Monday, 26 May 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Four (Hanging with the boys...). From January 2008.

Apparently Haddy is holding ninety dalasi for Ebrima. (42x dalasi to 1x English pound while I was there, but it has dropped to 37 now).
It is money the lorry drivers dropped for the kids who cleared the waste ground for the political rally and she has given it to Sainabou, her daughter, to look after while we are away with instructions not to give it to anybody else. Trouble is, she is here on the 'Sindola' road and it has caused a few raised eyebrows, so as soon as I've dropped off some things at the hotel, had a dip in the pool (nothing like trying a couple of lengths underwater to clear your head) and got changed, we take the money over to Ebrima's compound where he sits, outside with his friends, on a small square of red carpet and I am invited to sit and share... An invitation which it seems churlish not to accept, so, flip-flops off, I sit and break out the tobacco asking Ebrima to share what I have with his friends.
Haddy leaves me to it, knowing that for me it could turn into a very long night indeed.
So we talk of generalities and the 'Sindola' road and then we hit upon politics...
The Gambia is just about 87% muslim and 13% everything else in make up and yet all faiths and denominations live in harmony with friends spanning the different religious communities. It is something that we in the west seem to have lost sight of, and we could learn a lot about tolerance from these people.

I am being 'grilled' about my beliefs and yet it is done with such patience, humour and friendliness bearing in mind the obvious language difficulty that the questions are quite disarming. This is definitely going to be a long night...
Politics and the general malaises of the west which they can see and hear every night on their television sets and the problems which are going to be caused by their President announcing that The Gambia has just found Uranium and I am asked what I think about it ?
My reply seems to take them unawares...
It worries me.
We all know what it is used in the manufacture of, after all.
I explain that if it is really found to be the case that they have found uranium then the Russians, the Americans and the Chinese are going to be very interested in their country. That possibly with the building of two power stations at each end of the country they might be able to bring in some of the improvements that their President wishes to implement, but that for safety's sake they will have to go with the Americans.
The subject of Chernobyl is broached and we all fall upon it eagerly to use as an example of what could conceivably go wrong.
The Chinese are probably just as bad as the Russians and their programmes are shrouded in secrecy apart from their building which is always done on the cheap side and safety has never been their prime concern so who knows ?
For safety's sake and for that alone it would have to be with the Americans, even though their President is not one of the George W. Bush fan club, but then who is these days ?
I am told that the intellectuals of the country have been saying just that and that they have all heard that view expressed already but hearing the same from an 'ordinary' foreigner with no axe to grind either way raises me in their estimation to another level and the talk becomes one of specifics as opposed to generalities...

Whosoever visits this country and gets to know any of it's people will find out that there are so many levels to it's people and it's culture and that these levels go deep, deep, deep.
It is a country thoroughly aware of it's colonial past but instead of breeding a lasting resentment-take Zimbabwe as an example, it is using the past to learn for the future.
These ordinary Gambian's are as politically astute as anybody in the west and anybody not factoring that into the equation is going to come a serious cropper.
These people will run rings around them and I realise from my own perspective that a lifetime of so called radicalisation mixed with a little bit of work ethic and a dose of twisted morality mixed with my cynical anarchic attitude has prepared me for this conversation more so than any so called advisor to any world leader could.

Haddy returns to see if I am ready to come back but I am held captive by the general conversation, the cigarettes they are all making from what is left of my tobacco and the glasses of mint tea which are going 'round the circle in no discernible order whatsoever but which always seems to turn up in my hand every third time.
As we drink and smoke it is explained to me that the art of what some youths in the west call 'hanging with the boys' or hanging with your 'ho's' is part and parcel of Gambian culture and I am most definitely 'hanging...'
It is a man's perogative here, and women are a definite distraction to the art of conversation between friends.
Just over an hour later I try to stand but my leg muscles have cramped up and made it quite difficult so I take five to get the blood circulating again and Ebrima escorts me back to Haddy's compound.
We shake hands at the gate and he compliments me on the Golden Virginia tobacco that he and his friends have been enjoying, so I tell him I have more at the hotel and when I return in a couple of days I will make sure that my friend Ebrima gets some to share with his friends.
Haddy greets me at the door with a knowing smile upon her face and I mumble apologies about drinking more mint tea than is probably good for anyone and the depth of the conversation, to which she laughs and beckons me inside.
It is no matter. It is a Gambian thing and she seems pleased that her foreign friend can assimilate himself into the customs of her people with ease, although truth be told, I am just being myself and asking the same questions that I would ask anywhere.

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