Gambia And UK Open Fort Bullen Museum, A Bastion Against The Slave Trade

A fort in The Gambia that was instrumental in stopping the slave trade has been given a new museum, the Daily Observer reports.

Fort Bullen was one of two forts at the mouth of the River Gambia, placed there in 1826 to stop slave ships from sailing out into the Atlantic. It stands on the north bank of the river, and along with Fort James on the south bank constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Bullen has been open to visitors for some time and tourism officials hope the new museum will add to its attractiveness as a historic site.

The museum was financed by the British High Commission in The Gambia. The country used to be a British colony. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1807 and soon took steps to eradicate it throughout its domains. Of course, before that time the empire made huge profits from the slave trade, with the River Gambia being one of its major trading centers for human flesh. One hopes this aspect of British history isn’t ignored in the new museum.

[Photo courtesy Leonora Enking]

Tourism industry in The Gambia gutted by global recession

We all know the global recession has hit the tourism industry pretty hard, but smaller countries off the beaten path are feeling it worse, and are less able to bounce back.

The Gambia is the smallest nation on the African mainland and has a modest tourism industry based around its beautiful beaches, serene river, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the mysterious stone circles pictured here. Unfortunately, Mr. Alieu Secka, president of the nation’s Hoteliers Association, says there’s been a 50% drop in arrivals for the 2009/2010 season. A quick check of several leading hotels revealed the figure to be more or less accurate.


The Gambia is not a rich nation, and such a plunge in the industry will threaten jobs and businesses, creating a knock-on effect as families have to support the newly jobless.

Is The Gambia the proverbial canary in the coalmine? Will other small nations get hit this hard?

Hopefully I’ll be going to The Gambia in 2010. My wife, who is very supportive of her wandering husband, gave me a flight there as a Christmas present, so assuming I don’t trade it in for a flight somewhere else to visit my friend as he motorcycles across Africa, I’ll be able to give a firsthand report. Perhaps I’ll bring along some extra money to spend. The Gambians deserve it.

In case you’re wondering, I got her an espresso machine. She didn’t want to go to The Gambia with me so I guess she’ll just sip espresso at home and read my blog posts.

Breastfeeding is best when you travel

There have been discussions about breastfeeding and travel on Gadling before. Breastfeeding on an airplane, in particular, has come up as a subject with many opinions. Here’s my take. I was reminded of my breast feeding days when I saw a woman with a two-month old at the movie Sherlock Holmes. When it comes to travel, breastfeeding is the way to go. And don’t worry about what anyone thinks about it.

If you’ve ever been to West Africa where a breast is for nursing children and not used as an object desire, you’ll see where I’m coming from. My Peace Corps male friends who were in The Gambia when I was would moan every time they saw a woman pounding grain without a shirt on or whipping a breast out in the middle of a conversation to nurse an infant, “This is ruining it for me,” they would say. What would they have to fixate on-to fantasize over?

When my son was born in India on New Year’s Day, I was fortunate to be living in India, a country where breast feeding is seen as natural as breathing. It gave me the notion that babies and travel do indeed go together.

Because I breast fed only, for six months my husband and I traveled bottle free. There was no worry about our son getting sick. No paraphernalia to pack. I’d pack onesies, a few cute outfits, and a pair of baby shoes, one of those plastic diaper changer travel kits, disposable diapers, burp cloths and a cloth baby blanket. (The portable changer rolls up to slip into a daypack and has a pocket for carrying two or three diapers and baby wipes.)

Breastfeeding made our lives easier. What I also discovered is that if one is quiet and discrete, you can breast-feed about anywhere as long as you look comfortable. I breast fed in movie theaters, museums, and restaurants. If you’re not worried about what people think about you nursing, you’ll feel comfortable. If you’re comfortable, chances are they won’t notice, and if they do, it won’t seem like a big deal. Think of it this way. Your breastfeeding is helping add to the peace and quiet of everyone else. Your baby who is breast-feeding is not crying. On an airplane, that’s a real gift to give to passengers-particularly during take offs and landing.

To help make breastfeeding easier, take a light weight shawl with you and wear shirts that provide room for your baby to nurse comfortably, but also will cover your breast.

Even when I traveled in the summer in the U.S. and breast fed there, I never had any problems.

For more tips on traveling with a nursing infant, whether breast or bottle fed, check out “Travel Recommendations for The Nursing Mother” at the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

The music beat in Dakar: Another version of West Africa

Grant’s series “Into Dakar” brought back memories of my own travels there. For another intimate look into life in Dakar, check out, “The Songs of Senegal” a recent article in the New York Times. For me, reading the article was a trip back to an evening I spent in Farafenni, The Gambia, dancing to a live performance of Youssou N’Dour.

If you travel to The Gambia or Senegal without taking in the music scene, you’ll miss a vital part of each country’s vibrancy.

As Seth Sherwood, the article’s writer, points out, Dakar is one of the least touristed music centers in the world, but one of the most vibrant. This means for anyone traveling there, you can easily become immersed in a scene that is not meant for you.

Each year, the annual Africa Fête, a week long music festival that began on December 12 and ends on 19th, brings top notch groups together for a varied trip into Senegalese music landscape. The scenery is diverse. From folk style to pop to reggae, each music venue offers a unique flavor. If you have designs on a visit to Senegal, December is a terrific month to aim for. The rainy season is long gone, and the temperatures have yet to heat up to sweltering.

Sherwood’s article is an excellent place to begin a musical journey into Dakar even if your journey is not going to bring you much further than the music store closest to you. While you browse the West African music selection, imagine the images Sherwood’s words evoke.

For a taste of Dakar’s music scene, here’s a video of Youssou N’dour in concert. N’dour, however, could be heading your way. If you ever have a chance to see him and his musicians live, go.

Barbara Walters’ apartment had an intruder while she was on vacation

One of the worst things that can happen when one is away on vacation is a break in. It happened to me once. There I was in Kentucky with miles between my apartment with its missing TV, vacuum cleaner and leather jacket and worries that someone had been rummaging through my stuff–a person I didn’t know.

When Barbara Walters came home from being gone for several days, she noticed her apartment looked awry. Something was amiss. Sleuthing turned up tracks which led to a dead pigeon in a bathroom. Mysteriously, all the apartment’s windows were closed and locked, as were the doors leading to outside.

According to what she said on The View today, there’s a hawk in her neighborhood which perhaps went after the pigeon knocking it down her chimney and into her apartment. The pigeon wandered into the bathroom which is filled with mirrors and killed itself trying to get out. [see video]

This story reminds me of when my husband and I came home to our apartment in Singapore to find some sort of poop on our photo album. Then there’s the time I came home after being away from my village in The Gambia to discover a wooden trunk partly eaten away by termites. Another time a mouse took up house in the inside of my oven, built a nest and had babies there. This was also when I was in The Gambia. Leaving my village for any length of time was an invitation for critters to come on in.

I never thought I had something in common with Barbara Walters. Who knew? If it’s between critters and a robber, I’d go with the critters every time.