Banjul: Capital of Gambia is a busy city
A few words today on Banjul, the capital of The Gambia and also the city in which I work.
Banjul is an island, surrounded on three sides by water, the Atlantic ocean on the west,
the Gambia river on the north and east, and on the south is a very large mangrove swamp.
To enter the city one may either take the ferry from the north bank of the river, which I mentioned in one of my earlier articles, or from the south of the city one may drive on a causeway that skirts between the edges of the ocean shore and the mangrove.
Behind the scenery
The road into the city gives one a pleasant and scenic view. However, a few things along the way in can give one pause. First there is the peanut oil factory and if passing by when they are pressing peanuts, it smells as if you are driving through a jar of peanut butter.
Second there is the prison, which by itself gathers no special attention. However, for
some inscrutable reason, a large tourism promotion billboard has been painted on its wall, which, along with the colorful picture of palm trees, has the message that Gambia is your haven in Africa. In many ways it is, but on this side of the wall.
Third and lastly, just before you enter the city you pass by the cemetery, which is on the beachfront. If any of you have ever gone through Forest Hill in Madison, you would not wonder why people would choose to bury their love ones in such a beautiful place.
Busy and friendly city
The city is small in both size and population and rather quaint. One can easily walk around all of its neighborhoods in a day, from the market by the ocean to the ferry and docks at the east end of the city to the residential neighborhoods to the south.
One thing that gives a feeling of friendliness is, except for a few buildings, the human
scale of the buildings. Most of the buildings are only two to three stories tall and many still have the friendly look of older architecture, not the more practical but more sterile look of the modern concrete buildings.
But it is not the size or buildings that make a place but the people - and the people in Banjul always seem to be busy. That, I believe, is from its being a port town. All of the cargo coming through gives the place a sense of constant movement. Perhaps that is because the cargo itself is constantly on the move throughout the city.
Because of favorable tax laws, many of the goods that go to this part of West Africa come
through the port of Banjul, so the streets are filled with trucks, handcarts, pushcarts, and anything else that can be used to move goods. Everything is either being loaded or unloaded into small storefront warehouses that dot the streets around the port or moved between trucks and handcarts.
You can find just about everything being moved around: televisions, bikes, cooking oil, instant coffee, bales of clothing, tires, bags of rice, onions, potatoes, and flour, and all of the other sundry goods that people need to live.
When lunchtime rolls around all one needs to do is go for a short stroll through the
streets to find something to eat. If you are only interested in a snack, there are the ladies making fried doughnut balls, which are here called pancakes. You could go to one of the boys who has a wheelbarrow full of peanuts or oranges.
If you are looking for a more substantial meal then there are always the people selling made to order egg sandwiches with coffee or tea to wash it down.
But I have to say my favorite is the guys selling freshly cooked goat and lamb. This is rather different in that they sell the meat out of pushcarts that resemble the pedal ice cream cart but, instead of ice, these carts have a charcoal fire burning inside.
How you go about taking home your meal is your choice. The vendor will either wrap it up in some newspaper for you or you can first buy some bread. Much of the bread here are bagguetts, and you can have a freshly made sandwich along with some of the drippings for that extra flavor.
For any of you planning on coming to Banjul I highly recommend getting the goat or lamb with the drippings.
Tom Brodd of Madison is living in The Gambia, West Africa, as one of 16 participants in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Volunteer Program, which provides U.S. Catholics with
opportunities to share their skills through CRS and to live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world.