Search for the alternatives

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With Aisha Jallow

When I first came to The Gambia in 2007, I merely passed through one part of the country. I was on my way to Kafountine in Casamance, Senegal, for a course in drumming and dancing. My first visit was as a tourist, but nowadays The Gambia is my second home where I have family and friends. The more I get to know The Gambia, the more questions I have, and during these 6 years of writing articles I have tried to get at least some answers. It is very interesting to try to get to know a new country and a new culture. It has so many layers, and for every layer I peel off, there comes a new and unknown one.

As many of you know by now, I work as a teacher and teachers are a curious kind of people who always wish to learn more about things. My curiosity has helped me evolve as a person, so instead of brushing off everything new and strange, I try to learn more about it to understand. I don’t like jumping into conclusions, I prefer to find the facts first and then decide what to think of it. There are many things I love about The Gambia, the lovely weather is one example and especially now after a long and cold winter. The weather has been almost the same since the winter, it is only the season that changed name into spring. The warm weather in The Gambia has many benefits, and tourists who arrive at the Banjul Airport stand still for a moment, at the top of the the flight stairs, completely struck by the heat and the lovely smell of the air.

The problems begin a little bit later, when the smell of the air has changed from lovely to awful. Walking around on the streets is a challenge in itself, with potholes, broken bricks sticking up from the ground and rubbish thrown everywhere. Add then the crazy traffic to the situation, and you know what I mean. The GPF traffic officers are doing their best, but they are not everywhere. I feel sorry for them to be standing in the middle of the streets, inhaling the toxins coming from the vehicles that are mostly in bad shape. These toxins are affecting us all, and when I see the young mothers carrying their babies on their backs, I feel so sad when I think of these kids and their lungs that are so vulnerable.

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Last week, I wrote about climate change, and I felt I had to follow that track a little bit further. We have some movements in The Gambia who are doing their best to improve the environment. Some are picking trash along the beaches and others are planting trees. Some time ago I even heard of a great and creative idea that whenever you sit in a car, driving along the rural roads, you should spit out your orange seeds and throw them along the road sides. Not all seeds will grow, but more than you know. This is a cheap and easy way to do something for the climate.

Another thing that needs to be implemented in The Gambia is the state of the vehicles. In Europe we have authorities that are responsible for the maintenance of the roads and also the shape of our vehicles. Each vehicle must be checked once a year, the vehicles must be in good and secure shape, otherwise you are not allowed to be out in the traffic. If you don’t care about the regulations, and you are out driving anyway, you will become heavily fined when the police is stopping you. The shape of the vehicle is not only about the engine and the tires, it is also about functioning safety belts and that nothing inside the vehicle can harm you or your passengers.

Once I was forced to go with a taxi, in The Gambia, and that taxi didn’t have a functioning safe belt in the passenger seat where I was sitting. I prayed to God during the whole drive that nothing would happen. Another time I was sitting in a taxi where the handle for the window was replaced by a sharp piece of metal. Imagine what would have happened when the taxi had taken a sharp turn and the piece of metal had injured my leg.

While I speak about this matter I also come to think of the gele-gele buses and how they are always overcrowded. Once upon a time, you had proper buses in The Gambia, does anyone remember that? Doesn’t anyone want these to come back? Anyone? Imagine to sit in a nice and clean bus, with air conditioning, instead of in a gele-gele where you almost sit in the lap of someone else. Speaking about clean…. wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a proper waste management in The Gambia? As long as waste is piled up in some areas, and burnt, we will just keep on affecting the environment and by that the climate. The pollution from the heavy smoke is affecting first our lungs, then our soil and water. Up in the air goes the smoke and it contains a toxin called dioxin which is very dangerous and can cause cancer.

How do I know all this? Because I read, I consider different kind of issues and I decide to learn more about them. Why don’t our decision makers in The Gambia do the same? Why does it seem as as soon someone has reached a position where that person has some kind of influence – that person stops evolving and with that, the society. Where is the will to improve things not only for one self, but for others? Where is the sense of solidarity, of thinking that what will benefit me, will also benefit you? Is the country populated by selfish individuals who are so blindfolded by their own greed that they are unable to see others suffering? Don’t they care? Oh, you are not like that, of course, but everyone else. This endless bickering about tribes here and tribes there will lead us nowhere when the world is on fire. We breathe the same air, no matter what tribe we belong to.

There is a huge lack of initiative in The Gambia, instead a sense of apathy is covering the country like a wet blanket. I sound very harsh right now, I know that, but sometimes a kick in the butt is necessary. We must expect a lot from our government, but we must also expect a lot from ourselves. Everyone can do something for the environment, like stop throwing trash everywhere. Demand a proper waste management and don’t stop until that is delivered. The waste must also be sorted, not everything can be burnt or dug deep in the ground. Find knowledge, search for the alternatives, start an educational revolution in The Gambia. Amaze the world with what you can achieve, make your children proud of you. Plant trees for the future generations to enjoy, don’t be selfish – be including.

The Gambia is stuck in a ditch, like a broken car with puncture on all four wheels. Pull yourself up, repair what you can and ask for help. Don’t give up just because many things are wrong. So many other things are right, you just have to search for them and not let go when you have found them.