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City of Banjul
Sunday, August 9, 2020

What is our safety worth?

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With Aicha

When I was younger and kids were asked what they wanted to become as adults a lot of the girls answered nurse, teacher or shop assistant. The boys said pilot, train driver or policeman.
What about you and your dreams? I wanted to become an actress or a circus clown. The latter is perhaps a bit unusual but I loved clowns and their ability to make people laugh. The only country where there was a circus academy was in Russia and I wasn’t prepared to move so far. I never became a clown but I am rather good at making people laugh anyway. My life has not been easy but my sense of humour has saved me many times. Self distance and the ability to laugh at oneself is healthy for the soul. When I make a crazy face or make some funny comments, it eases up a situation that might feel restrained.

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There is a time and a place for everything so when to use humour is a matter of being aware of the situation. It is not appropriate all the time of course but for me I know that when I am not able to find the humour in a situation then I am really sick or sad. Some people believe that jokers are shallow people but it actually takes a deep and sharp mind to be able to find humour and to know when to use it.

 

What is our safety worth?
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word safety ?
There are several things I come to think of and I will tell you a little about some of them.

 

No 1: The safety of my children. No matter how old they are, I will always be their mother and I will always worry about their safety. Those of you readers who are parents share my feeling, I’m sure, and we also know that the source of the concern is changing as the kids grow up. I have passed the worries of small kids tripping on stairs or playing with fire a long time ago but other worries come instead.

My two sons prefer to drive fast with their cars, the roads are in good condition in Sweden so we don’t need to worry about potholes or a bunch of cows suddenly passing the street. But good roads are an invitation to ”step on it” and especially young men believe they are immortal. We have seen the same in The Gambia too and one of the problems is that in The Gambia, many of those who have got driver’s licences seem to have got it from a box of cornflakes or something. We have that expression here because when I was younger there was always a small treat at the bottom of the boxes with cornflakes.

That was normally a small plastic toy but as a joke people began to say that bad drivers got their licences from the same source. This is actually a huge problem and the problem seems to be worse in The Gambia.
Just because people know how to steer a car doesn’t mean they know how to drive it safely. Traffic rules are there for a reason, not only for making stressed drivers irritated. It is rather expensive to get a drivers licence in Sweden. People need to take several lessons together with a special educator. The car they are driving is a bit special, for safety reasons, because it has pedals and a steering wheel both for the driver and the passenger. The passenger is in this case the educator who can use the brake or steer away to avoid accidents if the pupil is getting panicked.

The pupils are not only supposed to practise their driving but also learn a lot of traffic rules, regulations and signs. I remember once when I visited The Gambia I saw some sheep crossing the road. They crossed the zebra lines and actually followed the traffic rules for pedestrians. I think this was the first time I saw anyone following traffic rules in The Gambia. Do you have special traffic schools for sheep?
Maybe you should begin with forcing the taxi drivers to observe the traffic lessons there because they really need it. Why not take the opportunity to teach them some manners at the same time? Some of them act in a way that would make their mothers beat them with a stick!
Let’s leave the crazy drivers to their fate and move on to some other subject. I really have a habit of skipping from one subject to another and sometimes I need to pull myself by the ear and force me to come back to where I began.

So…

No 2: Safety in our society and who is helping us to maintain it.
If you ever checked a map, you may have noticed that Sweden is a very long country. Up in the northern part of Sweden, there are not many police stations left and those which are, maybe have one or two police officers staffing them. That means the police stations need to be closed at night time and during weekends. The police officers who are on duty must drive very far. There are long distances between the cities and villages, so if a crime is committed somewhere, the criminals can do their business in peace and quiet because they know it might take four hours or even more for the police to appear at the crime scene. It hasn’t always been like that but the politicians have made changes and budget cuts which affect everyone.
It’s not easy for the police force of The Gambia either.

The Gambia is a very small country but it doesn’t help that the distances are shorter if the police do not have proper vehicles and money for petrol so they can chase after the crooks. No matter where in the world we live; the criminals are very creative and they know of all the weak spots where it is possible to go through with whatever criminal actions they have planned.

Some people believe that criminals are stupid but most of them are actually very smart. They are just too impatient and somewhat lazy to get a proper job and earn money through labour. Instead they want to have quick money without a lot of effort and the only way for that is by committing crimes.
There are a lot of opinions about the police and it is easy to generalise but we shouldn’t do that for any group of people.

All groups are based on individuals and no individual is exactly alike the other.
It is a tough job to be a police officer and I admire those who have the guts to do it. The police in The Gambia are sadly underpaid, they need to buy their own uniforms and they are exposed for much worse things than common people almost every day.

Are you prepared to risk your life for someone else for a lousy little sum every month? Would you like to be standing in the middle of the road, trying to control the traffic at the same time as you choke from the polluted air, suffer under the heat of the sun and fear that a car would bump into you ?
No wonder they are in a bad mood!
We yell at the police to do their job but at the same time we want to take care of our little ”under-the-table” business without the police interfering.

Patience must be one of the key qualifications for becoming a police officer. The police officer knows that people know the laws and the rules but they choose to ignore them. It is actually the same for us teachers. We know the pupils know the rules but they choose to ignore them, over and over and over and over again! No wonder it feels like my head is going to explode sometimes!
There is a rule in the Holy Bible, which is called the Golden Rule, it goes: ”Treat others as you wish to be treated.”

Easy, huh? No, it is not that easy all the time but if we try to follow that rule, we actually wouldn’t need any other rules. Easy as that!

No 3: The safety of the soul.
How can a soul be protected? I know you have a lot of answers on that question so I will only write a little about this because my main reason was to ask the question and make you consider the answer. Maybe I should go one step back and begin with the question: Does a soul need protection?
There are a lot of temptations in life and these lead us astray from whatever we consider being the ”right way” of life. People believe in different gods, some of the gods are the same but have different names depending on the cultural context. For me, it doesn’t matter what you wish to call your god or your gods as long as you base your beliefs on something that is good. When love is the foundation it doesn’t matter if you praise God, Allah, Buddha or other gods.

If we base our lives on love, respect and compassion we don’t need to fight about whose god is the best, if that god has a lot of prophets or only one and so forth. There is no reason for hurting anyone, either with violence or with words, just because they don’t believe in a god the same way we do. No god is telling us to smack our fellow human beings just because they don’t believe exactly the same way we do. The gods are instead telling us to be respectful and compassionate. They are telling us to show what we believe and not to yell it out because our actions speak louder than words.

I decided to convert to Islam some years ago after having met a lot of good Muslim role models. Every religion has followers who are bad role models and we must protect our souls against them. Conscience and common sense must go hand in hand. Then we can live our lives in peace and harmony. We can agree to disagree, choose our battles and fight for what is important and skip the rest for the peace of our minds and our souls.
I will finish with a quote of the great American author Gerald Lampowsky. Mr Lampowsky is also the founder of Attitudinal Healing. He has devoted his life to help people find inner peace and well-being. The quote goes like this:

”Peace of mind comes from not wanting to change others.”
What is our safety worth? I began with asking that question and I should conclude it with: everything!
We need to protect our safety to keep us safe from whatever there is that can hurt us and for that we need to be aware of the dangers. Let the awareness be like a safety helmet on our heads; it doesn’t protect us against all damages, but it is making the damage less.

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