So now we have left the Gambia. Our departure was sudden and dramatic. The original plan was to spend Tuesday evening in the company of friends on the beach. A Picnic and Barbecue of grilled fish. Cadi offered to cook the fish a la Gambian style. Hersister and cousin were coming, as well as the Voodoo staff that were there on the day. Then the following day we were to go off to see Lamin (motor dealer) about importing some Russian trucks into the Gambia, before making our final goodbye at KarlMarx’s mom’s house, which is on the highway out of Gambia.
So what went wrong?
It came down to KarlMarx, who fell in sexually charged Love with Mara. This should not have been a problem but as the departure date drew closer he was finding it harder to restrain his arousal. It came to light for me on Monday night when Mara told me how he was becoming unbearably intense. I had not noticed anything quite so bad myself, having my head in the clouds. Sure he was always around Mara and Anika. He enjoyed carrying Anika around, running errands for Mara, being generally quite useful. I found him a frightful pain, so tried to steer myself away from him, leaving the girls in his company. Neither seemed to mind much.
Then Mara confided that he was harassing her:
‘Yeah for sure, Phil said I can share you with him. Yeah, for real’
That did not work so he tried again…
‘You can not know Africa until you have slept with an African man, for sure, yeah, yeah!
‘Tomorrow is your last day, come for a walk with me into those bushes, for real!
‘The Marabout said we must be together, for sure!’
‘Come back to Africa alone. Yeah for real!’
Then whilst at the fish market he started stroking her leg whilst thinking I had walked off. That was too much dishonor towards myself and Anika. I elected to remove both of us from the scene (and country) as soon as possible. Mara was confused, upset, angry. This trip has opened up some of the fractures in our relationship and allowed us to try and heal them. For myself, I would not intervene without Mara calling me to do so. She is not my possession but an independent person, autonomous. So I waited her signal which did not come as she expected me to wade in and rescue her instinctively. A confusing set of misunderstood assumptions.
I dropped KarlMarx of at Voodoo’s after giving him a stern lecture on why it is wrong to call me a friend whilst harassing Mara in that manner. His first defense was a denial that he had pursued Mara. Then when it was clear Mara was in my camp he tried the defense of the defeated, apologizing profusely, indicating to a small scar on his arm, that looked like an insect bite, saying it was a knife, punishment from another man from the last time he tried to have a woman that was in a relationship. I was not interested, perhaps even more incensed that this has happened before, determined to leave Gambia instantly. Are woman just tradeable objects here? Is that why there is so much Polygamy, Incest, Pedophilia? My regret was not being able to say bye to Cadi, the only ‘normal’ person we got to know, as well as now having a freezer full of fish to eat!
And so I reflect on the Gambia in the worst light. This is a country of hustlers, hasslers, scams and cheats. To lie is expected. When one does not know the answer, one makes one up. Everyone calls themselves your friend, but friendship always has a price. Sometimes the price is explicit. Other times you must wait to discover what it will be. Your car? Your partner? Your child? Who knows?
The Gambians love to say ‘Gambia is the smiling coast of Africa’. They freely rant about how it is the best country. This is sharply contrasted to Senegal where people see no need to revel in some nationalist illusion. In Senegal people show decorum, humility, self-respect. This twisted love affair Gambians have with their country is symptomatic of how sick the country and people are. Perhaps it originates from being a tiny English language country surrounded by large French speaking countries. Perhaps it is due to President Jammeh with his tyranny of Patriotism.
The Nationalist element is another sick reason why I would never go back. Everywhere there are soldiers, police, stopping people, searching people. Secret police listen into conversations. Informers are everywhere. People do not mind. There are terrible slogans on posters along all the highways. ‘To Vote For Jammeh is a Sacred Duty’ ‘Support Jammeh – it is your Patriotic Duty’ ‘Jammeh equals better heath’ ‘From Darkness to Light – Jammeh’. As I was leaving the Independence celebration I was struck by the fanaticism of the people. Gangs of men running around with their Green (party colours) T shirts, some wielding sticks, swept up in a mass hysteria, shouting, dripping in propaganda, heat, sweat, the smell of blood in the air as the army brought in truck loads of live cows to be slaughtered. If I shouted ‘I don’t believe in Jammeh’ – they would have bludgeoned me to death in an instant.
I was surprised at how involved particularly the army is with internal affairs. Whilst on the drive to the border I overshot a military checkpoint by ten meters (it was 25 meters after a police checkpoint where we had just gone through all our paperwork). In my defense the soldier had not told me to stop. I was carrying a DEA officer beside me. The soldier went mental. First he shouted that I tried to run him over, a ridiculous accusation. ‘You are now detained because you FUCKED UP!’ He shouted. His gun raised, its dull metal barrel pointing at my chest. ‘Next time you overshoot a checkpoint I wont tell you to stop, I will just SHOOT you.’ As I got back into the Zil I asked him, ‘Where is the smiling face of Africa now?’
To anyone on a tight itinerary I would say give Gambia a miss. It is not worth the hassle. Life here is cheap once one gets to know where to shop – but the cost of having to tow along a string of ‘friends’ sends the cost of living rocketing. There is nothing spectacular to see in the Gambia. The main attractions, wildlife parks, museums of local history and culture, traditional themed shows, are all a shadow of what can be seen in the big game parks of Senegal and other West African countries. Gambia’s attractions are clothed in hyperbole, broken under funded affairs. The central part of Gambia is an oven baked wasteland of small communities. There are more checkpoints along the southern highway than villages. There is nothing much to see. I am told however that the extreme east is tropical jungle, very beautiful.
If however one has time, then a visit can reveal some beautiful people and places if one digs deep enough. The coast south of Gambia, bordering Cassamance is very pretty. The fertile land there is filled with gardens. Banjul itself is a fun city to drive through, being so small and broken. But that is pretty much it.
What a relief to be back in Senegal!