Day Eight - Saturday, February 2nd, 2002 - Sanyang Nature Camp

Well, getting up this morning there was no water so I had to go with the rather cold option of throwing a bucket of it over my head. But it seemed to do the trick. Breakfast was late as the gentleman running the camp had to bike into town to pick up the bread. There were also a number of changes to the scheduled program for the day so, after breakfast, we started with a language class before heading off to the village where we were to visit a naming ceremony.

Every child at about a week old has a naming ceremony which is where, surprisingly enough, the child's name is decided and shared with the village. There is an elaborate set of events that occurs including the shaving of the child's hair (if it exists) and the sacrifice of a goat (immediately when the hair is shaved). There are also a series of speeches by the “town crier” during which he is given money in order to entice him to “get on with it” and name the child. We were guided into a compound and sat along the edge where we watched this event occur. Again, as with yesterday, the ladies sat to the left of the door and the men sat to the right. The mother and child sat on the ground in front of the woman. “Lamin” (a common name around here meaning “first born” [male] – “Fatou” is typically the name of the “first born” [female]). We were told that we were lucky that there was a naming ceremony today that we could witness since there are not many that are as elaborate as the one we witnessed.

After the more formal part of the ceremony had completed (the ceremony continues into the day and well into the night with dancing and singing in various parts of the village) we left once again for the town market where we picked up a few fruit before piling once again into the car to return to the camp.

Lunch was interesting as it was practice for a “communal bowl” that we are told we will be sharing tomorrow when we meet with the VDC in Sanyang. This is the common way that families eat in the Gambia and it consists of everyone eating with their RIGHT hand out of a large communal bowl of rice (typically, though can be couscous) covered with whatever (fish, chicken, beef, vegetable, etc). A big sheet was laid on the concrete of the common area of the camp and a few massive bowls of food were brought – for those of us eating meat this was “Chicken Domoda” (chicken with peanut sauce) which was absolutely fantastic. We, of course, washed our hands first and were told to sit in such a way that we can lean over to eat (so that any bits we miss go onto the sheet but not us). A few of us gave it a try with our hands (yes, me) but it was VERY hot and took a bit of getting use to. Evidently, there is no etiquette regarding leaving uneaten food where it drops, though it is accepted and can also be used to drop bones and other waste as well (clean-up is a bit of a chore). Should be interesting tomorrow in front of the whole village.

After lunch we had a bit of a discussion about Gambian “values and norms” as well as discussions about the various ethnic groups. It was a very interesting discussion and focused in on the various elements that make up the society. It was interesting to learn that the naming ceremony and other such things are not actually religious or even ethnic group-based but rather an event performed by any family.

I managed to get a bit of “washing” done (bucket, and some wonderful hand-washing soap powder) as well as a bit of hard-work in a hammock watching the vultures fight over the scraps left over from our various meals thrown out behind the “kitchen”. It is very dry here with a lot of sand about but the trees are very green and there are a lot of birds. The camp has a few bits of native wildlife including a herd of goats/sheep (we were told that the sheep have long tails and the goats have short, typically upright, tails – believe me, this is really the ONLY way to tell them apart most times) and “Rita” – the pregnant horse who wanders around trailing a rope tied around her neck (with a length of about thirty feet). Evidently the people running the camp do not know how to take care of horses and Rita's mate died a little while ago and, unfortunately, the outlook does not look good for Rita also – according to Jane who has owned horses for many years (the people running the camp have been feeding Rita some of the leftovers from our meals – I can't think that chicken is a good diet for a horse). The goats/sheep run around and get themselves into trouble all the time as they forage for something to eat.

Me Dancing Me (Blush) Dancing (Courtesy Jane)

Before dinner we were entertained by a group of singers/dancers from the village who were supposed to have performed the other day if it had not been for the unfortunate death. These are a group of ladies who are either barren or have had children that have died – they sing and dance (traditionally) in order to appease the gods and beg of being given a child (evidently, it has worked on more than one occasion). We were guided to a small circle of chairs under a tree in the camp and we sat opposite to the small group of performers (about 5-6 of them). They had a pail that they used for a drum and simply started to sing and dance. They were not dressed up particularly in any very fancy dress but certainly made up for it in enthusiasm. Of course, they had to get each of us involved in the dance which was very amusing. They seemed to pick on me in particular which was great fun as I tried to match their movements – I am NOT a good dancer (though that much, I feel, was obvious). It was all very enjoyable though the music was a bit repetitive after an hour or so. It was interesting to see as they performed, people walking along the road on the way back from the fishing village came into the camp (we were quite some distance into the camp) to watch or even join in. They certainly know how to have a good time and to MAKE a good time as well.

Gemma Dancing Gemma Dancing with Chris Grinning

Dinner was plain rice with fish. Jane and I continued or foray into card-playing. On our suggestion, they had a bit of a camp fire that Jane and I enjoyed but found it a bit difficult to use the light from the fire for card playing so we abandoned our playing and simply sat around and talked for a while.

⇒ Continue to Day Nine - Sunday, February 3rd, 2002 - Sanyang Nature Camp