Privacy, personal space? In a small West African Village? Are you kidding me!

I posted some photos yesterday, on here, the River Gambia Expedition 2012 blog, about our day out at the seaside, along with a couple of pics showing us (the UK/USA expedition team leaders – H & Flo) back at work in our ‘production office’. Because Summer suddenly hit the UK again over the last couple of days, we decided to relocate our office set up from the barn to the garden – which just happens to be a beautifully lush, flower-filled oasis, in the Surrey countryside (thanks again to Flo’s mum and dad, Rodger and Wendy, for very generously hosting us whilst we plot and plan our big expedition).

‘Are we in West Africa yet, dear?’ H & Flo – the UK/USA River Gambia Expedition 2012 team co-leaders. Image courtesy of Wendy Florio

On seeing the photo, a good friend quipped, ironically, about “roughing it?” – obviously referring to our salubrious environment. And, it got me thinking about our last West Africa expedition – ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush’ – where we walked 930km around The Gambia, one of the smallest countries on the mainland of the African continent, with three Gambian friends, two donkeys, and a cart to carry our camping and camera gear.

‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’ - the expedition team on the road at dawn. Image © Jason Florio – 2009

Thursday 12th November, 2009 – Distance walked to-date: 248.57km. Soto Koi village, The Gambia, West Africa – excerpt taken from Helen’s forthcoming book: ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – minty abanta!’

‘Flo photographed the Alkalo’s (chief) son, Jiki Bayai – he’s a handsome young man, looking dapper, in a trendy, freshly laundered, dark purple shirt (we call him the ‘Prada Man’). His father was off, miles away, tending to the fields. Flo also photographed various village elders, and a farmer (the chiefs brother) who insisted on getting his goats into the picture – as one does.

Samba Sowe (Alkalo’s brother)- farmer – Soto Koi village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

After we finish the shoot (making the portrait of the village chief), Flo and I each have our most public ‘bath’ to-date – although the bathing area would be considered private by most Gambian standards. The ‘bathrooms’ in most compounds are often made up of a combination of assorted corrugated rusty sheets of iron, odd bits of wood and scrappy remnants of old fabric, which acts as a door. Some are extremely clean (i.e. the ground is swept and kept tidy). There is rarely a roof – there really is nothing quite like looking up at the sky when bathing and feeling the heat of the sun on your body. In the centre of these bathing areas, there’s usually a hole in the ground (the toilet), sometimes covered but more often not. Beside the hole, a small area of flat ground, sometimes with a raised platform, made of wood or concrete, which you stand and wash on, using a bucket of cold water. The cool water is the most refreshing feeling in the world after 7-8 hours walking in the heat. When bathing in the dark, we learned early on not to shine our torches on the ground area, as you are in danger of seeing what, or who, you are sharing you bath with: all manner of crawling, scuttling, creatures including the flying variety!

H: “How can I sneak to the ‘bathroom’ without all these kids following me?!” The village of Killy (also known as ‘Killing’),The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2009

Anyway, back to our most public bath. Lets just say that there are often lots of holes in the structure’s of the ‘walls’ of the bathing areas and the local kids are very keen to see what is under the ‘toubabo’s’ clothes! This particular bathroom had so many holes, it looked as if they were holding the corrugated iron together. The walls being barely shoulder height, along with looking out onto the main road through the village, I did feel conspicuously exposed. It’s not the first time either of us have looked around to see young – and some, not so young – curious eyes peering in, through the holes, as we bathe. We can be sure it won’t be the last either.

We’re in paradise – Khalaji village campsite, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2009

And, if we still need to justify making the most of the luxury’s of living in a first world country, before we emerge ourselves, completely, back into developing West African culture whereby, 99% of the time, we won’t have anywhere near half of the comforts of home – hot running water, electricity, ice-cold drinks, privacy or private space – the countries we travel through, whilst on our River Gambia journey (Guinea, Senegal and The Gambia), will reveal their own individual comforts, beauty, and richness – just look at the above photo…camping in Khalaji village was like paradise for us – despite the usual avid, and constant audience of kids and their folks!

Thanks, as always for stopping by. We appreciate you jumping on board for the ride!

The Florios