Friday, July 5, 2013

Gambia Day Five: The River Gambia

Gambia Day Five: The River Gambia

We finally leave the compound! We go on the Roots tour. Sharif is our tour guide. He's a very spry forty and he tried out for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (the 400!). We're the only ones on the bus and he talks a lot so it's kinda annoying. During the hour ride from Banjul to the seaport, he tells us about his aspirations to fly a jet and be an accountant. He also tells us about what he would do if he were president. Some scheme about palm tree oil.

The day goes like this. We take a boat to the villages of Albreda and Juffureh (village of Kunte Kinte) then a smaller boat to St. James island where, in the 18th century, slaves awaited transportation to the new world.

We get to the seaport where the boat is. Already on board is a motley crew of nerdy Americans, some Black British women of the soul searching blend, and two older Dutch couples. There's also this good-looking young mixed Dutch guy with muscles. He takes off his shirt in Linds' presence and I am immediately peeved. If I were buff, I'd just take my shirt off too, but I'm not. I'm 30. I'm flabby. I have a barely repaired achilles.


Anyhoo, the boat ride is two hours. We get to the village and it is surreal. We hear goats bleating and we see tin roofs. Clothes drying on thin lines. Little children everywhere. One of white Dutch guys opens up a thing of crackers and they all come running to him. He opens up a thing every five minutes. I'm annoyed at his whole "I'm white guy here to save the day with biscuits" shtick. I know I'm overreacting.

We meet the village chief. She's a she! She's like eighty something years old. When one  of the tour guides come forward to greet her, she gives him dap. I swear! She's a g.

After that, we visit the ninth generation of Kunte Kinte's family. One lady subtly or not so subtly hints to the guide that Alex Haley's Roots has been discredited, but the guide ignores her. If he were allowed an unprofessional moment, he would say something like, "Negro, we know that...we just trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cent."

And finally to St. James Island. Now our tour guide had mentioned going there on a smaller boat, but I had no idea he meant a skiff! A shrimp boat! We're like this close to the water! I'm thinking this is the end. I have a weak achilles and this is the end. Some of the locals are helping us on to the boat, giving us very explicit instructions about sitting on alternating sides of the boats as we get on. A couple comes on and sit on the same side and we nearly topple. On the river Gambia. In the Atlantic!

We make it to the island. What an experience. To see those closed quarters and know that they housed thousands of slaves meeting a terrible fate makes me just at a loss for words. The guide has given this tour a thousand times and even he breaks down. Just breathtaking, indelible.

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