Monday, April 19, 2010

James Island

This past Wednesday we took a trip to James Island. For those of you familiar with the book Roots, you may have heard of James Island. The Island is where the slaves were held before they were loaded onto the British ships. In the 1700's 60,000 slaves were held at Fort James, which is mind boggling when you see the size of the island and the size of Gambia. It is quite small in the middle of the not so small Gambian River. We took local boats and were honored to have Lisa Landis with us from Lancaster County's christian radio station, WJTL. There were six of us that went, Elias and I, Lori, Gary, Lisa and a Gambian friend named Amidou, or as we call him, Armstrong. We also had two boats each with a driver and an apprentice or water scooper when the floor leaked and waves came up over the edge.
     We left our house around 8 arriving in Pirang at about 9 and then we walked to the tributary where we would launch the boats. Once we were all there and the boats were ready to go, we climbed in and took off. Now there needs to be some explanation here. Our drivers were local Balanta fishermen, some from the Pirang church, who go out at night to fish. Since it was cheaper to pay them than go with a tour group, we opted for them to take us in their local fishing boats. As I said before there were 6 of us, with 4 fishermen, and we needed two boats so the boats weren't extremely large. We could have fit in one, but it wouldn't have been the best idea. The local boats resemble a large, fiberglass canoe, with boards on the top edge to make the edges higher. The seats inside were boards and small logs, some attached some not. Lori and I decided to take the front "seat" which was really a board that wasn't attached to the boat, it just sat on the lip from the edge where the fiberglass met the board. Then there was a small log about 4 inches in diameter behind so that the board wouldn't slide past that point.
     On the way there the water was quite smooth, there wasn't much wind and it only took about an hour. We then got out and walked around on the island, seeing the ruins of the building where the slaves were housed. Unfortunately the island is eroding away from the waves, and while it is trying to be preserved it continues to get smaller. It was definitely a humbling experience being able to see a place where the slavery movement was in full swing, but I will admit, it was hard to get a real feel for what it was like when it was active. Also, we didn't have a tour guide so we didn't know all of the details of what each room was used for.
      Lisa wanted to do a live broadcast from the island, so she and Armstrong climbed a tour to get cell phone service and went on the air. We have to say it was quite a sight since Armstrong had on a fuzzy, black hat, his sunglasses and his bright orange lifejacket while sitting on top of a tour doing a radio broadcast.
       We then ate lunch as the wind was picking up and we knew that it would be more difficult getting back. So once again we climbed into our boats and headed back to Pirang. This time the trip was a bit different though. The water was much more choppy so as we hit the growing waves our boat did not come down very gently. As I said before, the board Lori and I were sitting on wasn't actually attached, so with the first hard hit the board fell and we came down with it. We tried to put it back up and give it another try, but within 30 seconds we had fallen again. So we decided to give up on the board and sit on the not so comfortable 4 inch log that was nailed into the boat. This wasn't so bad at first but after so many hard hits the log wasn't as pleasant as it had first been. Elias on the other hand was quite comfortable as he sat on the cooler on the way home. There were a few times when I doubted the boat's strength to withstand the beating that it was enduring was water was came in over the sides, the seam in front of us was sealed with a calk that didn't look too strong and there were pieces of wood falling off the boat, but we weren't sure where they were coming from. Elias then went on to inform us, as we came to the end of our trip, that there was a large crack right underneath our bench. But, the boat didn't fail us and as we came closer to the tributary again, the water became calmer and the last stretch was quite peaceful.
      As a disclaimer, we did have life jackets and since I'm a fairly strong swimmer, this trip wasn't scary per se, it was just adventurous. We were even able to see dolphins from a distance even though we hoped they would be closer. Needless to say, we came back, wind blown, slightly sunburned and quite salty (the river water was salty considering it's closeness to the ocean). Here are some pictures of our adventure, some are a bit blurry do to salt on the lens.
our boats await

here we go!

Baobob tree and cannon
the island

model of Fort James

the large crack under our "seat"

our seat, minus the board in front of it

coming back into shore

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