Saturday, July 17, 2010

Where's Barbaro?


Banjo reminded me that folks might like some help locating Senegal and Gambia on a map. So here's the big picture, and the close-up. Ile de Goree, the subject of my last post, is a tiny island off to the west of Dakar, which is itself squeezed onto the Cape Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of the continent.

If you've got a couple minutes to kill, have a go at the African map quiz. I play this with my students sometimes to introduce Things Fall Apart; rare is the student who can get more than 5 or 10 correct:

If The Gambia (and yes, for some reason the article is part of the name) looks like a tiny British toehold in a sea of French former colonies, that's because it is. Surprisingly, though, one of the reasons the Brits were so eager to wedge themselves into this particular corner of the continent was to enforce the abolition of slavery (against the less-compliant French, presumably). So it's not all greed and aggression, I guess. A number of freed slaves from Sierra Leone were offered a home in what's now Gambia.

Today the border may in some ways be even more important, as a great many Brits, and some people from other English-speaking countries, flock to Gambia while passing over Senegal and all its francophonic neighbors simply because English is spoken. I'm wondering about even more trivial differences, i.e. must I really buy two separate phone cards, and carry two different currencies, for these two countries?


I'm taking a breather from my habitual overland odysseys this year by joining a volunteer project in Fajara, a beach resort outside Banjul, Gambia--starting tomorrow. I'm just passing through Dakar on the way in, because it's basically impossible to fly direct to Gambia, and St. Louis, in the north of Senegal, on the way out, because it seems worth an extra week. (NB: It sure seemed impossible to book a flight into Gambia from the US, yet the flight I was on, Brussels Airlines, turns out to have been headed straight to Banjul; Dakar was only a stopover. Someday, after I've computed pi to a round number and split the atom manually, maybe I'll figure out the airline industry.)

People keep asking me, quite reasonably, what I'll be doing, but I know enough of how the developing world and volunteer organizations work to know that the only reasonable answer is "whatever I'm told." In theory, I'll be working with microfinance (If you don't know what that means, stop reading now and look up; come back after you've lent money to at least one small business!), helping administer ASSET, a consortium of small hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-oriented businesses too small to compete with international operators one by one. If I'm lucky, this will involve talking to people about their needs and goals and methods. If I'm less lucky, it will involve troubleshooting computers and office work. If I'm even less lucky, it will involve teaching English. I want to get away from teaching and computers for the summer, but I've come to help, so I'll do whatever work is most needed.


  1. Thank you. Talk about weird shapes! I suppose The Gambia was created by Europeans?

    By the way, you repeated "ilike2learn" in that address. I figured it out, but I'm brilliant.

    Hope you're able to keep these posts coming.

  2. Does this mean there will be pubs in The Gambia? Good odds for good grub in former French colonies and good pubs in former British colonies.

  3. Food in Dakar was indeed excellent, including patisseries of which even a Parisian could be proud.

    Guinness exists in Gambia (in bottles, at least), but the heat has so far made the whole idea of a "pub," or nearly anywhere far from the hotel pool, terminally unattractive.

    The bread is still quite respectably baguette-like, but nothing like it was in Senegal.