A slide back to the dark days

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With Aicha

Imagine a life in constant fear, where you never know who is your friend or enemy. Imagine a life where you always turn around to see who stands near enough to hear what you say to a friend. Imagine going to bed in the evening, fearing the knock on the door or the banging of a rifle that tells you that you only have 10 seconds to say goodbye to your family.

Imagine waiting in the evening for a husband to come home from work. You are waiting, hour after hour. You try to call him, you can hear the signals but he is not picking up. You call your family members, you call your friends and the police but no one knows anything about him. You stay up all night, you try to call him over and over again. You know that it is impossible to rest before you know what has happened to your husband.

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After several sleepless nights, and days filled with worries and a desperate search for your beloved spouse you begin to fear that you will never meet him again. You feel that your neighbours are looking at you differently, it seems like people stop their conversation when they see you coming. You hear whispers and see strange looks in people’s eyes. Do they know something that you don’t know ? Day after day goes by and no one can tell anything about your husband’s disappearance.

Imagine your son has left your home together with some friends because they want to attend a protest meeting. You try to convince your son to stay at home but he doesn’t listen to your worries.

“Don’t worry, mum, nothing will happen.” These are the last words you hear from your son. The next time you see him, he is dead. You will never see his smile again, never serve him his favourite meal just to make him happy. How you wish you still could go to his room in the mornings to wake him up, how you wish that you could have told him that you loved him more times than you told him he disappointed you . You were actually proud of him but you thought it was better to nag at him because that was for his own best.

That is what parents do, isn’t it?
Why not imagine a young mother excited for her first child to come? She has felt how her baby has moved around in her womb. When the baby grew larger she could feel its head or a foot just inside the tight skin of her big belly. The expecting mother has been speaking to her baby, singing for it and thought so much about how it will feel the day she has the baby in her arms. The woman is nervous for the childbirth, not only for the pain but she is worried if everything will be alright. When the woman was around six years old she was taken, together with other girls in her village, to some elderly ladies who cut her.

The young woman thought often of her best friend who bled to death after the cutting. She promised herself that if her baby was a girl it would never have to endure anything like this. Not only had it been extremely painful when she was a young girl, but it was awful at the wedding night. The pain was almost the same and she thought of all the blood she saw.
She prayed every day that God would protect her and her unborn baby, but this young woman never got to see her baby. She lived far from the health clinic and didn’t come there in time. The cutting in her childhood had damaged her severely so the baby’s head couldn’t go through the birth canal. The baby died inside her, the young woman had been suffering in deep pain for too many hours. Prayers didn’t help this time because prayers don’t build health clinics. Laws against cutting young girls don’t help if the women who cut don’t obey them. Too many girls suffer the pain and even die because of a tradition that has nothing to do with our religion.

While we have come this far, imagining different scenarios, we can also see the streets of a town and the streets are filled with trash. The sides of the streets have stones or pieces of tiles and blocks sticking up so you need to be cautious when you walk there. You can easily trip and fall, especially when it’s dark. Many streets have no lights and a lot of dangers can hide there. When the rainy season begins the streets get flooded and the trash float around everywhere. People deal with health issues caused by humidity, mosquitoes and rotten food. Heavy rains can make a block wall fall down, or a house roof fly away and hit someone. Poor people don’t have enough money so they can build good, stable houses, instead they have to hope that their prayers will help them through yet another rainy season.

Still houses collapse every year because of the heavy rains and the hard winds. Still people lose their homes and lives because nothing has become better than before. The hopes and prayers for a democracy that would bring the people more jobs, a better life, secure health care, functioning infrastructure, more money in the wallet instead of even less money – seemed to be in vane. #NeverAgain can be interpreted in different ways, besides the atrocities . #NeverAgain can also mean that the hard times, ”the dark days” as Ousainu Darboe called them in his interview in The Standard newspaper should never come back. The problem is that they haven’t left the country.

The story I began to tell you in the beginning of this article is not imaginary, it is a story where some parts of it is from the past and others from the present. Isn’t that sad, that we haven’t come farther than this?
We still don’t know the fates of some of them who disappeared. People still suffer from the wounds they got when they participated in a peaceful demonstration. Some of the demonstrations went from peaceful to violent when weapons spoke instead of words. When people feel threatened, all the parts of the brain shuts off except from the oldest and smallest part – the reptile brain. That part that has saved lives through humanity. It tells us, in the split of a second, to run or stay and fight for our lives. The thing is that the human brain has evolved since early humanity. Nowadays the human brain has parts that we can use to consider the immediate consequences of the decisions made by the reptile brain. We can decide if it is a good idea to fight or if we should speak with each other instead.

Still the level of literacy is too low in The Gambia, but we can’t blame everything on that. A lot of people in our country have smart phones so we can use the Internet when we have wi-fi . There are TV sets in most households and these don’t only show so-called soap operas or commercials, they also show news broadcasts and programmes where people debate important topics. Even if The Gambia is small and poor, it is not secluded. The borders are not closed and the people are not brainwashed like in North Korea. We get influences from the world outside our borders and we can get inspired by what we see and hear. We should know better than to do as we still seem to do: take one step forward and two steps back. With this pace we move forward but too slowly because we don’t seem to focus on the future. The past is there to pull us back like an iron ball on a chain that prisoners had locked at their ankles in the old times.

When we look at the world around us – even African countries that are near us -we can see how much farther they have gone in their development. They have health care clinics that are well-equipped and hygienic and the staff are well-educated. They have good infrastructure like roads where you can drive without damaging the car wheels in endless potholes.

These roads are safe to drive for an ambulance so it could be easy to transport a sick patient or a young mother in labour. The ambulance can drive fast to a hospital or a clinic so no one need to fear another unnecessary death.
In other countries, nurses or midwives travel around in the villages to talk to people about FGM. They explain the consequences, about hygiene and other aspects.
No girl or woman should have to suffer because of an action that we should have left behind us a long time ago. God created us in a certain way and changing this creation is like telling God that He did wrong.

Don’t we wish our women and girls a better fate? Shouldn’t we take two steps ahead and only sometimes only take a quick look at the past over our shoulder? #NeverAgain say those who have suffered. That is a sentence that goes on repeat in their minds.
In the interview with Ousainu Darboe, he spoke about the necessity of institutions that have leaders who are honest and dedicated. The institutions are not strong in themselves, it’s those who lead them who must be strong in character. The institutions are coloured by their leaders so therefore, we can and must expect a lot from them. We need good people at the top; leaders who are experienced and well-educated. In the dark days, it could be enough to know the right people to get a position. If Gambian leaders and their institutions wish to be respected by the world outside The Gambia, they have to realise that new times require new measures.

The Swedish government officials are referring to a study made by the Transparency International’s index that The Gambia’s level of corruption has sank from place 77 to 145 (of 176 countries) from 2011 to 2016. Even the World Bank has observed the corruption in The Gambia. This calls for our attention, people! Things will never change in The Gambia as long as we don’t fight against corruption at all levels if the society. If we want international investors to bring their money to the country, we can wave goodbye to them as long as we have these problems. Even national investors hesitate to invest because they know how their own people are. Money talks all the time, money is passed under the table from one part to the other. The only ones who are prepared to invest a lot of money are those who are rich enough to make demands. They get away with every demand as long as corrupt people stand there with big smiles. They smile all the way to the bank where they can see the numbers increasing in their accounts. The only ones who don’t smile are the ones whose lives are slowly sliding back to the “dark days”.

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