Row, row, row your boat…

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With Aisha Jallow

Many of us have sung this children’s song and perhaps never reflected on the lyrics. I remember from the English classes at school that we were supposed to sing along to the old tape recorder. This was the kind with the big, round wheels, if anyone of you are as old as I am and remember them. No one sang, only mumbled a little. We were deeply embarrassed and found the lyrics childish and oldfashioned. This is a song I never sing with my pupils, nowadays, I had almost forgotten it when it suddenly came to mind. The reason for that was an article I read in The Standard Newspaper. This article was about a Gambian man who is accused of allowing his boat to be used to ship migrants. He is accused of bribing persons of authority and these men are also in deep trouble now.

The problem with the vessel in this case is that it was overloaded and contained 195 migrants. Why overloading a vessel when you clearly can see that it is not safe to hold so many people and ship safely over the sea? Greed, of course! Pure and simple greed, as in so many other cases. This case didn’t go well and 63 people drowned, several of them were Gambians.

”Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” So ends the lyrics in the song, but the end for the terrified passengers of the vessel was definitely not merry. They had a dream, a dream of a good life somewhere else. They took the risk to leave their homes and enter a vessel, praying for the best and fearing the worst.

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Hope is what leaves us last when everything else has gone wrong. We hope that life will serve us something better than we have had so far. We hope that there is something better to come, because we have already been through so many bad things in life. Somewhere deep in our minds we know that traveling overseas is very risky and not everyone will survive, but hope is making us taking the risk anyway. We hope that if something goes wrong, at least it is not us who are the victims.

The man who owned the vessel that went under was also hopefull that nothing would happen. He had been payed a lot of money, blood money, that he was hoping no one would ask any questions about.

The lives of the 63 victims took a terrible end because of greed, but the man who owned the vessel is not the only one to be blamed. The list of guilty people is long and perhaps we will never find out exactly how many there are on that list. The easiest to accuse are of course the owner of the boat, and the men of authority, but then who? Well, we could add those who fill hopefull poor people’s ears with lies about the safest ways of traveling abroad. The risks are minimal, they say, and there are life jackets for everyone on the vessels, they say. What they don’t say is that there are not life jackets for everyone on the vessels, that the jackets are of poor quality and not safe.

Last, but not least, they don’t say that you can’t survive even though you wear a life jacket if you fall out from the boat in the middle of the sea. The waves might be high and the water cold. You will become exhausted and drown anyway.

You don’t want to hear this, so they will not tell you this. You are desperate enough to leave your family. Maybe you have borrowed or even stolen the money to pay the skipper with. Little do you know that the skipper knows about the condition of the boat and would never risk his own life and join you on the ride. No, he will simply instruct some passenger how to start the motor of the boat and wave goodbye to all the easy victims of the roaring seas.

Who else should we add to the list of guilty for the loss of the recent 63 lives, and those lost before? We must blame those who could change the lives of all Gambians for the better, those we pay with our tax money to be responsible for the wellbeing of us all. Why does anyone want to be involved in the politics in The Gambia? Because most of them have a more or less hidden agenda – to gain from it somehow. In times of election we hear all the sweet talk, their intentions fill our ears with sugar while mice eat the last of the rice in our pantries. We feed both mice and two legged rodents with the hard earned money we are able to scrape together every day. The question is who is becoming fattest of them all, at least the mice can be caught with traps but there are no traps large enough to stop the corruption in this country.

I wonder how it is possible to be both blind and deaf for the struggle of our people? Even if you sit in a nice car with tinted windows, you must be able to see the surroundings while your driver is taking you to your destination. Perhaps you close your eyes during the ride instead, using the opportunity to take a nap as you are working so hard at your office so you deserve the rest. If you can fill your belly three times a day, have water supply whenever you wish to take a shower or your maid is doing your laundry, then you are one among the lucky but you are not many. Many more are the ones who hardly can afford to take the gele-gele to work, who have to decide if you can eat that day or if you only have money left to feed the family.

Your children go to private schools and they get the best education, because you think they deserve that and they deserve a good future. What about all the other kids? What about those who have to stay home because they are not allowed to go to school bare feet but there is not enough money to buy shoes to all the kids in your family? Don’t they deserve a decent education and a good future? Is there a difference between the Gambian kids, different levels like A level and so on? Where on the alphabet are your kids?

…..”life is but a dream”….. I’m certain the latest 63 victims had hopes and dreams. I say ”the latest” but I wish I could say ”the last.” Knowing the lack of interest in the wellbeing of the Gambian people, from the Government’s side, there will certainly be more victims, more drownings, more deaths in the Sahara desert or in the refugee camps in Libya. Merrily President Barrow walks around in the State House, waiting for the next meal and closing his eyes and ears for the suffering of those he is payed to care for. ”Life is but a dream.” Yeah, dream on, Mr President, sleep well while life is a nightmare for most people in your country.