By Momodou Ndow
Banjul was never a beautiful city, but it had character and charm. The architecture was poor, but the atmosphere was magnificent. It was dark half the time at night (GUC), but it had a bright spirit. Banjul was fun!
During the colonial era, Banjul was relatively clean and well maintained. The Board of Health (aka bodorfell) that was set up had strict health codes that were regularly enforced. Health inspectors routinely inspected homes, and fines were handed out to those who were found to be in violation. Inspectors were generally unforgiving, and that forced Waa Banjul to be on their “cleaning toes” at all times. Nervousness filled the air in every home, as home inspections drew near. Even drinking water stored in “ndals” were inspected, and the “kamas” too. The inspections were thorough and the sanctions were stiff. Waa Banjul definitely had a legitimate reason to be nervous.
The storm drain system built in Banjul was not the best, but it was functional and served its purpose. Smaller gutters in the streets collected water that freely flowed, and channeled it into much larger gutters. The big gutters on Grant Street, Hill Street and Kombo Street comes to mind. Some of these larger gutters (like the ones on Kombo Street and Hill Street) drained into the “tann” and the rest drained into the main pumping station that was located on Bund Road. The storm water was then released into the river. The gutters where not fancy, but they did the job they were designed to do, as long as they were kept clean, and the Board of Health made sure of that.
It was around the late ’70s that Banjul started to head south. The electricity was the first victim on 1 November 1977. At this point, the British were long gone and the city was now Waa Banjul’s full responsibility to manage and maintain. As the years went by, the Department of Health (formerly the Board of Health) became more and more lax in their inspections and enforcement of the health codes, and that affected the city tremendously. The gutters that used to freely carry the storm water started collecting trash (selepass bu duck, horhe mangoro, packeti cigarette, bopi jene, butale bu toch, ak njome saine). The storm water went from “freely flowing” in the gutters, to full of trash, stagnant and rising to the top. There was sporadic cleaning, but that didn’t make much of a difference, Waa Banjul were already comfortable with throwing trash in the gutters at this point. Stagnant water in the gutters became a “new normal” for Banjul in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The maintenance of the city’s roads by Public Works Department was also poor at best. Don’t let the rain catch you in Banjul!
With stagnant water all around Banjul, the city was now the perfect place for mosquitoes to breed, and breed they did! They took full advantage of the opportunity handed to them on a silver platter by Waa Banjul. The mosquitoes started a vigorous breeding programme to build their armies, and launched nightly attacks on Waa Banjul. Overwhelmed with the invasion of mosquitoes, Waa Banjul decided to fight back by arming themselves with Baygon mosquito spray and Moon Tiger mosquito coils. The war was on! And if you were in the business of dealing arms (mosquito spray and Moon Tiger), you were racking in the dough. But these were not your ordinary mosquitoes; they were “The Banjul Mosquitoes”. Just like the “Banjul Ndongos”, they also learned how to evolve and survive when the going got tough. They strengthened their immune system and became resistant to the weapons Waa Banjul had. Baygon spray and Moon Tiger soon became like air freshener to them. You can lock “The Banjul Mosquitoes” up in a room, empty a can of Baygon spray or smoke them up with Moon Tiger, and they will still buzz you off and stick their tongues out at you. They had Waa Banjul slapping themselves silly, in their desperate attempt to smash them out.
As Waa Banjul continued to lose significant battleground to “The Banjul Mosquitos”, families were also growing and living space was shrinking. This, coupled with the constant arrival of new city dwellers from the various provinces and everywhere else, became unbearable for Waa Banjul and they began exploring the Kombos. Waa Banjul were never keen about the Kombos, but now they had no choice. Banjul was getting tighter by the day. The Kombos offered abundant space, soothing breezes and clean beaches, comforts they were not use to. It opened up a whole new horizon to them, and they never looked back. They were desperately searching for a better quality of life, which they found in the Kombos. Of course, there will always be those entrenched in the idea of “live and die” in Banjul, and you can still find them there holding their little ground. But for how long? More and more Waa Banjul are jumping on any chance to move to the Kombos, and the city has now fallen into the hands of the new comers (gan) and businesses. Most of the homes that were “down Afdie” have been turned into warehouses, and the city is desolate come nightfall.
Neglected for far too long, Banjul is now a “has-been city” that is in dire need of a facelift, or even reconstruction. It has lost all the glory. The lack of proper maintenance after all these decades has brought Banjul to its knees, and that was hard for me to see. I have deep roots in Banjul. For that reason, I’m extremely saddened by the city’s current state. Every time I think of Banjul, an avalanche of memories comes rushing. The streets I roamed, the friends I hung out with, the parties I attended… the list goes on. I can say, with reasonable certainty, that most Waa Banjul feel the same way I do about Banjul. A city we all love, but sad to see kneeling down. The question now is: what should be done about Banjul?
This is my story and I’m sticking to it!
Momodou Ndow is a Gambian who lives and works in the United States.