Sabi is a blessed village. It has access to clean water, plentiful farm lands and pleasant people. Inside the borders of the village each family unit lives in what they call a ‘compound’. In each compound you will find multiple mud huts with their own ‘toilet’ facilities (hole in the ground), a cooking hut, and some have storage huts. Each compound is swept clean multiple times a day and is tidy. Each person living in the compound has a role to play whether its is farming, cooking (generally rice with peanut or tomato based sauce and veg), cleaning, gathering fire wood or water; some of the roles, like cooking or getting well water, circulate between various people on a daily or weekly basis. They all rely on each other to fulfill their role in order to survive.
The mud huts are, as you would expect, simple. Most huts are built with mud bricks mixed with straw and held together with more mud. The floor is made of one of two materials: dried cow dung or cement. Some huts have their walls covered with a plaster or cement kind of material. Almost all huts have peaked thatched roofs. Some compounds have what we call “long homes” built of the same materials are a more modern “square shape” with multiple rooms and windows. Their homes are simple but surprisingly clean and comfortable and contain all of their worldly possessions: cooking pots, bed, maybe a chair. storage for food and clothing.
The water table is high and there are may wells throughout the village. Most wells are powered by a hand pump or by a pulley system of ropes and buckets. There are one or two wells that take advantage of the erratic electricity supply to the village. The water is fresh and clean. Its great for washing and drinking. No need for iodine tablets or water filters here; a welcomed change from Banjul where we relied on bottled water to drink and brush our teeth.
A fun story about digging wells: The land is mostly sandy. Once you hit the water line, someone must dive in and load up a bucket of sand send it up to the surface and then dive again. This must go on until the depth of the well is adequate. Our new friend and host volunteered in this task and recounted the burning in his lungs and extreme effort it took to dive, collect sand and resurface over and over again. These people are amazing.
There are narrow and dusty roads that wind between compounds. On either side you walk past children playing, donkeys making that incredible sound that only donkeys can make, gardens, farm land, cows etc. In the center of the village you find a well, a mosque and nearby the chiefs compound (equipped with multiple cement “long houses”, electricity, the best horses in town and satellite TV).
Being in an African muslim community there were a set of rules that we needed to live by. There were many more rules for the women than for men. The general rule was not to shake hands with anyone unless offered and to not take photos of anyone unless given permission.
- Wear long pants. They think it’s childish to wear shorts if you are a man.
- Don’t show physical affection toward any woman, including your wife
- Cover your butt with your blouse
- Where a skirt to your ankles
- Cover your head if you are married as seen in the image
- Don’t walk with your husband in town
- Don’t show physical affection toward any man including your husband
The Gambians have a interesting method of greeting one another. Rather than saying a simple “Hello” or “How are you?”, they asks multiple questions to each other in rapid succession in their native tongue, Serahuli. Questions like, “How are you”, “Is your family well?”, “Hows your day?”, “How’s your work?”. In response we would say “Majam” to each question in this rapid fire greeting since it is the most generic response a “Tubab,” like us, can give. If you’re feeling bold, you can finish the last greeting with “mama tang” (I’ve spelled phonetically) which directly translates to “you and loneliness,” apparently a way to really greet well.
We were surprised by the food. Its good and we didn’t get sick. The staples for the villagers are rice and millet with some sort of peanut or tomato based sauce and maybe bitter tomato or pumpkin when in season. Meat is not common. We had this food, served from a large sharing bowl a few days of our stay. We feel we were spoiled. After finding out how we eat back home, our hosts provided fresh bread, lettuce, carrots, cucumber and tomato for salad and even on occasion boiled eggs for our lunch. We even enjoyed local peanuts, papaya, bananas and one day avocado. We had homemade papaya jam, homemade guava fruit spread and fresh ground peanut butter…I’m sure you’re gathering by now that peanuts are the cash crop of The Gambia and we found them fresh and delicious. For breakfast we had oatmeal and tea primarily and our hosts made their own granola and yogurt partway through the week. One day we had fresh baked banana bread from a solar oven. For dinners, our hosts cooked yummy dinners primarily made of chicken and pasta with delicious varieties of spices, salad and cooked vegetables (there is electricity at night in one house and solar power at the community building in the compound where we stayed).
The village clearly has a long history of African and Muslim tradition that guide every day life and worship. So the fact that our new friends have been accepted and adopted as brother/sister-son/daughter and live in one of the family compounds as family members, is truly amazing. God has given them the ability to respect these people that they dearly love without compromising the moral truths and foundations they believe in. This is a mission: not that people who believe they know ‘better’ would impose their ‘better reality’ and ‘rules’ upon a group, but truly love by being a part in language and living, knowledge and understanding hearts and offering Love, Himself.
Our new friends have made friends, become a part of a local family, raise their children here, eat the shared meals, speak the language fluently, buy bread from the local baker, farm, garden, raise trees from seedlings to plant on public streets, fix bicycles, do carpentry projects, their kids play with the local children and also speak Serahuli, loan out tools, gather water from the well, and live in a hut they’ve built with their own hands. They have sacrificed much to be in Sabi, but they are the real deal and have proven themselves to the villagers as trustworthy and worthy of respect by living in the village, and participating in the local lifestyle, indefinitely. Its beautiful and we have much to learn from hearts like these.
So now that you’ve been introduced to life in the village, here are some pictures to show you the compound and hut that we stayed at during our stay. No electricity in our huts, though as mentioned, there was solar power at the community building if we wanted to plug a computer in. We used candles and headlamps to make our way at night. Internet was available in the morning if you had a special wireless card and stood on the roof of something like a vehicle. No running water, so when the electricity turned on in the evening, we used the compounds brand new electric water pump to fill up our shower buckets, the kitchen clay pot for dish cleaning water , and empty water bottles. It was simple and lovely.
Stay tuned for more updates…