Meet Fatmata Kamera
PLACE OF BIRTH: Sarakunda
# OF SIBLINGS: “Heyyyyyyy Isatue! Too many!” (AKA very large family)
WORK: Mother, wife, cook, and business woman
LANGUAGES SPOKEN: Pular, Mandinka, Sarahule, English
Fatmata Kamera is a strong, well known and loved woman of Kulari and a dear friend of mine. She was so enthusiastic upon me asking her if I could interview her to gain better insight into The Gambia and the life of a Gambian business woman. I hope that you are just as excited to gain some of that insight, too!
To gain a little background on Fatmata’s quirky and delightful personality, I will tell you how we met. When I first arrived in Kulari, one of my first goals was to find the best sandwiches in town. Priorities. On accident, one morning, I was biking out of town and when I got to the head of my village, I noticed a small sandwich stand and decided that I would grab some breakfast. The women selling the sandwiches was very pleased to hear me speaking Sarahule, almost a little taken aback, and made me the most delicious sandwich I have had in village. Lettuce and tomato thrown together in oil and vinegar and topped with beans. Produce in my my breakfast?! I’ll take five! Anyway, I was in a bit of a hurry so we conversed small small, and I went on my way.
Later that week, I was helping at the school and was waiting around for the teachers. I took this opportunity to sit down with the food vendors and chat. These ladies are just the best and are always ready to give me a little Sarahule lesson. So, I plopped down next to Fatmata, recognizing her from the sandwich stand before. We had about a fifteen minute conversation (or a Sarahule struggle) before I started to run out of things to talk about. Upon the end of our conversation Fatmata exclaims, “You are trying Sarahule very well! It is very clear! I was so surprised the other day when you came to buy breakfast and were speaking my language!” I was flattered, but I was also made aware that this woman could speak nearly perfect English. She smiled smugly as she admitted that it was a test…and she has been teaching and testing me ever since. Thus began our friendship.
Enough about me, though. Let’s talk about a real, amazing and inspiring Gambian woman.
Fatmata moved to Kulari in 2006 to marry her current husband. She was fifteen at the time. Her ability to speak such wonderful English came from the fact that she was able to attend school up to grade six before her father took her out to be married. She holds no harsh feelings about not being able to finish school, but she strongly encourages education which we will touch on a little later.
In Kulari, Fatmata quickly made a life for herself. She has a beautiful family consisting of her husband (not pictured) and her two adorable daughters Merriama and Fatu-Lemme. Her love for these girls is so evident, and she desires to raise them well and educated.
Education is something that Fatmata and I have discussed a lot. It is something of “great interest” as she would say. Although she wishes that she could have finished school, herself, she is thankful for what she had, because it has allowed her to have and manage a successful business. Initially, when she arrived in Kulari, Fatmata had no work because she was never taught to farm. Serekunda is an urban area. Her husband teaches at the Haraneme, a kind of Islamic religious school taught in the evening. Unlike Madrassa, another Islamic religious school, it does not require a fee so everything is donation based. Fatmata desired to also help financially support her husband and family. So, she began working along side of a gardener with whom she shares her profit. She has a small sandwich and Gambian style catering business. Every morning you can find her at the bitik outside of her compound selling sandwiches, akra, Gambian pancakes, and cold water. She moves her little business to the school grounds in the afternoon for the kids to purchase lunch and snacks. When there are village programs, you can bet to see her with some delicious dish to share!
“If you learn, it can help you live for tomorrow. You can be many things and with education, we can improve Gambia.”
Fatmata can cook some amazing food…that is a fact.
Being a business woman in The Gambia and just a woman in general is not easy work, however. A Gambian woman has no free time, because there are always, and I mean always, things that must be done. Washing clothes, sweeping (trust me, here, it is a real task), cleaning, bathing herself and her children, making sure that her children are taking care of themselves such as brushing their teeth, cooking for her business and her family. When I say “family” we are talking about a whole host of relatives and extended relatives. One day I helped prep lunch and we had fifteen food bowls prepared for just her family! This is the daily amount!
“Times are changing, now.” Fatmata went on to explain. She believes that women are more encouraged to attend school, and this education allows for better jobs. These better jobs bring in more of a steady income that is sustainable beyond just day to day. It is income that can produce food for an entire week! Unfortunately, the barriers for education still exist. “Some people do not understand the value. They do not see the interest. The books, uniforms, pencils, and the like all come at a price that may be too expensive.” Without seeing the value, there is no drive to spend the money on school.
When I asked Fatmata if she had any dreams or goals for the future, she immediately said that she wants to expand her business. She desires something more than just a small sandwich shop and wants to be reputable. This women’s food deserves to be reputable!
“If I can have a big business, I can pay for tomorrow and the next day and the next day. It is of very interest.”
Part of wanting a big business is also so that she can support a larger family. She told me that her favorite hobby is taking care of her girls, but she would love to have more. A large perk of working at the school that is joyful for her is being around all of the children.
I ended our little interview with the question, “Is there anything that you would like to say to the people from my home and in the world that will be reading this?” Her response was this:
“We need helpers. It is of very interest. You and your family all in America have the power to do something. To develop. Isa, you are my friend. A friend is like your sister. I am now your sister and I will give everything that I can to you and you will give everything you can to me. Is that not so? I have never been to America, so I cannot say that is is better than here like so many people say. I can say that Almighty Allah brings you into the country you are born in and you can say ‘Thank You’.”
Have you said thank you, today?