Money is a problem. Often the first things that people say to you when they find out you are from America is: America, there is money there. Our villagers make money in whatever ways they can. Some men in our village live and work in the city area and commute back to the village on weekends. Some, like our host dad, are fisherman. Others tend to their cattle or orchards. Some, travel around the area doing odd jobs. Others are employed by the village to be the Iman (religious leader), Alkalo (leader – kind of like mayor), Gely driver, and manger of the lodge.
One great thing about Gambians is that they really take care of each other. When a relative (and they have A LOT of relatives) needs help, you should give him financial support. And vice versa when you are low on cash flow. A close friend cannot deny their friend anything. If your close friend asks to borrow your tape player, you must let him. Money will come to families by various means such as these during hard times. It also makes it hard to save because when you have extra you will probably have to give it to a relative who has helped you out in the past. That said, we have seen people with more money than others – they have things like cars, satellite tv, etc. But, in our village, there are a few motorcycles, a couple cars, one house with glass windows and satellite tv. The other compounds that have those items are the Chinese man who lives just outside the village and Luis, the Spaniard.
Women generate income by various means such as gardening, collecting palm fruit, and oyster harvesting. Although women in our village do not harvest oysters yet – maybe a project in the future. In the big cities, women work in offices, are teachers, nurses, etc.
During the rainy season, the majority of the villagers plant rice and coos. They try to harvest enough to last the family a year and some families are able to do so. Our family has already run out of the local rice and has to buy imported rice (from America or Thailand) to eat. Our family goes through a big bag of rice (think Sams big) every 7 -10 days. A bag of rice costs about 1,000 dalasi (approximately 30 USD) and the price increases with the increasing costs of fuel. Our host dad makes 50 dalasi per kilo of fish, and the catch can vary extremely. We now contribute food and money to the equivalent of 1200 dalasi per month. With this information, I honestly have no idea how our family puts food on the table every day. But somehow, it is there. And if not, you could walk around the village and eat at any compound. During meal time, people always ask you to come eat with them. Quantity is less than a problem than quality. We have had three vegetables in our food bowl that we did not contribute thus far – pepper, bitter tomato, and onion. I am not certain if this is because vegetables are hard to get here or if they are too expensive. I think it may be a combination of factors. Hopefully, we will be able to help this problem. When we leave town, we get materials to add to the food bowl and in a couple months, we will have okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, peppers, and egg plant available from the garden – Inshallah (God willing).
Host Dad Lamin with his latest catch standing infront of our kitchen
Money is also different here. We are starting to utilize our village people to get materials so we are working with the carpenter, boat builder, honey collectors, pounder makers, etc. When asking the price – because we don’t know how much a piece of wood should cost, our villagers will say either: you are part of our community, it is free or how much can you pay? Both of these responses baffle our western/urban minds! Free?! You are giving us your time, how can this be free?! And how much Can we pay? – surely, more than it will cost. But this is how it is here and we are getting used to it and have people to help us settle on proper amounts. Everything is negotiable. We are learning to never accept the first price.