‘Toubab, toubabo, how are you?’ Faces of children with sand and a very big smile. Hands waving me hello when I pass by in my street. The children here look fascinated by white people, toubabs. – toubabo in Madinka. They greet them with great enthusiasm, they ask for their names, they ask how they are, they ask for mints and footballs. And although my skin is a bit more cappuccino I am just as toubab for them. Although after a visit to the nursery in my neighborhood most of the children call me now by my Gambian or European name, or something close to that. ‘Adja! Hello!’ ‘Jellika, Jemmica, Jessica! I’m fine.’
But this morning Baba, the two year old of my compound, greeted me with some new words ‘Jessia, touao. Bye bye.’ No matter how you turn it, I fit in their image of a toubab. And four months over here won't change that.
I know it’s just a word. A word which goes together with specific images, perspectives and prejudices. We all have them, children, grown ups, Gambians, Dutch, you, me.
Laundry Gambian style
For example some of the grown up don’t believe toubabs do or can do their laundry by hand. But every weekend I do my laundry Gambian style: four buckets with cold water, some Omo for a nice odor, a piece of soap to clean and a brush if something is really dirty. And it does take me a while, in the sun. Working hard and trying to make the sound they all find that important – it’s the only proper way to clean your clothes.
Last weekend one of the neighbor women walked in at our compound ground to get some water from the tap. She sees me doing the laundry. ‘Eehhee?! Toubabo curo.’ There was a whole fraise, but these were the words I understood. ‘What? White person doing the laundry.’ And I understood the surprised tone in her voice. And she wasn’t the only person. Cause a bit later another neighbor walked in. ‘Ah, Jessica, you are washing your clothes. I see you can do it?’ Laughing he stepped closer. ‘You are not making the sound. You have to do like ptssjj ptssjj. White persons cannot do that.’
Well maybe they are right about this image…even after four months it is a bit difficult. I will be happy to use my washing machine again. I am curious what other kind of images there are about Dutch here in the Gambia and about Gambians in the Netherlands. Two schools, one in Brikama and one in Amsterdam will find out more about each other by writing letters to each other. More about this soon!