Day 9

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Day 9 Lunch at our partner’s compound

I knew before we came out here that we would be spending a day in our Gambian partner’s compound, where they live with their family. And to be honest, I was dreading it a bit.Going to Kunte Kinteh Island and the slavery museum yesterday changed so much. After that experience I just wanted to learn more about this culture, the history, and about my partner, Emil.When I first arrived at the compound, I was nervous, doubtful. But all the doubts faded away when I first met his family. He has two sisters who are from the same mother and father. He has two step brothers who are aged three and one. And his stepmother is twenty years old; Emil himself is twenty-five. He’s older than his stepmother! Despite the strange age gap, Emil respects his stepmother. Emil’s father is fifty. Emil worries his stepmother left school to become a housewife; he believes in education and ambition.

The first thing Emil did was show me how the Gambians use a traditional plough, and he taught me how to use it. He made it look easy, but it’s actually very hard work. He’d been doing it since he was a little boy.

He showed me the harness they use to climb the palm trees. I know it sounds stupid, but I’d seen all these things on documentaries, but seeing them for real, and trying to use them myself, brought it home to me how different everything is here.

In England you can flick a switch and you’ve got boiling water in seconds. Here you have to gather materials to burn; you have to draw the water from a well, and so on. My mum has choppers for onions, different choppers for different vegetables. Here they just use the same knife, the same bowls, the same tools. It’s basic, but effective.

So, everything is different, and yet they made me feel like a fellow Gunjurian, made me feel included, the same, a friend. They didn’t question me, they didn’t have assumptions about me.

We ate Bennichin – a spicy rice dish with so much flavour. It’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. Green tomatoes and boiled eggs and sweet potatoes.

And when I was leaving, both Emil’s sisters walked me and Emil to the end of the road to wish me well. They didn’t have to do it, but it was so kind. Small things like that have made me feel so welcome. This trip – there’s no other way of putting it: it’s made me realise how much is missing from our lives.

You’ll probably think I’m exaggerating, but this trip has changed everything for me. We’ve been so lucky with this group. We’ve all got our problems and difficulties, but we’ve become a family, a community.

I’ll miss so much about this fortnight. I’ll never, never find friends like I’ve found here. The Gambians are so wonderful: every morning, the handshakes and welcomes. The extent of the happiness these people have, it’s never-ending.

I’ll go home with so much more enthusiasm, more life.

George Amos, 17 St John’s Academy, Marlborough