Now, I wish it wasn’t so. If Gambian music was the only problem we faced as a people that would have been a blessing, would it not? However, the truth is that, our infant music industry is the least of our problems. For those interested in my essays on our music industry, I plead on you to get in touch with the times and open a Facebook profile. It’s a new age and the internet has become our new home. I mean, even Sheriff Bojang who seems to still enjoy flipping through the pages of a physical book has taken Standard online!
A writer once romanticised the idea of death. He likened it to the war between two lovers’ tongues. Even though they know it is inevitable that their tongues would part ways, they hold on as if the tips of their tongues were jumper cables on a car battery. When I first read the lines, I was left confused. Isn’t death the scariest of all realities? Humans have always been more scared of the unknown than the known. That even with faith, there is the uncertainty of life after death lives us holding on longer to the awkward realities of life. Has a man who knows not what tomorrow brings not held on to life like it was all he had? A question beckons therefore. When our brothers and sisters go on the risky journey through the desert and across the seas into the uncertain world of Europe, are they doing so in search of life, or are they brave soldiers facing death head on?
In 1910, somewhere in France, Theodore Roosevelt spoke of my kind. I was not privileged to be around when he was but of all the names I have heard in history, his has stood out even amongst the greats. He is not my favourite statesman and perhaps doesn’t even make my ‘top ten’ – which is a prestigious list if I might add, but the man did make sense.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
So, heeding his words and taking a stance of defence, it is fair for me to take the middle ground; the grey area; the fence. I lost a colleague to the evil waters up north – north of our continent – and only learnt of it a few days ago. He was a nice young man, ambitious, dedicated and the list goes on – as we normally do with people that have passed on. Truth however is, he was a fine gentleman. Oh! When I said fine, I did not in any way snap my fingers or roll my eyes. I have been accused once already by my ‘not-so-learned’ friend, The Nderry of ‘going the other way’, so this essay is certainly not my ‘coming out’ party! Talking of ‘coming out’ parties, I spoke of those on my facebook status a week ago. I noticed a young guy I always thought was a young girl moving up in the world. My status update created an unnecessary debate on ‘gays’/’homosexuals’ and the recently passed bill giving possible life sentences to ‘that side of the world’. I suspected that many who looked at my status update wrongly thought my stance to be in support of the bill. Well, I do have issues with the law being heavy-handed on people with peculiar – at least by society’s standards – sexual preferences. I guess it has a lot to do with my exposure and the fact that I lived next door to a ‘gay bathroom singer’ when I was at university. He was a great singer with a beautiful soprano so I got to love his voice and in extension, his personality. He took away a lot of my homophobia but he certainly didn’t manage to take away my cultural inhibitions on the topic. I would hate however, for the law to force gay people so far underground that innocent, poor people are even further taken advantage of. It is the same imbalance that is seen in the marijuana trade across the globe. The places that have chosen to give heavy-handed sentences for dealers have actually created such a lucrative black market that a trade that should have been most usually controlled by poor farmers is controlled by the wealthy few and putting the poor at a huge disadvantage. Now this is not a ‘free the ganja’ call. That would be very irresponsible on my part! ‘Jamba baahut! Daf dey dofflore nit! Man maa kor wakh!’
So back to the young guy I met a while back. I figured she was…I mean he was probably a minor but had been introduced to the world of manicures and hand gestures due to the desire for wealth. Now that is my issue. I think there should be more education on sexual ‘irregularities’. That we ignore the fact that there is a ‘gay community’ in The Gambia simply because we are a religious nation, allows us to ignore the reality that young boys are taken advantage of sexually just as much as young girls. It creates this carte blanche which allows sexual predators and sex tourists to take advantage of young boys knowing fully well that the taboo exists which doesn’t allow for free speech on the topic of homosexuality. A lot of young men go through the pains of sexual exploitation, molestation and even rape simply because being gay is ‘not in our culture’. It’s ironic, but it’s the truth. I might not agree with the heavy-handedness of the law on ‘homosexuality’ maybe because I have met and befriended quite a handful of ‘gay people’ over the years but I do think the law should protect minors regardless of their sex – maybe I should be substituting sex with gender as much as the opportunity presents itself. These young men are given promises of money, cars, trips to Europe and more just to ‘bend their natural rules’ – no pun intended – a little and satisfy the urges of a sick older man. Now the ‘sick’ for me has nothing to do with the man’s sexual orientation, but rather that he would take advantage of a minor. So the young guy I met the other evening will continue to satisfy the urges of older gentlemen as they satisfy his desire for material gain and this will alter his life’s choice forever. Were it a choice he was forced to make, I would say that society is as much to blame for his position and would be very unfair to punish him decades later when we watched him become who he becomes then.
I have done much worse than a digression for an essay on ‘homosexuality’ was not my original intention. My intention was to write on the ‘back-way’ – again NO PUN INTENDED! As I was saying earlier, before my thoughts rudely interrupted, I lost a colleague to the harsh waters up north. Many young men from West Africa have gone on the dangerous journey in search for greener pasture. Like Roosevelt tried to explain, ‘he who wears it, feels it’. It will be unfair for me to judge them on their choices but I must comment on them. That a young man with a future beyond the stars in his country, would risk his life to go to ‘toubab land’ is not just wrong but a grave sin. We do not only put ourselves at risk but everyone who depends on us. From our parents, to our wives, children etc. But these are the same ones who raise the capital and encourage us to ‘go to babylon’. When I made my views known online, they were more a question of why brothers with potential take the risk, than a total condemnation. Is The Gambia really that bad…or are we still so much in our colonial mentalities that it’s still, “white, good; black bad?
Many young, smart men will continue to embark on the voyage no matter how much sensitisation is done on the issue. Someone, somewhere is lying to them!! But then again, someone somewhere is profiting from them! Parents have sold homes, given up savings, just to send their kids to their deaths! Now that should be murder! I have enough lawyer friends to find a loophole that makes it worthy of a court sitting! Murder!… and the agents that get paid to get these men/women and their money together…Murder! I mean, you can call it what you want but this is cruelty that has no bounds. The stories that many of the survivors tell are like a ‘SAW’, the movie in real life. Someone has to pay for this cruelty.
Well now the story doesn’t stop there, does it? Kids aged 8 and 10 are also looking for greener pasture! Like how greener does it get! You’re 8 and 10 da**it! Now the question is not whether their parents or guardians should be shot – not in the head though, maybe kneecap? – but how many times! We can say it’s not the parents’ fault. These kids nowadays spend more time outside than inside. You know…with the ghetto and bantabas and all. So yeah! Maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe it’s normal for an 8 year old child to raise his own travel fare for a back-way adventure into Babylon. Maybe, just maybe it’s normal for these kids to make it all the way to Kaolack unnoticed! Well since we’re dishing out maybes, maybe I’m a Caucasian princess from Mars!
How crazy has our society become? A lot of us read the article and laughed about it. Bilai halehyi njoor nyemeh rek! The truth is, all of us who laughed about the article deserve to be shot also! Just not as much as the parents or guardians…but shots we deserve! We have lost a lot of our culture and our good traditions. I believe it is that scary reality that pushed the National Assembly to act so furiously on the ‘gay issue’. I hope however that the issue – of criminalisation – will be looked at more closely. We have lost so much that neighbours can watch young children claim to be travelling alone to Brufut without raising an eyebrow. If it was 20 years ago, my Uncle Pa Barra would have pulled me all the way to my parents…and if I survived him, I would surely not have made it passed Aunty Etta or Dr Kurang! I guess we are no longer our neighbours’ keeper. As for the immigration officers that watched them cross the border into Senegal…bobu du wakhi teye.
So, what is my bottom line? Well, the smiling coast is the SMILING coast and not the LAUGHING coast. We have to stop laughing at the potential threats to our nationhood and start acting on them. We are slowly losing the beautiful things that make home so warm and friendly and have become so ambitious on the things of this world that even our humanity is fast eroding. We must pay attention to our environment and BE GAMBIANS!
You can start by spreading the message on Ebola. #EbolaFreeGambia is spreading the word. The disease is deadly but we can keep it out of The Gambia. Spread the message, not the fear…and you might have to pass through ‘Ebola Infected Zones’ to get to Mali and then the desert – if that’s your route – so don’t! If the desert doesn’t kill you, Ebola just might!