Through the eyes of Mam Jarra: Shine a light together

‘Through the eyes of Mam Jarra’ tells you more about living and working in The Gambia as a 24-years old Dutch girl. What do I experience, what is living in The Gambia like, The culture difference, funny inside facts and more.’

With a smile I welcome you into my restaurant and bar ‘Three Little Birds’ in Cape Point. The sun has just gone down. You are wearing a beautiful summer dress and your skin got a nice tan. I asked how your day was and you answer happily that you have enjoyed your first day in The Gambia. A tour guide had introduced you to the restaurant and you can’t wait to eat, drink and relax. I guide you to your table and one of the waitresses takes your order. The rest of the evening you enjoy nice food, drinks and entertainment. During your dinner, a couple of drummers walk into the restaurant and they start singing the ‘famous’ what is your name song. You are enjoying this musical attention and give them a tip. We never realized 1,5 year ago, that this would be the last evening that we would enjoy in the way we did.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, firing my staff (My Three Little Birds Family) was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. Because I knew that nothing better was waiting for them for a really long time. I hope from now on I only have to say goodbye to qualified employees because they have found a better position or they are ready to start for themselves. Most of my team members have been home since the Corona pandemic outbreak. They try to do small jobs and manage with the small things they have. In the beginning I really had to deal with guilt when I called them. I knew that it wasn’t my fault, this situation is out of everyone’s control. I never visualised before opening the restaurant that I had to call my employees who are sitting home after the restaurant had only opened three months before. Where possible we help each other through this difficult time. They make me laugh, give me hope, offer their help when needed and they give me a reason to push harder every day.

Through this last 1,5 year I have observed that the lack of salary wasn’t the biggest problem for most of them. It is hopelessness, which was already apparent in The Gambia before Corona pandemic, that blows with tornado force through the Gambian society now. The feeling that every day is getting worse and that there is no more sparkle of light to see at the end of the tunnel. Every day is a battle for them, a battle they win because of their positivity, caring for each other culture and lifestyle. It is hard for me to hear that young boys have to carry their full family plus their sister’s family on their shoulders without a job. It remains very confronting for me to know that young girls left school early because their school fees couldn’t be paid. It is heart breaking for me to read that Gambian youth, who are the future for The Gambia, (want to) run away without knowing where to go. I can’t blame them. I really don’t know how I would act if I was standing in their shoes. I sometimes withhold telling them: ‘Everything is gonna be allright’ because I fear that everything will not be alright for all of many in the end. Still, the one thing I do all the time is try to inspire people, give them a little hope, that little sparkle that will carry with them. Most importantly, I want to create employment and chances for growth and development. But to do so, I need you to help me!

The corona pandemic has shown how much Gambia depends on the tourism and what happens when the tourism just stops without a clear outlook when things pick up again. Everybody who is a Gambia lover, who has family there or sees Gambia as their second home or someone who has their business in The Gambia should put their hands together to shine a light on The Gambia. Maybe you think your little message on your Facebook about how much you like Gambia is of no help. Or your small talk at your work with a co-worker who looks for a new holiday destination or a small new enterprise who creates content to advertise their business in The Gambia on the world wide web. Believe me, it starts with your little message, chat talk or an opening of a new establishment in or about The Gambia. Every little thing you can do that boosts the Gambian tourism will have an positive impact on the future of many Gambians. People who are engaged to boost The Gambia, its tourism or a family member in The Gambia should never give up. Because help is needed and can result in sustainable solutions and changes for The Gambian population. Write that message, talk to your co-worker or establish that company you have been thinking about for so long!

A little butterfly come to life in my belly while I am writing this blog because I feel we will be seeing each other soon! Soon you will walk into the restaurant again with your beautifully tanned skin, the (same) summer dress and with the same or maybe new friends. Yes, I now see a little light at the end of the tunnel. I started rehiring a couple of my employees and working out the plans and ideas I have been writing down and working on for the last months. It gives me an extremely positivity boost. Finally, I can do what I called for to do: Inspire others and to give them hope with the faith I have been carrying with me. We have all been through a lot, we have all dealt with it differently, we have lost loved ones, jobs and our lives were on hold for way too long. But something will never change: The cheerful hospitality of The Gambia. Soon it might be possible for you to smile and scream: ‘GAMBIA HERE I COME’ or ‘GAMBIA I AM HOME’.

As soon as you feel secure enough to book your ticket, please don’t wait for a minute. Come to The Gambia! We are waiting for you to come home! Don’t forget to promote The Gambia on your social media and social network and talk to your friends, family and colleagues about it. The Gambia needs you as hard as you need The Gambia!

About Author

Elsemiek Franken

the 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 24 year old girl building her dreamlife 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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