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Dawn of resilience: Navigating daily struggles in The Gambia

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From market hustles to coastal challenges,
Gambians face hardships with unyielding hope

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By Uthman A N Jeng

As the first light of dawn spreads across the serene landscapes of The Gambia, the smallest country on mainland Africa, a new day begins with familiar struggles. Here, amidst the rhythmic flow of the River Gambia and the rustling of palm trees, people awaken to face the daily challenge of earning enough to put food on the table. This struggle, marked by hardship, uncertainty, and stress, echoes the universal human experience of perseverance and resilience.

Morning in Banjul: The heartbeat of The Gambia

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In Banjul, the capital, the streets start bustling with activity as the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon. The market comes alive with vendors setting up their stalls, ready to sell fresh produce, fish, and handmade crafts. Among them is Fatou, a mother of four, who wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare her goods for the market. Her days are long and tiring, yet she carries on with a determined spirit. “Every day is a struggle,” she says, arranging her vegetables. “But I have to provide for my children. Their future depends on it.”

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Sunrise in Brikama: The Saateba hustle

In Brikama, fondly known as “Saateba,” the day begins even before the first light of dawn. By 4 a.m., the roads are already teeming with vendors heading to the market in search of their daily bread. Mariama, a local vendor, balances baskets of fresh produce on her head as she walks to the market. “We start early to get the best spot and sell more,” she explains. The market is the lifeblood of Brikama, where the hustle and bustle continue well into the night, as vendors strive to make enough to support their families.

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Sunrise in Serekunda: The pursuit of livelihood

In Serekunda, The Gambia’s largest town, the dawn reveals a settlement stirring to life with a mix of hope and anxiety. Lamin, a young man in his twenties, sets off early on his bicycle, delivering bread to local shops. The job is demanding, with little pay, but Lamin remains hopeful. “It’s tough, but I dream of starting my own business one day,” he says. His words reflect the aspirations of many Gambians, who, despite economic challenges, strive for a better future.

The stories of Maimuna and Sereh are heart-wrenching. Maimuna, a woman selling breakfast along the busy street of Serekunda heading to the marketplace, explains in tears, “We come here to sell and make a living in these trying economic times. I wake up as early as 3:30 to 4:00 a.m. every day to prepare the food I sell. Immediately upon arrival, the duty collectors from the municipality start collecting the usual daily revenue from us. Once we start selling, the municipal police begin harassing us, asking us to leave because we’re not allowed to sell along the road, as if the market can accommodate us all. I resisted because my stuff will not be seized by them, so in the push and pull, they pushed and spilled my food on the ground. Does he have the right to do that?” she asks in grief and dismay.

Sireh, a middle school girl, helps her grandmother during weekends and public holidays. She explains how life has been unfair to her and her siblings, “We have nobody to support us except my grandmother who sells everything she can lay her hands on just to provide for us. My mother is late and no one hears from my father who left for Europe since I was 8 years old, and we don’t even know if he’s alive or not because he doesn’t call Grandma and she is living in that dilemma. I only hope and pray that I’ll finish school and see how much I can support Grandma, because she deserves every good in life.”

Life in the coastal villages: Tanji’s fish landing sites

Within the coastal towns and villages, a new day reveals a vivid scenery at the fish landing sites. In Tanji village, the air is thick with the smoke of fish-smoking, and the beach is bustling with activity as fishermen and fishmongers await the arrival of boats with the daily catch. Amidst this chaos, Jainaba, a middle-aged woman, braves the waves with her little child on her back. Balancing a heavy basket filled with fish on her head, she navigates the slippery shoreline, with salty water dripping from the basket all over her child. “I’m a single mother with four children to take care of,” she shares, her voice filled with both strength and sadness. “My husband was a fisherman who sold his boat and took the perilous journey to Europe in search of greener pastures but died along with so many of his friends before they reached Europe.”

Amongst the arriving boats with their daily catch is Ousman, a young man in his early 20s. “I’m a school dropout and a returnee from the perilous journey (Backway) who have taken up fishing to make a living together with some friends through the Tekki Fi project initiated by the youth development programme, but it’s really difficult to make a difference, because most if not all fishermen at this site are Senegalese, who are dominating the industry. So I call on our Gambian brothers to make best use of our natural resources before we lose everything to foreigners.”

Environmental concerns: Voices of change

On the same beach, environmental activist Fatoumata looks around with concern. “This pollution is not just an eyesore; it’s harming our health and environment,” she says, pointing to the litter and smoke from fish processing. “We need to find sustainable ways to process fish and manage our waste. The future of our children depends on it.”

Sulayman, another dedicated activist, nods in agreement. “We see the immediate need to make a living, but we must also think about the long-term impacts,” he explains. “If we continue like this, our natural resources will be depleted, and our beautiful coastline will be ruined. We need community action to clean up our beaches and promote eco-friendly practices.”

The tempestuous roads: Drivers’ dilemma

As the sun rises higher, the roads of Brikama, Serekunda, and beyond become a battleground of sort. Drivers endlessly honk their horns and exchange insults, creating an atmosphere of tension and frustration. “It’s as if we’re enemies on the road,” says Lamin, a taxi driver. “But if we try to open up our hearts and accommodate each other, things could be better.” This daily chaos is a reflection of broader societal tensions, where patience and understanding could pave the way for smoother, more harmonious interactions.

The airwaves of discord

Adding to the daily struggles is the proliferation of hatred and character assassination that fills the airwaves. Radio stations and social media platforms often become arenas for conflict, where individuals and groups hurl accusations and insults. This climate of animosity further compounds the stress of everyday life, making the simple act of getting through the day an emotional and mental challenge as well.

Challenges in the countryside: Farming and fishing

Beyond the urban centers, in the rural areas of The Gambia, the birth of a new day brings the same struggle to the farmers and fishermen who form the backbone of the country’s economy. Awa, a rice farmer, wakes up at dawn to tend to her fields. Despite the unpredictable weather and limited resources, she works tirelessly to ensure a good harvest. “We depend on the land,” she explains. “It’s hard work, but it’s our livelihood.”

Similarly, by the banks of the River Gambia, fishermen like Alieu prepare their nets and boats for a day out at sea. The river and the ocean are vital sources of sustenance, yet overfishing and environmental changes pose significant threats. “Every catch is uncertain,” Alieu admits. “But we keep going because our families need us.”

The spirit of resilience

Despite the myriad challenges, a common thread of resilience and hope runs through the lives of Gambians. Each day, as the sun rises, it brings not only the struggle to survive but also the possibility of progress and improvement. The community spirit is strong, with neighbors helping one another and families supporting each other through tough times.

The global connection

The experience of the people in The Gambia resonate with the global struggle of earning a living amidst hardship. From the bustling streets of Mumbai, to the resilient communities in Detriot, Madrid and Sao Paulo. There’s a shared humanity in the relentless pursuit of a better life. The Gambian story, like many others around the world, is one of enduring hope and unwavering determination.

Conclusion

The dawn in The Gambia, with its unique blend of beauty and struggle, paints a vivid picture of resilience. As the sun rises each day, it illuminates the challenges faced by its people and their steadfast resolve to overcome them. This daily narrative of hard work and hope is a powerful testament to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and strive for a brighter future.

The birth of a new day in The Gambia, like in many parts of the world, is not just a passage of time but a symbol of hope and the relentless pursuit of a better life. As the world turns, the Gambian people, with their strength and determination, continue to inspire and remind us of the profound resilience that defines humanity.

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