Dancing in the Gambia
Since I’ve arrived here in the Gambia, I’ve been searching for music. Unfortunately, I’ve come up dry every night. Last Thursday, I heard music from behind the research compound, but was too tired to pursue it and, really, you can never be sure. Sometimes things sound cool through the echoes, but you might follow the sounds only to find Kenny Rogers being played for tourists.
Last night, I heard it again, and decided to chance it. It was so loud and chaotic, it sound like it might be a live band. I leave tomorrow, so this is my only chance.
I followed the sounds out to the back of the compound and found a group of old ladies gathered on plastic chairs around a giant stack of speakers, blaring out some kind of ultra hard beats. A kid with a laptop was DJing but it looked like people were just arriving. The scene was bizarre. Old ladies and grandkids politely chilling out to heavy beats through a wall of speakers.
I decided to go back later. I was wary. It could be some religious thing. It’s Islam here, but still…
When I went back, it was total chaos. This is definitely NOT a religious event (in the Abrahamic sense) and most certainly NOT a tourist event.
More people had arrived and were standing in a circle watching young dude do impossibly athletic dances while an old man MC egged them on and called other people to join. I had heard stories of dancing in West Africa and I have to say the stories are absolutely true. The young guys were the craziest, but kids, old ladies, women in fancy dresses and old men all got in the circle and showed their moves off and every time, people would go nuts with approval.
All to an energetic soundtrack that would get the cops out in a second in the US. I had never seen anything like it.
At one point, a blindfolded guy dressed as a woman comes out hold a dead chicken in one hand and money in the other. He does his chicken dance over a money pot and starts handing out notes to whomever is brave enough to get close to him. After the money runs out, he starts doing this thing where he leans over just barely touching the ground, seemingly suspended in air. Eventually, he disappears and returns out with a giant cinder block balanced on his back and does the same thing again. I have no idea what it was about but it’s clear that there’s order to this chaos.
After people start showing their moves again, a guy tries to get me to go into the circle. I’m like “no way.” I’m not going to be that bad dancing white guy. Some kids are egging me on trying to show me moves and cheering and laughing when ever I try. I should have tried harder. Music is a wonderfully great thing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera on me, but I did get an audio recording and a couple of pictures with my cell phone. I’m am most certainly coming back to West Africa.
Pictures from the Gambia
Not much else to post, so I’ll add a few pictures of a bird watching trip in the Gambia. Turns out the Gambia has an incredible bird diversity. Unfortunately, my camera couldn’t capture it but we play with the cards we are dealt with…
Out of Kenya
Woke up at 6 to start my journey back home. I say goodbye to the house lady, Janet. Fortunately, she tends to Japanese people, who never picked up the absurd habit of tipping. Her kind goodbyes are genuine and I’m appreciative. She’s a wonderful cook.
Actually, I’m marveling (as I do every time) at the amount of weight I’ve gained. Malarone, in addition to making me dizzy, blind and nearly psychotically depressed, robs me of the ability to feel hunger, and the ability to tell when I’m full. A bad side effect when fried foods and meat are the only things available.
Takatou appears. He’s been my dinner partner for the past couple of weeks and politely puts up with my half garbled, nightly political rants. He kindly drives to the Mbita ferry port.
The Mbita ferry is full of surprises. Today, I sat next to a pile of goat hair. I take pictures of boats and enjoy the ride. It will be relaxing compared to the manic, 100 mph taxi ride to Kisumu airport. This area is pretty empty, but I’ll never get used to driving on African highways.
I arrive at Kisumu. The easy part is now over. From here on begins the harrowing adventure of African airports. Mostly, its a game of “hurry up and wait.” Today goes smoothly until Nairobi, where I discover that my flight has been delayed by six hours, at least if the sign is to be believed. Of course this means I’ll miss my flight home and will have to spend the night in Dar. I’m frantic.
The airport staff inform me that the signs are never to be believed. “Oh that? Those things are always wrong.” Never believe the digital signs with the Kenya Air logo.
Vendors in the Mbita Market, Downtown Mbita
A couple of days ago, I wrote about prices in the local market. In that post there were some pictures of some local sellers. To be fair, I printed them out and took copies to the people in the pictures as a way of saying thanks. Prints are cheap, and people get excited about having pictures of themselves around. It’s a small price to pay for invading someone’s space for a while.
Someone saw me giving out copies and pretty soon nearly the entire market was asking to have their picture taken. In Malawi, taking pictures in a market is a big no-no. Here it’s entirely ok.
Photographing people in a crowded market in the middle of the day is kind of a challenge and, to be honest, I don’t like having my camera out in the open. It draws attention and attracts young thieves. I’m consoled, though, by newspaper reports of market thieves being burned alive (whatever you do, don’t Google it).
Upon first looking at the pictures, I was fairly underwhelmed. Shots of people I’ve had the chance to speak to are always far better than just shots of people I don’t know at all; the story is everything. I must have shot nearly 50 people in a span of 3 minutes so there really wasn’t much time for conversation. To me, these were just some rushed shots of some random people in the market.
However, looking at them again, I discovered something interesting. I realized that every single one of the people in the pictures made a point of demonstrating their trade, or wanted themselves to be featured at their stand clearly identifying themselves as the owners.
All of them took the time to make themselves look good before having their picture taken. Some put on their “uniform,” which was usually an apron. A few even went out of their way to look like they were passing goods to customers, emphasizing that they are merchants who believe in what they sell.
Nearly all of the vendors in the market are women. Some are in their 80’s. Some are just kids. Some have small children with them. All of them appear to know each other well. Almost none of them speak English, indicating that few have been to school.
It’s clear from the pictures that every one of the market vendors is immensely proud of what they do, even if its just selling a few tomatoes, having a small cooking oil stand or dealing in kitchen goods. I’m certainly not denigrating market sellers, but the level of pride evident in this small, out of the way market in this isolated corner of the planet was pretty inspiring.