Mike M Armstrong
The Gambia is an ex British colony situated on the west coast of Africa, just 6 hours flying time from London. I have lived in The Gambia on and off for over six years (running a cultural music school) and I rate The Gambia as being one of the best travel destinations in the world.
The Gambia is such a colourful country and it is known as 'the smiling coast' to those in the know. For many years, however, it has been set back by an ongoing problem; that of 'bumsters'. Bumsters are local people (mainly young men) who prey on the ignorance and good-naturedness of tourists to extract money from them and it is often fuelled by the need to obtain drugs or alcohol. I've travelled to many countries in the world but I have never seen tourists hassled so much and so intensely as I have witnessed in The Gambia. It is a problem with its roots buried in the social structure of the country and it is a problem that will not easily be removed.
That aside, however, it is still a great place to travel to and the following advice should make the average tourist more resilient to the ways of the bumster.
You are particularly vulnerable to scams in the first few days of your holiday, when your skin is untanned and the local bumsters know you are new in the country. As you develop a sun tan and an attitude and air of confidence, you will get less hassle from the small operators, but you are still very vulnerable to expensive scams and practised conmen.
Be particularly careful over the 'really nice stranger' scam, many will play a very long waiting game ( several years) to gain your confidence before attempting to take advantage of your generosity.
They will use letters, send cards, make phone calls and use emails and faxes, they will use friendship, concern, love and sex and they will do whatever it takes to maintain a relationship with you with a view to extracting money from you. DO NOT give out your email address unless you want to be faced with many months of persistent approaches.
Sometimes a local will approach you and say "It's me, Lamin, the gardener from your hotel" - They know that Europeans will do almost anything to risk offending someone but you have to be savvy to this approach. A great tip here is to say "ah yes, Lamin, didn't I lend you fifty Dalasis yesterday? Where is my money?" You will receive a very curious look followed by a swift departure!
The best advice, however, is to quickly learn to say "NO"!
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