Well, it’s not really the other half. The population of Africa is 1.216 Billion and the UK’s is 65.14 Million and Gambia itself has a population of 1.911 Million. One 1/8th of the size of London’s population and roughly the same size population as Birmingham! Birmingham is 267 KM squared. Gambia is 10,689 KM squared. This means in relation to Gambia; the population of Birmingham is spread over the size of Yorkshire UK.
Skoolz4kids focus the sponsorship programme around the urban area of Serekunda. However, as this blog will hopefully show, people are not statues and move. A lot.
Serekunda is the largest urban area in Gambia with an estimated population of 337,000. That’s around the 1/5th of the whole of Gambia in one place. A hustle bustle of colour, sound, smell, noise and being pushed and shoved in all directions.
Whereas skoolz4kids educational support tends to focus on remote villages who have the most need for school furniture, equipment etc, once our supported schools (where a lot of sponsored kids attend) have been fully kitted out, we then concentrate up country.
A typical Gambian market street with the obligatory woman not wanting her photo taken unless: A you give her money or: B she thinks the camera will steal her spirit! Superstition is as much a part of Gambian life as Mangos and flies.
Serekunda has one tarmac road running right through it and from every sandy side street; are stalls, shops, hawkers, women sat on buckets selling pancakes (not the maple syrup yum yum version) and every piece of Chinese crap you never want to use in case of self-electrification. Serekunda is a mix of shops, stalls, homes, “offices” a police station, cattle, goats, sheep, street dogs, street kids. Police in white gloves making traffic congestion worse. Traffic lights that don’t work and when they do, the traffic police put on their gloves and like a Laurel and Hardy show, mis-direct the traffic. Flies, Mosquitoes, Excrement. Flowers, fruit, wigs and hair wraps. Kids laughing, babies gurgling, women shouting greetings. Men shaking hands. Men sitting and brewing and drinking Ataya (green tea). Traffic fume smog mixed with cigarette smoke. Goats on Bikes and men taking naps in their wheelbarrows. Nothing is a surprise here. Clear blue skies, bright African sunshine and the smiles that make Gambia known as the smiling coast of Africa.
As you move away from the centre, shacks appear which are people’s homes. Some single-story makeshift space consisting of a single room or a room and a parlour (lounge to you and me) a corrugated iron sheet roof with gaps big enough for rats and rain to descend though, depending on the season. A space out back if you’re lucky for your pots and pans to cook for the family. Most of our families have one room (bedroom) and if they’re more fortunate a parlour. The one bedroom must serve as a sleeping space for however many people live in that family.
Those of you who have read our previous blogs know we lost our dear Isatou in March. Before she died, her grandma (Mirrow) had been made homeless as the landlord of their previous room wanted more rent that a woman of 80+ who can’t work could pay. She spent months going from place to place sleeping on floors with Isatou as sick as she was in tow. Sleeping on cockroach infested floors and urine sodden mattresses. All of this is detailed elsewhere, the point of this now is to show the following photos which are typical of a poor Gambian home (or room) A room is called a house, even if it only consists of one room. You already have read, the amazing sponsors clubbed together to make Isatou’s short life more bearable and this is how it was achieved. One very special sponsor paid her rent. As we wanted to secure her tenancy we paid the landlord 6 months’ rent in advance then recouped the rent from the sponsor each month as and when she paid. We provided the paint and a neighbour helped paint the walls, concrete in the holes and make the roof water tight.
This is a typical poor person’s home in an urban area. Many live hand to mouth. All live in rented compounds and move continually. Isatou and Mirrow were lucky that we could help through the generosity of those who made this happen. When we lost her, it wasn’t just us that felt her loss. All of those with kind open hearts who made this happen and have that thing often absent in so many: Empathy and generosity of spirit. Our girl, with the brightest smile the day she moved into her new home.
Typical Gambian homes our families live in, all follow this pattern.
Photo Above- On a village clothes drop one day s4k encountered a severely disabled lady. With no wheelchair, stick or zimmer frame one wonders how on earth she manages. Here are a few photos of the front of her house. Like most people we feel shy to ask to see inside people’s homes. Never mind photograph them. Unlike some people who live in their mansions with their pools and love to brag and give guided tours of their wealth. Humility, sensitivity and empathy for people are something that we value and promote daily through our work. It is rare for us to photograph the interior of a poor persons home. We have more respect for people than that. We understand outsiders’ curiosity and hopefully these blogs will go some way in demonstrating Gambian life while maintaining respect for those it represents.
Just by glancing into the gloom through the doorway, this home is not one you will find on “Through the keyhole”.
Gambians do not spend their lives in their rooms; like British people spend their lives wrapped in their homes with their comfort, their gadgets and modern-day paraphernalia. Mostly because the inside of their “house” is stifling heat. A room built with concrete or mud blocks, roofed with iron corrugate retains the heat. So, while the sun beats down on the hot tin roof all day. All night the hot tin roof emits the heat its stored all day. No fans, no windows no source of air. Gambians socialise outside 99% of their lives. If a visitor comes, a chair is found and pulled up outside. This is not just unique to Gambia but also other African countries with high humidity and heat. At least the cooler night air brings some relief from the heat of the day. The photo below is of an 80+ year old lady who had a stroke some 2 years back. Being partially paralysed down one side, she has been sleeping on the floor of her room for as long as I have been in Gambia. It only came to light when I was investigating who could benefit from mattresses we had collected in the UK through the general container. Grandma to a previously sponsored kid, she spends her days caring for the grand-daughter or cooking or selling groundnut outside her room to sleep on the concrete floor at night. At 80 years old. In this photo, you can glimpse how she lives, storing her belongings in plastic pots to keep vermin out.
Even at Badjie Kunda, the cooking is done outside:
Sol preparing the charcoal fire to cook fish on. Everyone cooks outside. The space inside a room is too small to safely cook anything on raw flame. Gambians cooks over firewood and charcoal. Fire is a big problem for Gambians who use candles due to the terrible lack of electricity and every week people lose their home and their lives due to using candles as there is no light. Washing is done by hand with water drawn from the well unless you are fortunate enough within a mile of a working tap. Drying the washing is done by draping it over your fence or on a make shift line like below:
Drawing water from a well is nowhere as easy as it looks. Ask our visitors who have had the pleasure.
A typical shared compound of one of our sponsored families. Each door housing a different family. Made of mud or concrete, whatever the owner of the land can afford. The more rooms the more income he can make.
Ginger with 2 of our sponsored kids in their compond
This is where Sol’s parents raised their family until they moved to Serekunda when Sol was 8.
Now it appears to be Elegance fans club! Which in fact is what a Video club is called here. Men usually go to these clubs to watch football and African wrestling. Most homes have no power or TV ‘s.
One of our Fula families used to live in this house. They recently moved to the village, as life was too expensive and politically difficult for them in Serekunda. This was their home last rainy season:
Village life differs little from urban life other than the frenetic activity of those around you. And that cooking is all done outside, whereas in the urban areas it usually is done in a “kitchen”! Both below:
To summarise. A poor person’s house in Gambia is lucky to have electricity: But is then dependent on NOWEC, the no water and electricity company. No Solar power. No bore holes. No Taps. One room to sleep in no matter the size of the family or in some cases two rooms for very large families who have more than one adult working. Or one room and a parlour. The “kitchen” is either out the back of the room or in the compound somewhere outside and consists of whatever firewood and charcoal the people have managed to buy that day. Food is cooked in bulk. Rice being the staple diet and often spread across 3 meals. Everything is cooked in huge metal pots. Babies sleep with their parents until they’re big enough to sleep on the floor. When they reach puberty each gender child is usually sent to live with a relative or “Toma/Tom” of the same gender. A poor persons’ house has no carpet or tiles. Plastic flooring like thin lino called Tarpay lines the floor of the working households. Light is provided by candles which are a big fire hazard. Toilets are at the back of the compound and are a hole in the ground. Poor people shower where they toilet.
There is no toilet roll. No gas. No glass windows and if you are lucky enough to have any window it is covered in a metal netting to keep the mosquitoes out. Curtains are drawn to keep the heat out, making the room very dark.
Everything edible must be stored in plastic air tight containers or they become a free for all fest for any creature with more than 4 legs. Cockroaches dart across mud floors into the dark recess of corners. Th heat strangles you from within. All clothing is ironed with an iron resembling something from Victorian times, as many flies lay their eggs in damp clothing/bedding and on human contact they burrow into your skin only to erupt as some vile horror movie extra a few weeks later.
Helping with the chores starts young
Nowhere to put the baby while you’re cooking. Try a washing pan J