Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Ending

The Senegalese stamped me out and I walked across the border into Gambia.


I ignored the cue.


Keep walking, towards passport control. Probably a money changer.

Then I saw six people waving frantically at me, and that's when I noticed I was the only one moving. Like a flash mob was doing a performance art piece and forgot to let me into the secret to freeze.

I wondered if this was something about prayers, and then I noticed people in uniforms standing next to the flagpole.


The Gambian flag was being taken in for the evening. There was marching, folding, that sort of thing. I held still.

Then, people motioned me on. Someone pointed me into the door marked "Customs." I could read again! No more French until I went back to Senegal later in the week.

A large man in a uniform welcomed me to Gambia, and instructed me to place my backpack on the counter in front of him. I sighed, made the usual "Oh it's so heavy and I'm so tired and this is so inconvenient" motions and slowly placed my backpack on the counter. When in doubt, bore them.

"Where have you been? Where have you gone? What's in the bag? You have a laptop? Where can I get a laptop? Can you help me get a laptop?"

I had made some motions towards opening my bag. Now I stopped. Screw this. Back to boring the man strategy. What, does he think I'm going to give him money to help him buy a laptop?

"Hmmm." I attempted to look pensive for several moments. "Where would you get a laptop in Gambia? … I guess I don't know. Yeah, that's right. I have no idea. None whatsoever. I really don't have a clue."

We played several rounds of this with me continuing to be clueless and eventually he became bored and waved me on. Without opening my bag once.

Grrr. Corruption at borders. Me hates.

Next stop was passport control. I was alarmed to see a young man curled up in a fetal position in a cage inside the passport office. I glanced around. No one was looking. I furtively handed the last of my cashews to the young man's friend, who sat outside the cage talking to him.

"Thank you," he said.

I can't imagine jail food is real tasty.

I walked down the hall, where the passport guy had more fun waiting for me.

"Where will you go in Gambia?"

"The beach," I said. I hate the beach. I hate sun. I hate sand. I hate beach-people. I hate beach culture. I hate sweating. I have a fear of fish with teeth. And yet this seemed like the easiest, most plausible explanation for what I was doing in Gambia.

What the hell was I doing in Gambia? Who knows? I thought I'd rest for a few days, work on my website, catch up on some paperwork, then go see some old stone archeological site. Mostly, I was just fascinated that there was a tiny country carved out in the middle of Senegal, all along the banks of a single river. And speaking English, and having its own currency. Nutty.

But the passport guy didn't need to know that. Give them as little info as possible applies in many circumstances.

"The beach? I get off work in ten minutes. May I go to the beach with you?"


"Where are you staying? I'll meet you."

Oh hell. Just freaking shut up and stamp my damn passport.

"I'm staying on the beach. Ha ha, you're funny. Thank you. I will go now."

He pushed a bit more, but he wasn't serious. This was his idea of a good joke. He stamped my passport. I left. The prisoner hadn't moved.

Women clamored around me to change money, which I did, and then I got into a shared taxi for the ferry at Barra. To finish this trip, I had to take a ferry across the mouth of the Gambia River from Barra to Banjul, then get another taxi to a resort on the coast.

I'd e-mailed Luigi's, which had good reviews on and looked to be small enough to be charming, but big enough to get lost in, which I needed if I was going to get any work done. But I had no way to check my e-mail to see if they'd responded.

At the Barra ferry, I had a forty-minute wait. A guy showed me a cybercafe—Luigi's was waiting for me—and I changed more money with him, but when he started pitching me to sponsor the program he worked in, I shook my head and went into ferry terminal.

And waited.

And waited.

And then there was a rush for the ferry, and in the madness, I met two Americans, one and exchange student and the other her visiting friend. And during the hour-or-so voyage, I learned that the visiting friends was the next-door-neighbor of a comic book artist I had once colored over.

On the Banjul end, I hired a taxi to take me what seemed like another hour, but was probably only half that, and I dragged myself into Reception at Luigi's.

"We've run out of singles tonight, so just for tonight, you'll have to take an apartment."

I could have kissed her, but that might have freaked her out.

"The restaurant—is it still open?"


One delicious lasagna later, I was happily ensconced in a large, delightful apartment near the swimming pool.

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