Photo Credit: Shaketa Patrice Ellison
The Black Expat: 'As a Black Woman, I Feel Welcomed And Honored In The Gambia'
When Shaketa Patrice Ellison decided to move to The Gambia this past September, many of her family members were not happy campers. The 45-year-old nurse, author, and spoken word artist left her home of Philadelphia, as well as her job and family, to start a new life in the West African nation.
Although some of her friends were extremely supportive of her decision, her immediate family, including her mother, uncle, and adult children, did not want her to leave. However, Shaketa’s mind was made up.
Sick and tired of finding herself at work every day bored to tears, she knew she had to make a major change. There was much more to life than what she was experiencing, and she was determined to attain it.
“I decided not to continue living a life of mediocrity, trying to fit into a cookie cutter version of what others wanted for me,” said Shaketa. “We plan and Allah plans best. Then there’s the plan that others have for your life, unbeknownst to you. That’s the plan you have to be wary of and seek refuge from. No one stops to think about how their decisions may affect you. Everyone just lives life own their own terms, and I decided to, as well.”
Wanting to relocate to a place where she could grow to understand herself more and explore her origins, Shaketa looked to the motherland. Known as ‘the Smiling Coast of Africa‘ due to its reputation for being a friendly and safe country, she was drawn to the prospect of living in The Gambia. The beautiful weather was also a determining factor in her decision to move there. And as a Muslim woman, she knew she would feel right at home in the majority-Muslim nation.
Prior to moving, however, there were some preparations that had to be made. As is customary in The Gambia, Shaketa had to prepay her rent, as well as for utilities like electricity, water, and internet.
“Though the American dollar stretches here, the system is quite different as opposed to in the States. Furnished apartments are typically about $400-$500 USD per month, but it can be been very challenging if you are not prepared for the advance payment system. However, once you grasp and learn to accept the system here, it becomes easier.”
In addition to the prepayment system, Shaketa had to get used to various other social norms that differ greatly from what she was accustomed to in the U.S. For one, she has found that Gambians are generally more liberal and laid back in many aspects of life. For her, patience, perseverance, and prayer have proven to be the best policies.
“Time isn’t a very important factor here. We are used to schedules, but here, you have to be super flexible because anything is liable to happen. Things that should take an hour could take several hours or not get done at all. Internet and electricity outages, as well as transportation problems, such as major traffic and accidents, are very common. Also, I have been to the ATM on three occasions, and it was empty. So, you have to prepare for the inevitable and do the best you can. Most purchases are off the market and do not have a receipt. If it breaks or malfunctions, you are pretty much on your own.”
However, Shaketa is well aware that everywhere has its pros and cons. For her, the positives of living in The Gambia certainly outweigh the negatives. In addition to the great weather, many beautiful beaches, and nature full of wildlife and lush vegetation, she enjoys living in a safe and clean environment with less crime, as well as the benefits that come along with living in an African nation.
“As a Black woman, I feel more welcomed and honored. I can honestly feel the spirit of my ancestors and the royalty that we came from. It’s surreal to have so many strangers care about your happiness. The family atmosphere here is irresistible. I believe that sincere intention is the most important part of this journey. I intended to understand myself more and where I came from originally. And I intended to continue simplifying my life.”
“Allah says, ‘This earth is spacious’ – (Qur’an 4:97.) Being surrounded by nature reminds me of how great the Most-High is and how He made all of these beautiful things for us to enjoy and to ponder over His oneness. It has not been all roses. Moving to another country and being stripped from all the usual luxuries can be challenging. However, I am riding the waves with Allah’s help. Life in The Gambia begins at the end of your comfort zone!”
You can follow Shaketa on Instagram at @giftofthepen.