Welcome back to the Smiling Coast and if this is your first time here, good luck! Walk slowly past immigration and don’t speak too fast. The guy in shitty brown pants and milk chocolate brown shirt is smiling at you because he doesn’t get your accent. There’s a tinge of Fana-Fana or Sosseh in your Western accent so they’re actually playing a game trying to figure out how long ago you left the shores.
Don’t leave the airport so fast. We have a nice fountain bar in “the great hall”. I call it the great hall not in any way referencing such greatness as the Great Wall of China but just its vast emptiness. Right above the vast emptiness, there’s almost nothing. Well, considering #NewGambia has forgotten to paint over the image of the former president on the ceiling. The painting is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel…except it is certainly not a Michelangelo. You might notice a broom in one hand. It will confuse you as it did me. I believe there is every intention to paint over it…first white and then a new White Haftaan’d Leader…with the same cycle again in four or two years.
I am sure you will deduce that a white haftaan has some strong spiritual factor in proceedings. Come to think of it, the painting is “misable” so someone failed to point it out to President Barrow as he left for the UNGA. The person ought to be tied to Generator No. 6 in Kotu! Oh you don’t know Generator No. 6…well, I started by welcoming you to the Smiling Coast…so you’ll learn soon.
If you’re wondering where your ride is, he’s stuck in traffic. This might be due to a number of reasons, all of which you’ll come to terms with soon. Just hop on one of the airport taxis. This is where your funny accent won’t help. Over here we charge by the accent. American accents get charged accent rates double any other. They deserve it! They have Trump! Scandinavians pay somewhere down the middle and our English brothers and sisters pay local rates…sometimes even lower. We were colonised by the British so we understand.
Angalleh bi dafa munna wahaaleh. I mean Sir Alexander Grant took Bathurst after negotiation with Toumani Bojang (any relation to genius writer Sheriff Bojang?) for 103 iron bars equivalent to £25 in 1816 and in present day value of £2,052.50! I know Banjul is not all that as you’ll soon discover, apart from the fact that my in-laws live and do business there but come on!
I know the driver will want to take you down the coastal highway so he can give you a brief tour of new developments but I am with you on travelling through the real urban Gambia! Power to the people! I feel insulted by your insinuation that this is rural Gambia. You’re in the heart of the beautiful Smiling Coast. The little boy frowning by the side of the road with a tin in his hand isn’t angry. Dafa nyaaw rek. Yes it’s a little boy.
Why would you think he’s a statue? Oh the darkness. Apologies dear friend, I forgot to tell you we are currently on a very advanced green revolution. In our contribution to saving the ozone layer we’ve gone further than zero hydrocarbons and further than clean energy…we’re on a no-energy movement. As Africans we should not bow down to the White Man. They cannot colonise us and we continue to support their ideas when we can support our traditional industries. You will argue that candles are also not African but come on…how perfect do you want us to be in our fight against neo-colonialism?
…And that’s Kao/KaW/Cow junction on your left. We’ll come again during the day so you can see there are no cows paraded here. In this part of the world the Fulani are the custodians of our cattle and they do not live here. You just drove past the “Monument” at West Field. This is the famous spot where a stance against the former government began. Okay, I know it began on Facebook…or was it Freedom radio….or Gambia ? Well, I’m sure you get what I mean.
You don’t need to cross the bridge. Remember this is the city that Sir Alexander Grant bought for £25 in 1816. Oh wait…it does play host to the State House which is where our President Adama Barrow (His Excellency) will be residing in the future. When that future would come is not a cause for concern. As a free citizen, he is free to stay where he pleases. For now, where he pleases happens to be by the beautiful beaches of Fajara.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in the place of my birth? Everyone is moving out of the city and these people expect our Head of State to live there among the traders, the market people, the potholes, the gutters, the terrible sewage, the hospital, the central bank (yes the same Central Bank of startling revelations at the Commission of Enquiry), the July 22nd Square! What insult! Yes the July 22nd Square. Perhaps after a decision is reached on changing the dreadful name…after the tables and chairs are restored…after the landmines are removed…after the house is repainted and rehabilitated…after the mysterious baby stops crying…after the marabouts of our great land, of Mali and of Senegal give it a pass, then sooner will come rather than later.
Slide past “Sting Corner” unnoticed. There is little of note here apart from the fact that my people call it “Steam Corner”. Do not be confused my dear friend. They are one and the same. The “corner” is famed for being the transit point of some deadly associations in the past. Be careful when you drive past the swamps lest you drive over wildlife. Our crocodiles love taking a stroll across to Methodist Academy. They are attracted to the muddy colours of the uniform. You might notice that my people have a thing for mud and brown and sh*t. Fortunately for us, Methodist Academy remains one of the few prides of this side of the world.
That is Bakau on your right. I know it doesn’t look like much but it houses some of Jollof’s brightest exports. Of course they have done little to improve the condition of the tourist haven. It is a taboo on that side of town to invest in developing the area. They are also rumoured to host some of our deadliest witches. I remember as a child when one of such domas was running rampage. It turned out to be an old woman in Sanchaba. Avoid the area if you believe in those things. They speak fluent German though…and Swedish…and Dutch…English not so much.
You will notice people running towards you as you walk towards the crafts market screaming “Baayul…Baayul”. Please do not be frightened. They are what we call apparantehs. They’re getting passengers for Banjul. Apparently Banjul is too tough a word to pronounce so they have decided to change it. If by any chance you wish to join a public transport to head to the city of lights, do not…I repeat…do not board the Bakau vans. They have been known to mutilate passengers on a regular. You don’t want to lose your arm in Jollof because that would mean your having to go to Banjul for medical attention and we already discussed the Banjul issue.
We will ignore the sandy beaches of Fajara for today. They have unfortunately become less sand and therefore less beach. I must note however that we might have to come through some other time that you might get to see the entire town that is the Medical Research Council! Place is lit! Save for a Jacuzzi, swimming pool and a sauna, it is a tourist’s paradise…and it’s right opposite the British Embassy which unfortunately is not responsible for giving visas anymore. I love their honesty. The Americans can learn a thing or two from the English. What’s the point of running a consular section when you’re not willing to give out visas? But yeah…that’s just a side note on this one. England 1, United States of America 0.
Drive down Kairaba Avenue. I know you’re confused by the name. The road is neither broad nor does it have trees aligning it at regular intervals on either side. But then again, if you’ve lived most of your life in the U.S. of A I’m sure you wouldn’t know what an avenue means. Ignorance rocks!! Be careful when you drive past the US Embassy. You do not want to be mistaken for a terrorist and almost opposite lives Mandela (as he is known by party faithfuls…or Aaron…or Haruna depending on the context). I am friend and family in multiple ways so I’ll stop right there. There are days when the large pavement in front of his house is yellowed with T-Shirts and flags. Yellow is the new green…get used to it.
Further down the road, you’ll find Chop Shop! Yaay! Great food, great service and one of The Gambia’s few Wi-Fi free zones. At Chop Shop we believe in real conversations with real people. My wife owns the joint so of course it’s perfect. It’s right next to QCell but my QCell dongle has bad connection there. Then again, who needs Internet when you have great food?
Right opposite the restaurant you’ll notice two female police officers sitting comfortably on a bench. They’re traffic officers but the work is a bit too hectic.
They watch the traffic from a distance and their fans wave at them as they drive past. Please don’t wave! Oh snap! You already did. Too late. Now you’ll have to park by the side so they can come say hello. I forgot to tell you that these posts also double as tax collection centres. Now it’s time to experience the tough side of the law! Get your wallet ready bro. Lucky you Muhammed Jah’s S500 Merc has drawn their attention. Our women in blue must not have gotten the memo. If this was 1816 the man in the S500 would have been Sir Alexander Grant with his 103 bars of iron. Good Luck to them.
….to be continued TGBA