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City of Banjul
Sunday, June 7, 2020

Letters to my daughters: Life is a trip we are dreaming

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With Rohey Samba

My darlings,
I am an angry, bitter and incoherent excuse of a wordsmith. I can’t help let my heart control my head, most of the time – leading to unexplained silences, unprovoked outbursts and other strange behaviour you grapple to understand every passing day.
I think too much. I hear what others don’t hear. I hurt too bad. Recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of Africa’s great writers of our time, explained it away as depression in one of her talks. Vaguely, I remember her describing depression as something that writers by their nature experience unavoidably. The explanation shines through my fade and links it to a melancholy experienced during my childhood, a sorrowful conspicuousness, a yearning to belong everywhere and not really belonging anywhere. As a defense mechanism, my heart chose to detach. I am by nature very detached.
Nothing moves me…

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Not the pointed fingers, ready to tear my skin apart till blood spurts out. Because I spoke my mind. Not the lowly whispers by supposed friends seeking every opportunity to disparage my name and lower my self-worth, just so that they feel better about themselves. Not the reporting of a belligerent person who repeats my rather unpleasant but very candid and justified statements in order to make me cower in shame and feel little. Not all the other people I have come to know who are too weak to help me walk the path of truth. Instead, roughly pushing and shoving me out of the way. Scurrying for opportunities to score points. Ah!

And no, do not get me wrong. I am not your scornful misanthrope.But my life is my own cup of coffee. I seek no one’s honey to sweeten it to my taste. And this is why…
While we laugh and play a lot, there’s always this level of unexplained detachment; that you are not of me, but that you passed through me. It is a windy experience so potent, yet its underpinnings are so very impactful, it makes me teary every time I think about it. You are a product of the divine. I have no control over whatever happens to you. I am only a vehicle through which God sent you to the world. This feeds to my disconnect. My helplessness in the wider scheme of things.

With this knowledge, over the blaring song of Celine Dion singing, ‘Love doesn’t ask why’in the background, I question, how come you love me so unconditionally? How your hopeful eyes look up to me to answer all the questions of the world, I got you into? A world that I have not fully comprehended myself yet, 37 years after I was born in Farato village on that uneventful Thursday morning… These questions still linger at the edge of my helplessness and uncertainty about a world I do not feign to know much.
I am ashamed.

I realise it’s a necessity, this detachment I fall into every time I need to feel. I have learnt to live by it to the extent it has become second nature to me. And God knows I hurt. I hurt from this act. Just as I hurt for my own kindness to undeserving people, for my naivety, for unrequited love and for the distance I create from all the persons I know, who love me the most. The world is a mystery to me. And I remain a mystery to myself. A mystery I seek not to solve wholly but one that I can direct towards awakening a self I seek to absolve from shame. And the repulsive guilt I feel for feeling…

Since writing to you at 35 about reaching at that station in time where the train of life wants to reconnect me to my bigger role carved in destiny, my inventory of experiences has scaled up. Again, I have not developed PowerPoints for everyday I have learnt something new. Also, the takeaway is not that my journey so far has been objectively good or bad. I still know just one thing for sure, that is, I was born to give you life.

Some people were born to change the world. They live by the tenets of their belief, making profound change in their environment, their communities, the wider society and so forth. I am no changemaker. Don’t get me wrong, I strive for excellence by being the best person I can be and excelling at everything I do. I have never come across anyone more hardworking, more dedicated or even more vested. But what a waste it will be, if I change the whole world and the world does not change who I am; the mother of two lovely girls.
Yes, this is my biggest role in life. I want you to be strong women. Hardworking. Dedicated. Straight forward. I teach you to dig deep. To know that power lies in the strength of your character. And that you cannot outsource it for it is vested in you. I teach you to find the power in you. To hold the power in your own hands and to set it free. For only then can you be free from want, whether it is of validation, praise or even acknowledgement. Because my daughters, when you are good, you don’t try to impress. Your work, your deeds and your very essence will speak for you. You will not lobby for anyone’s endorsement of you.
So for me, those lofty jargons of Mrs Something, Dr Something, the first Something and all the other positions I may hold are not what define me. God has given me the opportunity, He has denied many other women like myself, of giving birth to boys and girls. I will seize this opportunity by walking you through the path I find worthy. The path of hard work, honesty and kindness, even to those who are not deserving. This is the path that is less travelled in our world of cronyism and jingoism. Because when I die, I will only be remembered for being your mother. Nothing else will matter.

Everyone is unique, amazing and beautiful.

So, this matters to me;my biggest role in life, of being the vehicle of God’s creation to carry two beautiful girls through the journey of life. A journey that is uncertain, spontaneous and joyful. For what is life without joy. The joy of living. The joy of giving. And the joy of hope. For indeed hope is borne out of joy, without which there is no life…
There is a lot of misdirected anger focused at women nowadays. Since seeking liberation from the low trenches of dependence on men and lauded affirmation of their fellow women, a trail of women have suffered the consequences of anger that is constantly denied by our society. Women are now made to be ashamed for their intelligence, commensurate for the most part with men where they are given equal access and opportunities; impressionable for the better part and malleable most of all.

I remember a conversation I had with a colleague in Ghana last year about the superiority of men in all spheres of endeavour. As we spoke, that guy did not know I had the highest ever CGPA of the university he was mentioning. When I outlined the fact, he looked stunned for a bit before saying quietly, “You are just one of the very few special women.”
No. I am not special. I am hardworking. And he was bigoted.

I am buoyed by the knowledge of this transitory world and the little time we have to spend in it. 100 years is not long enough. And by the way, how many of us will live a 100 years? So this life is no competition. It is not us against them. It is a race against time. Against our own mortality. We are all trying to make ends meet. To survive. Till our inevitable ends. I will spare no effort to make this world worth my while. This is what I teach you every day, ‘Do not wait for tomorrow what you can do today’. Tomorrow is never promised. So, if it is assignments you got, do them as soon as you reach home. Read your notes like your life depends on your knowing them. Practice math every day. Never wait, two weeks before exams, to chew and then pour. Knowledge is salvation, the underpinnings of all self-worth and self-belief. No body can take your knowledge away from you.

I know women have to show that they are not as smart, not as ambitious and not as courageous in order to fit in the packet that society seeks to squeeze them into. Many have delved into spirituality and religion. Where I work, most of the brilliant girls are covered up in hijab, towing to the call of religion. I am still at ‘my age’, a 37-year-old Muslim woman, mother of four, wearing pencil skirts and kitten heels to work. I mention my age in quotation, because last week while shopping for my 6 inch pumps (kitten heels), the shoe seller called out my bravery for wearing such shoes at my age – how condescending! I humoured him by asking what he thought my age was, which he replied to correctly, ‘in your thirties, Ma.’ Well, if I can’t wear high-heeled shoes in my thirties, when I can coolly afford them and I am at my proverbial prime in life, when will I then?
As you have probably already guessed, I smiled silently at Mr Shoe Seller and ordered another nude coloured pair of 6 inch kitten heels, which he gave me without much as a mutter. He handed the shoes over to me with the unspoken wariness that he may have lost a very good client by his unthoughtful words. But do I care? I will probably go there again to buy another set of the same pair of shoes because our poor roads do not really afford me the luxury of those proper shoes for six months without them being battered beyond recognition. Besides, he sells top quality shoes from very good designers. Moreover, other people’s opinions, unless they mean life or death to me, do not really matter depending on context. Mr Shoe Seller was just trying to project his own prejudices, that are well grounded in societal expectations of what women should and should not wear by virtue of their age in The Gambia or in Sierra Leone, where he came from.

Somehow low-heeled shoes have become a cultural touchstone that Gambian women in their late thirties wisely fall towards. I salute these thirty-five-and-above women for being reasonable. After all, one may fall off and break one’s legs. But one may be hit by a car and break one’s legs any day that one leaves one’s house too. One may lie down to sleep and never wake up… And so on and so forth.

So for me, I am not reasonable. Reason or common sense does not always direct my preferences. My heart does. I fall into what gives me joy, and high-heeled shoes do that for me, at the moment. Until my legs can no longer carry them anymore, I will never be too old to wear high heels. Think of the kick I get from towering over men or being at the same level while wearing my high heels…Ugh!
Digging deep in finding meaning to the drudgery of condescending societies, where one’s worth is measured by one’s gender and gendered attributions have in many ways made me figure out my purpose here. Which is why I stick to being just one thing: your mother. One day, when the journey for me has come to an end, be reminded that life is just one trip we are dreaming. Let not anyone or anything affect your dream adversely.
Have a lovely trip, my daughters.
PS: Your Mother.

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