In Sheriff Bojang’s “Letter To My Nephew”, the writer beautifully sent a message to former President Jammeh advising on the excesses of his government and on the act of forgiveness. It was at best a beautiful work of literature and at worst a most dutiful sermon. Seeing as the writer has decided to give up the pen for the more profitable art of “businessing”, the art must live on outside the box of social networking. In the tradition of giving sermons therefore, my thoughts lead to a story.
A man whose wife had earlier passed on to the other side lived with his sons and daughters on a farm. It was a farm that he had won in contest in the wrestling arena. Those days of burying the head of one’s opponent in the red sands of Bulomi were well forgotten as he fought with the ills of old age. As his death drew closer, Pa Alfusainey called on his brother Bakary who had always promised to be his brother’s keeper to look over his land and his children. It was a loving father’s dying wish. Ill health had not allowed him to till the land enough to reap the benefits of his labour and his children were not yet of age but his land was said to be blessed with the riches of the gods of fertility. Pa Alfusainey, or Fa as his children and his many wards called him owned a farm that stretched across the length of the Bulomi River. His family were not fishermen but he had sent them to learn the trade amongst the serer tribe who were well known to fight the jinns of the sea in search of a living. When he finally gave his last breath, they had mastered the arts of farming and fishing and were ready to transform their father’s lands into the riches he had always wanted for them.
Fa’s farm was laden with rich dark soil and covered from end to end by a thick distribution of cashew and baobab trees that always ensured that his family was taken care of. It was from these that he had bargained with the Serer for his children to be taken in. When his children came back from the long and difficult assignment, the farm was still endowed with the riches of giant fruit producing trees, the rich dark soil and the promise of a brighter future.
On the day they sat with their Uncle Bakary, there was a silence in the wind. The birds did not sing that morning and even though it was August, the rains refused to bless the earth. The leaves on the trees stood still as they walked into their father’s house which occupied a corner section of the farm. It was a dry day in the wet season and the whole world was silent for the words of Uncle Bakary on their inheritance. His stern, tough look spoke of an arrogance that his words did not. Perhaps it was true that people of little height usually attract trouble. He was impossible to read. He spoke at length on how much he loved their father and how he would do everything in his power to ensure that his brother’s children and property would receive the attention he deserved. There was a relief soon after amongst the children. The future would be bright.
Soon after however, as he tightened his grip on their father’s possession, Uncle Bakary would reveal a monster he had managed to keep locked away for years. He had called the council of elders that were supposed to ensure that his brother’s children received due portions of their rightfully owned properties in time and gave an emotional speech on entitlement and discipline. With unwritten promises on shares of farm produce, they decided to turn a blind eye as he started a campaign to rid the children of their rights. Bit by bit he found ways to divide the children that were left in his care. He had become judge, jury and executioner in a duty that was always supposed to be that of care-taking. Soon he moved permanently into his brother’s house and brought his family with him. He was smart about it though. He brought them in one by one. First he brought in his eldest son who he would train in the art of intimidation and then he would slowly but surely bring in the rest of his large family. For you see, Uncle Bakary had many wives and concubines and therefore many children. Perhaps he was even more fertile than his brother’s farm.
So with time, he, with the support of the council of elders would impose regulations that would apply only to his brother’s children in a strategic and deliberate attempt to frustrate them to submission. This systematic and well thought out imposition would eventually see to the exit of half of Fa’s children as they held on to the desire to stay alive. A few of them however stayed. In usual Uncle Bakary fashion he had managed to turn a number of the children against their own siblings for a greater share of the farm produce whilst they ignored his maneuvers. There began a war of untruths that would see to their loss of desire to live.
Eventually Uncle Bakary would leave the lands of his brother. Forced out by nature and the tides of time, he would retire to a corner outside the borders of Bulomi. Behind him he had left a land rich in potential but undesirous even to those whose right it was to make it better. He had planted a seed that would grow into a forest but wouldn’t bear fruit.
As God would have it, he would return again to Bulomi as death drew closer. Haunted by the ghosts of his brother he came in with a gown that swept the ground thus leaving traces of the earth on the edges. His people rushed to greet him. He had been gone for far too long. When he had brought them to till the soil and to eat off it, they had received such promises that made kings sleep better at night. They hadn’t gone to the moon but at least there was a promise to get there. His brother’s family however stayed hid in the dark of the night. They were intimidated by his presence. He was to them, all powerful and was an angel of doom over whom they had no powers. They could not see the strain in his eyes for loss of sleep. They could not, even from an inch away see the veins at the side of his head playing band music for all to see. All they could see was a man who had managed to submit them into believing that he was from the land of the jinns. So they cowered in their bath water and refused to be seen. The tide had shifted yet again and all they could do was wait.
This is a story that has been told in different tongues and lands. You might have read or heard a different version of it and perhaps your version had an ending. This one however does not. That is the beauty in it…that it is as unending as time itself. I know many people will “see themselves in it”. That also is the beauty of story-telling. Perhaps you are an Uncle Bakary, for our country has groomed a lot of them.
A “Facebook friend” of mine once attacked me during the political impasse on my ambiguity. According to him, it was time I “stop trying to confuse people with my useless parables and be ******** direct”. I understood his frustration. It was obvious that his grasp of the English language was either minimal, or the uncertainty of the political times we lived in (and still do mind you) had gotten to his head.
Our nation is at a crossroads and a dangerous one at that. We can fly the political flags of our political parties and continue to defend whatever leader we worship because that in itself is a right. However, we must be careful what fires we stoke. We are like a young man that, without planning it, lost his virginity. He was unfortunate to have tasted the forbidden fruit and found no way back. He knew that he either had to restrain himself or continue in his new found bliss of manhood (I hope you noticed how I didn’t use woman in this scenario).
There is nothing vague about this one. There is a cancer that has been with us since the First President of our young Republic, through the second and is still showing its ugly face in “New Gambia”. Dafa am nyu fokk neh nyor morm deka bi. With every government comes a new set and more often than not, an old set that have the skills to find their way through more than one government. For them, it is their ultimate duty to destroy the brains of our nation. It is their duty to demotivate the young people for whom the future should be catered to. They are like vermin sent to eat their way through the flesh of the future…and they are still with us. They will disappear and appear every now and then…sometimes even come back stronger, but they will be back.
Perhaps, the new administration is unaware of them. Those people in whose hands they put the future of our country in. Perhaps, they are only buying time. Whatever the case, it must be made clear that we cannot attract skilled and educated Gambians to be a part of a system that only seeks to enrich the few in expense of the many. Our young, educated and trained Gambians will continue to leave for greener pastures as long as all these selfish, egotistical, inept and unpatriotic people continue to lead our institutions and our development. We had a chance to clean up the system. Perhaps again, we cannot afford to clean it up. The only answer for now seems to be that the vessel must keep moving. Whether it goes forward or backward is not the problem as long as it keeps moving. So, we do not care who captains the vessel and how he does it. We do not care that he will hit icebergs and eventually drown us. All we want is for things to move…and that in itself is a selfish thought which will take us nowhere.
Author: Latirr Carr