A Commonwealth For Everyone: Amie Njie-Sowe, Gambia
Amie Njie-Sowe is a team leader in the vehicle recovery unit and has worked for West Midlands Police for 13 years.
She was born in Banjul, the capital city of Gambia, a small country in West Africa. Amie travelled to the UK when she was 20 years old for further education back in 1991.
Amie was the first person in her family to travel to the UK, which at the time was only supposed to be temporary as it was for further studies. Fast forward 30 years, Amie is now happily married with three children and permanently resides in the UK.
Could you tell us a little bit about what Gambia is like as a country?
Gambia is so lively and has the kindest and most cheerful people around. It has such a small population, the country itself is actually smaller than Birmingham. In that way, the people around you become your extended family and when so many people are around you all the time you rarely get lonely. Not having to worry about childcare is also a bonus as there’s always someone about!
There are many local languages in Gambia, mine being Wolof, but it is an English speaking country and that’s what you learn in school. Gambia is an Islamic country but there are still a diverse mix of religions. I am also a practising Muslim. In Gambia, no matter what celebrations there are or which religion you originate from, everyone joins in regardless. It’s such a family atmosphere, elders are always called uncle, aunty, regardless of your relationship, which is out of respect. That’s just an example of how everyone cares for one another.
Could you tell us, what is your favourite thing about Gambia?
Gambia has the best food, the best beaches and the most beautiful scenery. There is a thriving tourist season from April to November. The country relies mostly on tourism and agriculture. My family and I holiday there often, it’s just so nice to be there as the lifestyle is so relaxed and less stressful. The environment is great, everyone smiles, talks to one another and are always visiting each other. The community very much has an open door policy. You don’t ever need to give notice to someone that you’re coming over and you’ll always be fed because everyone is so just so hospitable. Honestly, there is always extra food to the table! That is something I carry in my daily life as I’m always bringing food to the office.
How did you find the transition moving from Gambia to the UK?
I found it very difficult initially, especially as a young mum, I felt like at the time I was still growing up. Between 2003-2006, my three kids were all young and very close in age. Combining this with the fact I had moved to Birmingham from London and didn’t know many people, I didn’t know who I could ask for help. Admittedly, I felt lonely and I think that was a time when I missed home the most. I even contemplated going back to Gambia, but of course it got easier as time went on.
I think the mentality is that you can come to the UK and its automaticity a better lifestyle. Of course, you can earn more money, get educated etc, but settling in can be such a big challenge and it takes time for you to mentally adjust to a new culture.
Have you met others from your home country whilst living in Birmingham?
I am fortunate to have met a large Gambian community here in Birmingham, although we don’t see each other as much as we’d like to. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we would always meet up, taking it in turns at hosting in our houses, everyone would bring food and we’d spend evenings chatting and enjoying good company. Through lockdown, we of course have had a lot of Zoom calls and exchanged emails and such, although we’re still missing that human contact. If you miss home, it is a nice way to come together as we have those shared experiences, the same upbringing, we speak the same language etc. I mean, this also just goes to show how amazing Birmingham is, because it really is so diverse and not something you can get in other places within the UK.
How strong is the influence of Gambia on your everyday life?
Very strong! I love to stick to my traditions and ensure my kids do too. Of course, we love the British culture too but at the same time when it comes to culture and religion, I very much make it a priority to ensure that as a family, we stay connected to our roots. I’ve made sure my kids have the values and morals that are central to Gambian culture too. Even with religion, they’ve been brought up as Muslims, have read the Quran. They wear the traditional clothes, they have lots of beautiful colours which are so vibrant and look quite glamorous if I say so myself!
What does the Commonwealth Games mean to you?
I’ve always had an appreciation of the Commonwealth as we always used to celebrate Commonwealth Day from when I was in primary school. It was always very educational as we learnt the importance of celebrating different cultures. We would also choose a Commonwealth country and dress up in their traditional clothing on the day. I think culture is really important as it really grounds you and reminds you of who you are. The Commonwealth Games will be so amazing to be a part of, seeing different nations come together, the celebration of different cultures and witnessing the opening ceremony… I can’t wait!