Swimming in The Gambia River

Fishermen in RiverAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

One particularly hot Sunday my husband Bruce and I decided to cool off in The Gambia River. The river was probably two miles from home, beyond the marketplace. Hot when we arrived, we stripped off our clothes to our swimsuits and made our way through dark sticky sand to wade in.

We longed for our two-person kayak, currently being stored at Bruce’s parents’ home. What a joy it would be to paddle the river. Overhanging trees and brush provided shade along the shore. Just being on the water seemed cool and refreshing.

Once in the water, it was glorious. Unfortunately, we drew a crowd. Gambians really never swam in the river. They fished in it, paddled their dug-out canoes in it even washed clothes in it, but never swam for pleasure.

One man waved frantically.“There are crocodiles in the river!”

Another man warned, “I’ve seen hippopotamus in there!” Actually, I had to look that Mankinda word up when I got home. All I knew at that time was that it must be something bad.

After walking that distance in 100-degree heat, we really didn’t care what we shared the river with. It was cool and we luxuriated in it. At that point, the river was about two hundred feet across. We swam out to get into relatively clean water. Even so, we made every effort to keep our mouths closed, knowing the water would be polluted.

Though wonderful while it lasted, all cooling effects were gone by the time we walked home again, leaving only a pleasant memory.


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