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Through the eyes of Mam Jarra 3/12

My Magazine 2022/09
6 min
Author: Elsemiek Franken
Through the eyes of Mam Jarra tells you more about living and working in The Gambia as a 23-years old Dutch girl. What do I experience, what is living in The Gambia like, the cultural differences, funny inside facts and more.

Last month I wrote about the strength of smiling. Smiling is a medicine for a lot of daily problems. I do believe so, and I laughed a lot this month. Did you? Are your jaws hurting?

I left The Gambia last August to spend a couple of weeks in The Netherlands. I had to arrange a couple of important things, hug my family and of course eat cheese and chocolate. I didn't miss the cheese and chocolate while being in The Gambia. I ate it a lot during my visit to The Netherlands. Now back in The Gambia, I hear them all saying: Sister, you became big. Sister, you ate good. Yeah, that's right! I enjoyed everything in The Netherlands. But nothing can beat the feeling of being back home in The Gambia.

In August, The Netherlands was climbing out of its first Corona wave. Restaurants and bars started to open up again. While enjoying my time with family and friends, I obviously followed the lockdown in The Gambia. That became even more strict. They introduced a curfew and a face mask as mandatory. I became sceptical about the tourist season 2020/2021. My Gambian brothers and sisters replied to my worries: Don't worry, we will manage together! I saw what the first corona wave had done with The Netherlands, and the second wave had just started. Many of my friends had lost their jobs, many businesses collapsed, and people had lost loved ones. How can we ever get back that feeling of having the freedom to move, spend time together, and go on a holiday?

It's just a 6 hours travel to see each other. I will visit The Netherlands often, and you can come as much as you want to The Gambia.

Since the day I decided to live in The Gambia. I always told my family: “It’s just a 6 hours travel to see each other. I will visit The Netherlands often, and you can come as much as you want to The Gambia". The year 2020 made 'a just’ 6 hours trip into a nightmare of cancellations, vouchers and a lot of uncertainty. The corona epidemic has made travel a lot more difficult and expensive.


The epidemic touched us all in different ways. Most of us lost our freedom of movement, going out to make fun or to go on a little trip abroad. These limitations give people the feeling of depression, restless nights or too many hours of sleep without the energy to wake up. For me, the most difficult part is that we do not have any idea when travelling, working normally and hugging my family is possible again. I am daydreaming about the day I can pick up my parents from the airport in The Gambia to spend a couple of weeks together under the sun. I realise that is still a luxury problem under these crazy circumstances!

This epidemic affects the most vulnerable people the hardest.

The corona wipes away uncountable jobs, and the longer it takes, the more and more businesses collapse. Especially in a country such as The Gambia, depending on tourism as their biggest source of income and employment. A wise business owner has a saving account for emergencies or other circumstances. An employee in The Gambia just earns enough to feed their families and maybe save a bit to survive during the rainy (low) season. This epidemic affects the most vulnerable people the hardest. Maybe you are cut in your freedom, have now saved up a lot of travel vouchers, you need to miss your family or had a drop in your income. The most vulnerable people are those without a savings account or government financial support. The people, who depend on the money they make during the day to feed the family the same day or, more commonly, yesterday and days before. Many of the friends you make during your stay in The Gambia are part of this group. 

Still, I hear many Gambian brothers and sisters say here: We are just managing. It is a typical way of saying it. That's why I always say: 'If you are looking for a manager, go to The Gambia'. You will find plenty of managers; they are all managing. During these times of uncertainty, I start to believe that they really master a way of managing life. Through observing them, I think this mastering of being a Gambian manager can be better called the mastering of Sharing because that is what they do. Today I help you; tomorrow, you help me. Sharing is caring. The way they help each other often feels rare to me. Rare in the most beautiful way!

We have to care for each other and help each other now, so we can all be dancing together to the sounds of The Gambia later. Become a Gambian manager! Master sharing!

My life isn't what it was before the corona. Yes, it is hard to be cut in my freedom of movement and not to have a full restaurant every evening. I also miss the vibe the tourists bring to The Gambia: The long nights with music and dance filled with laughter and happiness. The Don't Worry Be Happy vibe! But I also realise that I am having it really good. I can still fulfil my basic needs, and all is safe. We must deal with these limitations for now and help each other to fulfil our basic needs: water, food, shelter and love. We have to care for each other and help each other now, so we can all be dancing together to the sounds of The Gambia later. Become a Gambian manager! Master sharing!

Did you ever hear this saying about happiness? 

"If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.’’

Do you want to help someone fulfil their basic needs? There are plenty of ways to help fulfil someone's basic needs. Send a food packet, sponsor a charity organisation which provides for the most vulnerable in their basic needs or attend a lottery that is organised to help in the basic needs. Do not forget, love is also part of basic needs. Show someone you care for them!

In last month's edition, I wrote about the foundation I set up to help the most vulnerable people in The Gambia called: Santo Gambia Foundation. Early this year, we made a video about the impact of the Corona epidemic on the tourism of The Gambia. Watch the video here:

Do you want to help Santo Gambia Foundation to provide basic needs to vulnerable families? Please contact us on Facebook: @Santo The Gambia. Help us help themselves!


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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