Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wrestling in Nyakoi

     It’s been 8 months that I’ve been living in The Gambia, and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things to write about because everything is becoming normal to me.  That is, until I received a text from Abby inquiring of those who had interest in attending a wrestling match in her village.  Ummm… half naked men wrestling each other to the ground?  I’m THERE! 
     Joe decided to make the 45 minute trek to Abby’s village with me.  Abby lives in Nyakoi, a small village on the north bank, so we had to cross the river on a ferry to get there.  As I pedaled my heart out to keep up with Joe, I had that dog out a window look on my face, excited to be doing something new.
     We got directions to slow down at the first sign of civilization and stop at the half painted mosque. (Road signs are virtually non-existent in this place.)  There, we found Abby waiting for us in the shade of a mango tree.
     She walked us to her compound and I was instantly jealous of the serenity of her home.  She lives with two grandmas and that’s it!  Two compared to the seventy I live with.  You do the math.  It was like pure bliss.
Abby and neighbor girl in front of her hut
     We were told the wrestling would start at 4, but we’ve all been around here long enough to know better.  NOTHING starts when it is suppose to.  We killed time playing Banana Grams (you’re reading from a two-time winner, woot woot) and talking about school, then called Modou closer to 5.  Modou is a village tailor that Abby tutors in English, and was our guide to Gambian wrestling as the night wore on.
     Modou gave us the go-ahead to start walking toward the event grounds.  Stepping outside, drumming and the sounds of whistles filled the air.  The beat did its job.  I was instantly pumped and ready to see some action.
A wrestler and his entourage
     Reaching the main road, we saw mobs of people surrounding wrestlers.  They slowly danced their way to the event hoisting banners above their heads and making as much noise as possible.  My favorite banner, or rather piece of fabric connected with two sticks, was pink and filled with gold and silver hearts.  There’s nothing like coming in with hearts over your head to intimidate your opponent.
Waiting to enter the arena
Multiple matches going on at once
     We purchased tickets feeling good that the proceeds would benefit a recently built clinic in Nyakoi, and entered the arena, a rectangle shaped plot of land enclosed by a grass fence.  It was hard to know where to look.  Bedazzled leggings sparkled in the setting sun.  Neon spandex blinded us.  Men were wrestling while others were dancing around the outside of the ring that had been formed by the viewers.  There didn’t seem to be much order to any of it.  We couldn’t tell who was recording wins and according to Modou, there was no ref.  With so many things going on at once, oh and I mustn’t forget the crowd control that we had to be cautious of (men with sticks and bats), it was a bit of a stimulation overload, but in the best way possible.

     As the sun made its way over the horizon my gittiness started to wear off, and a bit of fear came over me.  Fires were being lit to the right and left of us, and I started surveying the grounds.  Grass fence = dangerous.  No exits = I could die here.
      With fires surrounding us and the crowd making their way in front of us so that we could no longer view the men slamming each other to the ground, we decided we had enough fun for one night and it was time to leave.  We went to where we had been let in but it was now closed off.  The only way to describe it is with Abby Adam’s words… we fought so hard to get out of that place it was like “being birthed.”  Gambians who hadn’t paid were fighting to get in as we were fighting to get out of an opening maybe 2 feet wide.  Modou was doing his best to help us, but there was nothing he could do.  We simply had to push with all of our might against others to make it to the other side.  Getting through the opening you couldn’t help but feel victorious.
     Although I felt like a winner, I have no idea which wrestlers came out on top.  I received text messages from Abby on the following day saying that the improvements they made for the second night of wrestling were monumental.  There were ropes to mark off an arena, people were seated and nicely waiting, and there were two exit slash entrances instead of the one.  Her text ended with, “What a difference a day can make,” but then was followed by, “Guess what?  The thing we all feared happened, and the fence caught fire.  We left as the flames were climbing… Epic.”
     Going into the experience I had no idea what to expect.  I ended up seeing a lot of disorganization and a bit of chaos, but many people having fun and loving life.  Guess it was pretty normal for The Gambia after all. 


  1. I LOVE reading your blog. It makes me feel like I am there with you!

  2. Good morning how are you?
    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.
    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.
    For all this I would ask you one small favour:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from The Gambia? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in The Gambia in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:
    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia, 39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)
    If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.
    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez