Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gambian at the Door

Lilly started school this week, 2nd grade. So far she seems to like it, except for one thing: getting up in the morning. That’s my girl.

Shortly after she arrived home on her first day, Tuesday, a woman on a bicycle rode up, rang our doorbell, and wanted to sell me educational software. Hadn’t had any door-to-door solicitation in a while—last time was some high school kids hawking some kind of home repair or something else I’d never buy from someone who just shows up.

Same with educational software. She was a slender young black woman, dressed for casual Friday, and said she was in the country for the summer from England. Working for some company, selling software, seeing the sites of suburban Chicago (I’m paraphrasing here). I said thanks but no thanks, and she said, “I get credit even if you look at one and say it’s interesting.” Hm. So I did that.

Oddly, not a trace of a British accent of any kind. In fact, she was speaking completely standard North American English, as far as I could tell in the few moments I heard her. “Where did you say you come from?” I asked.


“But you grew up somewhere else? Kenya? Tanzania?”

“No, but you’ve probably never heard of it. I grew up in the Gambia.”

“Oh, West Africa. Surrounded by Senegal, isn’t it?”

“How do you know about it?” She seemed surprised. A little geography seems to have that effect sometimes, though I suppose she was used to blank stares.

“It’s on all the maps,” I answered.

She had to go on after that, leaving me to wonder. The daughter of wealthy Gambians (there have to be a few), educated by Americans somewhere, whose parents now live in London most of the time because, well, who wouldn’t prefer that to the Gambia? If so, why was she selling software? Daughter of Gambian exiles who repair shoes in Birmingham, but who nevertheless raised the scratch to educate their daughter? Does she have an uncle or some other relative near here? Muslim or Christian? Is she a Mandinka? A Mandinka at the door—now that’s an interesting thought.

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At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to the Wikipedia article on the Mandinka People, Mr. T "once claimed" that his distinctive hairstyle was derived from that of the Mandinka. I don't know whether "once claimed" in this context means that he happened to say, on one occasion, perhaps in passing, that he was wearing a Mandinka haircut, or that it's something he formerly maintained to be true but no longer asserts. ANK

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Gambian interlocutor had no way of knowing, of course, that she was dealing with a man who, in his youth, stuck maps to the ceiling of his bedroom. ANK

At 8:59 PM, Blogger Geof Huth said...

Ah, the Gambia. I used to touch down on the perforated metal runway of the Banjul airport while flying back and forth from Accra. A weird sensation, landing on holes.

Apparently, the US military set up quick landing strips with such metal at one point in time, and the Gambians just kept it in place.

Senegal and the Gambia are so closely connected, of course, that the area is sometimes called Senegambia, after the fashion of Benelux.



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