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City of Banjul
Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Dark angel

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By Talibeh Gibran

You probably haven’t but I watched a movie premiered nearly two decades ago about a genetically enhanced superhuman prototype who took upon herself, after escaping from a covert military facility, to battle corruption in post-apocalypse America. Not that dark angel.

And certainly not Mary Ann Cotton, the Dark Angel, Britain’s first serial killer who chiefly used arsenic poisoning to kill at least 11 of her 13 children and 3 of her 4 husbands; or Lucifer, who was banished from the heavens for disobeying God and, according to some narrations, left with a sea of dark angels—the the Seraphim and the Cherubim, the Abaddon and the Leviathan. I am talking about our own little dark angels here; people who know right from wrong but gladly choose that which is bad and evil.

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When Fangbili was around, the word ‘sedition’ was so elastic that it could be stretched to just mean anything the president or his cronies didn’t want. An unforgettable example is the guy who was arrested and charged with sedition but his only seditious remark was that he found loyalists pasting one of Fangbili’s million posters and he simply said: Why not you just paste it on the sky? Now Fangbili is gone and with him sedition, ‘unethical’ is the new word. You trip over a stone, someone standing would say it is unethical. You greet people in the streets, it is unethical. Blah blah blah….. I should start ranting at people for reading my essays without my consent because it is unethical.

I just had to write something this week. Besides, there were a lot of things to write about; most of it funny and ridiculous at once. From the week of press releases steeped with sickening grammatical errors; embattled whistleblower Julian Assange’s failure to have the judge withdraw his arrest want—meaning he is condemned to eternal life at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London; Supreme Islamic Council’s unending war-of-words with the Ahmadis; St James Park becoming Mourinho’s kryptonite; to the Nigerian sales clerk who was suspended after she told auditors that a snake had eaten 36m naira. God! I spent the whole night trying to figure out how a snake would swallow bank notes equivalent to roughly $100,000…..like water. Smh. PLO Lumumba is right; corruption ought to be declared a crime against humanity.

Growing up in a special village in Foni; technically the only semi-island settlement where desperate fathers, sons, daughters, husbands would throng the snaky village for spiritual deliverance. The queue was usually long and the guests would be so many that they would be distributed among compounds like food ration. And the reasons vary: My dad has been arrested for fraud or embezzlement; my only son—who is in competition of winning bread—is languishing in European jails for a drug offence; my daughter is 35 years old and is still looking for a marital partner; my husband and I have been married for 10 years without a child—his Uncle John is sitting around doing nothing like little politicians.

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Story after story and one man was to fall down on bended knees and supplicate to God for all those people. Remarkable, isn’t it?
Even on the swampy faros and muddy riverside, I would always visualise in green-and-yellow shorts, half-naked and mauling ‘rodízio’ barbecue on Copacabana beach and dancing Samba. Wondering, yes, wondering and marveling at God’s magnanimity to that little south American country; white beautiful beaches, blue oceans, breathtaking football skills and, above all, bikini-clad ladies seemingly scattered around for free. I wish I had never grown up!

Gambia was nice. When I say ‘was’ I am not crucifying Fangbili and flattering Kairaba. No, the niceness began in late ’80s into early ’90s; round about a time I unwillingly appeared in the world. People ate karach wheat…and drank bodika bodika—an awfully tasteless water from a hand pump and which used to be the only source of drinking in many parts of the hinterland. Now even Baddibu has taps and I don’t know who to give credit for it; Fangbili Mansa or the people who had the resilience to survive hardship until better days miraculously came.

Last week unfortunately (or fortunately) unveiled how—apologies to Fangbili: our free education is actually free of knowledge when teachers and the ministry had a spat. The teachers were right but failed to communicate well; the ministry was wrong but failed to communicate well and people started wondering. There is no need to wonder anyway because the only good change in the entire education system of this country is banning corporal punishment, especially for those of us who emanated from rural schools.
My life in school at village was so packed with incidents that it is hard to summarise; the events unfurled like one of those sensation novels which were popular in mid-Victorian society lurid tales.

I remember as a young student struggling in the poorest of neighborhoods and trekking 5km to school, many urban-born teachers who thought teaching in rural areas was a curse would gladly choose the cane as a form of revenge against the ‘bosses’ in Banjul who took them there. Since it is rural, only UQ (unqualified) teachers would be distributed around schools in villages. And then we would be caned like no one’s business. When it is winter and the kid has to wake up at 6am, it becomes nearly impossible to reach school before the bell. One morning, God, it was so cold and windy that I nearly stayed in bed forever but grandma made sure I got on my feet for school. I didn’t take bath because doing so would have been suicidal. I set out alone since my colleagues who I used to walk to school with had already gone….

Along the snaky road in the bush in company of humming birds and playful monkeys, I thought about how cool life would have been without school. I walked and walked. As I approached the school gate, I saw one of the senior teachers—considered one of the most brutal in the whole district—standing and frowning with his freshly designed stick in his hand. I stopped walking, stood and froze like the Statue of Liberty. I had to make a decision; either to reach him knowing exactly what he would do to me or head back home. I considered the distance I walked to school and then quickly eliminated that option. I wish I didn’t. This man grabbed my shorts until it was flat on me like my skin and then, with a broad smile, he started flogging my little butt and shins. I didn’t know how many times that stick landed on me. I didn’t feel the pain on the spot.

I just trembled. He was so huge that, as he flogged me, he almost lifted me off the ground as though I was on Mars without gravity. When he got tired, he dropped me like a hot potato and escorted me into the school with his foot kicking me from behind. He didn’t pity me. He didn’t care if I was a bright student. He didn’t care about the distance I walked everyday because I thought education was my right and I refused to let distance get in the way. He didn’t consider my age or my diminutive figure dangling in his hand like a parrot. He flogged me just because he didn’t want to teach there. How about me and others who were born there? I wept the whole day. I couldn’t sit on my butt for even a minute and the scars remained on me for a long time. From that day, I vowed never to reach that school gate when I am late. That is how my ugly records of unpunctuality started.

The teachers had everything there. All of them were staying a stone’s throw from school and I remember one of them renting forD30 a month. That part of civilization had no idea about rent and the landlord would normally just tell you the first number that came to his mind. In this particular teacher’s case, 30 was the lucky number. And what was even more heartbreaking is that the dude would give the landlord D1 each day; cumulatively it would be D30 by the time the month elapses. It was the height of wickedness! Despite being that young, I told this old teacher that the best way to help the family is to give them D30 end of month so they can do something meaningful with the money…..

but I guess that was also revenge against urban bosses.
Each student would be charged 50 bututs to eat rice at lunch. Imagine, 50 bututs, but half of the school would go hungry because they couldn’t afford it. After paying that amount, you would still be required to fetch firewood and bring the bundle to school at least once a month. If you fail to do so, well, there were enough stressed teachers who would flog you at ease. One particular Monday, it was announced at the assembly that more than a third of the school failed to bring firewood. That teacher, who I had early mentioned left me with scars at the gate, was nominated to flog that ‘third’ of the school. He flogged half of that third in the first round, filled the kettle and went to the toilet. Before he returned to finish off, I was already two kilometers away from the school. That guy wasn’t human!

A few weeks ago, I stood and watched a man ride towards his death. It was nightfall but it felt like sunrise. He climbed on a bike, sped off but lost control and veered towards a parked car. The Angel of Death was more visible than the one whose life he was ready to snatch. Then, all of a sudden, he spared the man. The incident reminded me of one wise old woman who used to tell me to always eat before going to bed because she said it is bad to die hungry otherwise you will wake up hungry in the hereafter. One day I told her that if I die hungry and wake up in the grave hungry, I would demand angels give me food to eat first otherwise I won’t answer their questions. Tit for tat!

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