I suppose it was karma that our guide in the country of Gambia turned out to be an identical twin. My husband, three of our children, and I spent three weeks visiting the West African countries of Senegal, Gambia, and Mali. Assan, our guide, explained to us that each set of twins born in Gambia is given the same names so that their twin status is immediately recognized. Twin brothers are named Assan and Ousainou, twin sisters are named Adama and Awa, and a set of boy/girl twins is named Adama and Awa as Adama can either be a boy or girl’s name. So much for individuality in the name department!
Assan told us he was very competitive with his brother in terms of making sure that things were fair between them. He and his brother were not able to attend school until they turned twelve years old because their family had to save enough money to send the two older sons to school first. The elder sons then helped pay for the younger twins to attend school at a later date. Assan and his brother studied hard and did well, went on to finish high school, and then took specialized training to fulfill their career goals. Assan, a guide in Gambia, is an accomplished birder. His twin brother is an educator who trains men and women to become teachers.
Dr. Alessandra Piontelli, a well-known psychoanalyst and neurologist, has written a wonderful book entitled Twins in the World. It documents her observational studies about twins around the world, with particular emphasis on Africa and its twin population.
West Africa is still very primitive and poor, struggling to rise above a cycle of poverty and income inequality. The day-to-day struggles that permeate the lives of the people have everything to do with survival. Certainly, the issues that I address in terms of twins’ emotional health have little relevance or meaning in this culture. Travelling outside one’s comfort zone is eye-opening because it creates a shift in one’s thoughts and perspectives.
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