LAURA CARTLEDGE Life’s like That...Three proposals in four days, but I wasn’t made to be Gambian wife

So to The Gambia, but where to start? Perhaps with the first morning when I was awoken by a giant spider crawling across my arm? Or the second day when a giant cricket casually climbed out of my shirt?

But it wasn’t just the wildlife that were friendly, the people were too.

The Gambia is known as the Smiling Coast of Africa and for good reason.

I have to admit to begin with my tourist instinct was convinced it was just good sales patter. But it soon became clear they wanted to know as much, if not more, about us than we did about them. Especially if it included talking about football.

This easy-going, relaxed approach is one of the reasons time passes differently in The Gambia. As we quickly learnt when a five-minute walk through a village turned into a half-hour ramble. While the timings of journeys by road or track were anyone’s guess as there are only seven sets of traffic lights in the country, and of course cows and rams have right of way.

As a result, our four days seemed to last a fortnight, which I am very grateful for. Not that it felt long enough and as our bus whisked us to the airport to go home, I found myself with my nose pressed to the glass, trying to soak up every last second I could.

Visiting the primary school was my highlight, especially getting to see the work of Nyodema and the difference it has made. The result was a warm welcome by a group of very happy, and very excited, children who clambered over each other to get close.

This meant within seconds both of my hands had been claimed and I was only reluctantly given them back when it was time to leave. Not that I minded at all, but it did make it difficult to stick to my promise I wouldn’t sneak anyone home with me.

In fact I was more at risk of the opposite – staying, as in only four days I racked up three proposals and one ‘I love you’, which isn’t bad going.

The first came when we were waiting in the bus for our guide who had popped into the market and I was having a mimed conversation with one of the inquisitive boys who had gathered around us. He began writing on the window, but soon realised I couldn’t read the backwards smudges, so he borrowed his friend’s phone, typed away and held that up to the glass instead. Oh the modern age.

Another came from a lady on behalf of her brother. I thought she was joking until she gestured over her shoulder to the shade under a tree. Here my eyes were met by a smile and a wave from a man sitting there, which seemed to suggest he was happy with the arrangement. Luckily, his sister was happy when I offered to buy another bracelet instead of taking a husband.

However, the next day saw our tour guide Mucki announce ‘our Laura isn’t made to be a Gambian wife’ when I was wiped out for 24 hours with acute dehydration.

The pain meant I couldn’t even sit up and instead I spent the day flat on my back, moving only when the shade did. Making it clear that while my heart may belong to Africa, my body is British.

laura.cartledge@jpress.co.uk