Bright and early on Friday morning before the second round of prayers went ringing across the country we made our way to my favorite ferry to make our way to Barra, the village on the other side of the River to begin our journey up-country. Our van, similar size to an Astro Van or a small VW bus, contained 9 people and our bag which was a welcome break from the average 12 to 14 people normally crowded into their worn in seats. We made our way onto the ferry without incident, except for a two hour wait for the ferry to slowly make its way across the choppy waters with its single functioning engine (there should be four). As we made our way across this slice of water for potentially the last time, I sat there mesmerized by the people around me wanting so much to be a part of this world and my world at home simultaneously.
Two-hundred miles east of Banjul is a small village named Janjanbureh otherwise known as my home for the past few days. So off we go to the middle of the country, through a desert to eventually reach the jungle/forest that surrounds the River Gambia. I being a rather petite individual snuggled up with the bags in the back of the van and slept for a majority of the 6 hour trip with the aid of some Benadryl (this will become a theme). We stopped at the Stone Circles of Wassu aka the Stonehenge of Africa which is a burial ground from some thousand or so years ago. We kept driving, passing villages of mud brick and thatched roofed homes one after the other in what is called “the bush.” The bone dry land, with a few baobaob trees and minimal plant life dotting the landscape passes by with herds of goats and cows searching for long lost greenery that has not been eaten up by bush fires. It has not rained here in 9 months, but in the next two or three weeks it will begin to pour with the advent of the yearly rainy season. We suddenly emerge upon our site, right along the river, where the greenery stretches a mere mile or two beyond the edges of the water.
We settled into our respective lodges (circular huts with thatched roofs), with monkeys fighting and screaming overhead, dogs barking around us, and birds clamoring among the branches above. Who knew the middle of nowhere could be SO LOUD?There is no power and it was only nine o'clock and dark out with mosquitos everywhere so I decided to drug myself into a semi-comatose state with some more Benadryl knowing that the combination of nature and 100 degree weather would diminish my superb sleeping abilities. My snuggle buddy/bedmate, Bridget, stayed up all night with the animals/multitude of bats in our ceiling and floor, Shelby and Amy spent the night with mice in their beds, while the boys just had them scampering around on the ground beneath them. (PS. creatures of the night are way scarier when you don’t have any lights to turn on) The next day I awoke having a full night of drug induced sleep, with Dylan standing at my door after not sleeping all night saying “Hollllly let me in, Holly I won’t talk I promise! I know you hate mornings, but I am bored.” He lied. He did talk, and there was no coffee to remedy the situation, so I just rolled over until I was guided out of bed by my zombie like peers, who don’t believe in drugging oneself to sleep, to eat some breakfast.
We had breakfast with the monkeys, who love me unfortunately, and went on a awesome seven hour journey even further up-river. We saw a ton of birds, monkeys, and baboons but my eye was on the ever vanishing hippo. I have heard about hippos every day of my stay in the Gambia and I had yet to see one. I really wanted a hippo to pull its massive body out of the water and gracefully bumble onto the shoreline perhaps stopping once or twice posing just for me; its toubob admirer. No such luck. We saw lots of hippos…. As they slipped into the deep murky water only to reappear with their big heads slightly above water to suck in some air. No posing, no National Geographic worthy photos, just noses, ears, and eyes sliding away into the water. When did nature get so stingy?
After a long day in the heat and sun everyone was sure they would be able to sleep despite nature and all its fury… I, being a clever self-medicator, realized that two or three Benadryl would be just the trick and that my sleep was not going to be left to chance. No one wanted to take my PHD level advice and pop a few pink pills to ensure a hives free and sleep filled night, so I again was the only one who slept. The next day involved a long drive home… I did not pop any pills. Instead I sat awake and watched the country fly past me. I sat there and thought about the hippos and life with no running water. I thought about how yummy macaroni and cheese would be and my little nephew back at home. I thought about life after college and how I hope it just all works out and maybe, just maybe, I can have a piece of both worlds. I really really hope so.