Sights and sounds of Soma

For my first 10 weeks in The Gambia, I am in Pre-Service Training while I learn one of the local languages, technical job skills and how to integrate into the culture. My training “village,” however, is not much of a village. I live in Soma, one of the country’s transit hubs and home to about 10,000 people. Most of my days are spent in the town’s Jola neighborhood.


A snapshot of Soma: The call for prayer blares from a muffled megaphone atop the neighborhood mosque before the sun hits the horizon. Soon, roosters cock-a-doodle-doo to wake villagers still dozing. Before long, the clicking clamor of the washboard rings as girls scrub their clothes. Boom, boom, the pestle beats. Woosh, woosh, the broom sweeps.

Concrete houses and tin roofs clutter the red dusty paths of the quiet back neighborhoods, but a bustling paved road lies just around the bend. The battered town center is like a grungy truck stop where honking gellys hurdle past hee-hawing donkeys pulling wooden carts. Flies swarm the stinky river fish and tiny vegetables that lay out for sale in the market’s maze of narrow aisles. A row of tailors embroider elaborate designs into colorful gowns and their scraps of fabric litter the block.

As the sun bares down, it’s time for 2:00 prayers and cooking once again. Women in flowing bold dresses brighten the drab streets as they head home, balancing their day’s buys atop their heads. Boom, boom the pestle beats. When the lunch bowl is empty, the fancy clothes are off and topless women sprawl out for naps in the shade of family mango trees.

Night falls, time for dinner and three more prayers. When the light flickers, everyone crowds ’round a small TV set for football, a Koran reading or Nigerian soap operas. “Ah!” the town screams as the current cuts. Now the sounds of Soma can come alive beneath the dazzling starry sky: mosquitoes buzz, music blares, donkeys heehaw, goats baah.