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Measuring Things in The Gambia

My Magazine 2023/09
2 min
When it comes to measuring certain things in The Gambia, different rules apply. Standard measurement units are not usually used when shopping for specific amounts of goods at the market or for calculating the distance. But the most unusual measurement unit in The Gambia is the one for time.

Measuring Foodstuff

Gambians are very creative and well-known for always finding an alternate way. So, if a salesperson's income is lower than the price of measuring equipment, he/she will use a measuring alternative. Many shops in The Gambia have unique ways of measuring things, especially when measuring foodstuff.

In the markets, a lot of things are measured using cups. While four cups should measure about 1 kg, in The Gambia, the standard of the sizes is defined by the size of the can and which food it is used to store. Gambians re-use the tins of canned food (which are already empty and therefore not needed anymore), using them as measuring equipment in shops and homes. Different sizes of containers are equivalent to a certain amount of measurement. Cans like milk tins, tomato puree tins, bean tins or any cylindrical-shaped tin are used for these measurements.

The 2.2 kg tomato puree can is known as the big cup. The 400 g tin is the middle-sized cup; some even call it the half kilo cup, and the 166g milk tin is a small or quarter kilo cup. Some food items measured with these cups are grains, vegetables, flour and fruits.

Liquids are also measured with tins or cups. A specific aluminium cup of different sizes measures oil in The Gambia. These cups can only be bought at police stations, with their use being supervised to ensure no one cheats the measurement. For other liquids, such as milk, sellers have cups of different sizes and sell them for different prices.

Direction and Distance in a Country without Addresses

When asking somebody about a specific place, you seldom get an answer in kilometres or miles. You will get a response similar to "It's not too far", "It's a little bit far", or "It's very far". But this cannot accurately indicate how far the place is because distance can be very relative. Some people commute only from the market to their house, which can be less than a kilometre away, while some are used to driving up to Basse or Senegal every week and have a different mindset about distance.

Another challenge is finding a particular place since The Gambia has few streets with names and house numbers. Certain main roads have not been named, so you would find a place or give directions using landmarks such as well-known shops, police stations, mosques, or giant trees. There are specific points known to everyone that serve as stopping points for public transport, such as Turntable, Traffic Light, Dippa Garage, and Serrekunda.

Gambian Maybe Time

It must be the biggest reason for misunderstandings between Gambians and non-Gambians. Here, it is customary to attend an event fashionably late. For example, if you have an invitation to an event that is supposed to start at 5 p.m., no one will show up until 7 p.m. - not even the event's host/hostess. Evening parties and concerts that are supposed to start at 8 or 9 p.m. don't feature the leading artist until 3 a.m. So everything comes with a delay, which can be stressful sometimes, but on the other hand, it is good to experience a life where people are not slaves of time.

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