I biked to a neighboring village this evening to watch a football match. The dwindling light made it a foolish venture but any excuse to get out of the confines of village I gladly leap at. At the neighboring village of Nema Kunda i received a warm reception along with the casual shouts of Toobab and the onset of terrified screaming by some younger children which sometimes accompanies the sighting of a white man. Making my way to a good spot at the side of the pitch to watch the match I greeted as many people as I could. Although only a 25 minute bike ride from my Wolof village this was a Mandinka village and there was not much Wolof spoken there. This is a crucial problem in The Gambia – having a common language is key to developing a society. To be able to complex relations with you neighboring villages helps so many things – trade, arguments, marriages, exchange of ideas and skills to name but a few. Whilst everyone here has polyglottal tendencies, multi tongued fluency is rare. The common language is meant to be English. It’s not common. I am told this is a differnce to Senegal where the common language of French is spoken much more widely than English is here. Yet another colonial hangover – the French invested much more in Senegal than the British did in The Gambia, who saw The Gambia as an insignificant smudge in its colonial catalog.
Whilst walking to a comfortable looking tree stump at the halfway line 3 different men independently asked me to give them my bike. It is not considered rude. In The Gambia, as a rich westerner you do not get pestered to buy things as you do in other less developed parts of the world I have been to such as India, North Africa and the Middle East. Gambians don’t seem that concerned with making the sale, with haggling, with getting you to buy a greater quantity. But many people are happy to come up to you and say “give me money” “give me your bag” “give me candy”.
Many street vendors I have come across seem unconcerned with turning a profit. Most don’t seem to understand the logic of bulk buying for cheaper. I don’t consider myself a hard bargainer but many people here have lost my custom either to offering ridiculously high prices and not backing down an inch, or not being awake when I am trying to get their attention to buy something off them. I’m making gross generalizations but it seems here that it is rude to be too concerned too much with profit. The two biggest and most successful shops in my local town are run by a Mauritanian and a Lebanese man. I asked my Gambian friend Allagie why this was. He said
“Those people are all money, money, money. We people are all people, people, people.”
Illustrating why I love The Gambia, and why simultaneously it will always frustrate me.