A widely travelled expat told me recently of a couple of experiences he’d had in Gambia in West Africa – and they offer an insight into how one can make wild and inaccurate assumptions about local cultures.
The very first day he’d arrived with his wife, the doorman was carrying one of their cases for them into the apartment. Being completely new to Africa, they’d dutifully read up in advance everything they could on the destination and knew that English was fairly widely spoken but not outside of major centres. They’d spoken slowly and enunciated clearly to their temporary companion, who’d nodded in comprehension.
Upon entering the apartment, the doorman spoke for the first time when putting down the case
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you know how Spurs got on yesterday against Arsenal?”’
For those who know little about UK football (soccer), Spurs and Arsenal are both London based clubs and traditional rivals. Incredibly, both the expat and the local man were both life-long fans of Spurs and spent some time standing on the edge of the Gambian bush discussing the past 30-40 years of the football club. The expat found to his amazement that not only did the local man speak perfect English, but also knew at least as much and possibly more than he did about the football club’s history.
A week or so later, the couple decided the try and get out one night for a change of scenery. Nightlife was limited and they’d been advised by local people not to venture out alone but instead to hire a taxi and driver for the evening.
They’d seen billboards advertising a casino and although it wasn’t their normal ‘thing’, they’d decided to give it a go.
They hired a taxi for 3 hours that evening and set off on the journey of around 15kilometres to the casino, arriving safely. Having spent an enjoyable hour or two, their taxi returned for them. On the way back, and on a deserted and unlit road in total blackness, a car overtook their taxi with its driver leaning out of the window shouting at their driver in the local language.
To their horror, the other car steered their taxi off the road and onto a totally black tiny track into the bush. Their driver said, looking very worried, that the other car driver had said he was a policeman but that he wasn’t completely sure. The couple now were very scared – the other car had no markings and the man wore no uniform but the track was too narrow for the taxi to turn and the taxi driver said the other driver had told him to drive down it for 200 metres or so.
Eventually the taxi arrived at a tiny clearing surrounded by bush. In the pitch darkness with no lighting whatsoever apart from the taxi’s headlights, the couple were able to see around 20-30 silhouettes of people appear from the bush, who then proceeded to surround the taxi in a circle.
The other car pulled up directly behind the taxi, blocking the exit. The driver got out, walked up to their driver’s window and stared shouting. The taxi driver got out looking very nervous indeed and disappeared into the 2am darkness leaving the expat couple alone surrounded by the silhouettes and the bush.
The expat told me that he assumed at that point that they’d never be heard of again.
Suddenly a large figure appeared by the side of their car window. A voice boomed out in perfect Oxford English;
“Good evening. Sorry to delay you like this but we’re doing some random checks on taxis to make sure their insurance documents are all in order. We won’t keep you long”
True to his word, a few minutes later the taxi driver re-appeared looking shaken but relieved and they drove off arriving safely back and without incident. The taxi driver told them that it was a police check though as no uniforms had ever been seen the expats were never entirely sure.
Two interesting little stories that indicate that some aspects of life are universal and one shouldn’t jump to conclusions about ‘the way things are’ when overseas!