Thursday, January 11, 2007

The End

On Sunday night at 9pm, my SN Brussels flight will whisk me away after 160 days on the African continent. In Nelson Mandela’s book, he mentioned a fellow inmate who commented once that, in prison, the days can feel like years and the years feel like days. I haven’t been in prison, but there have been days that were very challenging, some very, very low points, and yet five and a half months have somehow gone by. The last week has been a mixture of slow-moving tedium as I’ve counted down the days to my finish here, with various outings to both enjoy the last of the Gambia and to draw various work and social associations to a close. My next four days will largely be the same. I’ll finish packing, I’ll keep exercising. At lunch on Friday, I’m meeting up with a Calgarian Hasher who is here on some sort of oil exploration. Friday night, I was invited to some sort of house party in Brufut by another Hasher. And Saturday night, the Institute Director is having me over for supper. Perhaps a walk here and there and maybe take in a soccer game, but otherwise that wraps things up for me here.

On July 26, I posted some priorities on my blog about what I wanted to do while in Africa:

I am just under two weeks away from moving to Africa. I'm looking forward to a few things: moving on from my University life, reading books, helping the less fortunate, seeing a new world, and reexamining my priorities.

Some reflections on my trip:

READING: I managed to read 8 books on this trip, ranging from historical fiction (Dickens, Austen, Joyce), contemporary fiction (Atwood, Achebe), and autobiographical non-fiction (H. Clinton, B. Clinton, Mandela).

FITNESS: The first time I jogged in the Gambia, I almost threw up and spent two hours immobile in a chair to regain my composure. Slowly but surely, I worked my way up from short runs twice a week to running for 75 minutes 6 times a week, plus doing 150 situps and 48 modified pushups every morning, in addition to the weekly Hash runs, rugby (before I got bored with it a few months ago), and lots of time spent walking and touring. After letting things slide too much throughout law school, I return to Canada in the best shape I’ve been since my half-marathon running days of 2001. It took a whole lot of effort and sacrifice, as being in Africa provided various challenges: the stifling heat, the lure of the beach, bistro eating and cheap beer, and greater time sucked up by everything from laundry to shopping and transportation. But it was worth it. Things have slacked somewhat in the last month, what with my birthday binging, my vacation, and the unplanned farewell restaurant tour since my return last week, but I’m happy overall.

WORK: I have not been vacationing, but rather have been working full time. I had the opportunity to become very familiar with the human rights system here in Africa, both in terms of past cases of the African Human Rights Commission and in terms of how things work. I worked on cases for both the Commission and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. I worked on some policy drafting. I participated in a roundtable on legal aid in the Gambia, attended the NGO Forum and the Commission Session, and gave a presentation on the international human rights framework at a training workshop.

TOURING: I saw the Abuko Nature Reserve, Bijilo Forest Park and Katchikali Crocodile Pool. I had the opportunity to go up country to see James Island and, in the process, had my first exposure to small villages and the Gambian countryside. I walked all over, from north to Cape Point to the Tanji fishing village in the south. I ate at all sorts of restaurants and visited numerous clubs and bars. I saw the unspoiled beaches of the southern Kombos. I saw more of West Africa by traveling to Senegal overland, and experienced North Africa by traveling to Morocco.

EXPERIENCING A DIFFERENT CULTURE: I spent five months living in a traditional African neighbourhood, largely separated from the tourist, expat and diplomatic areas. I have shopped from street vendors, interacted with Gambians, and lived through the rainy season. I ate traditional Gambian foods and experienced local beach and fishing culture. I have lived in West Africa. Being by myself for four of those months, I have been immersed in Gambian living and have largely had to find my own way. I think myself better for it.

REEXAMING MY PRIORITIES: My time here has given me a lot of time to think and reflect. And while I don’t have all the answers for my life, some things have been made somewhat clearer.

HILIGHTS: The weather for the last two months has been wonderful. Seeing African villages for the first time was a very worthwhile and moving experience. Publishing on malaria in the Edmonton Journal was very fulfilling. And all of the things listed above really made the trip what it was. On the whole, I am proud that I was able to take the step to decide to come here, take a further step to travel around a bit independently, and make it through the entire time when, back in August, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever do so.

DISAPPOINTMENTS: Having my planned tour to Georgetown in the east part of Gambia fall through was unfortunate, but I got my fill of travel, villages and countryside in other ways. I never really made close friends with people in my age group, as those I met through rugby I never particularly clicked with. I wish my time in Gambia were such that I could have fully immersed myself in the experience and put thoughts of Canada away for the duration. But the various challenges of being here – living hardships, loneliness, boredom, cultural frustrations and racial division – rendered that impossible. To this day, although I go about daily living comfortably, I am still an outsider here.

I’m somewhat surprised I’ve managed to keep this going for my entire trip. 93 pages of reflections on various things, most of which was posted to the blog. Sometimes interesting, sometimes less so, but as accurate and honest as I was able to make things. Now, on to Brussels, two days of rest in Amsterdam, through to Mineappolis, and on to cold, snowy home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Far out. Upon your return (and if the temperature manages to climb above -15) we should drink beer in the alley behind the DX house. Sadly, I no longer live next door though.

--The Dude

4:47 PM

Blogger Bogg said...

And I moved out of the DX House at the end of July. So we'd both be vagrant loiterers!

1:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude, you inspire me.


8:04 PM

Blogger Catrin said...

Roman, welcome back! I hope to see you at the latest at Greg's newly reinstituted Poker Games, the first of which is to take place January 26(Friday).

9:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed reading your blog, our daughter was in The Gambia for 2 years with the Peace Corps. We were able to visit her while she was there. Know the owner of The Green Mamba quit well. Your blog makes me want to go back!

3:14 PM


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