Spending a week in a small village in rural Gambia still ranks as my my most enjoyable job as a photographer to date. I was commissioned by the Medical Research Council to photograph the activities that happen in and around one of their field stations, which range from nutritional research to healthcare.
One of the things I was keen to see was the women tending the crops in the fields. Women often take care of the agriculture, and a heavily pregnant women still hard at work in the fields is not an uncommon site. So one Saturday I walked down to the fields with three of the women who said I could come and photograph them while they plucked out weeds. They didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Mandinka, and because it was Saturday I didn’t have my translator with me. So we relied on sign language.
The weather was hot and sticky and heavy rain clouds floated quickly past us on all sides. But despite the humidity the women worked hard in the fields for a few hours, and didn’t mind me shooting a few pictures. The same couldn’t be said of others working in neighbouring plots who really didn’t like me peering at them through my camera. I was later told it was because they didn’t want to be seen in their farming clothes looking all hot an sweaty.
Approaching midday a young girl appeared along of the forest path carrying a big silver bowl on her head. This was one of the women’s daughters who’d been instructed to bring some lunch down to us. I was pleasantly surprised when they waved me over and asked if I’d like to eat with them.
We sat and scooped up the rice and nutty stew with our hands and drank water while we watched the clouds moving in closer. It was one of those ‘take stock’ moments where you sit back and look at yourself and your life. Here I was sitting in a field in Africa sharing food with amazing people shooting the kind of photography I’d wanted to shoot since I was a kid. I’ll admit, I had to pinch myself to check I wasn’t dreaming.
Eventually the rain clouds did catch up with us, and I got a proper drenching on the way back home.