Saturday, July 6, 2013
Day Six Gambia/Sierra Leone: Reunion
Day Six Gambia/Sierra Leone
Last day in Gambia. It is filled with our promises to come back. Highlights. Being on the River Gambia in a small ass boat. Seeing the village of Juffureh. Only disappointment: not finding out what my last name meant. Bunch of people just kept rehashing what I already knew. That it is a Mandingo surname. But no one could tell me what the word meant.
To the Banjul International Airport to catch a plane to Sierra Leone. Hour fifteen flight and we're in Freetown. The birth place of my parents. My nation of origin.
Okay, difference between Gambians and Sierra Leoneans. Whereas Gambians are cordial, calm, friendly, Sierra Leoneans are insistent, aggressive, short fused. The airport and some other random guy help us get water taxi tickets and the dudes at the booth get angry that we're taking so long.
We get the ticket. The random guy says : I no lek that bobo. He too warm-heart. (I don't like that boy. He's always getting mad at something.)
He's speaking the creole my relatives have spoken in America in secret for all these years. I pause and listen to the language that I heard growing up all my life as it gracefully transforms into the language of the majority.
About the water-taxi. It's bouncy and tumultuous. Almost as scary as the Gambian boat. It's takes will power for me not to vomit. On the other side of the water, on the mainland, awaiting us is my pops.
Quick Fofana family flashback...
Sometime in '96. Pops gathers my brother, my sister, and me and says, "I'm going back to Sierra Leone. I'll be back in the Fall." He never comes back. Momdukes holds us down. The last seventeen years is a mix of resentment, indifference, and finally acceptance.
Back to the present. Pops is waiting for Linds and me. Mix feelings. I want to feel like screw you for not being there. But I don't feel that. I feel happy. I want to see my father.
He helps bring our luggage to his car. He goes, "Sidik, you remember this, don't you?" And oh my god, I do. It's the Mercedes Benz my pops bought in 1990. Our family car in the States. He had shipped it to Sierra Leone. Except now it's completely ratchet. The coat has faded into brown rust, the transmission is hanging out, the dashboard barely functions.
It's a huge punch in my gut.
If I could scan a picture of the car for you as I remember it, I would. You would see the glistening Mercedes logo, my brother and I smiling from the back seat, playing with the automatic windows. Now I'm in the middle of Sierra Leone looking at this beat up shell of a third world car, this rotting symbol of our nuclear family gone kaput. It hurts. I want to cry. I want ask, "Daddy, this is what you left us for? This, this diminished quality of living?" I want to cry and say, "I don't understand, dad, please explain it to me."
Instead I smile and say, "Yes, I remember."
We're riding through Freetown. Pops is showing us the sites. Lindsay's in the back mum. Lots of shantytown living. Some roads have been remade by the new president. But most are full of heavy potholes. Let's put it this way. Sierra Leone makes Gambia look like Park Avenue. Pops tells us that things are picking up after the civil war and I ask if he remembers the civil war and he says, "Oh yes." I ask, "Did you see anything scary?" He pauses and says, "Yes". "What did you see," I ask?
I am a seven year boy again asking his father questions.
He says, "Amputations. Soldiers cutting off hands and feet."
"Why," I ask.
"The evil of war," he says. "The rebels would cut off hands and say, 'That was the hand that voted for this president. Go back to him and see if he can put it back together'."
Dad drives us to the hotel. The Country Lodge, it's a nice hotel. So much to think about. I feel up and down. My stomach tells me it's from the turbulent speed boat ride. But my heart says something else.
P.S. We are moving from the hotel to stay with my pops. No Internet. So days eight through fourteen probably won't be posted in real time.