With Latirr Carr
As I debated with myself on what to write for my week’s essay, I had a brief moment, where I looked out of the window, and marvelled, rather strangely, at the leaves of a plethora of mango trees on Kairaba Avenue as they caressed the stillness of September. It reminded me of one of my most favorite essays of all time: Virginia Woolf’s The Death of a Moth.
If you have never read this short piece of literary genius, it tells the story of a protagonist observing a moth, amid the beauties of nature, struggling with its very last breath to defeat death. The moth, a miniscule and easily forgettable creature, forgetting its size and its stature; forgetting also its place in the vast universe around it, understanding that “death was the final end”, struggled to win an impossible battle. Of course, the moth died.
Over the course of history, there is what authors and historians have called “an honorable death”. In the world of the samurai, it is death in the battlefield when all heart has been given to one’s cause. It is a painful death, yet, it is honorable. The same can be said of the Swiss mercenaries who, in the tradition of the Bourbon kings of France, stayed watch over king Louis XVI. When the revolutionaries of the French Revolution came to seize the king, knowing fully well that they were outmanned and had no chance of fulfilling their duties to the King, mercenaries who were expected to vacate their responsibilities to save their lives, fought to the last man, preferring death over betrayal.
An honorable death is not a bias conclusion. It is not the case that, one side decides that a martyr’s death is honorable, and another side decides it is cowardly. It is usually so emotionally overwhelming, that its mutual conclusiveness is final…like the death of the moth…like a man’s last breath. If there is some doubt in how a moth bade farewell to life, then perhaps, the moth did not die honorably.
So, talking of moths, fluttering wings and final calls, I had a rare encounter with Captain Ebou Jallow (Rtd). On Facebook a few days ago. The precursor of this encounter was a video which I had received from a friend talking of different things surrounding the oil and gas industry in The Gambia and Senegal.
Actually, a week before this, I had allowed my frustrations to get the better of me as I noticed our social media space quickly being overtaken by doomsday conspiracy theorists, pseudo-experts and the JJCs of “I got this!” It had become a thing; that people who had no idea on a subject, have no expertise on a given area, and were in no way journalists or guardians of our information space, had become social media experts on technical areas. Unfortunately, as I had given up years ago in enlightening anyone with my writing, many a technocrat, understanding the psyche of our nation and its people, have decided to take never-ending sabbaticals. In doing so, perhaps we are all deserving of this new reality; that knowledge is overrated!
I watched Captain Ebou Jallow (Rtd)’s video for a few minutes and for some odd reason it got me upset. It wasn’t that someone was giving out false information on a topic he didn’t have the expertise to break down that got me upset. It was knowing my country and that people would take him seriously, that pushed me to the edge. When these things happen, I panic! I kept thinking, “with every passing second, someone, somewhere is watching this video and believing every word that comes from this man’s mouth!”. Very few people would question how, overnight, a man who had become an expert of many things, had added Petroleum Sciences to his CV. Good news is not news…human beings pretend to like the good stuff, but deep down, we are suckers for horror stories and bad endings. So, when I went on my Facebook profile to address the matter, I missed a turn.
In my post, I called the older gentleman a liar, again, and again, and again. True, he had lied, again, and again, and again. He had not been cornered into a lie. He had chosen his space, sat in his comfort, given the occasional laugh to show his comfort in the discipline, and he had lied. Unfortunately, out of the million ways I could have called him out on his lies, I chose one of the worst.
My kotor would later, honorably yet unsurprisingly, jump in on the discussion. Like the military mind (retired) that he is, he came in as I had expected; strategically cautious, while he did his research on my person. Who was I? Who was I to question the great Ebou Jallo? To humour his questions, I would proceed to break down how his video was full of non-facts. It was the first thing I had been taught when I was chosen to represent my junior secondary school at a debate competition back in 1998; discredit your opponent’s position. With my kotor, it was easy to do this. The only thing he had said which was truthful or factual in his video, was his name!
My kotor, unfortunately, as I would discover, is not one for debates that touch on the technical. Perhaps he is more suited for debates that touch on the emotional or the political; these for the most part are like fairy tales and do not dwell on facts. What I had hoped would be an opportunity to correct a wrong, turned into a trading of big words, anger, more big words and an analysis of my past schooling. My ambition was futile; he was not one for the oil and gas classroom.
Eventually, after my breaking down of his fake video fell on deaf ears, he would proceed to block and delete me from his virtual space. I was not deserving of his mind or his time. In my mind, he was the moth…or rather his pseudo-facts were. As he refused to counter my analysis of his video and focused on the wind, he had lost a great opportunity to understand something I was a hundred percent sure he had little or no knowledge on. I had half hoped that he would accept fault and move on, but I was to be disappointed. He would forcefully flutter his wings against the tide; against nature itself, even as all fact pointed to the fact that, his time on this topic, had come to an end.
Later though, I would discover that our moth in this scenario, was yet alive. It reminded me why I had given up on using my pen to spread what little knowledge I had. Years ago, I had decided to change the course of my essays from being technically overloaded to being light…more fun. The average reader was not interested in the truth, it seemed. The average Gambian reader wanted to be entertained and a lie in a clown’s outfit made for a better attraction at a kid’s party. Magic was overrated. Nobody really wants to see a rabbit being pulled out of a hat. They would rather have a clown pulling animal shaped balloons out of its…you know.
So, days later, I would hear news of a radio presenter on QRadio diving into the topic; fully in support of my kotor’s proclamations. Unfortunately, I had vowed that, save for my Red Black Nonsense essay on this topic, I would stay away from beating a dead horse…or moth. Those that have ears…would listen. No? You can take a horse to the lake but you can’t force it to drink. No?
So this essay is for the five people who understand the industry enough for me not to have to go through the details again of how my kotor made up an entire video in the guise of freeing us from the chains of Senegal. It is also for the six people who will watch the video again and then do a bit of research on the industry to understand how none of what was said could be possible at this point in time. Finally, it is for the seven people who see the video for what it is; someone using a sensitive topic to raise viewership on a new show.
In The Death of a Moth, the author claims to lift his pencil to help the dying moth to fly again. He realises eventually that in helping the moth to live, he is in fact, lying more to himself than to the moth. He decides then and there to put his pencil down while he watches the moth take its last breath. You see, my dear eighteen readers, perhaps I was mistaken in using the moth analogy on my kotor. Perhaps it is the many that would rather hold on to the lie than accept the truth that should be the comparison. That people like me can throw all the facts available to their faces, that the authorities can do all in their power to transparently explain the realities, but people in general do not fall in love with facts. People love fairytales. They are more appealing; more acceptable; more agreeable.
Unfortunately, this oil business is NOT an art. It is a science…and science is based on facts…on evidence. Evidence is not an Internet photo of an FPSO projected from the mind of a presenter. Truth is overrated…a lie goes a long way…but life itself is a circle and the truth will find its way around to bite you where it hurts…eventually. That my dear readers is how a lie dies and there is nothing honorable about it. A lie is no samurai…it is the commander who pushed his men into battle while he cowered in his mountain, pretending to summon the gods. He will surely survive the battle and his men, many of them will die…honourably. He, when he does go, will be left to rot on the streets and the gods in his mountain will not come for him, because he had not gone for them.