During our time canoeing down the River Gambia, on our exploration of the people whose livelihoods depend on the river, we spent each night wild camping on a different river bank – whether it be camping on a sand bank in the middle of the river (burning a fire all night long to deter the hippos), on rocky outcrops miles from the nearest village, and other times, on the edge of a village, if it was next to the bank.
This particular day, we arrived mid-afternoon into the village of Kuntaur – where we had stayed previously, whilst on our 2009 ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush‘ – which is situated on the banks of the river. We set up our campsite in the grounds of a small riverbank lodge and, as had become the norm, instantly attracting hordes of local kids – shouting and screaming, all vying for our attention, fascinated with our tents and equipment – before the caretaker of the lodge shooed them away – “atchayah! atchayah!” (go away, get lost! A Mandinka word Gambians use to scatter mischievous kids and the scores of scavenging bush dogs alike!).
As we were about to settle down for a well-deserved cup of tea , having paddled almost 33km that day – a tough, exhausting 10km of it against the tide – we noticed a young boy, out on the river, in a local pirogue that looked far too big for him to handle on his own. We called him over and he paddled towards us with such ease and dexterity, as if he was steering a small rubber dinghy and not a heavy wooden dug out canoe, carved from a tree trunk.
His name was Samba and he was ‘11 or 12 years old‘ (usually, in this part of the world, only the actual birth date is celebrated, which results in most people not really knowing exactly how old they are). He had come straight from school, to pull in his families fishing nets from the river, to see what catch they had that day. He was also the one who had thrown the nets, on his way to school that morning – as he did every day. He told us that, depending on the size of the catch, he would take a little home to his family and the rest he would take to the equivalent of the local fish monger to sell, to make money for his family and also to buy his school books and other materials, which were essential for him to study.
We met a number of remarkable people – adults and children alike – on our river journey. Samba will always stick out in our minds…an inspiring little boy, to say the least. In fact, I can think of a couple of our nieces and nephews who think it’s the end of the world if they don’t get the latest upgrade cell phone, who would benefit greatly from spending just one day in Samba’s company!
Thanks, as ever, for stopping by.
More river stories soon.
The Florios (H & Flo)
Jason Florio: ‘River Gambia‘ body of work