The Calabash & the Wonjo

Steve Becker's fascinating, sometimes hilarious trip to The Gambia. Bring your own calabash.
by Dr Steven Becker, 31 Westfield Grove, St. Johns, Wakefield, Yorkshire, U. K.
Chamaerops No. 14, published online 23-08-2002

Left: Oil palms & Rice paddies, Gambia

Idly perusing the holiday literature, in the small print, I came across the fact that the nearest piece of rainforest to Europe is located in The Gambia. Without further ado, a flight was booked, the family inoculated against diseases that had once made this part of the world the White Man's Grave, and currency was ordered. The latter came in the form of Dalassi and, much to the children's amusement, Bututs. After delivering an incisive lecture on the dreariness of this strain of English lavatorial humour, I sent them to bed with a copy of Mungo Park's 'Travels in the Interior of Africa' in order to induce in them a sense of perspective. Having a more mature outlook, I dug out Genera Palmarum, my new passport and a map, and made plans. Gill was astounded that we had actually made a decision on a holiday destination.

Two weeks later we landed in Yundum. Customs couldn't understand why a tourist had several thousand pounds worth of medical and surgical items in a shoulder bag the size of a hippo. I thought we were going to lose them but reason prevailed. Eventually we were admitted to the country. Homebound tourists pestered us for news of the Test Match, hustlers hustled, large birds circled in thermals, and vultures called porters squabbled in unseemly fashion over our luggage.

The seashell and bitumen road from the airport took us towards Serekunda. We passed huge termite mounds, breeze block and corrugated iron dwellings, monster Chinese trucks, massive roadside puddles in the red laterite mud, women skilfully balancing all manner of articles on their heads, gangling men repairing battered vehicles, hawkers and traders, market bustle, very large hardwood trees and throngs of people everywhere. All this and the fact that we thought we had stepped inside a furnace made an immediate and decisive impression on us all that took several days to decipher. We had arrived in sub-Saharan Africa.

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