By Alagie Saidy-Barrow
Amidst the opinions swirling around about the statement of our wonderful, caring and very educated VP regarding our “youths”, I think I have some opinions I’d like to disguise as questions.
Let us assume that Gambians don’t like to engage in manual labor and let us also assume that this is in fact a correct assumption. My questions then become: Who are these mysterious youths that refuse to do manual labor? Have we stopped and wondered why Gambian youths don’t want to be engaged in manual labor? How did our youths adopt this mentality or belief that in order to make it or be respected or admired, one has to work in an office setting wearing a suit or shirt and tie? These mentalities/beliefs don’t emerge out of a vacuum because all mentalities/beliefs revolve around what built them. If we can claim that our youths don’t like to engage in manual labor, and we know this mentality is bad for our country, what are we doing about it besides complaining and saying everyone wants to work in an office? To solve problems, it helps to conduct some form of root cause analysis in order to identify the cause of the problem and find possible solutions. So then:
How did our youths form this abiding belief that in order to be considered successful in The Gambia, one has to wear a suit and tie and sit in an office? Why is it that Gambian youths are willing to engage in manual labor in Europe or America but would never engage in such labor here in The Gambia? Do these questions matter or do we simply fold our hands and absolve ourselves of any responsibility by simply blaming the youths (whoever they are since here you can be 50 and call yourself youth)?
In America, you can be a dishwasher and with some roommates to split bills, you can actually save money to feed a family in The Gambia! I know because I did that. Here in The Gambia, you can be a police officer, a soldier, or a teacher, and proper food, shelter or clothing will remain a pipe dream. I know because I’ve seen their salaries. If youths can live off manual labor in America or Europe but cannot subsist on it here in The Gambia, do we still think it’s an issue of laziness or an issue of mentality compounded by unlivable wages? I mean how many of us actually pay our house-helps a wage they can actually survive on? What about our watchmen? How about our drivers? When was the last time you bothered to thank the guy that opened the door for you as you entered the bank? And how many of us actually treat those engaged in manual labor with as much respect and admiration as we treat the director or minister? Should our respect and admiration for people be based on the title of a person or the nature of their job?
Here’s why I’m talking about mentality! Back in my day, carpentry work, metal work and other such courses were mostly only available in Secondary Schools. Secondary school was where you went If you didnt do well enough on the Common Entrance Examination. Secondary schools were for those that were not qualified to be in high school and the courses available were mostly “technical” type courses such as carpentry or metal work. Office work is prestigious and carpentry or metal work is not as prestigious. That was and is the prevailing mentality. You get my drift?
If you travel farther back in time, when the Whiteman was directly ruling over us and you wanted to be respected in society, it helped to have a big government job title. I think being a “clerk” in the government meant you were a toast of the town in those days. So everyone aspired to be a clerk until more fanciful titles became available. You see those “old” people that do the notary when you go to get a passport or ID card, that used to be a much more prestigious gig back in the day. But times have since changed ndeysan, especially after the Whiteman left us. Heck I wanted to be a customs officer too but I wasn’t good enough so I settled for carpentry until I realized how much I sucked at that too! Now I too wear ridiculous suits and ties acting important!!
After we negotiated with the Whiteman to allow us to run our own affairs and assured him that our loyalty was still with her majesty the queen of England (1965, when we claim to be independent), our elites in waiting took the Whiteman’s positions in government. And some of those elites started acting like (mimicking) the Whitemen they replaced because they preferred his ways since his ways were “superior” and more “civilized”. The more one was able to look like, speak and act in the ways of the Whiteman, the more respect and admiration you garnered. But get this: The Whiteman was not loading or unloading rice for anyone. That was beneath them. It was also beneath the elite that took his place. The elite mimicked the Tubab and the regular Burama from Badibu came to Tobacco Road and also mimicked the elite until he too became indistinguishable from the elite. Now Burama gets angry when you ask him where he’s from because he thinks you can see through his raiment of false elitism.
How many times have you heard someone say “sawaii” tubab la deh” or kanko koh Tubab tiggi” ? It is a huge accomplishment to be able to look, act and speak like the Whiteman. If you don’t believe me, listen to a Gambian read anything these days! I admit, I’m also stuck with some American accent and I’m working hard to lose it so I can sound Gambian. I’m just not sure what Gambian sounds like anymore! That’s how excellently we’ve done with our mimicry.