23 January 2008

The good things that happened today

On balance today was another good day. I decided to make a list of some of the good moments here.

My buses to work arrived in good time, and I have been enjoying a new book on the way -- The Foreign Correspondent.

The morning session went well, with a little reading and reasonably calm conversation.

The first part of session two went great, as I attended a formal introduction to the school's outdoor programme. We went on a tour of the grounds (the 30 acres are framed by woods and streams that form natural boundaries) and took a ride on the 'flying fox' -- the zipline/foofie slide. I have already helped with a few class and individual outdoor education settings, and it was nice to get out and see everything in a leisurely manner.

We had a long conversation with one of our students, which has helped me better understand what has been making him sad.

In the afternoon we did some cooking and baked little spanikopita (spinach with feta) pastries. Then we made some displays for tomorrow's Burns Day, which celebrates the poet Robert Burns (who wrote Auld Lang Syne). I am gradually learning more Scottish history and culture! Tomorrow should be a hectic day as there will be 17 people (students, teachers, guests) in the classroom for lunch.

16 January 2008

One more Jammeh jubliee

As some of you may have read or seen, Gambia's President Jammeh announced last year that he could cure AIDS, asthma and a few other ailments, through traditional remedies and judicious application of the Koran. This "breakthrough" first came to my awareness while I was visiting Kaur. Hanging out with a friend's coworker, we lay on his bed as we saw the president pour black liquid from a used water bottle (coveted in Gambia) onto patients' stomachs, which he then rubbed in (he wore gloves to maintain sanitary conditions).

The following is The Daily Observer's reflection on this success:

Thursday, 17th January which is the eve of Yawmal Sahura, makes one year since His Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia, Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, introduced the treatment of HIV/AIDS in The Gambia.

Since then, over 30 patients have been treated and discharged, with the Aids virus no longer detected in their blood stream. In addition to this remarkable achievement, President Jammeh has cured over 1000 people suffering from asthma and hundred of people with hypertension, infertility in his programme.

More details on the health status of the discharged patients and President Jammeh's treatment programme can be watched in the documentary series 'The Breakthrough' - Part Three, coming soon on GRTS.'The Breakthrouh - Part One and Part Two can be watched on Tuesday, 15th January 2008 at 8:00pm and 10:00pm respectively.

Meanwhile, the celebrations marking the 1st anniversary of President Jammeh's breakthrough will take place on Thursday, 17th January 2008, at the July 22nd Square in Banjul. The programme is scheduled to begin at 8:30am.

08 January 2008

Jammeh's latest impromptu holiday

President Jammeh of Gambia has long been fond of holidays. He has declared several to mark election victories, the successful hosting of an AU conference, and other occasions. The most recent is the ngente/coolio/naming ceremony, or outdooring ceremony, of his baby son Mohamed. So the entire business of government was shut down for the day.

Foroyaa, an opposition newspaper that has not been shut down yet, reports at length on this absurdity, and makes the connection between Jammeh's behaviour and that of the late Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan, and such luminaries as Idi Amin Dada (Uganda) and Jean Bedel Bokassa (CAR):

Apart from the millions of Dalasi no doubt spent on the occasion, we can also imagine the great loss suffered by both the public and the private sector for being forced to take an unplanned public holiday as well as the mobilization of government resources, including the engagement of the Gambia Radio and Television Services for the whole day to broadcast messages and commentary in support of President Jammeh and Baby Mohamed, as if it is a private institution owned and financed by him alone.

Foroyaa also impressed me by noting the gender imbalance in Jammeh's celebration and holiday decisions:

Another interesting aspect of this unprecedented naming ceremony was the gender dimension. While this is not the first time that President Jammeh is having a child, but one would tend to ask why this naming ceremony is more lavish and elaborate than the naming ceremony of Mariam, his first child. Of course, the only sensible conclusion is that he values a boy child more than he values a girl child. This is indeed a big challenge to the gender activists to find out from him why he chose to so blatantly manifest his gender bias in favour of the boy child.

I feel sorry for newspapers such as Foroyaa. Although they are widely available in the Kombo (capital) area, they are only distributed upcountry by readers who decide to bring them for friends to look at. As for the radio, that is dominated by the government broadcaster, so I'm sure much was made of Baby Mohamed's birth. And one can only wonder, in a very poor country, how much money was spent on this celebration.

03 January 2008

Like the Pope passing away...

Last week the leader of the Mouride brotherhood in Senegal passed away. About half of Senegal's population belongs to this Muslim brotherhood, with a lot of followers in Gambia too, and even Mauritania.

While in The Gambia, I was fortunate to travel with some Njau residents on the Magal, the annual Mouride pilgrimage to Touba.

In addition to large-scale involvement in Senegalese agriculture, a lot of Mourides travel overseas for work, both to support their families and their imams/serignes and the brotherhood.

Here is a picture Jon took of some pictures of serignes (religious leaders and teachers) who are widely venerated in Senegal and Gambia. I've also seen bumper stickers that say "I [heart] Serigne Omar Jobe" and others.