By: Talib Gibran
On 17th December, I wrote a lovely open letter to Halifa Sallah. Despite it being open, the only person who didn’t read it was probably him. It was quite strange, given his knack for reading and replying with pamphlets. On our Standard website though, the last time I checked, at least 1300 people have opened the article. I don’t know if everyone who opened it actually read it but, regardless, it was by far the most ‘opened’ Gibramble piece this year. I don’t know why. It wasn’t even my best article. Besides, I wrote it fresh from the clutches of malaria. I was still drinking eight pills of Coartem a day. I thought I would die and it would have been a shame. That is not how I had visualised the cause of my death. Bullet, arrow or spear wounds, fine but not a mosquito bite. But I was sick. It was so serious that I recited laqad ja’akum at least three times a day. You know, the verse that it’s believed if you recite any day, you wouldn’t die that day. Any day you’re to die, you wouldn’t remember it. I believed it. I recited it. Until one fateful day, just around sundown, I realised I didn’t recite it. And, to make matters worse and more terrifying, I totally forgot the verse. I couldn’t remember it. I knew I was supposed to recite something but it was completely deleted from my memory. I thought it was a sign that my time was up. I started thinking about the stuff I could have done…could’ve accomplished. It was sombre. I couldn’t tell anyone that I was dying because if it turned out to be a false alarm—as it eventually did—siblings will always remind of it. You would be stigmatised all your remaining days on earth. So I lay in bed as my mind kaleidoscopically raked over my past, sins I’ve committed; openly or in pitch dark when only the Maker was looking. Then, all of a sudden, the verse came to mind. I shouted laqad jaaaa’akum! I was relieved. For someone who was that close to death, writing that bland open letter to Halifa could not have been my best. But because it was about a towering figure, it naturally generated readers. I received dozens of calls and messages about the article. One of them, from a friend of mine after reading the article, suggested I should write something about ANM Ousainu Darboe too. He missed the point. Halifa stopped contesting elections. I don’t have the guts to suggest that to Baba. What I learned though, about the article, is that we, writers, cannot decide which is our best piece of work. Readers do. If you ask me my pick of the bunch, I would say clockwork of the cosmos, a freestyle article I wrote on the passing of my divine grandma, Ajaratou Asombi Bojang Sankaranka. I might write about Essa Faal too, he is famous. He boasted having over 70,000 members in his ONLINE fan club and then only managed 17,000 votes throughout the country. How very ironic!
I used to love music so much. Despite fighting my soul to unlove it, I still have some ‘guilty pleasures’ regarding songs. Most of them date back to ’90s. Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl still goes deep and I occasionally watch it on YouTube. Jaliba Kuyateh’s Tereto never gets old. That is when he used to actually sing. Now, all he does is, NPP lootale, alota kak, kak, kak. Pa Bobo’s Gambia is arguably the best song on this country. My all-time favourite. And, quite recently, Mama Jali’s aleey fo nsa jeh. A song composed ahead of what promised to be a remarkable year for the yellow brigades but what turned out to be quite the opposite. The song is nice. It was nice for the yellows before the election. Now it is nice for others who only sing it to mock them. I live in an area where even the water is yellow. The air, if it is visible, would be yellow. During the campaign, the pomp was unmatched and the song became more frequently repeated than the call to prayer. Even ANM himself stood on a podium and sang it. I thought no one sings a song about themselves on stage. I thought only artists should do that. That was funny. Mama Jali was asking where ANM is so she could see him. ANM was also asking where ANM was so he could see him. I don’t know who both will end up seeing. I am sure Babili too would be in his corner somewhere in Equatorial Guinea singing to himself: Nyanchooo, Nyanchooo Yaya Jammeh sabari. Of course, esabari deh AJJ, since everyone has deserted you. Who even told Samba that Jammeh is a Nyancho? It’s been barely a month since the election defeat but I no longer see yellow in my area. The pictures have disappeared. The flags lowered. Mama Jali has gone quiet, replaced with the more generally appealing Caribbean songs. The enthusiasm seeped out in tears and giggles and whoops. I agree with Kemo. Mama Jali deserves a Wah Sa Halat music nomination. Maybe that will be a much-appreciated consolation.
I was around 10 when I first tried to swim. If you didn’t know, Darsilameh—the village I hailed from—is a small semi-island 5km off Trans-Gambia on the south. On the east, there is a village named Jomokunda, where almost everyone who attended formal education started primary school in mid ’90s. The preceding half a decade found me in Guinea Bissau; in the outskirts of Mansaabang on the road to the capital. There is no river there or I was too young to notice. A big swamp though, with wells shallower than jars filled with cold potable water. Maybe not that potable but we would drink it anyway. We would get muddy in the swamps and drop ourselves into the wells to bathe. There was no need to learn how to swim. Each time you drop into the well, any well there, your feet touch the base. In fact, ironically, we would usually come out of the well with muddy feet.
So when I came back to Gambia in 1998, the river at Darsilameh looked so close and frightening at first. There was a legend that the river feeds on one soul every seven years. This made elders wary of kids going to the river alone. In fact, we were not allowed to go there at all, alone or in company of an elder. We’ve been beaten several times for sneaking out to the river to fish and swim or even chasing crabs, mudskippers and calico fiddlers. It was a childhood riddled with corporal punishment but it was well worth it. I learned how to lay immaculate traps for birds and squirrels in the fields, hunt rabbits with dogs better trained than FBI detection canines. Our dogs, even a mile away, could be called using the Tarzan distinctive, ululating yell. I learned how to swim, how to fish with hook and liner, how to fish with a net and even paddle a canoe to Keneba in Kiang. Unless you grow up on Copacabana Beach in Brazil, you cannot beat that childhood experience.
We used to go swim at a small bolong between our village and Tintinba. It’s called Hawa Njie Kunda. I never understood why an empty uninhabited place would be given such a lovely name. A tale told to us is that the place used to be a kingdom of jinns, whose queen was named Hawa Njie. Maybe I made that up. Since Tintinba is a range, we used to wait until soldiers left and then we would cross over to the other side to pick cartridges. It was fun to hear gunshots from the other side of the bank and the smell of bullets. When I came to the Kombos, I realised that the army actually releases a statement warning residents around such areas to avoid the range in particular periods for their shooting exercise. Such information never reached us as kids and we were closest to the range. God knows we had no idea some people were buried there. Bad thing we didn’t know. We could have given TRRC a head-start in their exhumation tour. Anyway, the only good thing about 2021 is that I didn’t die. Even that can still happen before midnight today. It was truly annus horribilis but, instead of recounting all the bad things that happened to me in the last twelve months, I had decided against my better judgment to reminisce how a truly wonderful childhood I had. Having consoled myself about a memorable upbringing, I would still call 2021 a horrible year. I wish and pray 2021 never comes again and the next one, 2022, will be annus mirabilis.