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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Apples and oranges

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By Talib Gibran

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I used to wonder how sweet apples are; I mean a fruit with such divine permanent sweetness from raw to ripe, amazing isn’t it? But growing up in a village in Foni, the rarest fruit around was apple and the only place you would find it was Kanilai when Fangbili used to bring even the Forbidden Fruit that Adam couldn’t finish eating in the heavens before he and his spouse were stripped down to earth. However despite the marathon distance between where I lived and where apples were sold, I would buy it in abundance in my occasional visits to the Kombos for holidays, precisely Brikama garage. Mangoes were the real deal in the countryside. The humans. The monkeys. The cattle. The donkeys. Every other mango-eating living thing would eat their share and we would still have more to sell to Kombonkas. Even though we would sell it at knocked-down prices, they would still put outrageous prices on our leftovers and blame us for increasing the prices. But like Donald Trump would say, ‘folks’ this is the proverbial apples and oranges.

When I started journalism nearly eight years ago, I had visualised myself basking in money, having birds chirping my Arabic name, building mansions and disappearing on the reef-lined beaches of Antigua and Barbuda puffing marijuana. I know in loosed Mandinka language, that sounds somewhat offensive but it is actually an independent Commonwealth country having two islands which are also named Antigua and Barbuda. But the years interminably went by…..and the dreams dreamt on those white sandy beaches terminally ended.

As a cub reporter/intern spending all day in the newsroom doing nothing other than running—back and forth—to buy acheke and ebbeh for my senior female colleagues, I had developed an inhibited frustration about the status quo. Sometimes I’d think of quitting and, maybe, pick a van or a taxi. Other times, the initial option would seem rather impossible because, if some outrageous Gambian totems and taboos still shape our minds, a commercial driver never saves enough money to live a decent life after a forced retirement which usually comes either through an unfortunately crippling accident or, well, no job after three decades driving on bumpy roads and spreading germs with passengers. The knowledge was below sea level, the qualification was sub-standard and, the saddest part, all those who could help me get something fitting didn’t know me.

I would stay at the office for indefinite times…..and wishing that by divine intervention, I get elevated from being girls’ errand boy to something or somewhere else that has got little to do with trekking across the busy Kairaba Avenue to buy spicy foods for people who, with all indications, wouldn’t even grieve if I got run over. I would feel crushed and sad, like someone who’s accidentally walked into a theatre of grief with people collapsing into fits of tears. But, as powerless and idiotic as I was, I took to poetry and used it to write how I felt about journalism. That’s why a couple of months ago when I read a poem written by someone just like me, Momodou Jarjue, alias Mo Tha Writer, my heart broke into a million pieces and he made me relive memories I thought I had suppressed for good.

With flair and riveting rhythm, Mo didactically penned, thus:
THAT CHIEF
That chief
In the media
Thinks he is smart
Promotes his staffer closer to him
But shuns the remuneration increment
And be pouring praises to the staffer
With gentle gifts to gladden the heart
Behold! He is a sham in the media

That chief
Too in the media
Keeps promising change will come
Blaming the lack of a market and
An affirmative response from buyers
Yet never misses coming out daily
While solving his quotidian businesses
He too, is a sham in the media

That chief
Also in the media
With a representation of the people
Stamped on his name and claimed to be
Utter to have a heart for his workers
While those who work for him
Are lately and lowly paid
He too, is a sham in the media

That chief
Another in the media
Gives preference to few staffers than all
Takes advantage over us, the women
Exploits us in his attempt to explore us
Gives us low-profile coverage events
Expels us if we stand for our right
He too, is a sham in the media

That chief
One more in the media
Uses his workers work and sends them
Outside our shores thanks to the cyber space
From which he multiplies his earnings
Yet he keeps blaming the small lacks
When his pocket keeps swelling always
He too, is a sham in the media.

That chief
In the media
Pushed many journalists
And chiefly the join-the-lists
To call it quits and look elsewhere
And still some are on the verge of leaving
Because of his blatant horrific doings
He too, is a sham in the media

I have known Momodou for a while because I was one of those who introduced him into basic news writing and, possibly, I might have also inspired him a little into poetry but I couldn’t have written anything as succinct and honest like that even in my heydays. Writing is a unique and genuine way of activism that people have used since time immemorial to challenge exploitative systems with memorable outcomes.
I’d skip Momodou’s digs and satires but it is imperative that we heal the media. If all what the poet says is true, and I am sure it is, then we do genuinely need a TRRC as well in order to prevent the media from entering the interminable spiral of reprisals.

The new government was ushered in barely two years ago but since then, there have been dozens of protests against people, systems, etc., and journalists make sure these events reach the public and the right authorities for resolution. Teachers had a strike, twice. Drivers, bakers, environmentalists, even those who keep pensioners’ money were on the streets at least twice. Journalists would be on the ground as soon as they get the news but there is no sector that has a more genuine reason to protest than the Gambian media. For years, young journalists have been the hewers of wood and drawers of water while those who should have been doing the work are living flamboyant lifestyles.

A few months ago when Adonis Stevenson was going to fight WBA light heavyweight champion Gambia’s Badou Jack, a seasoned Canadian boxing writer contacted me saying he wanted to send us stories about the pre-fight pressers, the fight itself and analyses after the fight. I thought it was exciting to actually publish articles written exclusively for our paper about the fight but there was one problem; the dude was charging $200 per article which sounds unheard of considering the Gambian tariff. So, the deal was off even before we got to the negotiation table. But doing a little comparison of the two incomparable tariffs makes you want to ask how could this happen, be happening to us? The Gambian tariffs are so ridiculously exploitative that the sector’s best brains have begun to ignore the local media and now enjoying the freelance and stringer jobs for foreign media. Do you know why? Because with that small earning even if you work for a thousand years, you would rent throughout that thousand years and then when you die, you would go to hell because you would have handed down poverty to your children as though it was their rightful inheritance, or birth right.

After months of childish political shadow-boxing, today Gambia Press Union was supposed to go to Congress and even though some quarters have already cast a pall of paranoia over the whole process, it is cardinal we don’t lose sight of what is at stake. We are all at stake; the young ones are at stake; those going to senior school burning with the desire to be journalists are at stake; those doing a degree programme in journalism at UTG are at stake; those going to the GPU School of Journalism are at stake; those already in the system but are finding life unbearably tough due to the pittance earnings are at stake; those wanting to join but consider journalism a portal to hell are at stake. These are the people who the new executive should fight for….and please, for Christ’s sake, improve the tariffs and salaries so no journalist will have to accept or seek bribe from anyone. So when we vote, let’s vote against that system and set attractive standards.

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