I have so much gratitude and thanks to the people of Gambia that helped me over the past two months. Without these people and these lifelong friends I have made, I would not have been as comfortable or as happy, and definitely would not have learned in the way that I did. More than anyone, I am thankful for my boss, Poncelet, who aside from creating an interesting and stimulating work environment, introduced me to his friends, toured me around the area, placed a great amount of faith in me and gave me the opportunity to connect with students. More than all of this, he gave me the encouragement to take the reigns in a program I knew nothing about. That required a great amount of confidence for which I will always remain grateful. Without this faith, my experience would not have been close to what it was. I am thankful for Ponce’s friends, for their support and friendliness at local restaurants and street interactions. I am so appreciative of my coworkers, Anet, Oumie and Kebba for accepting the red-haired foreigner with the accent they thought was so funny. They brightened my day with their jokes, their quarrels, their amusing anecdotes and all of our hilarious lost-in-translation moments. Having such a young staff to work with made a huge difference in my experience. Connecting with other young people made me constantly and more rationally evaluate how different my life would be if I lived somewhere else, and gave me the opportunity to make friends I know I will keep for a long time to come. I am so grateful for my security guards and hostel managers for keeping me company on the electricity-less nights, making me feel safe, and sharing their life stories with me. The friendliness and warm heart of each individual changed everything for me, and the generosity of the people who had no obligation to accept me or listen to me opened my eyes to the nature of kindness of strangers in a way I had never seen in the U.S, even in such a liberal and open city like San Francisco.
But a lot of people I am thankful for and appreciative of are the ones whose names I do not know, and who I cannot personally thank now. I am thankful for the woman at the bakery at the back of Karaiba Shopping Center who always smiled at me. If I was serving someone food during a time when my religion forbade me from eating, I don’t think I could have done it with a smile. She told me New Jersey was her “dream country,” and insisted that I come say goodbye before I left for home. I am thankful for the very few taxi drivers who did not try to swindle me. I am thankful for the tailor who cut me a deal on a special-made dress. I am thankful for Alfred and Ramatoulie at the Reform Club next door who were so friendly and let me change the channel to the Olympic events I wanted. I am thankful for the gardener at the YMCA who worked so hard and so often, despite his age and despite the heat. I am thankful for the man who finally came and fixed our water tank after five days of bucket showers and outhouses. I am grateful to the whole of the beach community that let me play soccer and rugby with them, and for the Dutch woman at the beach hotel who always let me leave my bag behind her bar while I swam and ran around. But more than anything, I am thankful for the entire Gambian community, who made my 8 weeks so memorable and exciting. My trip would not have been the same without the men who proposed to me on the street, the cab drivers who helped me find various restaurants and meeting spots, the women at Serrekunda market who helped me match fabrics and understand various produce, or the children who sold me mint on the side of the road.
I have never met people with such wonderful attitudes. The generosity and openness of the Gambian population made an impact not only on my experience there, but will also, I hope, impact how I interact with people for the rest of my life. In my first few days at home, I have found myself smiling at people on the street and saying hello to people I didn’t know, just like the Gambians taught me.