Thursday, February 9

Letters To Gambia – 2: Mobile Tears

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Last week I wrote to you about my encounter with a hostile security guard and an ancient x-ray machine at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. I described to you how sad it is that we have only one x-ray machine at our country’s main hospital and how that machine is well beyond its use-by date. I begged that you invest some money to replace that machine and in fact to buy more state of the art machines in order to accord us, your children better medical services. I hope you heard my pleas Mother Gambia, and that you also heard the pain and the tears of all those poor patients who spend long hours outside the dilapidated x-ray unit sitting on hard benches and waiting to be served by a single machine that is clearly not up to the task. I hope you have resolved to do something now, dear Mother Gambia.

And dear Mother Gambia, are you hearing the cries of the babies who lose their mothers at birth, the babies who will never know their real mothers because they died while giving birth at this same hospital? Are you hearing the cries of widowed husbands and heart-broken families whose daughters are dying in alarming numbers during childbirth at our main hospital? Are you hearing the cries of your children, the Gambian people, on social media, Mother Gambia? Are you hearing the mantra that Gambian Women’s Lives Matter? I hope you are, Mother Gambia for your children are hurting as they watch their mothers, their sisters and their children die while giving birth simply because of the poor facilities and services at your main hospital. Are you going to do something now about this, Mother Gambia? Or are you just going to watch young mothers continue to die while your people cry?

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And, dear Mother Gambia, do you hear the cries of mothers in labor in the rural areas as they are dragged to the nearest clinic on horse and donkey carts, along rough and bumpy roads under the hot sun, the rain, or in the night? Do you see the carts turn around because the women died before reaching the clinics, and with them their unborn babies? How long are we going to watch our people die like that Mother Gambia? How long must we watch their tears fall on the wooden planks of horse and donkey carts and hear our women’s cries of pain as they are slowly dragged on rough and bumpy roads to clinics or hospitals that are ill-equipped to do much anyway, even if they are lucky to reach them alive? The questions are many, Mother Gambia. The situation is urgent. And the steps needed are practical and immediate. Are you up to the task Mother Gambia? For what must be questioned is not whether you have the resources to do something, but whether you will do something with the resources you have?

But today, Mother Gambia, the main subject of my letter to you is another major concern that we have had for so long in this country; a problem that, like so many others, has stayed with us year in, year out, decade in, decade out for as long as I can remember. And as you well know Mother Gambia, if a problem remains unsolved, it only gets bigger and worse with time. And the problem I address today is the problem of our streets that turn to huge lakes of muddy water every rainy season, and in which your people wade with their feet and their vehicles, and which by its very nature degrades the dignity of your people from year to year; and which from year to year remains unsolved as if you do not see it or if you see it Mother Gambia, you do not consider it important enough to address. But it is not only important Mother Gambia, it is urgent that you prevent our streets from becoming lakes of dirty muddy water every rainy season and dusty craters and hills during every dry season. How long must we live with this problem, Mother Gambia? How long must our dignity as human beings be assailed by wading through these muddy lakes with our vehicles or our persons every rainy season?

I trust you have seen the images I attach to this letter Mother Gambia. These are images of our streets. But they clearly do not look like streets, Mother Gambia. They are in fact large lakes of muddy water in which we are forced to wade, to ride and to drive; in which some of us often slip and fall or have our cars stuck. Do you know the pain and frustration of walking, riding or driving on streets like these Mother Gambia? It is harrowing. The sad thing is that most of us have long stopped complaining about these muddy streets, and just take is as normal that when the rainy season comes, it is time to wade in large lakes of dirty muddy water, to deal with the increase in mosquitoes bred in these muddy lakes, and when the rainy season ends, to deal with the stench of these pools before they get dry. And when they get dry, we take it as normal to walk, ride or drive on streets that look like a rough patch of rock and sand totally unsuited to our dignity as intelligent human beings. And so some of your people have come to tolerate their muddy and rough streets as normal, Mother Gambia.

But you must agree with me that these things are not normal and can never be normal, Mother Gambia. Our streets are not meant to be muddy pools of dirty water in the rainy season and rocky patches of dust and craters in the dry season. They need to be paved and worthy of our dignity as human beings. And so you must do something as a matter of urgency Mother Gambia. You must find a way of making sure that within the next year or two, all or the great majority of our streets in Talinding, Tabokoto, Latrikunda, Churchill’s Town, Brusubi, Bakoteh, Lamin, Brikama and elsewhere are paved. And one way of doing this is to employ the young people in these neighborhoods to build their streets. We have a lot of youthful energy sitting around doing nothing, Mother Gambia. Employ them, train them, and set them to work building our streets. I am sure you can afford to do that, Mother Gambia, if only you set your mind to it.

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