An actor, Pope Odonwodo, aka Juinor Pope, shares his travel experience in The Gambia with FAITH AJAYI

Do you enjoy travelling?

Yes, I enjoy it a lot, particularly because I am an extrovert. I studied Accounting in school, and when I got a place to work after graduation, I realised that I would have to sit in a place, and my kind of person does not like that. I want to be able to explore. I am inquisitive and curious, so I want to see the world, especially historically significant places. So long as there are resources, there is no reason for me not to travel.

How often do you travel to other countries?

I travel when it is necessary. For now, I have not started travelling for fun. I travel solely for work or business.

In which country did you have the most memorable experience?

They say, ‘charity begins at home’, so, I will start with The Gambia. The first time I went there was for work, and the second time was on an invitation from a former president of the country, Yahya Jammeh, during campaign for elections.

Our movies were making waves there, so we (some Nollywood actors) were called to campaign for him (Jammeh).

What part of their culture caught your attention?

The country is very similar to Nigeria. Majority of their people are either Muslims or Christians, though it seems Muslims are more.

During the campaign, one of the gifts the ex-president gave out was sugar, and I think they like it there. That caught me by surprise.

What was the strangest food you ate while there?

It was ‘benachin’, and I can only describe it as horrible. It is a staple food there. Most of us (from Nigeria) almost fell sick after eating it. However, we later discovered a Nigerian restaurant, and had to make an arrangement with the owner to be supplying food to us in the hotel.

Were you stereotyped based on where you came from?

No, not at all. It was just like my first experience in Senegal. As an actor, I could remember Mercy Johnson telling me I would know my true worth whenever I travelled out of the country for work. The first time I travelled to Senegal, the welcome I got at the airport was massive. I enjoyed a similar reception in The Gambia, right from the airport. The love was massive. As a matter of fact, when I returned to Nigeria, I increased my artist fee because I was flabbergasted by the love I was shown. At some point, while walking on the street, people come out to hug me and show love. It was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

Did you make any friends during your stay there?

Yes, I made quite a lot of friends, even in the hotel we stayed. They were all so nice. Also, one of my fans took really good care of me.

What tourist attractions did you visit while there?

We went to a lot of beaches. The hotel we stayed in was very close to the beach. The scenery was beautiful. We also went to the village of ‘Kunta Kinte’, the lead character in the slave movie, ‘Roots’. In that village, the people could ride a horse without a saddle.

We also visited a forest, where I saw a tree that was over 400 years old. We visited a lot of other places that I cannot remember their names.

What are your go-to travel items?

Nothing much. I just make sure I pack my ear buds, and my phone, which I would use to take pictures.

What advice do you have for people who intend to travel out of the country?

My advice to them is that there is no need to waste their money going to European countries. I believe that The Gambia is one of the safest places in Africa, with with zero-tolerance for rape and other crimes. It is a lovely country to visit. It is a beautiful country and I will encourage those who want to visit to do. Many westerners flock to that country for holidays.

If you were offered citizenship of any country, which would you take?

Canada is the new ‘cool’ destination. In my opinion, it is far better than the United States of America. I am beginning to notice a wave of people flocking to the country. Anywhere you see Nigerians, one would know that the place is fruitful.

I would gladly take Canadian citizenship if offered.

What are the things you look out for when you travel?

Security is my utmost concern. I always want to be safe, and I am usually careful not to go to places that have problems with my skin colour. The second thing I consider is food. After my experience in The Gambia, I always make sure to identify a Nigerian kitchen before going to any country. If I don’t eat solid food in a week, I would fall sick.

What are some of the unforgettable things you encountered during your trip?

In front of a bank, I saw a lady standing with a baton, and there was no police officer there. The police there don’t carry guns; only the soldiers do. Also, the cars were not pressing their horns like it happens in Nigeria. There are also no ‘conductors’ shouting on the streets.

Their girls there are so busty, and they don’t see it as an asset, unlike some Nigerian women, who even pay for cosmetic surgery. They see it as just another part of their bodies, like their eyes.

I also noticed that the beautiful girls there don’t come out in the day. They usually move at night. Taxis are cheaper at night there too.

Also, the markets there were so neat. And, once it was 12noon, they would close their shops and go for breaks. They would go home, eat, then return to work.

Another thing that surprised me was that they don’t have sachet water (pure water), like we have here in Nigeria. It was either bottled water or from a tap. I don’t think they use nylons. What I saw them use were paper bags.

What were some of the things you saw in The Gambia that you would like to see replicated in Nigeria?

Security and constant electricity are the most important things. I would love to see those things in Nigeria.

Whenever you travel out of the country, what do you miss the most about Nigeria?

My family and Nigerian food.

What other countries are on your bucket list?

I will love to visit Israel. I want to go there on pilgrimage, to see places I grew up reading about in the Bible.

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