Urban drift and ‘the back way’ – the effect on one small West African village

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Young Gambian boys – their playground, a  disused swimming pool, in the grounds of an abandoned, dilapidated, hotel. We came across many such places, in The Gambia, especially up river. Image © Jason Florio

 

Kemoto Point, The Gambia, West Africa – ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey‘ January 2013

Paddling up, in our two foldable canoes, towards the shore of Kemoto Point, we could see that our arrival was not going unnoticed – we were being closely observed by a dozen or so young kids, and a couple of elderly gentlemen, sitting smoking, by the rivers edge.

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HJF – Ally canoes, River Gambia. Image © Jason Florio

 

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Image © Helen Jones-Florio – dusk over the River Gambia, Kemoto Point, The Gambia

 

This kind of avid interest in us, was an all too common occurrence, throughout the whole of our journey, down the River Gambia, which began at it’s source, high up in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, of Guinea-Conakry.  In Kemoto Point, however, we had our first real experience of a village which appeared to be populated by young kids, women, and older people – and no youth, to speak of.

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Girls just wanna have fun – Kemoto Point, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © helen Jones-Florio

 

 

After we made camp, our vigilant audience of young kids, grew in numbers, as the word went around that there were ‘toubabs‘ in town. They vied excitedly for our attention, telling us about an abandoned hotel that they wanted to show us. Intrigued, we allowed our boisterous entourage to lead us through the village,  introducing us to their mothers, and grandparents, along the way. As we walked around, Florio and I began to notice that there seemed to be a distinct lack of men, particularly between the ages of 16-25. Where they all at work, in the fields, perhaps?

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Florio surrounded by the young kids of the village, as Ebou makes ‘chop’ (dinner) for us all. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

One of the few young men that we did meet, Lamin, told us of how ‘all my brothers’ (it’s the norm, in this part of the world, to describe extended family, even friends, as your brother, sister, father, mother, uncle, and so on, regardless of whether they are blood related or not, as people tend to live very closely together, often in the same compounds; sharing the responsibility for each other) had left to go to the Senegambia coastal areas, where the big tourist hotels were, where they hoped to find more work; to enable them to make money to send back to their families. The all too familiar urban drift, which we’d come across again and again, on our travels, but in Kemoto Point, the problem seemed to be exacerbated. Almost an entire generation, of young men, were gone, from one village – leaving a huge gap.

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A daily ritual – the Kemoto Point kids play (and wash at the same time) in the River Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Another problem was that the men (and, in more rarer instances, young women) had left, to make their way, overground- ‘the back way’ – crossing the desert, towards Libya. By all accounts, a long, arduous, journey, followed by the fight – and immense expense – with 1000’s of other people, in Libya (providing they even make it that far), to get onto dangerously over-packed, illegal immigrant boats to Europe.

It was the oddest experience, to walk through a village where we didn’t encounter more than half a dozen young men. Meanwhile, our clamorous young escorts, leading us out into the bush, wielding rusty old machetes, expertly hacking away at any branches and grasses that stood in their way, became increasingly excited, to the point of becoming feral! They literally ran amok – hysterically screaming, shouting, laughing, fighting, and crying  (I had to step in at one point, to admonish one young girl who was smacking her much smaller ‘brother’ around the head, for no apparent reason, other than she and her friends seemed to find it extremely hilarious!).

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Dusk over the River Gambia, Kemoto Point, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Sitting around our small campfire that evening, talking to Lamin – the kids still present and watching our every move, from the shadows, but respectfully keeping their distance, whilst we ate supper – he expounded on our conversation, about the problems of the mass exodus of young men, and about how the young mothers and elderly villagers couldn’t cope with the kids increasingly manic behaviour. With few men around, to discipline younger siblings and/or their children – especially the young boys, who now had no role models – he told us how the time-honoured structure of village life was shifting, and that the kids were being allowed to run wild. He explained it as a combination of the women just not having the time, or energy – as each minute of the day was spent working, cooking, cleaning, looking after their babies – to the elders, who no longer seemed able to garner the respect from the young kids;  customarily, respect for elders is the norm in West African culture. There being little prospect of schooling for many of them – either not enough money, or they would be expected to work (especially, the young girls) as soon as they were able, to make up for their older siblings absence and, thus, lack of income. And, as for the younger boys, sadly, our friend explained, they would more than likely follow in the footsteps of the young men, leaving the village, for the coast, or going ‘the back way‘, as soon as they could.

To read more about the River Gambia Expedition, please visit the blog, and to see Jason Florio series of images, check out floriophoto.com

Helen Jones-Florio

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HJF, Horé Dimma, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry. Image © Jason Florio

 

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#ThrowBackMonday – Behind the scenes : Jason Florio’s portrait of ‘Samba Fishing’ – River Gambia, West Africa

‘Samba Fishing’, Kuntaur, River Gambia ©Jason Florio 

 

During our time canoeing the length of the River Gambia, on our exploration of the people whose livelihoods depend on the river, we spent each night wild camping on the river bank – whether it be camping on a sandbank in the middle of the river (burning a fire all night long to deter the hippos!), on rocky outcrops miles from the nearest village and, at other times, on the edge of a village, if it was near enough to the river.

Jason Florio photographs Samba, a young fisherman, in Kuntaur, whilst on the River Gambia Expedition. Image © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio photographs Samba, a young fisherman, River Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio.

 

On this particular day, we arrived mid-afternoon into the village of Kuntaur, situated on the banks of the river. We had stayed in the village before, whilst on our 2009 ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush‘. We set up our campsite in the grounds of a small riverbank lodge and, as had become the norm, our arrival instantly attracted hordes of local kids – shouting and screaming, all vying for our attention, fascinated with our tents and equipment – before the caretaker of the lodge shooed them away, “atchayah! atchayah!” (go away, get lost! A Mandinka word Gambians use to scatter mischievous kids and the scores of scavenging bush dogs alike!).

'Any chance of a bit of privacy?' Camping in a the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio
‘Any chance of a bit of privacy?’ Helen – Camping in the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio.

 

As we were about to settle down for a well-deserved cup of tea, having paddled almost 33km that day – a tough, exhausting 10km of it against the tide – we noticed a young boy, out on the river, in a local pirogue that looked far too big for him to handle on his own. We called him over and he paddled towards us with such ease and dexterity, as if he was steering a small rubber dinghy and not a heavy wooden dugout canoe, carved from a tree trunk.

His name was Samba and he said that he was ‘11 or 12 years old‘ (it’s not unusual, in this part of the world, for people not knowing exactly how old they are). He had come straight from school, to pull in his families fishing nets from the river, to see what catch they had that day…‘ Exert/words ©Helen Jones-Florio – read more at ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey

'Samba Fishing' River Gambia, fine art photography prints © Jason Florio '
‘Samba Fishing’ fine art photography prints © Jason Florio ‘

 

Jason Florio’s fine art photography prints – available from helenjonesflorio.com

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Back in The Gambia, West Africa – images ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

A recap, from The Gambia, West Africa – April 2018

Street Life, Serrekunda, The Gambia- young girls playing ©Helen Jones-Florio
Street life, Serrekunda, The Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio
Here we are, back in our second home…

As ever, there are lots to see and do – and, a little time out from work to reconnect and celebrate with old friends

Black and white, Samba and Fatou's wedding celebrations, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio
Samba and Fatou’s wedding celebrations, The Gambia © Jason Florio

 

And, of course, there is always the #9 pack…

 

Wolf, one of a pack of stray Gambian dogs, from the beach ©Helen Jones-Florio
‘Wolf’, one of the many waifs and strays who come to the compound for food, shelter, and a little pampering from us – Gambian dogs ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Peaceful marches…

Connected to what we were up to last year, early on in the year and later in November, we headed over to Serrekunda and joined in on the Solo Sandeng Memorial March, April 14th, 2018, which took place to commemorate the prominent activist – of the opposition party, UDP, and youth leader –  and other victims. Sandeng was murdered whilst in custody on this day in 2016, under the old dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. His death sparked a national outcry and the beginning of the end of Jammeh’s brutal rule – Gambians had decided that enough was enough. Saturday’s march would never have been possible under the former regime, without there blood being shed and/or lives lost

Solo Sandeng Memorial March, Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio
Solo Sandeng Memorial March, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Images from the Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Photographer and documentary film maker, Jason Florio at work, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Photographer and documentary filmmaker, Jason Florio at work, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

On Monday, 16th April, we headed over to the capital of The Gambia, Banjul, to join a peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh‘s regime, to demand that the Gambian government release the bodies of exhumed victims, and to open a dialogue with the families to help keep them informed of what they are doing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr Njie during a vigil, in Banjul, for victims of the Jammeh regime holding a picture of his nephew Nyass who was killed during an attempted coup in 2014 to bring down the dictatorship, Gambia © Jason Florio
Mr. Njie during a vigil, in Banjul, for victims of the Jammeh regime holding a picture of his nephew Nyass who was killed during an attempted coup in 2014 to bring down the dictatorship © Jason Florio.

 

A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh's regime, holding placards of their missing family members, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh’s regime, holding pictures of their ‘disappeared’ loved ones © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh's regime © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh’s regime, Banjul, Gambia, with a police escort © Helen Jones-Florio.

 

We are looking forward to the next few weeks, here in The Gambia, to see what else our journey presents to us… feel free to follow us

@floriotravels / @jasonflorio

on Instagram – for regular photo updates.

Helen Jones-Florio

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa, Nov 2017

 

 

 

#ThrowbackSaturday: 30th December, 2014 – attempted coup, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

In 2014, Jason Florio and I were living in the small West African country of The Gambia, when we were woken by an early morning phone call, on 30th December, from a Gambian friend who advised us to ‘stay off the streets’ as the sound of gunfire had been reported, coming from the vicinity of the State House, in Banjul – the then President Yahya Jammeh’s seat of autocratic power – and talk of an attempted coup.

Not ones to miss out on the action, we got into our truck, cameras in hand, and drove around the unusually deserted streets. It was unnerving, to say the least, to see one of the main streets, Kairaba ‘Pipeline‘ Avenue – which is always teeming with people, traffic-laden, and noisy – virtually empty.

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

The conspirators were from different parts of the US and several may never have even met in person. A few had lived in the US for decades; a coup participant who was later killed in an attempted raid on the seat of government in the capital of Banjul on Dec. 30, 2014 had served in Iraq as a platoon leader with the Kentucky National Guard.‘ Read more: Business Insider