April 27, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Tobabo Afelli (The Gambia's First Fishpond) by RPCV Daniel Theisen

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Gambia: Peace Corps The Gambia : The Peace Corps in the Gambia: April 27, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Tobabo Afelli (The Gambia's First Fishpond) by RPCV Daniel Theisen

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, April 27, 2003 - 8:34 pm: Edit Post

Tobabo Afelli (The Gambia's First Fishpond) by RPCV Daniel Theisen

Tobabo Afelli (The Gambia's First Fishpond) by RPCV Daniel Theisen

Tobabo Afelli (The Gambia's First Fishpond)
by Daniel Theisen

Tobabo afelli (1) screamed the children while the adult men sat on their bantaba (2) staring. Little did I know, but this would be the way I would be greeted in every village that I visited.

I arrived in the Seraholie (3) village of Medina Umfally in the Fuladou West District of The Gambia in September of 1979. This would be my home for the next two years, and the site of The Gambia's first fishpond.

As I approached the men on the bantaba they rose and firmly quieted the screaming children. I was introduced to each man, the greetings began with "Salle mali kum" (4) and ended several minutes later with "ee be jay". (5) Among the many to whom I was introduced, three would prove particularly important. Pa Jallow, the President of the Young Farmers Club, who was my host, Mohamed Jeiteh, who with his broken English became my translator, and Kaw Krubally, the only educate man in the village, who ultimately became my counterpart. Without these men I could not have built a fishpond or prospered in this foreign land.

With the introductions made, it was decided that I would live in Pa Jallow's house until the peanut crop was harvested, at that time the Young Farmers Club would build me my own house. Wednesdays in Medina were the days set a side for tesito (6) activities. Thus, it was decided that on Wednesdays we would work together to construct the pond(s).

The first few months in The Gambia were difficult. Without a motorcycle to start fishponds in other villages and with the young farmers working only one day a week, I had a lot of free time. Medina is a Seraholie village and I was taught the Mandinka (7) language. With the men working in their peanut fields all day and most of the women not speaking Mandinka, I had a lot of time for introspection, to ask myself what I was doing in Africa.

Eventually, things began to improve, my language skills were better, and I obtained a motorcycle. Members of the Young Farmers Club agreed to work on their pond two days a week and my longing for home began to fade into a distant afterthought. I was no longer a prisoner of my hut.

The raining season is short in The Gambia, so building a pond by diverting a stream was out of the question. We were forced to incorporate our ponds into an already existing irrigated rice scheme. These schemes were 20-30 years old and the pumps were poorly maintained. We looked for a site near a reasonably well maintained pump and prayed it would have enough fuel when the time came to fill the pond.

After the site was selected it was cleared with machete and hoe. Thorn trees, puff adders and lungfish were removed and the dikes built. The dikes were built with pickaxe, hoe and wheelbarrow. We protected our dikes from grazing cattle with a covering of thorns laid down at the end of each day's work. The work was tedious but soon we had built The Gambia's first fishpond. Now all we needed were fish. Fish were collected by seining the nearby irrigation canal. This effort yielded a wide variety of fish (walking catfish, Bircher, tilapia) many of which I still only know the Mandinka name. The fish we sought for our pond, the Nile tilapia, were in large numbers. With only one day of fishing we had collected over 200 hundred adult broodfish. Gambia's first fishpond would serve as the source of fingerlings for the stocking of future ponds. Indeed as farmers from other villages built fishponds, the Madina young farmers sold them juvenile fish to stock in their new ponds.

Ramadan, the sacred ninth month of the Islamic year, is observed by fasting from dawn to dust. Because the people of my village didn't eat during the day, they wanted something special for dinner at night. Therefore, it was decided that we would harvest the broodfish pond during Ramadan. Unfortunately, someone else had the idea first, as we found that most of our broodfish were gone when we drained the pond. We were the victims of a poacher's cast net.

As time went by, the peanuts, corn and millet were all harvested, and true to their word they began work on my house. They expected me to want a rectangular house with an A frame roof but instead I asked for a more traditional round hut with two concentric walls. My house was built adjacent to Pa Jallow's compound and was called Sonko Kunda after my given African name, Demba Sonko.

Afterwards, as I began to visit familiar villages, the children would greet me with a new and more personal chorus, "Demba Sonko afelli"


1 Tobabo afelli - A European is here. [return to text]

2 Bantaba- A large shaded platform where men of a similar age rested from the heat of the day and talked about the day's activities in the evenings. [return to text]

3 Seraholie- A tribe of people inhabiting West Africa These people are traditional Moslems and are often businessmen. [return to text]

4 Salle mali kum- An Islamic greeting of peace. [return to text]

5 Ee bee jay- The response to most Mandinka greetings, which literally means, they are there. [return to text]

6 Tesito- Community spirit or activity done for the good of the community. [return to text]

7 Mandinka- The majority tribe of people inhabiting The Gambia, made famous in the US by Kunta Kinteh of "Roots". [return to text]

education: peace corps at maryland : in our own words: tobabo afelli

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Story Source: Personal Web Page

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - The Gambia; Fishing



By Anonymous ( on Tuesday, September 25, 2007 - 5:13 am: Edit Post

this site is badly in need of updating.

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