Saturday, July 16, 2011

I love the Gambia

Its a small little country, but sometimes with small things, there is a large charm that comes with it.  The Gambia, the smallest country on the African continent, resonates a large charm that is unforgettable and always leaves an imprint on my soul.  I've been going to the Gambia since 2003, and in 2005 bought land and began building a home there.  In 2006 I moved there with my family and each time I have been there or returned, I find myself taking the most beautiful photographs of the changes and development in the country, or at least within my view.  I remember when we first moved to the newly developing area, we had very few neighbors and there were no conveniences in the immediate area.  Now just 3 years later, we have a lot of neighbors, and booming development of businesses and services that used to be miles away.

There is an exquisite beauty in the Gambia, the nature is divine, the swaying palm trees, the voyerism of the vultures, or the multiplicity of bird life and fauna envelopes the landscape.  The other exquisite beauty are the women.  I always find something so immeasurably beautiful about the women in the Gambia.  The way they walk, and the constant multi tasking they do, carrying stuff on their heads, baby on their back, and carrying items in their hands, all while elegantly gliding along in their african dresses.  I find them remarkable, selling in the market, or just simply standing on the corner waiting to cross the street.  There is a reminder of the instrinsic, or even ancient beauty that we as African-American women derive our beauty from.  Mama Africa is the source and you find yourself looking in the mirror at the beauty in Gambian women.

This year, I found myself wanting to experience more and revel in the day to day grind in the Gambia.  People here are hard working and constantly finding a way to make it.  Nothing is easy in paradise, and while the sun and her fruits are intoxicating the constant need to exist in an increasingly materialistic world is driving Gambian people to seek the unavoidable all mighty dollar.  This need is creating a new kind of Gambia, one in which scrupulous deals and outright fraudulence is committed to keep up with the demands of a money world.  But in a place like the Gambia, one shouldn't need money so much, where mangoes hang so fully from trees, cashews grow wild and fish is in abundance from the Atlantic.  With more foreigners coming to the country and investing, living and developing, for the average Gambian, building a compound or buying land is practically impossible.  There is always this constant disadvantage to not being able to travel abroad to get the money needed to start one's business or build one's compound.

The impractical and racist reality of other ppl's money having more value than African money keeps the brain drain in over drive.  But this is not a deterent for african people because they continue to make a way regardless of the hierarchal forces that shape their economic futures.  In many talks with my Gambian friends, investment is always the talk of the day over a hot brew of attaya.  The many ways one can invest and make money is always of top concern.  Because opportunities are in low supply but chance opportunity for someone to invest in them is also scarce.  When visiting, you become more aware of the opportunities to invest, and create wealth in Africa that is certainly possible and deemable, but it doesn't come without its caveats and problems. 

My husband and I tried several times to have a business in Gambia, and each time we failed, not because we didn't give it the good old college try but because there are many deterrents to doing business there, and trust is one the main problems.  Finding people to trust to either run, work or manage your business is often very difficult, and you often find people are more concerned with what they can get out of the deal more than how they can help you succeed, even if you are helping them.  But after several years and experience of being in the Gambia, we are more knowledgeable now, but like any business, one needs capital to make capital, and it is very difficult to accumulate capital in the Gambia, which drives many to leave if they can.  For me this is my journey, I've had to return to the US to survive and to support my family and try to gain capital to establish a business there, to no avail yet, but that doesn't mean I won't keep trying.  The reality is everywhere people need to survive and Gambia is no different, I have kids who are in school, gas to put in the car and food to put on the table, and to adequately do that, one needs adequate and consistent capital.

I have found many great business ideas that could work in the environment in Gambia, and with the internet and technology increasingly becoming tools that people are using, we no longer are forced to do business with borders.  My initial business was to establish an internet business that would link artists, and vendors with the world to sell their products online.  In the Gambia, art is in abundance, the creativity that streams from so many artists has been one of if not my primary passion.   You are always invoked by the amazing and resourceful work that artists produce, and how they do it.  Gambian artists need the support and exposure of their original works.  You can find yourself walking in the tourist market looking at sculptures, clothing, textiles, and so much original works that you want to take everything home with you.  The vendors as well, can be very aggressive when they want to score your attention especially if they know you are a 'tourist'.  Because once you're in their shop, you're not leaving without buying something.

My site would take away all of that, and just bring the buyer to the goods, and one can select and venture into the array of work that abounds in the Gambia.  The artisians, craftworkers etc., are diligent and Gambian art is always a reflection of the beauty of the land.  But like any entrepreneur, I've needed the capital to invest, and to no avail.  But it doesn't mean I won't stop dreaming of the day I will become a business owner in the Gambia, and to sell the beautiful products that come from there to the world.  Until then, enjoy some of the photos that I took this year and leave your comments if you feel me! (coming one day soon)