Life Of A Gambian Teacher
I woke up early, boiled water to take a bath and got dressed. I have neither electricity nor running water in my home because I do not matter as much as the ministers and the powerful. I rummaged through my bag to see if I have any change left to use as fare for the week. I found 120 Dalasis and smiled to myself. I don’t have to stand on the roadside to look for a ride today. A smile of relief creased across my face because that also means I don’t have to wake my wife up to see if she has any money in her purse. I looked at her, as she slept in our tired bed with our young child. They must be both tired for she spent the night attending to our daughter who is not feeling too well. I got all my little paraphernalia in my bag and recited a prayer before leaving the house. A prayer for a better day tomorrow. A tomorrow that is looking bleaker by the minute.
I caught a taxi and was squeezed between two people in an animated conversation about politics. As I listened, it was not hard to get that they were in opposing camps. I am not sure how the conversation started but the anger in their voices was palpable. They were almost yelling at one another. And then the driver chimed in and gave the argument a completely different dimension by blaming all this on “one tribe.” To the driver, the issue Gambia faces is all because of one tribe! The man sitting in front with the driver also chimed in and said Gambia will not progress because the country is irreligious. He quoted some verses to support his claim. I sat there mute. They have time to argue about redundant issues. I am a teacher and all I have to my name at that very moment is 120 Dalasis. I am married with a daughter. And the government is not paying me my dues.
I got off the taxi and paid 8 Dalasis. I needed to catch another taxi before I reached a point where I could walk the rest of the way to my school. I joined a van this time and sat in the middle row with some women gardeners and market vendors who complained about the scarcity of fish and the high cost of living. I greeted them and we all sat in silence, each lost in their own thought. Then the driver increased the volume on the radio and the presenter’s voice came on. It was politics again. People were calling in and stating their positions and by the time I alighted that vehicle, I concluded that we may all live in The Gambia, but we all live in a very different Gambia. Those doing well see a better Gambia than those subsisting in the doldrums. Politics is all about opportunism for us. People only support the side they think they stand to gain the most from. Which is fine. My problem is the level of division it has caused in my country and the various fissures it is creating everywhere. It is a clash of interests and some seem ready to kill or destroy for their interest. The blind loyalty to politicians makes me wonder who is loyal to Gambia since the politicians are infallible and our Gambia remains mired in fallibility. I walked the rest of the way to my school. Got to our office and cleaned my shoes, which had since gotten dusty from the terrible new roads that smile at us at every turn and throw dust in our face as if to call us shameless!
I stood in front of my class and spoke to my students about the importance of politics. I asked them to define honesty and what it means to them. I asked them if the conduct of politics has to be in a dishonest manner. The students were engaged and found the conversation interesting. After class, I went back to the office and a teacher friend of mine who teaches chemistry, asked if I could loan him some money until salaries kicked in, in a few days. I told him all I had was 104 Dalasis. He asked if I can give him 50 because he did not even have fare to go home, or come to work for the next two days. I sympathized with him because most of us live from hand to mouth. We the teachers are tasked with developing the future but no one thinks about our welfare. We are trusted to raise the future but no one gives us the tools to do this. We are challenged to produce the scientists but no one gives us the labs to work in. We feed the children that come to school hungry. We pay the school fees of the otherwise brilliant students who are on the verge of dropping out because the parents cannot afford to pay their fees. We lodge the students who are not able to stay anywhere and focus on their studies. We go to the most remote parts of the nation to raise and build children with our bare hands. But like my friend, most of us live from hand to mouth. What keeps us going is the love of our people and the hope for a better future. Yet we are referred to as a “mere teachers.” Our roles as healers, guardians, sponsors, counselors, educators, creators, mothers and fathers lost in the welter of clap-trap partisan political speeches.
I gave my friend the 50 Dalasis because I know he is married with three children. He thanked me and promised to pay me back as soon as we get paid our salaries. We hope and pray the salaries will be on time and our allowances will not be swallowed up in gas-guzzling SUVs. As he got up to leave, a student approached us and asked if we could spare 5 Dalasis. He hadn’t eaten since the day before. My colleague that just borrowed the 50 from me took out a 10, and told him to use 5 and bring back the change. I wonder what that student will have for food the next day. I asked him to come to my house for lunch any time he needs to. I hoped and prayed that I would have lunch to provide him even as I made that promise for I have had my days where lunch was never guaranteed in my home! I am a Gambian teacher!
Culled from Facebook