Wednesday, June 4, 2014
During the final week of the West Africa study abroad, the group traveled "upcountry" in the Gambia. We were definitely off the beaten path and had a chance to experience life without WIFI, electricity, and sometimes even running water.
It was a hot and trying week, but the students were tough and were able to enjoy seeing rare wildlife, including hippos, birds, monkeys, and even chimpanzees.
Prior to leaving for upcountry, students had drum lessons on the beach at Bakau, then we traveled to the
- Tumani-tenda ecotourism camp. The camp is run by the community and all profits go to the village members. We had the opportunity to observe local fishing practices, hike in the community forest, meet the chief (alkalo) of the village, and to dance with the Jola tribe.
- Tendaba camp at Kiang West National Park. We went on a day hike to see baboons and warthogs and then took a night hike to see bushbabies, scorpions, and geckos. We took a boat ride through Bao bolong National Park (a wetland area) and spotted some beautiful and rare birds, including the malachite kingfisher (see photo). Students also had an opportunity to dance with the Mandinka tribe.
- Kuntaur, the Gambia. Students first went on a night boat ride on the Gambia River to survey three crocodile species. During the daytime, we visited the sacred Wassu stone circles. The stones are sacred burial grounds that date back to 1000 A.D.
Then, we went on a boat ride through the Gambia River National Park and saw hippos. We also saw the chimpanzees on an island. The chimpanzees are part of a group that began as a rehabilitation project for former captive chimps. Now, there are more than 100 chimpanzees on the islands.
Students had several opportunities to interact with local villagers. We rode a donkey cart to a rice field, and students learned how challenging it is to weed a field without the tools available to farmers in industrialized countries. They also played traditional football with locals — even though girls do not usually play football in the Gambia.
Prior to leaving Kuntaur, we visited a local health clinic and made a special donation with money provided by MacMurray's Nursing Division. We toured the clinic and talked with the director on various ways they might use the donation.
We then visited a primary school, and the MacMurray students gave presentations about different conservation topics to the school children. Funds from donations allowed us to purchase notebooks, pencils, and other basic supplies for these school children.
Donations were also made to a school for orphaned children in Bakau, where we were able to purchase school supplies and about 40 pairs of shoes for the children in need.
- Juffereh & Kunta Kinteh Island. We traveled to the place where Alex Haley's Roots began. Students learned about the history of the slave trade in West Africa at a museum and then took a boat to Kunta Kinteh Island to see firsthand the remains of the quarters where slaves were kept prior to departing for the Americas. Students also visited another slave house further up the Gambia River, in Jangjangbureh.
After returning from upcountry, the students went to the capital city of Banjul, where they visited the 22 Arch and the national museum.