Living in The Gambia as a Jamaican has been the wildest experience of my life

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My name is Karla. I am a Jamaican from the parish of Clarendon, but I spent more than half my life in London, UK. In 2020 I pursued my life-long dream to relocate to Africa. I  chose The Gambia. I have been living in The Gambia for about a year and a half. It has been the wildest experience of my life.

As a teenager, I went to Senegal, West Africa on a school exchange trip. This was my first experience in Africa. It changed my life, I felt something spiritual. I felt a connection to the land, the people and the culture. I knew from that moment I needed to migrate to the  African continent one day. 

Senegal is a French-speaking country and my French is not so great. So when I realized that there was a small country in the middle of Senegal that spoke English and had many cultural similarities. Moving to The Gambia was a no brainer for me.

There are different groups of Jamaicans in Gambia who hang out in different places based on the location they live, their age group or social interests. I like the fact that I know where everyone is and how to find them. There is a group that meets up at the J&J  restaurant and they have a game night on Sundays. That group has a mixture of old and young. I can always stop by Aunty Miriam at Garvey lodge in Brufut. There is another group that meets at JamGam restaurant, another group at Mo2 restaurant. etc. We also have groups of American, Canadian and Caribbean people and everyone gets together often. They even have clubs for their children to hang out. Depending on what mood I’m in I may choose to visit any of these groups. We also have multiple WhatsApp groups that are quite resourceful.

Many Jamaicans look like Gambians, so there are some similarities in attitudes. They absolutely love Jamaican culture and embrace it more than anywhere else. Reggae is the most played music; you will hear it in every taxi and on the side of the roads. In fact, they play more reggae music in the Gambia than they play in Jamaica! The young men speak patois, as their normal everyday slang. Some speak it as if they were born in Jamaica. 

Some differences include a lack of understanding of what Rasta is, as some associate it with dreadlocks and smoking weed, without understanding the true spiritual context of Rasta; such as their abstinence from meat products and their level of social awareness/ enlightenment. 

Gambians are also far more laid back and reserved. They find it amusing watching us Jamaicans laugh, dance and make noise.

Everything! I think about Jamaica all the time. I miss my friends and family, the food, the nature, the culture, the laughter, the music scene and all the things I wished I did but never got around to do.

Look before you leap. Holidays are one thing, but living in The Gambia is a completely different situation.  Certainly, take 3 months to check out The Gambia and if possible explore multiple African countries.

The lessons from living here that I have learned have been great, in good and bad ways. Africa teaches you about yourself and where we come from as a people. 

Many harsh truths are within this experience and I think as Black people across the world, we need this experience. We need to learn who we are by spending time in Africa and come to a common consensus about our history and varied experiences. Not everything can be learnt from reading books and watching videos.

Keep up with Karla’s life as a repat in The Gambia by checking out her YouTube channel, The African Repat. 

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