The months of January-March were all about firsts. First time flying. First time visiting my native country—The Gambia. First time meeting my grandmother and the rest of my extended family.
My parents came to the USA 21 years ago as immigrants. My dad has been a citizen for a few years and has visited back home a few times over the years, but my mother has not. In 2010 she was finally granted permanent resident status and we immediately began planning a trip. I cannot believe how it must feel to not see your family for more than 20 years, especially considering how young my mom was when she came to this country, barely 19. It was a truly emotional experience for my mother and for me as well.
Everything was just so different from what I’m use to. The second the plane began its descend, I knew. “Uh, no, looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore”.
The first words out of my mouth were “This is the airport?!” In my thoughts— ‘What the hell?! Figures they’re going to land the plane in the damn bushes!’ My only defense for that slightly ignorant and offensive line was that we’d been flying for nearly 2 days. We had left NYC’s JFK airport around 1pm on the 12th of January and had arrived in Banjul (the capital) at 2pm the next day (with a 6 hours layover in Brussels, Belgium)!
My uncle came to pick us up and we went over to my dad’s compound (where we would stay with my uncle who lives there and helps maintain the place). We spent about 3 weeks in Serekunda (area near the capital), getting clothes sewn, visiting with my younger brother who’s been living and going to school there for a few years. After, we made our trip to my mom and dad’s villages—Dingiri and Missira, respectfully (or aka Bumfuck 1 & 2). Took us nearly 10 hours to drive there and believe me when I say it was not in luxury or comfort. We were crammed into a van with 10 people total, there was an African man from Spain who was a little too friendly and wouldn’t shut up, I had to pee in a hole in the ground, my baby sis got sick and threw up—It was not a fun ride.
Well, at least now, I can say that I’ve gone cross-country before. So, what if it was a reallly teeny country!
We went to my father’s home town, Missira first, technically since my mom got married, it’s her official hometown too (small African village politics! lol). We spent about 4 days there, until we learned that someone from my mom’s village had come to visit and had a car (cars are not to be taken for granted there).
Dingiri is only about a 45 minute drive from Missira and once there… I finally met my last living grandparent, my mom’s mom. It was… I can’t even truly describe the various emotions I went through watching my grandmother finally lay eyes on her daughter, seeing the joy, and the relief that she lived long enough to see her third daughter, the same emotions as her eyes shifted to us, her three grand-daughters, It was powerful, important and something to be forever remembered.
I won’t go on to list the dozens of family members I met during my trip (hell, I couldn’t even keep track of them). I’ll just say, with multiple wives and 3-4 generations…it makes for a lot of people. However, that was the most important aspect of my trip. Despite, the lack of plumbing, internet, plentiful food, and comfort, I got to meet family, people who will always care no matter what, simply because the same blood runs through their veins as through mine. Two months of literally being constantly surrounded by people, I realized that living in the States with only my immediate family is a little bit lonely. Major lesson learned from this trip? Family truly is the most important thing someone can have.
Top Row: My cousins in Serekunda and my younger sisters, Cousins in Missira with my younger sisters, My grandfather (mom’s dad) who passed about 2 years ago,
Bottom Left: My mom’s eldest sister and her family and me and my sister
Center: My grandmother, her sister (my great-aunt?) and my mom and baby sis.
Bottom Center: My mom’s second eldest sister and her kids.
Bottom Right: My lil sisters and my uncle.
Other lessons Learned?
- Don’t follow your cousins when they go out at night to steal mangoes from an old man’s property….You end up running in the dark!
- Don’t then eat said mangoes before they have completely ripened, because while their African intestines are used to it, your delicate American ones will have you running to the bathroom..in the dark…with the sheep and goats scarring the crap of you and near death by sheer EMBARASSMENT, cause you made your little sis come with you and stand guard against the things that go bump in the dark and made her cover her ears as your body noisily rejected the mangoes. And despite her solemn promise never to mention the event again…it still comes up! Grrr…
- There must be something in the water over there. Because the usually tomboyish me, became utterly girly. It was actually kind of disgusting. I mean, pretty African clothes, heels, make-up and hair all done! HA HA
- There’s no such thing as adolescence. There are few young unmarried girls. And I was older than all of them! When I told them I was 19, still unmarried and without a fiancée or prospect in sight..they were shocked! Girls marry so young, at 14, 15, 16 years of age. But then again without any formal schooling in the villages, it’s like they may as well get married and serve some sort of purpose other than being an extra mouth to feed. lol
- The amount of freedom given to little kids is not good for my heart. As a city kid from the Big Apple, I could not take my baby sis (who was 2 at the time) just roaming all over the compound on her own. Compounds are like several building built near one another holding an extended family. Think a gated community, without the giant gate and a two-year-old going whenever she pleases….yea, I was having near heart attacks too.
- All of the sand in the world somehow ended up in the Gambia. There are no roads basically. Maybe like only 5% (Dunno, number pulled outta my bum, but it’s not a lot from what I’ve seen) of the country is paved and cemented. The capital, Banjul definitely has sidewalks and paved roads. Cities and Town near the capital, like Serekunda, have major/main roads paved. However, side roads or anywhere in the villages…is just sand. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get used to walking in sand when you’re lived your own life on concrete! Sand between toes, in shoes, on hems of clothes..everywhere! God, I’m never going to a beach for as long as I live, I’m so sick of sand. (Take that, Sand!)
- Taking a semester off from school to travel sounds great in theory, but sucks when you return and have nothing to do. More on that next post.
That’s how I spent the first two months of the year 2011. Next is the months of April to August.
Until next time,
Life is Funny, except when it’s not.