Friday, December 8

I am in prison

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By Talib Gibran

Let’s address something first and fast. I had a short argument with a guy who was fuming and we nearly kicked each other’s ass. Blaming The Gambia’s sad state on the government, he claimed PAB is singlehandedly responsible for our failure to usher in the Third Republic. I listened to him keenly as always and occasionally nodded to acknowledge his frustrations. That was my mistake. He thought the nodding meant I agreed with him. When he was done, he waited for his applause which didn’t come. I asked him why we need to transition into a third republic. It was my turn to rant about nothing. It was vintage oral Gibramble. He argued that ushering in the Third Republic would consolidate our democracy. It is remarkably astonishing why Gambians want the third republic so bad as if our lives depend on it. The Gambia became a republic in 1970. But we call that the First Republic under Jawara. From 1994 until Jammeh was ousted in 2017 was the Second Republic. Now we insist on the Third Republic under PAB. Dude, it is enough! I don’t think there is any country in the world that enjoys counting how many times it becomes a republic like The Gambia. Why not we just name the country the Democratic Republic of The Gambia and conclude this foolishness? From pillar to post, the angry man shared intense and sometimes incoherent views about democracy and the republic. Nose longer than Thomas Wadhouse—intermittently blowing because of ‘fresh’ cold—he vowed that when the tables turn, there will be drastic changes in the Democratic Republic of The Gambia. I told him smart people don’t wait for the tables to turn. Smart people change their seat at the table. If the tables ever turn for the young man, he would usher in the third republic to consolidate democracy. If I ever change my seat at the table, I would cancel examination in schools and introduce socialism. Neither of us walked away from the argument feeling victorious but I was happy we didn’t resort to kicking each other. I don’t punch the face; I punch the balls. A honey badger offensive tactic. I continue the argument on Gibramble today because I am certain when he reached home, he too would tell everyone he met the biggest fool in the country. Few days later, with much reflection on our argument, I concluded that neither the Third Republic nor becoming Democratic Republic of The Gambia would make us any more democratic than we already are. In fact, we could be worse even with such changes. Like PLO intimated, a country or a political part that has democracy or democratic in its name is the most undemocratic. In my Ali Nadim voice, a thousand apologies to the United Democratic Party and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because supreme leader Kim Jong Un is still there; I do not want to be nuked.


In late 2004, I went for a summer holiday to my parents in Brikama. I was in primary school. It was a spellbinding holiday by any standard of a village boy. I played football with the big boys at Gambia College, watched some Bruce Lee movies at the video club and ate lots of giant rats, locally called dix, which we caught in the Nyambai forest. The funny thing is I never actually ate dix when I was in Guinea Bissau. I had a variety of bush meat at my disposal; rabbit, gazelle, squirrel and more. If I couldn’t eat the small rat, I couldn’t eat the big one. That all changed, however, when I returned home to The Gambia. I still don’t eat the small rat but I bloody well eat the big one. My advice is if you don’t eat dix, please don’t sit anywhere near where it’s cooked. The aroma alone can make you change your mind. I remember many elders deciding to eat dix under the pretext that it controls blood pressure. Just eat it and say it’s delicious. It’s like a vulture meat. Take a bite and you will hunt vultures forever because the thrill goes straight to your fontanelle, my Jarranka friend would say. That summer holiday in Brikama was a dix holiday. It was riveting.

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That same holiday, a dream was crushed. I stood at the road and watched a huge Scania truck pass. There were other vehicles and motorbikes plying the road, even pedestrians throwing jibe at drivers for veering frighteningly towards them. But when the truck driver hit the horn “paaaaaap”, in a matter of seconds, the road was clear. The small cars swiftly gave way and the pedestrians ran for their lives. I was amazed at how powerful that truck driver was in that moment when drivers were blocking each other. It stayed with me throughout the holiday. In one of my conversations with my dad as I brew him ‘attaya’ early morning, he asked me what I wanted to become after finishing school. I’ve never given a quicker answer in my life: a truck driver. He looked at me and smiled. It was a blank smile or I was too young to fathom. I had earlier told him I wanted to be a doctor. He asked if that dream had died. I said no but I still wanted to drive a truck. He smiled again, feigning amusement at a kid’s strange understanding of career. He never asked why or how the idea of driving a truck got into my head but, until he passed away, he had always maintained that I would be an excellent marabout. I haven’t explored that area yet but you never know. I still want to own a truck though just to enjoy the power that it gives you on our roads. Power, I am told, makes you get used to things you don’t need. I could get used to being feared on the road and I definitely need it. My dad gave me some money at the end of the holiday to buy books but I attended school in rural Gambia. We did so little in school that, for a whole academic year, you could hardly even finish the pages of one exercise book. So, I ended up buying 50 Cent’s album, Get Rich or Die Tryin, plus a poor quality durag and a black cap. I was a full-time G-Unit enthusiast. I listened to the songs a million times, especially Many Men and I memorized all of them. Well, at least I thought I memorized them until years later when I accessed the internet and checked the lyrics. It dawned on me that I was actually insulting myself and the people around me. One of the hit songs, In Da Club, made me dance my heart out. Killing the lyrics, I would sing:

Go go go sopping

Is a bad day

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We gon sopping like

Is a bad day

I had no idea that I was only mimicking like a child learning to speak.

Checking the lyrics afterwards thanks to Google, I was embarrassed to find this out:

Go, shorty, it’s your birthday

We gonna party like it’s your birthday

We gonna sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday

Don’t blame, I wouldn’t even know what Bacardi was and, in my defence, I didn’t grow beards at the time.  The actual lyrics showed that I went on a murder spree in the rest of the song, so let’s stop here.

The doctor dream was premature. The trucker dream was childish. Both crushed by writing. A former teacher I met recently asked me if I inherited writing. I said no, I learned how to write by writing. Few days later, I realised I didn’t lie but I didn’t thoroughly think about the question. Writing is in my family. It has always been there. What I didn’t inherit is writing in English. If you believe the chain of the ‘Sheriff’ lineage or the lineage itself, you would see that everyone was a writer; from my dad to Hussein/Hassan. Then, skip the prophet who we were told couldn’t read or write, and then go all the way to Ibrahim. I feel when I am tired and retired, the only thing that could protect my sanity is writing. Without it, I am dead, dead, dead and buried. Then, there is journalism, which has been both my source of joy and depression for nearly a decade. In the thick of things, my profession forces me to process the unimaginable. Murder, rape, assault and war squeezed into a piece of writing which I must consume and it travels through my vein to my heart. I am privy to know gory details of graphic information and I cannot skip it. There is no escape. I would receive a dozen news articles a day to edit. One would be about murder and I would be sad. One would be about rape and I would be heartbroken. One would be about corruption and I would be upset. One would be about politics and I would be disappointed. One be would be about Batchilly and I would laugh. I experience a rollercoaster of emotions each day which, if not properly processed, could send you into depression. It is like a TikTok feed. But putting all that aside, media has become a tool that powerful people use to wreak havoc on the powerless. From The Gambia to the United States, journalism is no longer a defender of truth and the powerless. It is an evil enterprise. Media is described as the Fourth Estate or the fourth arm of government and the ugly role journalists play now could not give a more perfect meaning to that name, given we are not better than any of the other three.  

It grinds me inside seeing how dangerous media has become. This is not what I signed up for. Before the world ends, some countries and peoples will cease to exist and the media will be complicit. It’s like CNN reporter Sara Sidner—tongue sharper than the quills of a porcupine-spreading Israel’s claim that Hamas beheaded 40 babies; the same shit, discharged by a different anus. More dangerously, a BBC article insinuating that Hamas built tunnels under hospitals and schools. A few days later, there were airstrikes on the Baptist hospital in Gaza. It is a classic example of media fanning the flames of war and then conveniently reporting the disaster that it caused in the first place. Israel, CNN and BBC are the new axis of evil. If things continue, and media continue to start wars and be instrument of oppression, I might just do what my dad thought I would be good at: become a marabout.