A big part of this month of a village experience was to have many new adventures. On my daily visits, I met a woman who actually recognized me from my village as she comes to our market on some Saturdays and sells lettuce and my teammate who I shop with at that market loves lettuce. Well, this lady took her role as culture and language teacher for me very seriously and provided me many great opportunities. She has a teenage daughter who helps around the compound with the cooking, her husband works on their farm and Faana sells. I knew that sellers worked hard, but spending so much time with her opened my eyes to their slim profit margins and their incredibly long and physically challenging work hours. Like most of the sellers, she sells whatever she can get and tries to make a profit any way she can. Mango season was wrapping up which meant they were in high demand. So, several days per week she would head out looking for mangos to sell. This meant hiking out into the bush and trying to get those mangos up high in the trees or purchasing them from neighbors or other sellers. These hard working and industrious Gambian ladies even have “hot houses” where they ripen the mangos by wrapping them in paper from bags of cement and material and then heating the room with gas. This wimpy tubaab ate plenty of mangos, but I didn’t have to pick them. I have mentioned hospitality is huge, the kids on my compound would race to get the ripe mangos when they fell and the tubaab would get the best ones.
I wanted to go with my new friend Faana to experience the market from a sellers perspective, but I was definitely too much of a wimpy tubaab to go to the huge market where she arrives around 8pm, spends the night and then sells all day the next day. Instead, I went to the nearby market to check it out and see it from her perspective. She wasn’t planning on selling all day at this one, but had talked to a friend who was going to buy a few pans of mangos. Ordinarily, she has 5-7 pans when she goes to sell and “we” only had 1 ½. So, I arrived at her house about 9 am and she loaded up the baby on her back and the heavy, large pan of mangos on her head. The teenage girl came with us to the road to carry the other bucket since I was absolutely no help; there is no way the wimpy tubaab can carry things on her head. Then, we stood on the side of the road and tried to wave down a taxi. I felt better when she stepped into the shade with me and after about 10 minutes I was able to convince her that she really did not need to look for or send a kid back to her house for a chair for me while we waited on the taxi. Although I am a wimp, I am capable of standing. After a couple very full and kind of scary looking taxis stopped (no private taxis here, you pile in with everyone else going your way if there is kind of enough room) and didn’t negotiate a good enough price a taxi van stopped that actually had decent space. The mangos were loaded on the roof by the assistant to the driver (while the van was moving) and we were off. Honestly, the taxi ride wasn’t bad and after about 30 minutes and many stops we arrived at the market.
Now, she knew the wimpy tubaab would be no help so we got the driver to drop us close to the “mango section” of the market and she drummed up help from other sellers to unload. There were repeated negotiations with the other seller who was supposed to buy the mangos and many times we walked away to try and get a better price. After three loops walking around the large market a deal was struck and I was exhausted. She did take pity on the wimpy tubaab and each loop around we would take a break and sit in the shade for a while and chat with some of the other sellers. These chats usually involved marriage proposals to the wimpy tubaab (don’t they know what a terrible Gambian wife I would make), but Faana had my back and I left without any husbands. After the deal was struck on the mangos, I was happy because we were going home and I was tired, but my friend had a little shopping to do. So, she purchased some dried corn and reluctantly let me help carry it (she had many other purchases on her head, a bag in her hands, a farm tool in the other hand and a baby on her back). We then walked about a mile to the machine that pounds the corn into powder and a mile back (with breaks for me to sit in the shade) to then find a taxi. The ride home was hot and tiring and we got back to our village by 2, just in time for lunch. In addition to looking for produce to sell, many sellers also have their own farms or gardens which they work on in their “free time”. That afternoon while I rested Faana went to the farm and planted seeds for the upcoming harvest. Stay tuned for the next entry to learn a little more about farming and gardening in The Gambia.