Continuing with my firsts, I recently put on my big girl pants and traveled by myself to the city of Bansang. Bansang is a two-hour gelli ride from Basse, and is just outside of the village of Dobong Kunda, where Seth and his host father, Abu Jaiteh, live. Abu Jaiteh is a marabout and was the reason for my travel.
Excited to meet a marabout, I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for my adventure. I arrived at the car park in Basse around 9, ready to go, but instead began the process of waiting, which is a norm in this culture. 50 minutes later, the gelli to Bansang was filled with Gambians and one toubab (me), and with a running push start, we were off.
Inside the gelli, personal space became non-existent. I began the ride with a woman sitting on my right leg, squished next to the metal frame of the seat in front of me. We shared our two person seat with two others, one of course being the man that screams as loud as he can into his “mobile.”
Half way through the ride, our gelli stopped at a police checkpoint. I’m never quite sure what the police are looking for, but at most checkpoints they will ask to see identification from the passengers. There were a handful of Gambians that were asked to get off because they didn't have an id or papers to show, and I realized I needed to make myself comfortable on the steel bar that was driving into the back of my legs. It was going to be a while.
As the police officer escorted the Gambians lacking ids off to who knows where, a man with a motorcycle approached the gelli wanting to join in on the fun. Only problem was that he wanted to put his motorcycle on top of the gelli, which proved to be a difficult task. The men looked as though they knew what they were doing. They tied rope around the front end of the motorcycle, a few men got on top of the gelli, while others were positioned below and it seemed as though they were trying to wheel it up the side. I watched three men try to show their strength by lifting the motorcycle, but defeat quickly set in, as they realized it wasn’t going anywhere.
About 10 minutes of this nonsense and the Gambians that were still on the gelli started to get furious. They were shouting things I couldn’t understand, but were obviously fed up and threatening to find another ride as they filed out the back. The driver, seeing money slip away, quickly made peace with his passengers, and had the motorcycle man put an end to the shenanigans.
As the passengers boarded back onto the gelli, I heard bits and pieces about the police trying to get money out of them. I guess it was a “give me money and I won’t waste your time” type of situation.
The one good thing about everyone filing off the gelli is that people gave up their seats. No longer did I have the screaming man and woman sitting on my lap next to me. Instead, I now had a 60 to 70 year old man on my side with his arm around me, touching my shoulder with his hand, his cane tucked between his legs, looking rather pimpish.
The screaming man became the laughing man as the ride continued. He had moved to the seat positioned across from mine and was watching my face with every bump we hit. I went airborne a few times, banged down on the steel rod seat, and winced with pain. He found this hilarious, but would kindly ask after laughing, “You okay, man?”
Despite the discomforts, I couldn’t help but to smile the entire way. Not once was I frustrated by our stop at the police station, the old man touching me, the whiplash I encountered from the poor condition of the road, or the woman sitting on top of me. I was traveling by myself in The Gambia for the first time, and loving every minute of it. However, my journey had only begun. Stayed tuned for my meeting with a marabout…