I had the privileged opportunity to visit ‘The Gambia’ sometime in April 2015, after being selected to attend an advanced ICT training. Coincidentally, about a year before this, I had day dreams about visiting this country, the ‘Smiling Coast’ of West Africa as it is fondly called. As a naturally adventurous fellow I was curious and enthusiastic about what this country will look and feel like…and oh, did I mention I have visited 33 out of the 36 states in Nigeria for either work or pleasure and speak Hausa fluently, even way better than my mother tongue Yoruba? Okay, that was by the way… this is for “The Gambia” so back to my piece! (lol)
To fully prepare for my trip, I decided to do some online research to know more about this very small country of less than 2 Million people. I even went as far as searching for an old movie called “ROOTS” the phenomenal true life movie adaptation of “Kunta Kinteh” the Gambian slave boy who was enslaved and taken to America and later died. I digested the scenery from the movie over and over until I had sufficiently created a keen hunger to visit this country. Well, I had hoped that it would be a good opportunity for a family visit but work duty called and I had to go alone *inserts sad face*
To embark on this journey, I created a checklist of things I wanted to do during my stay. It read thus;
“Things to Do in Gambia”
- Get acquainted with the history, customs and traditions of the people on a Discovery City tour of Banjul and savor the sounds, colors and delicious cuisines of Gambia
- Visit major monuments such as the National Museum, Tye & Dye factory, Albert arts & craft market, and other shopping malls and Fashion Designs outlets
- Visit the 500 year old ‘Kacthikally Crocodile pool’, home to over 70 crocodiles and considered a sacred place with solution for facing life’s difficulties.
- Meet the remaining members of the ‘Kunta Kinteh’ family at Juffureh village and get an opportunity to relive the ‘ROOTS’ experience.
- Enjoy the tranquility of the smiling coast on a luxury Catamaran cruise, along the River Gambia
- Drive right into the heart of the ‘Makasutu’ holy forest along the meandering Tributary of Gambia River and see various species of wildlife in their habitat.
- Get the opportunity to try my hands on local crafts – pottery, furniture making, wood-carving, cooking, etc…while also enjoying exhilarating dancing and drumming by the natives…
- Explore Sengal on a day trip.
I achieved a large chunk of the list like the Banjul tour, visit to the craft market and fashion design outlets, visit to the Kachthikally crocodile pool and had the opportunity to touch a live crocodile and the ultimate highlight of all was the memorable experience of visiting Juffreh and Kunta kinteh Island aka James Island, a home to the remaining members of the Kunta Kinte family, taking pictures with them and a final trip to the island of no return respectively (the trip to this ‘Island of no return’ involved over one hours boat ride, on a propeller boat, from the capital city of Banjul. For this feat I received a certificate of visit. It was no mean feat! (laughs).
I cannot overemphasize how thrilling this experience was for me. From the very friendly and welcoming people who always wore a smile, to the interesting food/cuisine (almost similar to food eaten in Northern Nigeria) and the drinks called ‘wonjo’ and the ‘baoba’ drinks, I totally enjoyed the visit.
Also worthy of note is the interesting culture of the Gambians, made up of 8 tribes in a closely knit community. I also discovered that the country has only two universities, University of The Gambia and American University of West Africa, the former being government owned while the later is privately run.
A handful of secondary schools also exist and I was drawn by The Gambia’s beautiful beaches, a walking distance from the Djeliba hotel in the senegambia area where I lodged during my stay.
I must also add that a large percentage of students and faculty members of the institutions of higher learning and even secondary schools had predominantly Nigerians & Ghanians and most of the businesses there are also mostly owned and run by Nigerians. The Economy of The Gambia basically thrives largely on tourism and lately agriculture with some fashion and a bit of entertainment. With their rich cultural tune, tourists are constantly entertained even along street corners.
This was a great trip and if I had to recommend a holiday or honeymoon destination within West Africa, I would definitely recommend “The Gambia”.
I plan to visit some time in future, but hopefully this time round with my family!
All thanks to Hon. Fatim Badjie and the Ace Communications Executive team for organizing the AICTT CAMP 2015 and giving me this great opportunity of finally visiting the ‘Smiling Coast’ of West Africa!