The "locals" pester the hell out of you, as you walk from, say, your hotel to the local supermarket. They have nothing much of value and see you who has everything, so they figure (not unreasonably) that you might have something that you could give them. Unfortunately, if you gave everyone who asked just 50 pence you would soon have no money left for your holiday, so you must be very firm and decline their requests.
The best way to help Gambians is to help their education programme by donating pens and pads to the local schools. Don't give them directly to the children as this will (I am told) just encourage them to keep begging and not attend the school. Although there have been allegatations that some school headmasters squirrel away such donations to be sold on the black market, it seems highly unlikely to me to be the norm. All the school teachers we met were obviously enthusiastic about their jobs and had only the children's interests at heart. Gambians might be under-developed but they are not stupid and they know that education is their key to making things better.
The hassling by the locals (only around the tourist hotel areas) is very offputting and you will see how they are doing themselves (the tourist industry) untold damage. Tourists, especially British ones, don't like to be hassled the minute they step out of their hotel oasis, and immediately get their defenses set to overload due this onslaught. The Gambian goverment has taken big steps in trying to reduce the activities of these "bumsters" and has licenced some youngsters via the Gambian Tourist Authority to provide their services officially. They are well behaved and know that any complaints against them could result in their licence being revoked. These official guides keep the unoffical ones at bay so progress is being made.
What you will love
Bird life abounds, and just as in most tropical countries, the fauna is extremely colourful. Even their equivalent of sparrows, the Village Weaver is bright yellow with black flashes. Buy the Field Guide to Birds in the Gambia to make it more interesting. The hotels will also have pamphlets where you can "tick off" the birds you have seen so far. Good to keep the kids amused too.
Iguanas are common (well, they were in the Senegambia hotel, where they make a big thing about them and feed them because they know the guests are fascinated by them).
Once you get past the locals hassling you, the people are, on the whole, welcoming and friendly. And, just as you wouldn't like everyone in your own English neighbourhood, you won't like all Gambians you meet, but that's life. Our hotel "chambermaid" I suppose you would call her, was very friendly and helpful when I had an upset tummy one day. She fussed over me lilke a mother and made me feel a lot better.
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