I LEFT MY HEART IN GAMBIA

Soon it is going to be one month since my arrival from Gambia and I still ask myself every day, what do all that people who I have met are doing at this very moment. All the while I am delaying the day when I will write this and today I said to myself, Veronika, now is the time. We always have a choice whether we do things in life with heart and soul and let ourselves go, leading us to all directions where we are intended to go, or based on different reasons, we view, visit and meet a new environment from a more touristic perspective. I knew that many things will change after one month, but I did not know yet that I would leave such a huge part of my heart there.

volunteer Africa

It all began many years before, when I was a little kid and my mother promised my sister Neja we will go to Africa one day, to the elephants and giraffes. This wish and this promise lead all of us to the point where one year ago my mother divided to sponsor a girl named Kumba who comes from The Gambia. Not long after she bought the flight ticket, visited the family, spent two weeks with them and the rest of the extended family and after coming back, I was not sure what had happened. Happy, healed, smiling, optimistic, but a crying mother all over, who was standing with suitcases at the airport. She told me “This is not a different world, this is a different planet.” I understood the words but I did not understand the meaning as you, who reads this, do not understand it as well. It is hard to imagine life on the other side of the world, where they do not know hate, anger or unhappiness. That is why I know that to the majority of us girls, the shock was bigger coming back home rather than to get used to the Gambian life, for which I can only say it really is a different planet.

My mother Mojka with Kumba

My mother Mojka with Kumba

Even just days before departure I did not have a clue what I was doing. I am not sure I was aware where I was going, what will change and that I will soon be in Africa, there, where it is always warm, the sun as well as the people. Together with my sister we were sitting on the suitcases in the apartment and told to ourselves »ow, you know that tomorrow at this time we will already be in Africa?« which was followed by silence and kind of a little smile, because we knew that one small wish came true.

With my sister Neja

With my sister Neja

With my sister Neja

With my sister Neja

The purpose of our arrival was to teach the kids in the school Mobeta, age 3 to 8, together with the local teachers. Even before the arrival we collected material and ideas, how to bring the kids closer to a certain school topic and through playing and singing get to know a new subject. The start of the school lessons was only in the second week after the arrival because of the Ramadan, which did not end yet. Therefore, we still had time to prepare, talk about the work and divide ourselves per classes. We also went to Barra village and Banjul, we were getting to know the culture, we spent a lot of time with the locals and from day to day, I felt more and more at home and accepted.

volunteering Africa

I could not wait to meet, together with Neja, the little sister Kumba and on that day I really cried my heart out. With Musa, we were coming into the area of Dippakunda and when we were approaching the house, all three of us heard fast-talking of the children and repetition of the same words. Because they talked in the tribal language Wolof that I did not understand at that point, I asked Musa what they were saying. He laughed hard, touched my shoulder and said »they are all saying: sisters are here, they are here, they are here, sisters are heeree!« and in the moment when we opened the copper and broken doors of the yard, Kumba’s sisters were all of a sudden around us, sister Mariama and the older Khaddiatou, the mother was hugging us but Kumba was nowhere to be found. In the moment when she ran into the house, she, all cried out, jumped on us and never left our sight. It was only the third day and I already knew that people here are capable of so much love that I do not know what are we doing in Slovenia and where we lost track.

With my sister Kumba

With my sister Kumba

Every day we went to school at 8.40 so that we were in the class by 9 am. Lara and I were in a class of kids, age 4 to 5, and with us there was a teacher Marie. I have to say that at times it was very hard most of all because the kids there are hyperactive and something always has to go on and they need to be motivated all the time. Concentration drops as quickly as the rain drops, but if you understand them, if you spend some time with them and you trust yourself, all of this becomes entirely acceptable. In the morning, we always repeated the numbers, alphabet, animals and English, after the lunch we sang, danced, played drums and learned Slovenian through song.

Lara had a flute with her and every time they heard her, they listened and were so impressed over this instrument that she always had it with her in her bag. Every time I mention the compassion that Gambian people have, also goes for the children. Many people who I have told this were not sure, if they should believe me. Every child received a lunch, but always when someone was still hungry, the other kid broke a piece and gave it to him. The same happened when I did not eat, because I was not hungry. A kid came to me with a piece of bread and offered it to me, because he thought I was hungry and I do not have any on my own. A child, who does not have enough for food at all times, who does not have all the conditions for life, offered me his lunch because he saw I do not have any.

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It is easy to write from the memories that happened, but it is different to talk about them. When I talk to someone about Gambia I do not remember only the events but I remember the smiles and the feelings and sometimes tears and it creates a big lump in my throat and just stops there. I remember the kids who always ran behind our van when we were leaving, until they could not run anymore; I remember the kids in my class who waited every morning for us at the entrance doors for the moment when they will see us; I remember how I learn to cook Domoda and Benachin and also eat that, of course with my hands, which I was not really good at it; I remember how we drove in those funny vans where doors did never work and did not close; I remember the rainy days when all stay at home, because, if it is raining no one goes to school; and I remember how one girl said to me on my last day that we will see each other on Monday. It was hard but I told her that I live far far away and that I am leaving for home today and maybe she will already be older girl next time I see her again. But for her, far far away meant the neighboring village. She smiled and said, see you on Monday Mariama and went home smiling. For them far means walking 20 minutes and if I tried to explain to them that I have to fly one whole day with a plane, I think that would represent such a big problem for them to understand that I just left it at that.

That is why a whole month had to pass by so I could sit behind the computer and write this, and even this very shortly. I always ask myself when will I see them again and when will we dance again, drum, play soccer on the street and when will I eat mango from the tree again.

– Veronika Žorž

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