After visiting my friend’s children and family, another goal was on my wish list: a visit to Sotokoi, my friend’s hometown that we support with the help of donations.
The village is located deep in the interior of The Gambia, a bus ride of about 5 hours.
At 7.00 o’clock in the morning I was picked up by Abdou, the taxidriver. On the way we took my guide Giki (Mustafa) and we were taken to the “bus stop”. What a chaotic situation there: rickety passenger vans drive back and forth, fully loaded with people and stuff, sometimes even goats on the roof. And with a totally unclear destination for me.
So many hours packed in a rickety van is not really comfortable. I estimate that there were 20-25 people in it. And then I can speak of luck that we were allowed to sit in the front. There were often stops along the way; people and goods were loaded and unloaded. At those moments you are not allowed to leave the bus, because that would take too much time. Once we had a short break, so we could get out to stretch our legs, go to the (standing) toilet and buy a sandwich.
The reception in Sotokoi was heart warming. People are so happy and grateful with what we have done for the village so far. We have now been able to pay the school fees for 17 children. For the 5 children who go to school to the nearby village of Kudang, a bicycle has been purchased. And in addition, clothing was bought and we were able to support the football team. And now during my visit I could buy 6 more bags of rice from the donation money and the bags were distributed to several families. An elderly resident of the village expressed a sincere word of thanks. I was moved to tears.
After that it was the intention to take a walk with Giki, but a horse cart came behind us and took us to a village further away where we visited a horse trader. We passed a number of traditional villages with round huts covered with straw. There were children who had never seen a white man before and some of them were completely frozen when they saw me. One girl started to cry in terror and fear. The country road was rather bumpy and it wasn’t really comfortable on the hard wooden seat, but it’s a very common means of transport there. The next day, however, I still had pain in my buttocks.
Village life is very friendly. Sitting together and chatting is an important activity in The Gambia. Too bad I can’t understand them. Maybe I should learn Mandinka one day.
Given my diabetes and being a vegetarian, I knew it would be difficult to participate in the meals in the village. Usually there is (white) rice with chicken or fish on the menu. However, they had once prepared a kind of couscous with a peanut / mango sauce. That was delicious. Peanuts (groundnuts) are an important agricultural product in The Gambia. By the way, they cook on wood.
The toilet is a hole in the ground. And the shower is a bucket of water that you can pour over your body by means of a large mug. Maybe this sounds primitive, but every night it was very refreshing.
The next day we left at 8.00 o’clock to the rice field, again with a horsecart (au, my ass..). Each family has its own piece of land, for its own use. There is too little to be able to sell. On the way back we passed a place where fish was dried. At that time, the fish was being prepared to be transported to Senegal.
Then we visited the Islamic school built by the community itself. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of classrooms, tables, chairs and books. A toilet or water are not available too.
At the end of the afternoon there was a football match organized especially for me. I felt sorry for them because they don’t have money for football shirts. So the players just walked around in their own clothes. For me it was completely unclear who belonged to which team. They also had to borrow a ball from the football team in a nearby village for this match. That’s why I gave them the money for a football.
In the evening there was dancing in the compound. The children came from all over the village to dance with me, of course African style. I did my best, but there was a lot of laughter about my “moves”. My Gambian name is Marjama and in the video you can hear children call my name when it’s my turn. I really enjoyed that night.
The last day in Sotokoi I took a walk with Giki. We passed the cemetery. Stones are laid on the spot where someone is buried. In the village they were working on the place where a market for the village will be built. Men were busy manually making the stones for the buildings…
And then it was time to leave and continue my journey to Janjanbureh ( it is also called Georgetown, or Makati in Mandinka). But in this short time Sotokoi and its inhabitants have become dear to me.
Donations (in the form of money or goods) are still welcome. If you are interested, please send an email via the contact form.