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Through the eyes of Mam Jarra 1/12

My Magazine 2022/07
13 min
Author: Elsemiek Franken
Through the eyes of Mam Jarra tells you about living and working in The Gambia as a 23-years old Dutch girl. What do I experience? What living in The Gambia is like? The culture difference, funny inside facts and more. As a child I could only dream about what you are about to read right now.

My dream was to live and work in Africa. My dream came true three years ago or maybe a little earlier. My name is Elsemiek; born and raised in a small village in The Netherlands. I always describe it as a village with more cows than people. As soon as it was possible, I left the village to study in the capital city of Amsterdam. I dreamed about Africa a lot; why?

My father travels a lot and has shown me pictures from all around the world. He also visited The Gambia and fell in love with the country, its people and its culture from his first visit. From the day I saw the pictures and videos he made in The Gambia, I knew I wanted to live there. The people, their smiles and colourful clothes brightened up the rainy days here and my life 15 years ago.

Now, 15 years later, I live in this colourful country with a lot of smiling people. I fell in love with the most incredible man. Together, we live a life full of adventure, beautiful moments, but also cultural differences and learning moments. He gave me the name Mam Jarra. I love this name because it reminds me of our journey and gives meaning to our future together in The smiling coast of Africa.

Alone you are nothing

In the culture I grew up in: the most important thing is me, myself and I. We are really busy achieving good results in school, getting the best job, a big house and a better car than the neighbours. That does not mean that I never spent time with my family in The Netherlands. Of course, we visit each other, but the focus is mainly on yourself and your own development.

The culture in The Gambia is quite the opposite. Yes, also Gambians go to school and go to work, and they all want to live in nice houses. They also want to have good results and a nice car. The main difference is that their focus lies in group happiness. They live with each other, everybody is your brother and sister, and you are never really alone in The Gambia. When you are not feeling well, people will pass by your house to help you. In the morning you can’t leave the house before talking with your neighbours and people you meet on the street.

Coming from a totally different culture, I found all of it very overwhelming during my first visit to The Gambia at the age of sixteen. Now seven years later, it’s one of my most “alone you are nothing” important values. To take the time to say hello to a stranger on the street and to spend real time with people close to me. Because alone you’re nothing!

I remember the time my husband visited The Netherlands for the first time. He stayed three months. The first week he felt down, and he was extremely quiet. I asked him what was going on, he said: people here are running on the street in a rush, and they never say hello to me. It made him feel lonely.

Now when I am back in The Netherlands, I feel the same. It feels like we are all living our life in our own bubble. I remember asking a lady behind the desk in the hospital in The Netherlands, how are you today? She looked at me as in shock while I waited patiently for her answer. She smiled and said I am fine, thanks for asking!

Curious what I am doing in The Gambia?
I will tell you more about this in next month's edition. Do you want to know something or ask me a question? Do not hesitate to contact me.


Elsemiek Franken
Owner of Three Little Birds Bar and Restaurant and Co-founder of Santo Gambia Foundation
I am Elsemiek Franken, also known as Mam Jarra, a 23-year-old girl building her dream life in The Gambia. You could call me a happy girl! You can wake me up for Benechin chicken, improving lives, learning new things and adventures. My friends call me spontaneous, loyal, brave, a goal-getter and a little too much of a talker. I always need to be busy, maybe you can call it restless. I used to think that The Gambia and its 40 degrees would slow me a bit down. Not yet, hopefully, I will learn to do nothing (at least sometimes;) and enjoy it. Do you have a tip? As a child, they always called me messy; I call it creative. The Gambia brings out the best of me, for example, my creative mind. I cannot describe how this happens. Come to The Gambia, stay a bit longer and experience it yourself! I enjoy making food for everybody who walks in. You’re welcome to join! Do you want to know something or ask me a question? Please contact me on

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