From India to The Gambia – Muhammad Rafiq

The smallest country in Africa and almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia hosts many rich cultures and diverse ecosystems. While visiting this past January for a class, I found the time to speak with several individuals about their lives in The Gambia, particularly focusing on what made migrants choose to call “The Smiling Coast” their new home.

After only a week of eating Senegalese and Gambian cuisine, I felt guilty when the familiar face of Oreos and appealing Gatorade logo in a convenience store brought a big smile to my face. Surrounded by American “cuisine,” I met with the store’s worker named Muhammad Rafiq, living near The Gambia’s capital of Banjul. Rafiq was gracious to all of us American college students, happily chatting about our adventures and asking what brought us to The Gambia. I thought I would ask him the same question, and he was happy to share his story and opinions about The Gambia.

Rafiq traveled from India to the Gambia nearly two years ago, at the suggestion of his friend who likewise migrated to the Gambia previously. and recommended he should “come and try the new things over here.” When telling his story Rafiq immediately noted the generosity of the Gambians as he was speaking about his arrival, recalling that he was welcomed into the community within Banjul by “many very good people.” I compared his experience to the many stories I have heard about xenophobia in the United States, and was happy Rafiq did not share the experience of fear and bias that many unfortunate migrants encounter in a foreign country. Perhaps The Gambia is promoting an inclusive agenda us “First-World” countries should adopt.

Nevertheless, what most surprised me was when Rafiq told me he was surrounded by “an Indian community” of fellow migrants from India who own several markets, construction material stores, and take part in the important cashew industry. Perhaps it was my Western negligence, but I had not pictured a vast range of multicultural communities existing in The Gambia as Rafiq described. He noted that this Indian community within Banjul is very important because migrants often leave their entire family and local community for the purpose of working abroad, as he did. Again Rafiq did not mention any malice of locals towards him or his Indian community, and explained that there exists a harmonious respect among communities, promoting acceptance for religious and cultural differences. A Hindu himself, he compared this to the conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan, stating he has not witnessed this clash of religions while working in The Gambia.

In fact, Rafiq remarked that earlier in July of 2019, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind visited the Gambia to promote the two countries’ bilateral ties, both economically, religiously, and culturally. Rafiq predicted this visit will only foster a rise in Indian migration to The Gambia, perhaps helping to stimulate The Gambia’s growing economy.

Indian President Ram Nath Kovid meets Gambian President Adama Barrow in July of 2019

The media involving the migrant experience heavily focuses on the negative aspects and bias the world has manifested. Consequently, I was encouraged by the manner with which Rafiq depicted The Gambia. He had nothing but kind words to say about the country itself and the people he had met. Numerous times he brought up the generosity of the Gambian people, and the strength of diplomatic ties between The Gambia and his home country, even suggesting he might take a Gambian wife someday.  He spoke modestly of his good fortune, humbly adding that “I never think of what I get. I just move on and on.”

What was most compelling however was that even in Africa’s smallest country, along with the uncountable number of distinctive local communities, there peacefully exists several foreign communities with roots in all parts of the world. 

Please feel free to comment any reactions or suggestions below! It is important to generate discussions based upon the stories we read and engage with others to help celebrate the diversities and multiplicities that make up our world.

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