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By Talib Gibran
I had intended to write a lovely letter to my daughter who had absolutely no idea Monday was her first birthday. And Talib being Talib, I ensured she never found out. No cakes. No gifts. No happy birthday songs. Nothing to give her even the slightest of cluses that something was different. It was just a normal day. I watched her sleep; her chest rose and fell as beads of sweat exuded through the pores of her skin. She had no idea of not only her birthday but the volatility of the world she has come into.
It’s one year this week since I became a parent. That day, I walked into the labour ward and, for the first time in my life, I appreciated being a man. Like I always say, giving birth is staring death right in the face. I sat among dozens of pregnant women who were all due, with terror and pain telegraphed on their faces, dreading the unknown. Her birth coincided with the Everton match against Man United last season when Ronaldo invented that sleepy celebration. After leaving the hospital, I stood at the door of the video club which was already full, peeking and smiling throughout the game knowing even if United had lost, nothing could overshadow my feelings in that moment. The joy of being a dad and watching your beloved team win was so enthralling that I almost named my daughter Man United. I am glad I didn’t. With that stubborn bald-head as coach, imagine what my child would be going through now, given how terrible the team has been performing and she would be carrying that name around.
Parenting is exhausting. You’re constantly worrying about things you never considered important before. I find myself in a special threshold of worry and it is more draining than arguing with a faceless trolling idiot on social media. I was worried if she would move. She did. I was worried if she would smile or laugh. She did. I was worried if she would hear. She can. I was worried if she would see. She can. I was worried if she would crawl. She does. I was worried she would talk. She does, sort of. Now I am worried she would walk. It’s a rollercoaster of worry for the past twelve months. I am even worried if she would grow hair. I feel like I am worried about worry itself and there are more worries ahead as she cruises through life.
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I will certainly not be there every step of her journey. She will hate me if I am. But I will always worry about her every step and knowing this world like I created it, I cannot help but accept the fact that there is just so much I can do.
Nothing lasts forever. Who knows, in the next few years, I might replace Rahma with another baby despite being smitten by her cuteness. But our chemistry is not nothing. It is love! As a birthday gift, I whispered into her ear an immortal Arabic adage: Be like life, dear Rahma; accompany everyone but don’t hold on to anyone. And like a wise person once said, remove expectation from people, and you will remove their power to hurt your feelings. That was the letter I wanted to write to her but something else came up.
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There are countless things to write about in The Gambia; a title even feels like a police cell. A cell that apparently spares no one; comedians, TikTokers and even sick people. There’s a general fear that this country is gliding like a python back into the past. I am not part of that general because I know this is neither our present nor our future. We’re still stuck in that very past we’re terrified of returning to. That past is our present and we are scared of it as well as the future. The Gambia has gone into reverse. We cannot be surprised at our situation as everything happening now is a reflection of how hard we are trying to stay in the past. I walked into a public toilet and saw footprints on the toilet seat. Clearly, that person, having probably squatted over a pit latrine all their life, rejected the opportunity to rest their knees and sit, but instead chose to continue squatting. Why? Are you afraid that your ass will touch a seat that many asses touch? That Gambian is actually The Gambia in human form. We have had a rare chance to forge ahead but our past intrigues us. We are in love with it. That’s all we talk about. We have refused to break away from our dark past for the better. And, before I conclude my toilet analogy, a word of advice. If you ease yourself in a public toilet or any other toilet, no matter how small it is, pee or poo, flush it. No one really enjoys looking at your poo, even if you eat pizza and it looks cute.
I truly appreciate the gift of writing. It’s my own therapy. Gambians are going through a lot and there are not enough therapists for everyone. Social media, which has been a reliable venting platform for us, is now being watched by the police, assessing opinions and questioning people. Like most Gambians, my head was bubbling with things to write about. I wanted to write about the change of leadership at the army, with a 60-year-old retiring and a 62-year-old replacing him. I wanted to write about the France bedbug invasion and my own experience with the blood-sucking insects in a Lower River Region village called Keneba where the bugs rain on me and nearly finished my blood. I wanted to write about the Hamas surprised attack on Israel and the West’s unsurprised condemnation of Palestine instead. It is so interesting, and so confusing at the same time, to see countries and individuals in the West supporting Israel for oppressing Palestine and condemning Russia for oppressing Ukraine. Israel has chosen violence for over six decades and it hasn’t worked. Violence never works. Like Confucius said, only when a mosquito lands on your testicle then you will truly learn that there is always a way to solve problems without using violence. Palestine is the mosquito. Israel is the testicle. I wanted to write about the Jengs turning Brikama Area Council into Jeng Kunda. That was not nepotism. That was Jeng-potism. I didn’t write about it or the Jallows competing the Jengs to establish a dynasty because my boss is a Jeng and my friend is a Jallow. I wanted to write about the Barrow-Darboe eternal war of words but I fear both men. Darboe has an army online. Barrow has an army on the ground. I consider the words of Moses and Mandela to be the absolute truth and I would clap for them just like I clapped when Babili said a jinn had reported the people of Jangjangbureh to him that they would pee, poo and throw cigarette studs into the river. No one believed him but he received an applause. I know we don’t clap for a lie except that which comes out of a comedian’s mouth and Jammeh was no comedian. I wanted to write about the surge in betting, turning The Gambia into a nation of gamblers. I passed by a sports betting centre and my heart broke seeing people of different generations; old, young, able, differently abled, students, security, etc., gleefully betting the last Dalasi in their pockets. Some even go to marabouts to increase their chances of winning. Imagine a marabout asking God to help someone win a bet that God himself explicitly forbids. If you go to heaven and see that marabout there, then heaven is the new hell and a godly slap is awaiting him. I wanted to write about a million things just like every Gambian but there is none more pressing than our own police’s sudden desire to send invitations for questioning. Receiving invitation from our police is now like receiving invitation from rebels because accepting or rejecting the invitation has the same outcome: you will end up going anyway, nicely or by force. But what is even more astonishingly creative is that invitation for questioning is a police euphemism for detention. Sabs went and didn’t return. Mankajang went and didn’t return. Bora went and didn’t return. Madi went and didn’t return. I know all of them returned eventually but all were originally just ‘invited’ for questioning which progressed into detention. Conversely, inviting someone to clarify their writing is funnily weird because if you don’t understand my writing, then I clearly don’t write for you. If you would need me to clarify my writing, how did you know that particular article or Facebook post is a threat to national security? Besides, I don’t understand half of the things I write on Gibramble but I know and understand that Madi is neither violent nor does he incite. He cannot be violent because he is short and short people don’t do well during violence. He might not be your cup of tea but he is a bowl of Mbahal to many people and the lifeblood of civil society in the country. You can cage him, yes but you cannot silence him. Unlike me, Madi writes very simply and if you do not understand his writing, all you have to do is ask him and he would write five pages just to clarify his initial point. I expected that from the police and not drag a sick man into detention just because you didn’t understand what he wrote and wanted him to clarify. Since the same clarity will likely be needed for this article, let me say this with all seriousness: If the police invite me for questioning, I will tell them I am broke. I don’t have fares.