Morning in the Gambia

panques and baobab juice

I’m filling up on sweet fried panques, which are like donut holes, but heavier, tasting faintly of sweet potatoes and oil, moist and heavy and even spongy. Tida buys them early in the morning, along the road, as walks here to work in the house as a full-time domestic. I’m also drinking a rather tepid coffee with powdered milk, and eating pumpkin seeds, and wayyy too many leftover Christmas cookies.

It’s midday in Kerr Serign, halfway through our winter vacation in the Gambia. Outside incessant birds chitter in the bougainvillea blooming on the leafclimbed walls. Hassan is watering the ivy with a hissing hose, and Tida carries buckets of laundry, mops the floor, puts all our shoes in their proper place. A colonial experience. Nettie lies on the couch drinking coffee and reading a children’s book. Later today we may go to the market to buy fabric and have dresses made.

And I’m surrounded by leftover wrappings from Christmas: a bright shiny purple ribbon knotted into a bow, scraps of paper, the Shrek cookbook with recipes for dull food with fun names and story pictures. There’s a blue iridescent bowl, mostly empty, with stale peanut skins and salted pumpkin seeds resting at the bottom. A coffee cup, a faux-old mug with a blue and white china pattern, made – of course – in China, probably at Xinjunsan factory, worker 2581, 5612, 66178 and 2004 having personally touched it, I’m sure.

I find it interesting that almost everything here is imported, and that very little that actually gets made in the Gambia, besides peanuts and unemployed “bumsters.” In the shops we find leftover food donated from all around the world – China, India, the UK, the Middle East. In the stores there are cheap dollar store goods sold for $5 each, presumably because here they’re “foreign.” I expected there to be so much to buy here – so many beautiful things – and instead, here we are in the world’s Dollar General.

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