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BANJUL, The Gambia

An assault on the senses

sunny 70 °F
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In The Gambia, Banjul is the capital city. The country is a small sliver carved out of the country of Senegal and is named after The Gambia River at its center. The whole country is less than 20 miles wide, really just expanded riverbanks. Banjul is its port on the Atlantic.

Like every African city, Banjul has a colorful and frenetic market, this one called the Royal Albert Market. We drove through streets filled with every kind of shop you can imagine, mortgage houses, insurance agencies, banks, stores selling fabric, furniture, and clothing, cell phone repair shops and electrical appliance shops. The distinctive thing is that all of these emporia are little more than sheds covered with tarps. The banks do have four walls and a door. Banjul is not flourishing; one street vendor cut rotten spots out of potatoes and placed the nubs on a tray to be sold. Goats walked in the streets eating garbage, and they have no fear of starvation because garbage overflows. Apparently there is NO trash pickup; people just pour all the waste into the sewer system. Banjul doesn’t smell great.

As soon as one appears in town, clusters of bumsters descend. These young men have highly honed patterns of attaching themselves to visitors and giving gratuitous explanations (rarely accurate) and directions (to go deeper into the huge market and lose one’s way – so that you can be rescued by guess who? The bumster!) It actually seemed logical to us to affiliate with a bumster and then ignore him, thereby preventing the assault of his aspiring competitors. The bottom line is that you cannot walk anyplace without a bumster by your side.

The bumsters also have a reputation for seeking out cougar visitors, older women who could be flattered into a relationship – or even marriage. We once knew a lovely woman from London who got convinced of true love, tied the knot, and never saw her new husband (now the bearer of a British passport) again.

Our bumster led us to St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, where the gardener opened the gates for us. The East window was quite a nice work of English stained glass, flanked by charming Gambian paintings of St. Peter healing the lame man, walking on water with Jesus, etc. The gardener proudly walked us through his attempt to get grass to grow and his topiary specimens of casuarinas “pruned” into a cross and a heart. He also grew some lovely flowers in pots, seen below.

Back at the Silver Whisper, we did not escape bumsters or local buying opportunities. The dock was covered with local vendors selling their carvings and in the distance a ferry on to which hundreds and hundreds of people flowed. We worried about them, in the wake of the ferry that capsized near Principe and killed many.

Posted by HopeEakins 05:17 Archived in Gambia

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