Smiley Nation This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“Hey! Stop! Come look at my stall! I have what you want. Come on, just look. No pay for looking. This way, come on! Look, I got carvings! Look ….” The pleading went on and on. Every stall was the same and every argument too.

As I wandered down the long, vibrant street, looking in wonder at the surreal scene around me, I thought of home and everyone there. Although usually I would feel a pang of lonely homesickness, I couldn't help but feel smug. I was in Africa. Africa. It was amazing really. I could remember being younger and seeing documentaries and wondering what it would be like, and now here I was in the thick of it.

An amazing array of colorful delights lay around me, an Aladdin's cave for any foreigner. There were clothes, animals, ornaments, foods, drinks, and my favorite: people.

Foreigners have always fascinated me. Perhaps it's their different cultures, or simply something about the way they see the world, but whatever it is, I can understand why Gambia is known as the Smiley Nation. From the poor store owner to the rich school boy, all Gambians smile like there is no tomorrow.

I wandered casually over to a small stall where a woman dressed in bright clothes sat carving a mask. Standing up to greet me, she took my hand, leading me into her shop as if scared that I would run off. “See, I have T-shirt,” she said, holding a yellow shirt up to my body. “See it fits!” she exclaimed, beaming from ear to ear. “I give you for … 400. Good price.” When she saw my unimpressed look, she nodded. “What's your best price?”

“100,” I answered defiantly.

“350!” she growled, and the bartering began.

Eventually I left the stall, T-shirt in hand. It cost me 300, but I didn't mind. It wasn't the money I was worried about, but more the bartering was so much fun. The T-shirt was probably only worth 50, but she needed the money more than me.

As I continue down the street, I watched as the local hagglers weaved in and out of stalls, gathering what they needed, bartering swiftly and fiercely. It was refreshing to see this aggressive but communal and somehow co-operative way of shopping, but I had to admit, the starting prices for locals seemed suspiciously lower than those for tourists.

It was funny to think how different it was here than back home. These people were “uncivilized,” I was told before coming. But when someone who has nothing smiles at you as you buy a T-shirt for three-quarters the asking price, rather than the usual grunt and growl from a tea shop owner back home, your perspective is really challenged.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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