In the last four years the group has grown into one of the finest set of performers to have ever graced a performance stage. It has taken dedication, hard-work, resilience and quite a bit of lost investment for us to get there. That night however, was to be very different. As things go with a lot of events in The Smiling Coast, the plan changed last minute and disappointingly but understandably, the group performance met a cancellation. The night left me filled with thoughts. It wasn’t the disappointment of non performance that left me in circles but it was an incident within the void of not knowing what was going on that sparked my thought plugs.
Walking up to a man I thought was in charge of proceedings, I sought clarification on the programme seeing as I had young people with me who would need to make clear their schedule to their parents. The gentleman (if he is so deserving of the title) decided to take the piss
To take the piss – To rile, mock, or be a jerk to another person whether or not the person is joking or being serious.
The man who had been an acquaintance in a former life, for whatever reason decided to step on to his high horse and show me who was boss. In his thick and very deliberate accent he used a line I remember being used on me once before, “Sit down and wait!!”. He said it with such a condescending voice and in the presence of a few onlookers that I could have crawled into a dark space if the room wasn’t so brightly lit. Having been put in my place, the little meal of a cockroach that he had turned me into found a comfortable spot to sit…and I waited.
This being one of the very few times I have felt disrespected in my own country, save for the occasional slipups by the TDA Security, the hurling of insults from fake facebook profiles and other men of similar small yet seemingly powerful standing, I knew I had to meditate on my predicament.
I remember as a young man under the watchful eye of Mr. Badara Y. Jallow (mind you his Fula is just as good as mine) being told by the man himself never to accept disrespect regardless of the age difference between me and my ‘associate’. If I learned nothing from his many years of wisdom, this one stuck through and seems stubborn enough to remain firm in my memory.
The question I kept asking myself that night was this; “why did the man feel it proper to disrespect me?
It was Charles Baudelaire who said, “There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.”
So maybe this man who knew me from a former life didn’t know I was a poet. Perhaps he isn’t into poetry. Perhaps he cannot read? Truth be told, his disrespect had taken me very much unawares and that he had a smirk on his face as I left my mouth wide open forced the dagger into my back. No matter how hard I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, the words kept coming back to me, reminding me of another young man of position who, even in the expected execution of his duties used the same words on me years ago. The latter received the lashing of my tongue as I would usually met out in such cases but this gentleman only received my confused face.
In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob. – Salvador Dali
Was it fair that this man suddenly represented The Gambia for me? Suddenly I was paying attention to every statement made by everyone around me. I was curious to see if the gentleman had sure reason to disrespect me. Was it that I had no talent…or that I had neglected to give it…or I had refused to kick society’s right shin…or I wasn’t snobbish enough?
I met a friend of a friend in Dakar once. She happened to be one of those ladies the ‘holier than thou’ crowd wouldn’t be caught dead around. It was our very first time exchanging words and she was surprised at the fact that I had a good sense of humor. For her, she had always seen me as a snub. According to her, we (my friends and I) had created a clique of sorts that had special entry requirements for new members. She almost made us sound like the ‘Illuminati’. So at least she thought I was a snub and if I passed as a snub for her, I probably passed as a snub for Mr. Man here. Whatever his reason, he had taken the piss and I was pissed! I couldn’t react though so I imagined head-butting him into an unbalanced state and throwing my black-belt hands into his face. Coming back to reality however, the smirk was still on his face and the confused look on mine.
I have realised that we are a country full of ‘heebateh’ people. We are extremely judgmental of the way people appear. Then again, isn’t that with every society? I imagine if I had substituted my ‘Gambia Dina Demm – Blaque Magique’ T-Shirt for a tuxedo or a ‘nyetti abdou’ I would have earned his respect…or perhaps not.
This essay however is not about one man. It is not about young people not getting the respect they deserve. This essay is about a system that forces young people to feel younger than they are; like babies. It is as if we have been forced to stay stuck to the mammary glands that fed us when all we knew was milk and sleep. It is a system that forgets that respect given is respect earned.
A fellow writer of mine confessed once of his past disdain for my writing. According to him, at first he found it rather distasteful and egotist. I was pleased that he didn’t find it disrespectful. That a man’s version of truth can be very disrespectful is in itself a truth. We cannot always be in control of our tongues…can we?
If only our tongues were made of glass, how much more careful would we be when we speak – Shaun Shane
But then again I asked myself why I stopped myself from talking back. Why I had to keep my mouth open. I realised it was because my fingers were doing the thinking for me. It was not the time to speak, but rather the time to write.
“I go silent so I can write. When my tongue is wagging my fingers are silent.”
Sonia Rumzi, Simpla Conversation
I am yet to figure out how we have formed a society that doesn’t respect youth. It is as if society is scared. We are scared of youth success. It is as if we believe that if our young are given the respect they deserve, that takes away some of our respect. Almost as if respect is a piece of cake we all have to share; one slice more for you is one slice less for me. Many people underestimate the power of respect…but it is a powerful thing.
To communicate between generations and between segments of our society, respect must be mutual. This is not to say that truth must be absent for truth is everything. However, that condescending tone that seems to control every single conversation is a destruction to our very existence.
“Once upon a time there were two countries, at war with each other. In order to make peace after many years of conflict, they decided to build a bridge across the ocean.
But because they never learned each other’s language properly, they could never agree on the details, so the two halves of the bridge they started to build never met.
To this day the bridge extends far into the ocean from both sides, and simply ends half way, miles in the wrong direction from the meeting point.
And the two countries are still at war.”
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Have we not realised the vast ocean that lies between cultures, tribes, religion, gender, class etc? There is a very silent but true undertone of difference in a country as small as ours, but the biggest for me has been between our ‘kinda successful’ older folks and the younger ones. Don’t get me wrong. The fact that a lot is currently being passed on to a new generation of movers and shakers is testament to the unselfish beliefs of quite a few of those that have crossed the line of success. The confusing part for me is the disrespect coming from people that have no claim to success yet sit on their high horses looking down on the rest of society as if the world belongs to them. It is understandable that envy can sometimes be confused for disrespect but that is for another essay.
We must never allow our society to belittle our dreams or our persons. Africa’s slow growth in conquering our many demons (even as the fastest growing continent in the world) can simply be attributed to the fact that a lot of our countries still insist on progress being carried on the shoulders of our aged and retiring. From Newton to Einstein to Pasteur to Elvis Presley to Imhotep to Alexander The Great to Christ, the world came to change through their youth. They changed the world when the world did not expect it and did not wait for the world’s respect to do it. We cannot become another ageing development. We must give respect to our young people and expect that same respect to be returned. We cannot demand respect from our children when our lives are interwoven with disrespect but amongst ourselves and inter-generational.
Kii lim ma wakh nahari na ma beh wai nak bindaloor na ma tamm…so abaraka