It got into my DNA

by Nicola Spiller

My "gap year" – as I believe it would be called today - as a teacher in Gunjur has become a blur of images, sounds and smells over the last 25 years. It seems a lifetime ago with my memories of my time there now something akin to a poor quality cine film and yet they are ever present.

As I cast my mind back I can "see" the compound where I stayed, its corrugated iron roof, the well surrounded by woman and children with chickens pecking at the ground and grubby children playing barefoot. The next image that floats into my mind is of me standing under a classroom made of palm leaves nervously casting my eye upwards every now and again in case of snakes and looking at a sea of black expectant faces waiting for me to start teaching them!

Me – teach?!!! I was only fresh out of school myself and a very shy 18 year old at that. But somehow I did – teach that is!!! And, no ... not English (as most people assume) but Science and Mathematics. And I will never forget the walk along the sandy road from my compound to the market, the compounds with their peeling paint, my attempts at Mandinka as I passed familiar faces and then sitting outside a shop drinking a warm – and very occasionally if the fridge had been working a less warm – Fanta!

I am sure I am guilty of rose tinted spectacles when I think back. However, that said, I haven't forgotten the more difficult times including trying to resuscitate someone who it was believed might have been struck by lightning and being admitted to hospital with suspected malaria. But despite it all, I truly loved my time in Gunjur and have remained friends with the family I stayed with. In fact, since my father died, the head of the compound has considered himself my honorary father.

He even took me to one side on a recent visit to ask me about my singleness!!! In Gambian terms, I am far too old not to be married!!!
My time in Gunjur most definitely left an imprint. It's hard to explain exactly how, but it changed me. It gave me a confidence I never knew I had and a much deeper open mindedness. But perhaps, the most tangible way in which it has had an impact is the fact I recently adopted a little boy with Gambian heritage who is the light of my life. Gambia and my connections there played a significant role in my adoption journey.

Indeed, it was my time in Gunjur, my links and friendships there and my love for The Gambia that led social services to match me with my son. I have always said that Gambia somehow got into my DNA!!! Now it will always be a part of my life.