Gambia: Just For Laughs

The author
The author

(JollofNews) – Why the heck do old flames tend to highlight your shortcomings when it is all over? When that spark is no longer there, the exasperating critic in them comes out. I’ve not spoken to an old squeeze for a while. Out of the blue, she called and went, ‘I just called to see how this ugly boy is doing.’ Okay, I know I’m not a dazzler but did you just realise that? I mean, I wasn’t exactly wearing a mask when I went all upside your head, was I?
Another developed the knack of introducing me, to all and sundry as, ‘ku nyauu ki.’ This from someone who slapped up for me every other weekend and whose contract phone bill I helped heightened. It is as if they were Saul-ed (The scales fell off their eyes) and they realise, ‘good God! He is more Jay-z than Tupac!’
I always hurl the same words at them when they remind me of my looks. ‘Either, you must have been desperate when you fell for me or you could not resist the charm.’ That clams them up faster than a clam.
So, all ye who took time out to remind me of my not-very-impressive-looks, take a look at my photo byline. See how cute that light-skinned grinning lad looks? I’m living proof looks fade. Before you know it, you could end up looking like er, me or even worse. Hmm, it is not rocket science that it is hard to get asked for your number if you are the female version of me…
Anyway, what was I trying to say before I veered off? Ah, yes! I got ten quid to give away if you can remember what really scared us to death (no pun intended) as kids? Don’t know, huh? I will give you lot a clue. On second thoughts, I won’t as you could leave me a tenner short.
It was the sight of a hearse and the mortuary (death house, we call it). Going swimming means going past the morgue. For some reason, we always ‘wahu’ once we’ve crossed Independence Drive from Llewelyn, stealing a peek at the wooden coffins lying outside it. ‘Nen gau, nen gau,’ someone would go and it would turn into a half sprint, as if there was an unwritten rule whoever lags behind would find himself in a drawer.
The hearse (‘motor deh’, we call it) was another vehicle of undiluted trepidation. Damn, that black Toyota BCC van was a sight for clammy palms, dry mouths and racy heartbeats. A funeral in the neighbourhood means ‘werays.’ This time meaningfully. Christian funerals were the worse, man. This means a slow procession of the hearse and low singing and everybody donned in black, all fanning themselves with the pamphlet and some wiping a tear or two away.
Watching the procession and getting a glimpse of the casket just about visible under a lot of wreath is akin to a horror flick: you know it is gonna leave you scared stiff but you still watch. Hmm if an aunt or someone from home happens to go to that funeral (and they always do!) and brings home the pamphlet, man, God help you as you would be dry eyed and jumpy as hell. ‘Ati you kill porsin?’ an aunt would ask irritably. They don’t understand, do they? Up to this day, I shudder at the sight of a hearse.
Now onto something less scary. Remember the ‘laeboan lupain’ days when we all gathered in the yard and tell each other stories? It was always same story, different night: ‘bukay nyomburr.’ Sometimes, the stories would be doctored by each of us but we always wrap it up the same way: ‘nyomburr’ always outsmarts ‘buki.’ Sometimes, for lack of a story, one would kick off, ‘laeboan?’ we would go, ‘lupain’ and the cheeky lad would conclude, ‘sen lupi mam!’ That means it is time to hit the covers. You do this after a leak so you don’t drown the bedspreads…
Hmm wetting the bed was normal but still embarrassing. When they take out the foam mattress to dry, you have already cooked up an excuse for your leaky self. Your friends would like to know ‘kudae seben lal sen nage?’ If you don’t have a younger sibling to pin the blame on, you go, ‘dama ragalawn purr sebehni haji gudi.’ That’s acceptable, especially if you’ve watched a horror movie the previous day or saw a funeral procession! Ah, we were gifted at finding excuses at the flick of a finger.
We were no strangers to injuries but four really stands out: Grazed knee or shin, (we call it ‘brusu.’ This occurs when you fall over during football) head wound (‘Bopa’ ‘bubona’. You get this from falling on your head or a stone thrown) Sore toe, (‘Lego.’ This is the most painful of the four. You playing football, ‘sena’ the ball and connect with the uneven road. Out pops your big toe and the skin around it. Double ouch! You grab your bleeding toe and hop around in acute pain, expletives rolling off your tongue like nobody’s business. ‘C***an ndyam! C***an ndyam!’ you would scream, tears running down your perspired face) and extreme wound (Nimboat. Come on, we all know how you get this, tae du? If you insist, it is when a wound just damn refuses to heal and grows bigger. It is normally situated on the shin or ankle.)
‘Brusu’ was a quick fix and a favourite of all of us, if that can be said of a wound. All it needs is to dry it up with sand and you are okay. Damn, we were doctors on the spot, diagnosing and curing ourselves. ‘Bopa bubona’ was a tricky one. You have to go to the hospital for treatment. The area around the wound needs to be shaved clean so after it is inked and dressed, the plaster can stick. You get ridiculed till that wound heals and that bald patch grows.
Now, Nimboat (Nims, we shortened it. Still, it does not deaden the pain or speed up the healing) is a30548_430170315411_2072874_n more aggravating wound. The bloody thing grips your joints and makes walking a task. When I was 17, a guy riding a bicycle careered into me as we played 5-aside football and cleared off a good amount of skin on the side of my left calf. For six months, I learned to walk without bending my knee. To this day, I have a dark, ugly gash for keeps.
There was-don’t know if still is- this silly notion that you should not look at a ‘nims’ as it widens it. Balderdash! You can’t help but look and cringe at an open wound. One thing about ‘nims’ is you get it only once. Damn, there would have to be nothing between your ears if you put yourself through that excruciating pain again.
The only good thing about ‘jalbombeh’ was you could spit through the gaps. One week, you would look normal, the next you have openings between your teeth large enough for a Suzuki motorbike (Toaf Toaf) to whiz through.  Suddenly, you get very self-conscious, trying to talk like er, Alan Shearer and making sure you laugh with your hands over your gob. Somehow, you tend to relax your concentration and totally forgot. You talk properly or ‘hahatai’ at a joke and some moron would yell, ‘la, jalbombeh!’
Until they find someone to ridicule, you will be the butt (Make that the teeth of) of many cruel jibes.
There was nothing like the tooth fairy tale. Once the tooth comes off, you take a good look at it and chuck it on the roof. End of story.
Of course, you lot know the hairstyle we dread: ‘ndel fondong’! Having all your barnet sheared off was akin to walking to school starkers.  ‘Ndelu’ was most of the time precipitated by two things: a hair cut gone wrong or a head full of sores (Gome). Usually, it was initiated by your parents and they don’t faleh whether you cried your eyes out. Caps were not the thing during those days so you are open to nyaep.
Then the nasty taunts begin to fly in. ‘ndelfondong jabari buki!’ (As if bears are bald headed) or ‘haman ndeli wain!’ If your mum over-oiled it after you bathed, the nastiest taunt home in. ‘GUC su fehyehh sah Omar dina fi lerral!’ someone would go and it is usually that ‘harit’ you can’t beat. For good measure, he might even ‘tehpi’ you and there is nothing you can do about it.
At this point, you are almost blind with rage. This is what you do; whilst everyone is splitting their sides out, home in on that ‘sehwu’ friend that you are sure can floor and give it to him. You can’t lose as no lines were drawn. None is needed though. You have ‘betah’ him and victory should be yours. You engage him in a headlock (kotah) and try to ‘baechi’ him. You would succeed because before anyone realizes a skirmish is unfolding, you could have had him on his back and stuffing his mouth with sand (muutal). After you have been pulled apart, Alieu would be hopping mad, claiming ‘dang ma bateh. Kai nyu dorrat!’ You won’t agree but would look like you are interested, trying to lunge at him in vain as three of your friends are pulling you back. Whatever the case, Alieu would have gotten the message: he wasn’t to join in the laughing when the joke was on you. Very soon, your hair would grow and all would be good again.
Hmm some friends thought we were long or short-sighted or both. They would tend to pass off a ‘ndel bu set wich’ as tight skin. Yeah, right. The taunts would still fly, man.
Our favourite hair cut was ‘tek.’ It was like a special occasion haircut, only doing it for a new school term or any feast. If you got much hair, it goes higher and cuter. You take ages to comb your hair upwards and stop by every car side mirror to see if it is still intact. If you over it, you would be accused of being a ‘goarr jigain.’ Damn!
In my debut piece, I told you how we used to believe possessing seven birthmarks meant going past the pearly gates. I forgot to tell you we also believed ants were not to be crushed as they bring you water when you die. Thus, we were not to wipe out the damn things if they bite us as if we stole something from them. Sometimes, you forget, use a finger to destroy one and a friend, shock and horror mirrored on his face, would go, ‘Lajila! Ndo am ndoh soh deh yeh!’ You make up for it by letting the next ant that bit you get away with it as you do not want to be parched in the land of quiet…
Remember when we were told if our houses resembled a skip, ‘bodafell’ would pay us a visit. That if you out-tramp a tramp, ‘bodafell’ would cleanse the hell out of you. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until three years ago that I was told we meant to say board of health, not ‘bodafell.’ Damn, all these years, I have been wondering who the heck were ‘bodafell’. If, like me, you didn’t know, now you know.
Okay, ‘bodafell’ was all lost in translation but there are two words that won’t suffer such fate. These words you can’t associate with a Gambian. I can safely say anger management and counseling are words that could not roll off a Gambian’s tongue regarding another fellow Gambian. It just won’t look right. It is like denying Bob Marley is not the greatest musician ever to grace earth or imagining Gambians shunning rice for another staple food.
It just can’t happen, I tell you. Can you imagine Haddy buying ‘kobo bu laka’ at Combeh’s stall in Albert Market and telling her, ‘Dodou’s anger management classes have done him the world of good’? Or Samba telling Lamin over a kass at the vous ‘Amie and I are attending marriage counseling to save our marriage.’ Can you picture that happening? If you do, then, damn, you need a check up from the neck up. Seriously!
Goddamn it, that culture of talking to a total stranger about failing marriages can’t be instilled in Gambians. Our belief is this: if we can’t make it work, why let Ousman help?
Anger management? Give me a break. It is called ‘tanga hol,’ ah. You don’t need to attend classes to curb it. Let’s put it this way: if you are still throwing tantrums and you are no longer a teenager, you need to be carried away by the men in white coats. Period. Hei, we have all been ‘tanga hol’ as kids. It was like a badge of honour and you have to get one. Now, we are responsible adults and know having a rush of blood could us time and money.
Before I sign off, I want to take time out to apologise to Agnes John, who taught me in primary 4 at St. Joseph’s Preparatory.
Twenty-two years ago, a haircut went wrong and I had to er, ‘ndelu.’ I could not face the embarrassment of going to school hairless so I played truancy for a week. I would be in uniform but would while away time under any truck along Buckle Street before heading home by two. Well, I got found out and I did what came easily then-I porkied. I said Ms. John sent me home for not paying school fees…
If you reading this, Ms. John, I know it is sixteen years late but I’m sorry. I know I should not have done that but it was either a lie or severe home licks. Any U-13 year old would have done the same. I was no different. Again, I apologise.
In my next piece, I’m going to tell you of a familiar trick my baby brother tried to pull off on me and lots of hogwash you are all familiar with. Thanks to an email from Rah Crew, I will also relive the one-day when everybody loves an Aku boy.
Thanks a heap to all those who took time out to swing me emails. Like I said, I’m humbled by your warm encomiums and appreciate you reading me out.
Oh, by the way, we are going to do more tribal bashing. Make that re-bashing. We are going after the Akus for their crimes in watering down the English language so severely that the Queen should serve them with a writ. I mean, what the blazes is ‘monkey bread’ and ‘yai fit’? Chew over that till I catch you soon.
With Femi Peters Jr. (Chelsea)

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