The tesito men of The Gambia

55

The man gets his piece of luggage and smiles to himself. He is home once again. Or he is where he stubbornly calls home even if there is very little homely about the place. The passenger next to him takes out some clothes and quickly changes into them. That passenger wanted to be seen in much nicer clothes. The man observed as the passenger took out a perfume and sprayed it on his clothes dabbed some on his wrists and rubs it on his neck. The man could not help but wonder whom the passenger was trying to impress. He observed as some women in the front also took out their makeup kits and started powdering their faces and applying lipgloss. Everyone seemed to be busy preparing for home.

Then they all lined up in the aisle to file out of the plane. An old rusty bus had pulled up to take them to the arrival area for processing. Some of the passengers were animated. Chatting among themselves. Excited to be home. The man couldn’t help but wonder if home held the same meaning to them. Home had long stopped being home for him. But he hopelessly hung on to the memories of what home used to be. Then he got to the front of the plane where the staff bade him farewell and asked him to fly with them again. Stepping out of the plane, he was immediately hit by the hot and humid air. It was as if the heat was emanating from the anger of the ancestors who must feel betrayed by the man’s generation.

Then the man saw a throng of people at the foot of the aircraft. Their cheeks, look sunken. Their eyes, hollow. Their uniforms, shabby. Their reflector vests, tired. Their smiles, forced. The Dembas and Pattehs of The Gambia’s disaster capitalist society. The typical Gambian Tesito Men who grind daily to get ahead in an unequal society. Men who try to make it in society that does not see them. Men who must gamble on life not because they love to but because they have to. They must always “count their money while sitting at the table” of life because they can never leave the table. The man looks the Tesito men as they looked at him. He wonders what must be going through the minds. Do they admire him because he just got off a plane? Have they ever been on a plane? He smiled at them and they enthusiastically smiled back. Eager to form a friendship for friendships at home comes with opportunities. And seeking opportunities is part of the daily grind of the Tesito Men.

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Then the man walks into the bus. The chattery passengers continued. Excited to be home. The man heard a woman speak to her son but it was in a foreign language. Then he heard another making a phone call with an exaggerated British accent. The bus drove on and stopped in front of a tired building. It was the airport terminal. Another swarm of people stood by the entrance. Some were spying on the passengers. They had their badges turned so no one can read their names. Some observed from a distance. Others were from the drug squad. Immigration officers in brown uniforms monitored the passengers. Then the man gets in a line.

A woman materialized and asked for his covid vaccination. She lets others go without asking. Then a gentleman in white uniform approaches the man and asks him to go and make a payment. We prefer foreign currency but we also accept dalasis. It was the infamous airport fee. The man remembers the hullaballoo about the payment but as with all things back home, everything eventually dies down and people have extremely short memories. The man pays in dalasis. They gave him a receipt and he walks to an immigration booth. The lady behind the booth seemed to be in perpetual war with her wig. Her palm was her chosen weapon against the wig. Her beret sitting precariously on her head. The man handed her the immigration card he was made to fill out. She never looked at it. She asked him where he was staying and before he could answer, she asked him to place four fingers on the biometric machine. The man’s data is captured but he has no idea what it is used for besides government claims that it is for his security. The man’s picture was also taken. To be stored somewhere with someone. The blissfulness of ignorance is dangerous. The man’s passport was stamped and he walked to the single carousel to wait for his luggage. Old men came around him. One old enough to be his father. Almost begging to carry his luggage. They are the Tesito Men of The Gambia,

Note:

If you live in The Gambia and work for a living, I salute you. I salute you because I admire your resilience. I admire your courage. I admire your strength. More so, those of you who have to worry about getting to and from work because you have no car. Those of you who have families to feed and are never sure if you will be able to provide for them tomorrow. Those of you who dare not even think about the future because you are trying to sort out the present. And those of you who do all this while smiling. I salute you.

Alagie Saidy-Barrow