I watched Sheikh Omar Jallow being interviewed by Gambia TV on these issues in his capacity as a representative of the National Centre for Arts and Culture. It was an interesting coda to our long discussion earlier in the day when I had been asking him about how I could see beneath the surface and begin to understand what I observe?
SOJ was fascinating on the history of the various tribes and why Wolof is the lingua Franca rather than Mandinka, the majority tribe. The Wolof came from Goree to Bathurst (Banjul) with the British when they traded strategic strongholds with the French. Being closer to the (new) colonial masters and in administrative positions of relative power, their tongue took precedence.
Ultimately the way each of us chooses to live is borne of our culture: the over culture, under culture, traditions, ‘tribal’ allegiances, family stories, myths and legends with which we grow up and go about our daily lives. We each are the one and only: no one before was like us and no one to come will be like us; so each of us carries the responsibility to BE ourselves and the best we can be. I am a baby boomer – one of the socially upwardly mobile generation; one of the first in the family to be university educated; travelling abroad from my teens; an early retired ‘spend the kids inheritance’ Home Counties yahoo moved north for a new life. Now I am volunteering in a country that I don’t begin to understand and I am finding it hard to ‘walk alongside’; I find myself increasingly critical and depressed. I am ‘finger pointing’, something I furiously discourage at home (pointing one figure has three fingers pointing straight back at self); taboo here.
The blame game seems a national sport. Wrestling is promoted by Destination Gambia as the national sport, though it seems football has taken its place. I asked SOJ how we could get to see a wrestling match? Apparently we have just missed the President’s Challenge, sadly not advertised to toubabs. No advertising is needed to see the blame game. It cripples action, creating layers of approvals to avoid individual responsibility and cover one’s backside, leaving the top jobs susceptible to firing on a whim. Who would want to rise too high?
Self-esteem is low; ‘sorry, sorry’ they say when I hurt myself accidentally, as if it were their fault. Self-confidence too, but with only 183 passes across the country this year in school leavers maths and English that is hardly surprising. It took me a while to twig that the reason taxi drivers had a problem stopping where I asked is because I was navigating by road signs they could not read; the long wait for a food bill is a result of painful addition and re- addition, checking on a mobile phone to make sure and getting the sum wrong still.
Money pours into the country from major international agencies to individuals wanting to do SOMETHING to alleviate poverty; too seldom requiring sustainable planning beyond the funding stream. Unsurprisingly, initiatives fizzle out. I fear a culture is being bred of feeding from the trough, and snouting out the next meal rather than empowering self-feeding. I feel anger at the waste.
Waste: point the finger? Three at me, yes: i am wasteful; extravagant; a heavy consumer. And I find it hard to accept the wasted money donated by well meaning hard working people to a lazy (oops judgemental), laid back local population. I am angry at the wasted spend on large NGO administration, travel, vehicles and accommodation: what example does that set? I am angry at the wasted resources, the brilliant reports sitting in filing cabinets, the hours time money and energy poured into projects that die when the funders or first world enablers leave. I see the social capital of the family compound. I understand the necessity to hold the family close – they are the social security system. I can see that a different pace of life is a VERY GOOD THING. I know I can learn much from these multi-lingual warm peaceful tolerant smiling people. And I think we are so mistaken in the way we ‘support’ them and fund them. Teach a man to fish. Teach science, maths, IT, business skills, creativity, self esteem and self confidence, empower, give a voice to the voiceless but let’s think hard really hard about funding where there is no built in sustainability.