Sunday, September 23, 2007

Banjul, The Gambia - 22nd September 2007

My eighth stop. Arrived here late morning to a not completely unexpected bit of fun at the air-port. Someone actually does check all those forms that people fill when they come in as I found out!

I landed here with a clearance permit, which had my nationality wrong. I thought all was well since I passed immigration, but ended up being hauled into a back office just as I was stepping out.

Long story short, I eventually got out.

Poor pay, corruption are just some of the factors which result in officials praying upon travellers, not a good thing considering the amount of money those on tourism and business pump into a local economy. That Western Africa is a spot for people jumping across to Europe is another factor that makes passports from Asia, flagged.

A lot of the businesses in the region, the importers, are of Indian origin. From South Africa all the way up the eastern and western coasts, it’s Indians who have played a significant role in the economy as importers, traders and wholesalers of a range of products – tomato paste, condensed milk, cooking oil, match boxes, mosquito coils, ajinomoto, biscuits, tea, coffee, the list goes on. Liked they are not, tolerated they are.

The model, across many countries remains the same though, and it is an interesting one which provides a fascinating insight into the psyche of Indians – NRI’s as they are referred to back in India, Non resident Indian.

The head of the business is lord, god and master. Under him are between three to six fellow Indians; either family or young men on a three year contract. Under them are the localites.

Now, interestingly, very few of the Indians live separately. The model more often than not is that the Boss man provides accommodation and food, usually at his own house. This not only keeps the costs down it also ensures that he has a complete hold upon the day to day lives of the people working for him. I cannot imagine being able to work/ live under such conditions, could you? Breakfast and lunch are brought daily to the business premises, where the team sit down and eat together. Dinner I presume follows a similar pattern back at the house. To have to live, day in and day out, with the people that you work with, to have to share almost every meal, every waking and sleeping hour over a period of two or three years to me is so alien that I cannot even imagine it for a day.

As it is, on this machine gun fire trip of mine, I am glad at the days end to return to the anonymity of a hotel room, and my privacy. I recollect on my last trip, being accommodated with a client over three days; a wonderful gesture on their part, but one which by the second day had me tense as a spring.

And yet, for an Indian, it seems fine.

People, so different……

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