Book update: River Gambia Expedition

A quick update – Wednesday 10th, July, 2013: We’re working hard on the book, about our recently completed River Gambia Expedition, sitting in the sticky humidity of New York  – alas, no ocean breeze or the coolness of the River Gambia to help makes things more bearable. Trawling through images – so many and so tough to choose  from! – and journal entries, to help tell our story. Here are just a couple of images we’ve shortlisted, for the book, which we will be telling the story behind – taken at the beginning of our journey,  in The Gambia, West Africa:


Florio preparing to get ‘The Twins’ (Ally 811 foldable canoes) into a West African river for the first time – the Alahein River – which borders The Gambia & Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio


We met many oyster collectors – predominantly women – in The Gambia and Senegal, when we were paddling over 1100km on the River Gambia. It’s a demanding job, which involves a lot of strength and determination. We’ll be talking about this in the book © Jason Florio

Tobaski Girl_Kartong

A little girl gets ready for Tobaski prayers – one of the most important Islamic celebrations of the year. It also involves mass sacrificial slaughtering of rams, goats and cows – which we witnessed. More photos of that to come, in the book! © Jason Florio

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Waiting for the storm to pass. Catching the tail end of the rainy season, in The Gambia – trapped in a ‘pirates’ bar! More on that, in the book! © Helen Jones-Florio

Archive: the Muslim celebration of Tobaski, The Gambia, West Africa

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‘Dinner’ – goat getting fattened up for the ritual slaughter, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

We’re researching our archives for our forthcoming book about the River Gambia Expedition and came across this, from a blog post early on into the journey – in fact, it was taken not long after we arrived in West Africa, pre-planning for the expedition.
It was taken during on the day of the annual Muslim celebration, Tobaski (or Eid al Adha)- a huge celebration, whereby thousands of goats, sheep (and cows, if the family/community can afford it) are ritually slaughtered.

For an update about the journey (as of today) please check out our blog post here

Delay tactics and the birth of the UN – by Jason Florio (update on the River Gambia Expedition)

Tobaski girl – Kartong – The Gambia, West Africa – Jason Florio©

The journey becomes it’s own once you have bought the ticket. Chucked through a portal into the dripping West African flora and crawling fauna from *”Our Safe European Home” one must give one’s self to the inevitable slings and arrows of delays. There are the known delays, the known unknown delays, and my favorite, the unknown, unknown delays. And so we wait, our jump off date from Gambia to Guinea planned for November 1st will be but a speck in the well fingered re-view mirror of a Peugeot ‘sept place’ as we hurtled towards the source of River Gambia in two weeks time… inch’Allah. Er yes, two weeks. Merde! So our beloved Peli case stuffed with tents, Kelly kettles, hiking boots, assorted cables, power bars etc was last seen chatting up a Banjul bar bound, scantily bubble wrapped fridge-freezer on the dock at Antwerp last week – it seems the container with our gear had been taken off the ship a few thousand km early. Thus the delay, as the Peli case and his trusty companion, our OverBoard Ninja bag stuffed with 11p Morrison’s pot-noodles, once lost but now found, are re-directed around Spain, down the coast of Western Sahara, passed the desolate Mauritanian coast with a loan Tuareg sipping a sweet tea on a dune waiting to ambush a lost Paris-Dakar driver, passed a gang of Talibé children on the sea wall at Dakar begging for money while their pimp/marabout gets fat on the prayer mat, and finally to the port at Banjul, where, in 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped on route to meet Churchill in Casablanca. F.D.R was so disgusted at the state of colonial British Banjul and it’s citizenry, it was said that it **“helped crystallize Roosevelt’s thinking about the role of the organization he was envisioning to help guide the post-Empire world: the United Nations”.

And so we turn the delay, for our River Gambia Expedition, into another Julbrew, more research and GPS fiddling, and give thanks to Geri and Maurice of Sandele Eco Retreat who have given us a bed and vitals so good to make even our dear hero, Mungo Park rise from his watery grave in the Niger River.

ETD to Guinea coming… once the boat comes in.

Florio & Helen

Kartong, The Gambia, Nov 1st 2012

* Joe Strummer /Mick Jones – The Clash

**Donald Wright is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the State University of New York College – His books include Oral Traditions from the Gambia and African Americans in the Colonial Era: From African Origins Through the American Revolution.

Tobaski – Islamic celebrations in The Gambia – a day of sacrificial feasting, West Africa

Last time we were here, in The Gambia, in 2009, we spent the lead up to Tobaski in a tiny village, called Tuba Dabbo, whilst we were on ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush’. We were guests of the rather wonderful Mr Bah and his wife, Penda and made to feel extremely welcome.

‘The public holiday is also known as Tabaski or Eid Al Adha when families throughout the Gambia ritually slaughter mostly sheep in ritual sacrifice. The occasion of Tabaski is in commemoration of Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, in the name of Allah. It coincides with the end of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.Access Gambia

The Bah family – the village of Tuba Dabbo, The Gambia, West Africa, 2009. Image © Jason Florio

And this year, Friday 26th October, we were equally welcomed as guests of Abby and her family, here in the village of Kartong.

Tobaski hosts: Abby (2nd right, in green) and her family, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa, 2012. Image © Jason Florio

L-R: Helen, Geri (sitting behind), Mr Badji (with Fatou on his lap), Abby’s sister (with Binta on her lap), Alpha Sanney (with ‘Shadow’ the dog), Abby, Tony (check shirt-volunteer at Sandele Eco Retreat), and ‘Pa’

The prayer ground was situated on the outer edges of the village of Kartong – not in the mosque, where prayers are usually held – due of the volume of villagers who participate in the ritual prayers. An estimated 500 people attended this years Tobaski prayers, held by the village Imam. Traditionally, in Kartong, the Imam, elders and other men from the village parade through the main street, in all their colourful finery, towards the prayer ground.

The Imam and village elders arriving for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Village elder, Mr Jarju (in green), prepares for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Fatou Geri and Binta, dressed for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

Mr Badji and Fatou, waiting to go to Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Islam dictates that all females have to cover their head with a scarf, during prayers, and they also have to sit at the back of the prayer ground, behind the men.

Helen, Geri, Fartou & Binta, ready for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Everyone comes out in their finest new clothes…the girls, in particular, all trying to out-do each other. This years colour was most definitely a vibrant cerise.

Kartong village girls covering their heads, ready for Tobaski prayers, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Kartong village menfolk at Tobaski prayer ground, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

After Tobaski prayers, the loud speaker used by the Iman is wheeled away from the prayer ground, to be stored for the next village gathering. Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

Aside from the ritual prayers, Tobaski is all about eating – and plenty of it. Therefore a huge volume of rams and goats are ritually sacrificed, after the mass prayers – in the halal way: throats cut with a sharp knife and the blood left to drain from the incision, until the twitching body stills.

“Lunch and dinner…” Sarjo, our friend tells us. He is, of course, referring to the ram. Make the most of that last meal! Kartong Village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Sarjo, as head of his household, leads the non-too-happy-ram to it’s Tobaski ritual slaughter, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

And so, the ritual slaughter of ram (#1 – there were 3 in this particular compound) – Sarjo, his father and brothers get to work, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

I filmed the above scene until I could watch no more – because I was crying by that point – and Florio had to take over. Even though I understand the nuances of the Tobaski tradition of ritual sacrifice, and I am a meat eater (though, not an avid consumer), watching the ram’s pathetic bleating and struggling – and knowing that no one was going to come along and save it at the 11th hour – was just a little too much for my Westernised sensibilities. I decide then and there that I’ll stick to my meat coming neatly packaged, from the deli counter at our local store!

The deed is done…ram #1 is almost ready for the cooking pot. Yum, yum…Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Once the ritual is completed, and the carcass is stripped of everything – not an inch of it goes to waste – portions of meat have to be shared with those in the community who are unable to afford to buy a ram or goat. This means that no one misses out on the mass feasting and celebrations which ensue. Within a very short time, after the ritual slaughter, the aroma of barbequed ram and goats (and cows, for those who can afford it and/or who club together in a compound to be able to buy one) permeates the air – and will carry on doing so for the next couple of days.

As guests of honor at Abby’s compound, we were given the freshest of fried liver and kidneys (served with onions and warm tapalapa – local bread) from her very recently slaughtered goat – which we also witnessed – and, I have to say, it was deliciously tasty and tender. Perhaps, I need to rethink the neatly packaged deli theory…

H & Geri – Abby’s house for Tobaski lunch, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

We felt very honoured to have been included in this very traditional Muslim celebration – and accepted without question – and thankful for everyone we came across being open to having their photographs taken.

The day after Tobaski, our good friend Geri tells us that they nicknamed the day ‘the silence of the rams’…and there was not a bleat to be heard as we made our way through the village of Kartong on Saturday.

More updates coming soon on our departure date for Guinea – to begin the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Helen & Florio

For more of Jason Florio’s work, please visit his website: