With Aisha Jallow
Inside the entrance door of my home I have a small door mat with the message:
‘Home, sweet home’. This simple message gives me joy whenever I come home after a day of work. It is also a message for friends and family who come to visit me.
I want them to feel at home, to feel relaxed and sheltered for a while. My home is nothing fancy, but it is cosy. I don’t have a lot of valuable things and furniture, most of my stuff is old and inherited from elderly relatives who are deceased. I have a habit of cooking some extra because when my kids were younger they often brought friends home after school. Before I cook, I do a head count to see how many I should cook for.
I know from personal experience how awful it is to feel the smell of the food and not be invited to share the meal. I didn’t want that to happen to my children’s friends.
My children are grown up now and have homes of their own, but still they love to come and visit. We meet regularly, share a meal and speak about our lives. I am happy that their father and I were able to give them the kind of upbringing I never had. They know that we have done the best for them, out of our circumstances, and that is good enough. Bad conscience is a burden every parent carries from the moment our children are born. We consider ourselves as parents and so often stumble on our shortcomings.
There is nothing such as the perfect parent, we are just good enough and that is okay. We love our children, but many times they know exactly which buttons to push to make us mad. The daily struggle can be both exhausting and irritating from time to time. We are nagging about homework that has to be done, clothes on the floor, kicked off shoes that are making us trip, kids that are too tired in the mornings and refus to get up from bed, arguments between siblings and all these familiar things that we meet every day.
What if we suddenly find that someone is missing? That someone has decided to take the backway to the land of their dreams. What if not only that person is missing but also the money you had hidden in a safe place?
It might take a day or two before you realise that your son (which is often the case) will not come back. You try to call his phone but he doesn’t pick up. You ask everyone around, you can’t eat or sleep because you worry so much. In the morning you go into his room and begin to shake his blanket to wake him up when you suddenly realise that your son is gone. No more homework for him. No more chores that are done unwillingly. No one comes to you to ask for some money to buy credit or attaya or a piece of tapa lapa.
The emptiness fills the home, from every corner comes the echo from your questions: ”Where is he? Why did he go? Is he well?” Time passes by, but you don’t notice it. Your mind is occupied with the questions and the fears. You feel that you could do anything to know where your son is. You could do anything to see him again, to look into his eyes and to hold him in your arms. You would never complain again about his dirty socks or the pocket money he needs. If only! If only you knew he was well. If only you knew he was alive. What happened with the little boy you held in your arms? The little boy who looked at you with his beautiful brown eyes and gave you a smile.
If only life in The Gambia was such that young people feel hope for their future. The Gambia is a lovely country that didn’t have to be poor. With so few citizens it would be an easy task to feed everyone. The country is small enough to be travelled in a day. Here in Sweden we can grow vegetables and other crops during only four months of the year, but in The Gambia you can grow it all year round. No one is starving in Sweden, but what about The Gambia? It is astonishing that the country is not growing enough vegetables, rice and potatoes to feed everyone.
There is no need to import anything that you can grow yourself. You don’t even have to own a large piece of land to have your own vegetable patch. Search for educational videos on Youtube and you will learn how to grow potatoes, tomatoes and other kinds of healthy products to feed your family. Why are there no factories that produce jam, tomato ketchup and other products? Factories that can give people jobs so they don’t have to starve and humiliate themselves to get some little money.
How much has been done for the youth of The Gambia since the election in 2016? New jobs, better schools, vocational schools where our youth can become skilled in various trades? Could the government pat their own backs and congratulate themselves for their great achievements? I don’t think so as the unemployment rate is still extremely high. Still young people dream of a life elsewhere, in the land of their dreams – Europe. The information that has been spread by news media that it is almost impossible to enter Europe for a poor, unskilled Gambian doesn’t make our youths to hesitate more than for a short while. The poverty and the dreams of a better life speaks louder than the voice of reason. So many have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, others have suffered immensely and even died crossing the Sahara desert.
Young men and women suffer at the camps in Libya, camps that are more like prisons and where the living conditions are unbearable. Lots of people are forced to live together on a small space. There is no personal space and when they live so close together diseases easily spread. Young men that look strong are sold as slaves to the building industry. Young women are lured into becoming sex slaves. It is said that they will work as maids in a household, but that is not their only task. These women work from early morning until late evening. They cook, wash and clean under harsh conditions. In the night time they are forced to “entertain” the man of the house. If she resists she is beaten.
Many of the housewives are strict and treat the maids worse than animals. The young women are forced to give away their passports and they are not allowed to walk the streets on their own. If they are discovered by the police they will get arrested and punished.
There is no dignity in that kind of life; there is no hope and no way out. The men and women are caught in a spider’s web, their lives are sucked out of them and they get tossed away after their death. No one is there to wash their bodies, to wrap them in white fabric and to pray for their souls. An unmarked grave is their final destination, a fate that no one deserves and a sorrow that never leaves us. Imagine the tears that are shed in the camps. The hunger and distress that moulds inside them like a cancer.
All of us have heard of these stories, even people of the government although they try to feign deafness to the cries of despair. Every human life counts, every life is precious. Why do we handle the gifts of God with such nonchalance and still call ourselves Muslims? Can we pick and choose which lives are more important than others? Are the lives of poor children less valuable than the rich? Don’t we need to bother about the casualties or they are just figures in the statistics and who cares about statistics anyway? There are people who care, not only the relatives of the lives lost, but others. The government can’t ask for aid for this and that project and believe that they don’t have to account where the money goes.
It is not a matter of some hundred dalasis here and there, it is a matter of many millions and the benefactor has the right to see where even every single butut has gone. In these days of Internet access for people in authority, it is not as easy as before to hide money. The Gambia is very well known for corruption and that is not a good reputation to have.
The current regime has done nothing to improve that reputation, instead they have followed in the footsteps of the previous regime. Mark my words – you will be held accountable one day! Coming generations are not as obedient and easily lured as the past.
Young people are skilled in the usage of computers and they will easily hack into all your secrets. The Gambia is a patriarchal society where the young are taught to show respect to the elderly. That is good, as long as this respect is not used as a way of controlling young people. If you teach the youth to never question the actions of the elderly; of course you can get away with a lot. Young people are not stupid, they see and they hear things even if they don’t dare to question you about it.
Young people who are hungry, frustrated, uneducated and feel no hope for the future get angry. They know that a few people, who are elected for being servants of the public, are eating, drinking and living a good life at the expense of others. Where do the tax money go? The infrastructure needs to be improved, we need Internet access in the rural villages. Healthcare must be affordable so people don’t have to die of the simplest diseases. The school buildings need to be in good shape and the teachers must be well-educated and get a salary they can live on. We must show that we appreciate those who are forming the future generations.
The colonialists didn’t think that Gambians deserved anything but the basics. How can it be possible that we haven’t come further away from this pattern? Don’t we feel that our fellow human beings deserve to live good lives where no one has to go to bed hungry? How come people who disagree with the old colonial system are beaten, tear gassed and jailed? What about our young people who survived their ordeal far away and came back home again – do they feel welcome home? Home sweet home – it is about time to change things for the better in our home – The Gambia.