As I have mentioned, The Gambian women work hard and many of them in the village I resided for the past month had a garden and/or a farm in addition to working on their compounds or outside the home. Now, the men will work the farms also as they are larger and definitely require more physical labor. Although, I am sure these tough women could handle it all if they needed to. My first day setting out to meet people found me pulling weeds in the garden with a neighbor lady. As we both walked down the same road, I greeted her and she was expecting me (my family had told her they were having a wimpy tubaab come stay with them). We headed to the garden together and hers was full of weeds; you could barely tell the lettuce from the weeds. So, she handed me a small hoe type thing which apparently I did not use properly as she quickly took it back. However, I can and was allowed to pull weeds with my hands. After each handful she asked if I was getting tired and needed to go sit in the shade. I may be a wimpy tubaab, but I can pull more than a handful of weeds at a time. She kept telling me to rest and after 30 minutes or so of working in the hot African sun I figured I would take a short break and drink some water. Again, the hospitality came out; she stopped her gardening to care for the wimpy tubaab. She took a “chair” (large margarine tub) into the shade and insisted I sit. So, I sat while she worked and little did I know that this was going to be a lot of what I did for the next month. Honestly, they are really just happy to have the company while they work. After working and sitting for several hours I headed back home to rest, take some Aleve and eat lunch while she headed home to keep working. This tough Gambian woman does not have any teenage daughters or any co-wives and therefore she does all the work. This meant she had gotten up early and prepared breakfast for her family and done the shopping for lunch. She then went to the garden for a few hours only to return home and start cooking the lunch (don’t forget how much work I mentioned the cooking is) and do all the clean up, fetching water and washing clothes before going back to the garden for a few hours in the evening. She is tough!
The family I stayed with has a small farm for cassava (a root vegetable), corn and okra. One day shortly after my arrival they mentioned they were all (including the kids) going to work on the farm. I wanted to see the farm and help out my new family a little as well as provide entertainment, so off I went. The husband, the kids and I all piled in the car to drive to the farm (the wives were going to follow later on foot I found out after I was placed in the car). We also loaded up the seed for corn, a few machetes and of course a small charcoal stove for making ataaya (a green tea that is enjoyed throughout the day and critical to any work). What I did not realize is that the farm is really the equivalent of two blocks from the house and even the wimpy tubaab could have walked that distance. Shortly after unloading everything the husband was concerned because they had forgotten to bring a chair for the wimpy tubaab. Honestly, I was fine and if I am too tired I am certainly not above sitting in the dirt. I repeatedly told him I was ok and set to work to try and prove that I was “tough” LOL! It was hot, but I learned that the farm work is still about family and community. It was not how fast you could do the work, but how the family works together. I quickly figured out the best “plan” for the wimpy tubaab was to follow behind the 5 year old who was picking up small trees that had been chopped down and collect what he dropped. After about an hour of work the wives arrived and one of them had a chair on her head for the tubaab. The husband had called his wife despite my protests and instructed her to bring a chair for me. So, the chair was set up in the shade and I was instructed repeatedly and firmly to sit while others around me worked. The sky started getting dark and it was clear a thunderstorm was brewing. The family kept working, but they were concerned about the wimpy tubaab getting wet (personally, I thought it might be nice to get wet and cool down some). So, one wife walked me home before the rain as she was concerned I could not find my way home on my own. The others returned dripping wet, but they immediately set to work with buckets trying to clear some of the water from the center of the compound so we had a dry place to eat dinner that night. Meanwhile, I took a shower and rested.
I am sharing these stories to hopefully give you a little more insight into Gambian life and the incredible Gambian people. One of the first things I learned about language and culture learning is that you must be able to laugh at yourself and I definitely do. I hope you are enjoying laughing along with me; next up “the art of sitting”.