This past weekend, we spent a few days up river in Janjanbureh, an area in the Gambia that, historically, was an integral part of the slave trade. Originally named Georgetown, the British there established the Gambia’s first church and schools. On the drive to Janjanbureh, we stopped at the Wassu stone circles, part of a larger collection of the Senegambian stone circles and one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Gambia. They’ve been referred to as “the Stonehenge of the Gambia,” since that’s pretty much what it is: megalithic burial grounds. We hung around, got some group pictures, and continued on our merry way to Janjanbureh.
When we arrived in Janjanbureh, Dylan told a few guys there that we had been interested in getting Fula scars or peanut ash tattoos while we were up country, since we knew we were in the region that a lot of Peace Corps volunteers go to in order to get their Fula scars. To them, it’s kind of become like the mark of their time here, and we decided that we liked the idea of that. The guys told Dylan, oh yeah, there’s a woman in town who does that, we can take you. All of a sudden, something we thought we wouldn’t get the chance to do—since we didn’t know where the Peace Corps folks went and didn’t know where else we would go—became a huge possibility. After moving our belongings into our rooms and watching the boys take a quick dip in the river, we ventured back into town and into a random compound where we found the woman who would do our Fula scars. “This is all happening really fast,” I thought to myself, but I knew that if I actually had time to think all of this over, I would probably wimp out. No, I wanted to get the peanut ash tattoos, because I knew it would be a great way to remember this trip to Janjanbureh and the entirety of my time here in the Gambia. We walked into the corner shop, bought a pack of five new razors, and brought them to the woman who proceeded to cut the three lines into the five of us getting the scars—Dylan, Shelby, Bridget, Holly and me. The process was surprisingly quick and not that painful. She cut the lines, wiped away the blood and applied the peanut ash, all within a minute or two. Usually the Fulani, especially Fula women, get the tattooing (also usually elaborately designed) done on their faces, but we decided against that placement. Mine went on the back of my left shoulder, Dylan also got his on the backs of his shoulders, Bridget’s on her lower back, Shelby’s on her side, and Holly’s on her ankle. After we were all finished and had paid the woman for her work, she gave us more peanut ash to continue to rub into the scars for the next few days, and to kept them out of water until at least Monday.
The next day consisted of a boat trip, three hours to River Gambia National Park and three hours back to our lodge. The trip was relaxing, the cook came along and cooked us a delicious lunch, we spotted hippos and baboons (but sadly no chimpanzees), and generally relaxed along the river.
In all of our downtime at the lodge, we spent a lot of time reading and chatting and relaxing by the river as Gavin swam (none of the rest of us, since we had our scars to tend to), as well as playing with the monkeys. Gavin especially loved feeding mango pieces to them and made tons of friends of the monkeys. We met a Chilean couple spending a night there, who we talked to for a while (the woman used to be the Gambian country director of UNICEF)—when they sat down to breakfast the next morning, a monkey quickly ran up and stole half of the food off of one of their plates. We spent most of our meal times shooing them away, but the rest of our time at the lodge having fun with them and admiring the adorableness of the mothers and their babies.
However, the most memorable part of the trip—at least for me and Shelby—came from our first night, involving some middle-of-the-night critters. The night was off to a great start when Shelby nearly lit herself on fire tying to light our candle. She collapsed to the floor and we gave up on that endeavor, instead keeping to just my flashlight. That night, it was hard to sleep, what with the sounds of monkeys and bats and who knows what else outside our door. I’m easily freaked out by just about everything, so I mostly just wanted to go to sleep and sleep through every single thing that could possibly creep me out. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen, because at 5:30 I woke up and noticed Shelby shuffling over to the door and opening it. At that moment, I also felt something on my leg, and had for a few minutes already. I asked Shelby, “What are you doing?”
“I’m bringing the lantern in here, there’s something in my bed.”
“…was something touching your leg, too?”
“I think it was a mouse.”
I bolted out of bed and proceeded to freak out. Was that a mouse getting cozy with my leg? We looked around the room, didn’t find the mouse, but decided that we should vacate the room as soon as possible. We got dressed, gathered some belongings, and headed out to the riverside to wait out the sunrise. Of course, it’s pitch black, we can barely see anything even with my flashlight, and as we approach the table and chairs, a dog starts barking at us. Just what we need to soothe our frazzled nerves. We sit down, jumping at every dog barking and monkey screeching, watching as the night turns into morning. At 7:00, we decide to head back to our room because it’s light enough outside and we think we can handle the rest of the wait in there. Unfortunately, when I pulled out my mosquito net in order to sit on my bed but still with the possibility of making a quick escape, out scattered pellets of what was probably monkey poops across my bed. Great. So I crawled onto Shelby’s bed, reading and keeping watch for any mysterious activity in our room. Boy, were were excited when breakfast time finally rolled around. Exhausted, but ready to exit the room and never go back.
The next night, we tried to get ready for sleep in that room (with new, clean sheets on my previously pooped-upon bed) but decided that we were just too freaked out. We switched rooms and, while we still each had a terrible night of sleep, we at least had mosquito nets without giant holes and did not cuddle up with any mice.