of your Peace Corps friends is coming to visit you, fo you will hear the word "toubab" rolling
through your village until it finally hits it's pitch at your front door.
I guess this is what TV actorws feel like some times. Like the people on "Friends". I mean Matthew Perry's REAL name is not "CHANDLER" but I am sure he is called it all the time on the streets.
Just like "Toubab" is not my name, but I know it means me.
Welcome to 2 years of the "toughest job I will ever love". I will love it. Right?