Gambia Glossary

Here’s a mini glossary of Gambian words (and Peace Corps acronyms) that might help you decode any local language I use in my blog. Sometimes there is no English word that means the same thing, so get to know how the Gambians say it!

  • aparente: a person who rides in or on the outside of the gelly-gelly and collects the fares; usually a boy between eight and eighteen who wears tight clothes
  • asobi: matching outfit worn on special occasions
  • attaya: a heavily-caffeinated sugary tea brewed by young men and loved by all
  • baba: father
  • bantaba: a platform where people rest or gather and relax; usually in the shade
  • benechin: a typical Gambian dish made with fried rice, vegetables and fish
  • bidik: a small cornerstore in villages that sell necessities like bread and sugar
  • bidong: a plastic Jerry can used for carrying water
  • chorai: a rice-based porridge mixed with groundnuts
  • chakri: a coos-based porridge mixed with sour milk
  • complet: a formal two-piece outfit (skirt and shirt or trousers and shirt) of the same fabric
  • COS: Close of Service
  • counterpart: Peace Corps lingo for a Gambian who works alongside a volunteer
  • compound: an area of land with family housing / Extended families often live together and some compounds house up to 50 people in only a couple structures.
  • dalasi: Gambian currency / The dalasi fluctuates greatly but is now roughly 50 to $1 USD.
  • domoda: a popular Gambian sauce, made of tomato paste and ground peanuts, served on top rice with chicken or fish
  • dry season: the time from around November to May where it rarely rains
  • eight-eight: a shared taxi that runs down a specific route and costs 8 dalasi no matter where you get in and out
  • fukaji: the second-hand clothing piles at markets
  • Fula: an ethnic group (18%) in the Gambia
  • Fula scars: cultural tattoos made by cutting two or three vertical parallel lines, putting ash in the wound, and letting it heal; usually found on the face; usually an identifier of a Fula person / Many Fulas receive the scars as babies.
  • GAD: Gender and Development
  • gelly-gelly: a cargo van used as public transport
  • groundnut: Gambian speak for peanuts
  • head master or head teacher: the principal of a school
  • inna: mother / I use this term to refer to my training village host mother, but call my permanent site mother by her name, Sarjo.
  • innanding: step-mother / I use this term to refer to my training village host father’s first wife.
  • Jola: an ethnic group (10%) and language spoken in the Gambia (I am a Jola, and so is the country’s president)
  • Kombo: the urban region of The Gambia
  • Mandinka: the largest ethnic group (42%) and language spoken in the Gambia
  • monai: a coos-based porridge mixed with groundnuts
  • omelet: a greasy fried egg that slightly resembles the shape of an American omelet
  • PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer
  • PST: Pre-Service Training
  • Pular: the language that the Fulas speak
  • Ramadan: a Muslim holiday where people fast from sun up to sun down for 30 days
  • salibo: small change children request when visiting neighbors on holidays / Think of it like trick-or-treating except with coins instead of candy.
  • Sibanor: The village where I live is home to about 5,000 Gambians, half of which are children. The Mandinka and Jola tribes make up most of the population, although many Fulas also call it home. The village is located in the West Coast Region in the district of Foni Bintang.
  • silafondo: a small gift given to your hosts / It could be bread, watermelon or attaya, etc.
  • sitematea volunteer who lives near you
  • Soma: The town where I trained to become a volunteer is home to about 10,000 Gambians of mixed ethnicities. It is located in the Lower River Region.
  • TT: teacher trainee / To become a qualified primary teacher, Gambians must complete a three-year program at the college. They attend classes during school holidays and teach during the schoolyear. The idea is similar to student teaching in the States, but TTs here often are assigned their own class without a mentor.
  • Tobaski: A Muslim holiday celebrated in The Gambia through prayer, animal sacrifice and greeting neighbors.
  • toma: the reciprocal term used to refer to your namesake or the person named in your honor / Names are very important in The Gambia. On a baby’s eighth day in the world, a ceremony is held to name it after someone else. I am named after my training village host mother, Fatou, so she is my “toma” and I am hers.
  • toubab: (pronounced two-bob) a label for “white person” or “foreigner”
  • town trip: a private taxi that will take you to any destination you desire
  • Wolof: an ethnic group (16%) and language spoken in the Gambia
  • wrap skirt: a piece of fabric tied around a woman’s waist to make a skirt

*I will update this list as I learn more words throughout my time in-country.

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