I am so thankful for this experience. My work on this trip becomes almost completely relational. As a process it starts with a conversation and in practise is realized as a publication on the walls. The process is very closely aligned to the values of the family heads and chiefs with whom I speak – in terms of the power of conversation, negotiation, listening – and is received with enthusiasm and joy. The text is always already present within the thought and values of these Gambians with whom I share so much tea – and has then only to be illuminated on their homes. The work of this trip to The Gambia is collaborative by definition. It is discovered, not imposed. On 7 walls between Galloya and Makumbaya you will read as you walk along the road:
i write to you dear children
a story of hope and bravery
a gift of beauty
find time to listen
your words plant seeds
you are called by name
gambia is one
I made a piece today on the home of a man named Mohammed Baldeh. We had a long conversation (over tea naturally) about his 5 children and how he is raising them. My impending fatherhood has caused me to ask this question of many of the parents that I meet in the villages. I wanted to know what he considered to be the pillar values of his family.
I ended up painting what he referred to as a “Story Tree” and inscribing these values in English and Wolof on the branches – mercy, helpful, love, joy… And then from these roots/foundation, grows the village of his family – Alou, Adama…
Thank you Baldeh for the beautiful lunch, the wall, the many blessings you spoke over my to-be-child and the tea. Always the tea.
Today I learned to make Ataya, the local tea preparation of Gunpowder Green Tea and local sugar. It was our day off and we drove to the coast for some gloriously warm atlantic ocean body surfs. On the way home we stopped in a small village called Sanyang and I wandered down the road. I saw a young man sitting with a few coals and a small blue enamel tea pot. I had tried this tea before in Galloya and it is extremely strong and packed with caffeine and sugar. I had seen it being made: this involves an elaborate pouring process from cup to cup and pot to cup and back - the gentle movements and very high pouring of scalding tea into a shot glass sized cup technique took a bit of nerve wracking practise - and I was honoured to be given a lesson in such a particular and intimate aspect of the culture. Thank you Baba for your lessons. I once again feel welcome in Gambia and will take this ceremony home with me.
so today i began my first real mural ever which is epic cause it is in the gambia and it’s so hard but exciting to be on such a learning curve - in particular the guys from Best Ever have been very encouraging and patient with me. i am painting a baobab village and some birds on the home of a man named Baldeh who is a “vet in action.” it was about 40 degrees in the sun so it was a bit of a shatter today - but we also got to take a canoe from our lodge to the village that we were painting, Kubeneh, so it was magical nonetheless. also Kubeneh won the soccer match against the next village so people were singing songs and marching in the streets. Gambian culture is just outstanding. we are humbled - honoured - and have been welcomed with open arms!
today in the village I got to spend a lot of time with the oldest man in the village who I called Baba - or grandfather. He taught me what he knows and we had a long talk (through translation) about community, hope, and his job as chief and elder. I asked him what I must teach my soon-to-be-born-child as they grow up and he said ‘this child must become great so that he can build the community and serve his neighbour.’
from everything he said in our long conversation I wrote this on the wall with the translation in Mandinka:
I work carefully to open my heart
to cooperate, advise
to make peace
to hope - you pray
we are powerless - God creates
he gives us the instrument to make prayers
what we know of God is small things
we make a following - a foundation
our people love together
to make a home
today was our first day painting and we were in a small village and i started a convo with a guy named Assan and we got on really well and he helped me translate some of my text/poems into Mandinka (the local language) and eventually he asked if i was hungry and wanted to share a meal. so in gambian culture everyone eats from the same large dish of food in the middle of the small table. so he and i sat on a bench with rice and fish and he said this was the first time he had ever shared a meal with a white man. so i said can we pray and he says yes and so he prays in Mandinka to Allah and i pray in english to Our Father and it was emotional holy spirit availability and i of course ended up crying and he felt it too and we kind of opened our eyes and looked at each other like wtf this is deep! we did a small piece on his wall “may you walk with the rain” which came from a convo about their agrarian culture and how they live and die by the rains for their crops…and it was just about all i ended up doing but it was so special - he really took away my self-doubt about being here and what i had to offer - i came wanting so badly to impress and be good enough and i see now that what happened with Assan - like this insane unifying prayer and shared meal - this is why i came. this is why i am to be here.
already thank you gambia