Coming to the Gambia I had heard that I would be eating a lot of rice and my diet would radically change. I knew that guys tended to lose weight, while girls were more likely to gain weight. New PCV’s come into the gauntlet here it seems – big nutrition changes, weight loss/gain, fever, diarrhea, mango allergies, skin infections, heat rash, aches, food poisoning – I saw it all among us new PCT’s. There were lots of texts comparing fever temps and phone calls asking “you think I should go into Kombo?” (Banjul/The city where the PC medical unit is). We all got sick during our first 2 months as PCT’s in training village and I believe the change in diet had a lot to do with our adjustments and fuzzy mental processes. For me, I had come in at 6’3″, 196 lbs and dropped down to 177 lbs by the time I “swore in” as an official PCV 2 months later. So, lets take a look at some of the dietary events happening around Gambia.
This is my “table.” I eat lunch and dinner with my host family here. This is in the house of my host mother Fatou. We share one food bowl between 5-6 of us.
Cooking in a traditional village kitchen (Mandinka – “Koh-ba”). My friend cooking for us during a visit to her village Ballengho (near the river). My friend Modou and I rode here (about 8k away from Farafenni) to see the river and we bought ingredients at the market so we could eat together. This is palm oil being added. Side environment note – palm oil is in great demand and there are big companies setting up industries for it here in West Africa.
I eat breakfast at this local shop just about everyday. The owner speaks Pulaar and some Mandinka so we can communicate. Here’s a bread ( Tapalapa) and a coffee for 16 Dalasi – about 40 cents.
I’m a lot more involved in where my food comes from here. This was the first chicken I brought home to my family. Gotta say, it was a proud moment to come back home and give my host mom a chicken as a gift :). She was flattered. I walked into the compound and said “Seeseyo subo felee” – chicken meat is here. Was a great moment with both of us laughing at how ridiculous our lives are but still connecting over something simple like food.
Breakfast porridge made of coos with soured milk and sugar cream on top of it. This was my breakfast for 2 months in training village It’s called “nyoo mono” in Mandinka.
I attended a naming ceremony – where a 1-week old child’s name is announced to the people. A ram is usually killed (pictures of that coming later). This is the result of some skilled machete and knife work.
This is what we ate at the naming ceremony. It’s a Wolof dish called “benichin,” which means “one pot” as all the ingredients are cooked in one pot. The featured image at the top is what they cooked the huge amount of benichin in. It’s one of my favorite dishes here and this is a nice one with fresh goat meat and lots of veggies.
On a ‘gele gele’ (public transport van), I chatted with a salted fish seller named “King.” Looks good to me and lasts for weeks he said. Would you eat this after two weeks? 🙂
As mentioned above, the relationship with what you eat is tighter here. This was the first chicken I killed and cleaned. It was wild – face the neck east, say a prayer and try your best to cut it with one pull of the blade. First thought – exchange of life and death is all around us. Second thought – I need to sharpen my knife. A good start to a farm life and a stripe on my belt. I’ve killed 2 chickens so far.
There’s a lot of mayonnaise used out here. The joke is that you hate it at first and then come to love it. Here’s a big tub with a great name.
And finally – a trip into Kombo to catch surf and act like a tourist. Gambia has a great range of food opportunities as you can see. This was banana bread and a coffee for 60 Dalasi – about $1.50.
Thank you for reading and your support of my stomach. Soon I will have “Gambian stomach” and be able to eat anything without getting sick. Thanks for all those folks who sent me cliff bars, protein powder and healthy snacks. Those really hit the spot when the ole’ foodbowl is a little weak. Thanks for the support, letters and love. stephen