Geli Geli Experience

I have debated the best way to communicate this post to you, my faithful reader. First of all, only those who have participated in a geli geli ride will ever truly be able to relate. But for the vast majority of you out there, I will attempt to explain my worst public transport experience through words and pictures here.

Yesterday, we had to travel back from site visit via public transport. We all traveled with a current PCV. The mode of transportation is called a geli and is basically a 3rd-world 15-passanger van. But bigger. And with a roof rack. And it could have, any given day, up to 20+ people, small children, any array of luggage, livestock, and chickens. Plus a driver.

You can't see from this view, but there are 6 full-grown sheep up top.
 Catherine got the luck of the draw from her village and bought 4 tickets in advance for the 3 of us trainees she was picking up on the way to the city. This is a big deal because geli's don't depart until they are full. Absolutely full. Half the battle is waiting for one to fill up so you can depart. Catherine called shortly after 8am and told me to head to the main road. I waited out there with about a 12-child posse, and received a text from Catherine that they were loading sheep on top of the geli, they would be a few more minutes.

Some of the gang (some kids scatter at the camera)
 Finally she got to me, I hopped on, and we were off to Soma to pick up another volunteer. The drive there took about 20 minutes on paved road, no problem. After squeezing another in, we hit the road and heard a huge SNAP. The driver, whom Catherine has used before and says is the best one she's encountered, decided to stop and see what happened. Catherine said that normally, the driver would keep going until the car stops running. We went to the local "garage" (which was really just someone's compound who had a set-up for welding) and piled out. There was a snapped shock/spring thing on the front driver's side. Catherine, who kinda knows her way around cars, had never seen the part. I told her my dad's '91 Ford Ranger had them. The men proceeded to make the part, FROM SCRATCH, using scrap pieces of metal.

They were using a hand-turned bicycle wheel thingy to blow air onto the coals, setting the metal on it to heat hot enough to pound with a hammer. You can't see it in the picture, but the ends are all curled up into each other, too. They proceeded to pour hot tar down the middle to hold everything together. It was THE most incredible thing I've seen yet. Two hours later, we were back on the road, due west. The unpaved road.

South Bank Road due west from my village. Sorry, no pic of the unpaved portion.
The roads here are something else. The North Bank Road is completely paved, from Banjul to Basse (capital city to biggest city in the east), and the South Bank Road has yet to be completed. (Side note: my village, Donogor Ba is about 25k east of Soma.) The portion of road starting at Basse and working east was completed recently (past year), and the road is really nice. That's where I am. But the one coming from the other side is only about 1/2 way done. So when it's raining, the dirt is even worse. We still had one more girl to pick up off the dirt road and the poor thing was waiting at the police station near her village for hours because of our delay. It was raining pretty hard. We finally got to her at about 2pm and finished out the dirt road.

Remember that it's raining. And those sheep on top? There were also 2 baby sheep inside that were crying the entire time for their mama who was on top. It was deafening, between the crying sheep, rain, and dirt road. Then we got a flat tire. Since it was raining, the geli driver's apprentice changed the flat. With everyone and everything still in the vehicle. I was impressed that it took him only 20 minutes. At this point, I figured things couldn't get much worse. Boy, was I wrong. Remember, this is a developing country. The main door was hanging on by a thread, and there was a gap with no seal. Which let rain water in. That wasn't so bad. I was the 2nd person in from the window. But when the livestock up top decided to relieve themselves, we had the rain water washing their pee and poo in on us. It was THE MOST DISGUSTING thing I've ever experienced. Poor Catherine and Kim who were sitting behind me and the guy sitting next to me got the worst of it all. It was gross. And it lasted for another 2 hours. We finally ended up in the city and stopped for dinner at about 5:30pm. Ironically enough, the other volunteers who were twice as far arrived at the exact time, and it was providence that we all ended up at the same restaurant for dinner. Washing my hands and arm has never been more of a relief.

Friday is our swear-in date, and so far, everything is still on schedule. I go back to training village for a couple of days this week to celebrate the end of Ramadan with my training village host family. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm glad to be going back. I miss the people there. It encourages me to think that I will, perhaps, feeling this way about my site family, too.


Kelly B. said…
I've experienced a lot of sheep pee and poo! Distinctive smell, that stuff. Katey, I'm so glad to have the pictures and written descriptions of tiny bits of your life in The Gambia. Kelly
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I've experienced a lot of sheep pee and poo!