On the beach in The Gambia one can expect to see many things, A beautiful ocean, natural juice stands, tourists relaxing in hammocks, and Mamadou, an ever-smiling friendly merchant.
From a region near Dakar, Senegal called Saint Louis, Mamadou brings to The Gambia a wide array of necklaces, bracelets, glasses, and “bin-bins.” Travelling for work, he walks down the streets of Banjul and the lovely Gambian beaches, happily chatting and bargaining with everyone he passes.
After initially attempting to get me to buy a bracelet, Mamadou and I began to have a conversation about his life and experience in West Africa. When speaking with Mamadou, he predicted that one day both Senegal and The Gambia will form a single country he referred to as “Senegambia.” He emphasized that “everyone has family in Senegal and The Gambia. We all speak Wolof, Mandinka, English, French…everyone is one big family.” The proximity and the strong diplomatic connection between Senegal and The Gambia helps with his work, allowing him easy and frequent access across the borders.
When I asked Mamadou about his travels, he told me that as of January 2020, he had been living in The Gambia for seven months. Every two months he returns back to Dakar to see his family and gathers new merchandise to sell, but then comes back to The Gambia where there are more tourists. Additionally he has visited neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Morocco. Together we shared a laugh about our experiences being hustled in Morocco, happily recounting the shouts of “habibi habibi” echoing down the streets of the medinas after passing a store.
Perhaps the most memorable part of my experience with Mamadou was his genuine friendliness. With each laugh we shared, Mamadou extended a bracelet or necklace to me, offering me a token of friendship. As an American, I was initially suspicious of such a “gift.” From my experience, everything that was “free” often came with a catch. Too many times I had been offered a “free $100 Walmart gift card” if I claimed it with my social security number.
However, Mamadou explained to me that the Senegalese culture is one of selflessness and generosity. He stated that since I was his friend, he wanted to give me any bracelet, necklace, sunglasses, or bin bins he carried. When he met another one of my classmates, he began bequeathing her with his merchandise in a similar fashion because she was my friend. I was somewhat uncomfortable with this generosity because I had nothing to repay him with, but he reassured me that our conversation was more valuable to him than money.
Mamadou left his home country of Senegal for business in The Gambia, but still felt a strong connection to his hometown of Saint Louis. He was proudly a “Fula” man, and spoke constantly of his love not only for his beautiful country, but also for the “very kind and good” Gambian people. “Everyone is wonderful and everyone is nice” he repeated several times, referring to his friends in The Gambia. Clearly he was able to preserve his Senegalese culture through his sale of merchandise and embrace his migrant identity with some level of ease in The Gambia. To Mamadou, everyone in Africa, and in the world is family.
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