The Gambia has a long history of oral storytelling, and ASSET’s menu of cultural encounters includes an afternoon session spent with a local orator and musician, listening to folklore tales with the gentle strains of the traditional kora (stringed instrument) as background music.
Myth, magic and Mandinka rites of passage set the scene for the evolution of the country and its peoples, but one of my favourite stories concerns the current president.
The former bodyguard of the last president, he rose to power via a bloodless coup and has been at the forefront of the country’s drive for modernisation and expansion since the mid-90s.
A popular figure with the masses he periodically embarks on tours of the country – which surely can’t take long as it’s smaller than Yorkshire – visiting the populace and checking on various initiatives.
Apparently the presidential caravanserai travel in a fleet of Hummers and assorted vehicles, and it is a federal offence to be on the road in your own charabanc should the procession pass by your village/town/road less travelled. In fact you are legally obliged to pull off the road, switch off your engine and wait patiently, with the opportunity to hop out and wave of course.
He also has a penchant for distributing sweet treats along the way, with flunkeys assigned to casually toss small packets of Nice biscuits out of the back of the Hummer entourage en route.
A friend of mine had the dubious honour of being hit fair and square on the head with a packet of the aforementioned cookies. Definitely a tale to tell the grandkids.
The president passed through Fajara last week. I begged my colleague Ndimbalan to let us park up and sit roadside in the hope of catching a crumb or two, but he had me on a strict schedule so it’s been rainchecked till my return in November. After all, I DO know the vice president – and I love a nice biscuit with my tea.