This just in from volunteer Natalie, recently returned from her Gambian placement … and can be applied to other destinations and placements too!
Finding Your Feet In The Gambia
The Gambia is a brilliant country, bursting with art, music, dance, fabulous food and amazing people.
Although this was my third trip to The Gambia, I was surprised at how much adjusting it actually took for me to settle in.
Having been there on holiday I had an appreciation for the relaxed “Gambia No Problem” attitude to life, but did initially find this a struggle whilst volunteering.
Here are a few tips that may help ease you into your Gambian Experience.
- Make Friends: In areas such as Senegambia, Fajara and Banjul you can’t walk five minutes down the road without someone trying to introduce themselves to you. It once took me 45mins to walk would should have been a 20 min journey, because of the many conversations along the way. Obviously this isn’t always ideal, as you do sometimes want to just get from a – b. But making Gambian friends whilst on your placement is one of the best ways to get to understand the culture, it will also make your trip a lot more enjoyable.
- Avoid Paper Overload: Don’t produce endless amounts of reports, no one will read them. It’s more productive to discuss things in person and then summarize what was agreed on paper or via email.
- Do Not Stress: Try not to get irritated about things. The internet will lose connection or the power go down for sometimes half a day – there is nothing you can do about it, so stressing will not help.
- Be patient: Meetings, events, in fact most things will often start late.
- Be Flexible: Things can change very last minute. During my three months placement the working week changed from five days a week, to four and then back to five again in the space of a week!
- Don’t Be Easily Offended: The Gambia has many different traditions and customs, not all of which will be explained and not all Gambians will know why certain traditions exist. For example if someone is looking everywhere but your face when talking to you – this could be because it is considered rude for a younger person to look an older person in the eye whilst speaking. Another example is that as a women, not all men will shake your hand – some men consider this inappropriate.
- Explore: Take some time to explore The Gambia. It is not an all inclusive holiday – try different local restaurants, take a new route home, check out the live music.
- Remember Gambia Is Not England: If it was, what would the appeal be in going there?
- Smile: Gambia is known as The Smiling Coast of Africa. A smile really does go a long way.
Whether or not it’s your first time in volunteering in The Gambia, the most important tip is to go with an open mind.