"I am a ‘busy’ person – I always find something to do and rarely sit still. I was expecting to feel a bit frustrated at times in The Gambia as I would have to adapt to a different environment and the ‘goal’ I set myself for the week was therefore to get used to a slower pace, switch off from the ‘day job’ and live in the moment.
With this in mind, the first day at the project site was still, I admit, a little testing for me. The objective was to assist in renovating an old pre-school which was to be used as a community centre. I turned up at the site... and so did around 80 Gambians who have decided to use the community centre as a local court house as it is in better condition than the actual court house.
My lowest point on that first day was definitely when I went to sweep leaves out of the shower block to find that it had just been used as a toilet! Despite this, the day was extremely productive as there were skilled Gambian labourers on hand to show the ropes and give me some basic tuition in tasks such as mixing concrete in the right quantities (with shovels) and plastering. It was hard work but satisfying to know that it was doing something good for the area.
The thing that struck me most about the visit was just how much community spirit there is in Gunjur. From the moment the labourers arrived on site they were really keen to talk to you and would happily answer questions and really wanted to help you to understand their culture and teach phrases to you in Mandinka (the tribal language). Everything that they do is so focussed on family and friends and supporting one another. We simply don’t see this in our local neighbourhood back home – my next-door neighbour walks past me regularly in the street without even looking at me, let alone saying hello. In Gunjur, the standard greeting is ‘how is your family’ or ‘are you in peace?’ and they refer to each other - and to us - as their brothers and sisters. It’s simply a lovely way of being!
I would urge anyone who ever travels to The Gambia to really try to immerse themselves into the Gambian culture and to engage with the people, as they will take away so much more from the experience.
By the end of the week I had definitely reached my initial goal but had experienced more than I thought I would. Not only is Gambia a beautiful country, I met some great people, I learned how to plaster, albeit in a rustic kind of way, I sifted leaves out of sand using onion bags as a net and drew water from a well, I mixed concrete by hand and made bricks with a mould. I learnt to appreciate a hot shower in the morning, and that you don’t need to have a lot of money to be wealthy."