The Greener Side Is Yours


I awaited the doomsday cries from my people on the net and sure enough they didn’t disappoint. The call for mankind’s repentance was imminent and I imagined the Masjids would be full and the Churches would see the carpenters for some extra pews. Unfortunately, I was disconnected from the happenings of the world as my own world was on its very own crazy spin.

I took an enormous leap of faith a couple of weeks ago and as I have discovered, serious leaps of faith are time consuming. I had to learn of the recent happenings via social media. I am yet to watch any of the supposedly horrific videos posted online of drowning in the Mediterranean and burnings in South Africa. I am not one for realtime horror flicks. I mean I love when there’s a producer behind it all and I am sure nothing’s going to pop out of the ‘box’ to take me away. When the movie is real though, my guts well up.

As busy as I was, I couldn’t miss the horrific tragedy which was closer to home. No it wasn’t Ebola! It also wasn’t the inferno that took two beautiful lives away from us – what a tragedy that was…God rest their souls – it was something that caught my eye as I rode a taxi to the city to see my prize. I couldn’t miss it! If you missed it you probably need to borrow my father’s spectacles. In broad daylight and all glorious green, our national GSM operator had done it again!


In The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket says “Of course, it is boring to read about a boring thing, but it is better to read something that makes you yawn with boredom than something that will make you weep uncontrollably, pound your fists against the floor, and leave tearstains all over your pillowcase, sheets, and boomerang collection.”

I guess by now you either know what I saw or you never made the trip to the city like I did. So what did our national GSM operator do that was so…agonizing (for lack of a better word)? What made me weep uncontrollably, pound my fists against the floor and leave tearstains all over my pillowcase, sheets and boomerang collection? The National GSM operator murdered the English language! 

Right there in the middle of my joy ride, enjoying the breeze of the Atlantic, something in the distance slapped me in the face and made my head spin. I do not know the technical term for them. I know they’re not billboards or signboard. Those metallic rectangular frames attached to the street light poles – hell let’s call them pole display frames for the fun of it – with  company messages on them as flashy as they were, said (and in caps) “WHO SAYS IS NOT FREE”. I doubt I am allowed to make jokes about “Baddibungkas” since I am not Mandinka but it sounded like something a Baddibungka would say. “WHO SAYS IS NOT FREE? Like bloody hell!! Someone actually wrote that on a piece of paper or sent it via email to a graphics designer, who then designed the monstrosity  in all its glory with the Gamcel green and everything , who also sent it to the printers who printed a million copies of that…that…rubbish!

Yes dama merr!! I mean, it isn’t enough that we have to deal with Boko Haram, back way syndrome, Xenophobic South Africans and online misinformation, we have to endure the pains of poor language? I know English Language results at grade 12 level have been poor recently but come on! I need the name and number of the people that wrote the message, those that designed it, those that approved it and those that printed it. 

“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.”  ― Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

The message on the – what’s the name I chose for it again – pole display frames were not Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, American or Dickensian! Ok maybe they were Dickensian – not the Dickens you’re thinking of. This wasn’t a sentence. It wasn’t a paragraph. It was a phrase!! A bloody phrase! 

One of my favourite English words is Indolence. It’s the most beautiful way to use the term lazy. I mean how insulting would it be to call an elder, lazy. However, it doesn’t seem so bad when the word lazy is replaced with indolent. So yes! Someone somewhere was being completely indolent. In being indolent and not checking and re-checking with those who can build an English phrase right, he – I am sure it was a man – has inevitably caused torture to our eyes which will last an eternity. For the sleepless nights he has caused me I should curse him! I should pray that the dragons of old reappear and breathe fire onto his head! I should search for him, find him, tie him to one of those very street lights and put a different sign on him…or maybe even the same sign but with a whip replacing the clock!

As usual, other indolent people will stare at this edition of RBN with wide open eyes. For them, there should be no insistence on perfection. They keep saying, language is for us to understand so as long as you get it, you should let it. Well sorry but “I aint letting it”. We see so much of this all over town; from billboards to posters to flyers to everything. Kuneka di spell num kor neekhey! Suday lolu la kon khaleyi jaratut nju janga! Kon mu yomba di! I have seen a lot of smaller companies put up billboards and posters that scream indolence but when one of our giants does it, I will scream!

I took a picture of the monstrosity and sent it to some friends of mine and we shared laughs over it. It was funny at first until I saw these things were all over town. It grew from funny to insane. I mean, who knows how many of them will be going up in the next few weeks? I mean the people responsible were actually too ashamed to put the Gamcel logo in a prominent space on the design. I know they had that feeling. You know that churning feeling that hits your bowels when you know there’s something wrong but you just can’t figure it out? Well, I’m sure it hit them. So to be safe they made the Gamcel logo so small on it that you need a magnifying glass to see it.

I know it will be unfair for me to pen a thousand and five hundred words on our national GSM operator so I’ll call it a day and end with a smile. I am pretty sure I just lost a supporter for my initiatives by penning this one because my people are not known to take criticism too well. However, as little as the error might seem, I believe we expect more from companies as big as theirs. Suday spell bi defaa meiti kon ngen use images rek.

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”  ― James D. Nichols.

Well I guess we just succeeded in adding Gambian to the long list of languages that English has managed to poach from.