One year ago, today – 22/01/2017 – on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Kairaba Avenue  (‘Pipeline’), The Gambia- – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

This time last year, we had already been in the Gambia since the beginning of January. We had traveled back down to the small West African country, to document the transition of a 22-year long dictatorship to a democracy. However, because the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, had rescinded his acceptance of the winning vote, in December 2016 – a week after Gambians had decided enough was enough and voted for Adama Barrow’s coalition government – he was refusing to step down.

Ex-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio
Then-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio

 

Therefore, the last month of 2016 and into those first few weeks of 2017, Gambia was in a state of flux – the unpredictability of what Jammeh would do next was almost tangible.

“We are so stressed by his (Jammeh’s) refusal to step down,

an old Gambian friend told us, “we are ready for change. He must go”, she went on. Even in the safety of our compound, she still spoke in hushed tones – the ingrained fear of 22-years of autocracy, that someone would over-hear and report her, was still very prevalent.

After much intervention from the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), on January 21st, 2017, Jammeh eventually agreed to leave the country, exiled to Equatorial Guinea (a West African country which is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – therefore, he could not be extradited).

E-Presiden, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia - 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio
Ex-President, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia – 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio

 

#GambiaHasDecided!

Meeting people on the streets of Banjul, on the 22nd January 2017, couldn’t have been more different from the quietly uttered words, previously spoken by my friend -‘GAMBIA HAS DECIDED!‘, shouted, triumphantly, at us everywhere we went. And, #GambiaHasDecided t-shirt’s worn proudly and without fear – just one day before most people would not dare to wear them so openly. But, now Gambians knew for certain, the dictator had been flown out of the country.

A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia
A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia

 

The above group were on the streets of the capital, welcoming back and directing the thousands of Gambians to free transportation, back to their hometowns and villages – those who had fled the country, across the river into neighbouring Senegal and beyond in fear, when Jammeh had refused to step down and ECOWAS troops massed on the border, ready to intervene.

#GambiaHasDecided - Gambian boys wearing their t-shirts for President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations, at Westfields junction, in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
#GambiaHasDecided – President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio
Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio

 

In October of 2017, at the invitation of Amnesty International, we spent a month making a documentary of the stories of human rights defenders, activists, and victims of the Jammeh regime – this is the trailer:  ‘We Never Gave up – Stories of Courage in Gambia’.

So much has happened in one short year, and so much more still to be done. Jason Florio and I will no doubt be back down there in the coming months, to carry on where we left off, documenting change in the Gambia. We’ll keep you posted!

 

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio
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#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

 

Dogs of The Gambia, West Africa – AKA ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’

Dogs of The Gambia, West Africa

 

White Tip & Wolf on monkey watch © Helen Jones-Florio Dogs of Gambia
White Tip & Wolf on monkey watch © Helen Jones-Florio

 

One of our favourite pastimes, when in The Gambia, is hanging out with the #9 pack of rescue dogs – and assorted random beach dogs.

Beach walks and making documentaries, with Jason Florio

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Each and every one of them has real character, which we also have A.K.A. names for too: White Tip / ‘It’s All About Me‘ (because she demands ALL the attention); Rascal/’Little Titch‘(the smallest, yet the feistiest of the pack!); Wolf/’Silent Bob‘ (the stealthiest dog I have ever met); Kalu/’Black Dog‘ (ermm…not a very inspired AKA…he migrated from the Indian restaurant across the street to #9, and ‘Kalu’ is an Indian word for black); Junior/’JuJu‘ (and, sometimes, ‘Teenager‘, because he can sleep for Gambia!).

 

Beach dogs - Wolf, White Tip and Juju © Helen Jones-Florio
Beach dogs – Wolf, White Tip and Juju, Cape Point Beach, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Follow @floriotravels on Instagram for daily travel, dogs, the occasional cat or monkey, photo updates, with a little of our documentary work thrown into the mix.

Back in The Gambia, West Africa – on assignment

Jason Florio, filming, wading in the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio
Photographer, Jason Florio, filming, wading in the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

It’s always good to be back on the ‘Smiling Coast‘ – there is a lot going on in the #NewGambia. More news soon…

Follow us on Instagram for regular photo updates – @floriotravels / @jasonflorio

Jason Florio, filming in Serrekunda, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio, filming in Serrekunda, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio   

 

See more about our Gambia travels, assignments, expeditions, and more...

Throwback Friday: ‘Radio Man’ The Gambia, West Africa ©Jason Florio

MAN WITH RADIO GAMBIA
‘Radio Man’ – with his boom box – portrait ©Jason Florio, 2009 – The Gambia, West Africa

‘We met this very talented musician who just happened to walk past our campsite, by the side of the road, in the village of Chamois Bunda, The Gambia.

He played us his own music on the boom box that he carried everywhere. He even performed a nifty little dance for us too! His music was amazing – like Bluegrass, with a twist of Cuban influence. We hadn’t heard any music for a while, by that point, on our walk around the small West African country. Therefore, it was a real treat to hear such great music. What a talented young man he was. This photo, and the memory which it evokes, still makes me smile. 

Helen Jones-Florio – excerpt from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘ blog

Documenting a past regime – ex-MILE II prisoners, The Gambia, West Africa

Photojournalist, Jason Florio, prepares to interview ex-Mile2 prisoner, Ballo, The Gambia, West Africa
Photojournalist, Jason Florio, prepares to interview ex-Mile II prisoner, Ballo – beaten, tortured, kept in solitary confinement – The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio
‘for 2 years I did not see daylight…’
Portrait of ex-Mile2 prisoner, Ballo - The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio
Portrait of ex-Mile II prisoner, Ballo -beaten, tortured, kept in solitary confinement – The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Interviewing ex-Mile2 prisoner, Ngoi Njie, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio
Interviewing ex-Mile II political prisoner, Ngoi Njie -beaten, tortured, and witnessed the torturing to death of her friend and fellow activist, Solo Sandeng –  The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Ngoi Njie - ex-Mile2 political prisoner, who was beaten and tourtured, The Gambia © Jason Florio
Portrait of ex-Mile II political prisoner, Ngoi Njie -beaten, tortured, and witnessed the torturing to death of her friend fellow activist, Solo Sandeng –  The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

 

We’ll be posting more about our interviews with the ex-Mile II prisoners, in the coming weeks.

The Florios

Follow us on Instagram for daily photo updates + @jasonflorio

Instagram - ©floriotravels
Instagram – ©floriotravels  images © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

Walking the Coastline of The Gambia, West Africa

Walking the coastline of beautiful Gambia, West Africa. Congratulations on the beginning of a new era, Gambia! We look forward to being back there – images ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

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Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 8.49.57 PM HJF, The Gambia coastline – image © Jason Florio

Jason and I have just completed our Gambia coastline walk and what a truly lovely experience it was; albeit mighty humid – an average of 90% humidity every day. ‘Mad dogs and English (wo)men…’ kept springing to mind. Even now, as I sit here typing in the relative coolness of our house, my fingers feel as if they sticking to the keyboard.

The story was assigned by an airline in-flight magazine. So,  unfortunately,  until they publish it we can’t really say too much about the walk. However, we can share a few images from along the way – most of Jason’s, so we’ll have to hold back on until the photo editor decides what they want to use (updated: January 2015- see Brussels Airlines B.Spirit Magazine feature about our walk).

We’ll be posting more images over the…

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