,The Gambia Saga is available for purchase in The Gambia at the new office of the Nova Scotia - Gambia Association (NSGA) on the Senegambia Highway, near Bijilo, about 10 minutes walk or a one minute drive from the Petroleum House at Brusubi Turntable.
Special price: 500 dalasi. (Proceeds go to support NSGA's work in Gambia)
Copies of The Gambia Saga are accessible to scholars and researchers at The National Archives, Independence Drive, Banjul. Contact: Chief Archivist Hassoum Ceesay
Vignettes from The Gambia Saga by Burris Devanney
Part One: An Improbable Country - 1982-84
A Family Memoir, 1982-2019. Nearly forty years ago my young family and I went to live in a country so small that it appears as just a squiggly line on the map of Africa and so improbable that colonial master Britain once considered trading it to imperialist rival France for a pair of tiny islands off the coast of Newfoundland. . . . According to travel writer Paul Theroux, “The best travel is a leap in the dark.” If so, thus began an epic memoir of risk, resilience, adventure and achievement, and the inspiring tale of a unique development NGO and a fearless little country in Africa. . . .
Twelve-year-old Matthew was the only of the children to offer methodical resistance to our decision to accept the posting in The Gambia. One evening at dinner he asked pointedly whether parents had “the right to take one of their children out of his own country against his will.” The implication was that this was a legal and a human rights issue. . . .
Arrival in The Gambia, 1982. Disembarking at midday in most airports in West Africa invokes elemental feelings. You step from the air-conditioned chamber of the aircraft into the fiery embrace of an alien atmosphere; you are suddenly enwrapped in a scorching wet towel; the sun dazzles; the aluminum stairs glisten; you step down onto burning tarmac; heat radiates upwards as you trudge toward the line of distant terminal buildings shimmering in the haze like a mirage. You’re first thought is, I can’t live here. . . .
The World Bank Screws Up, 1983. The heavy duty power machines ordered by the World Bank [for the GTTI, Gambia's new Technical Training Institute] didn't work and couldn't be made to work. The lathes didn't turn properly, the drills didn't drill straight, and the band saw was a danger to itself. Nothing was true or built according to specifications. The World Bank had purchased the machines by tender from a company in India, but something went awry with the procurement process. When the huge packing crates were opened with World Bank officials present, the monsters which emerged looked like machines one might see in a comic book. They were like caricatures of machines. . . . The faux machines were left like statues alongside the shops for which they had been ordered. They remained there for years, rusting cartoonish reminders that the World Bank could screw up or be suckered as badly as any of the governments it claimed to be advising. . . .
At War with Roaches, 1983. They were larger than my big toe with a shell casing strong enough to break a fly swatter and endowed with the speed and jerky elusiveness of a rat. At first we would see just one or two of these Artful Dodgers scurrying down the hall at night, sticking close to the baseboard, under which they could magically slip to safety in a mini-second. Sometimes as we arose in the morning, we would find one in the hallway on its back, unable to roll over, its six legs flailing. Louanne would happily pick up the helpless creature bare-handed, carry it to the kitchen door and toss it to the hens free ranging on the compound. But one night after midnight I got out of bed and flicked on the light switch in the bathroom and apprehended a whole colony of the creatures all over the room, one of them draped over my toothbrush. For a long second none of them moved. It was a tableau of amber cockroaches and a sight to remember. A second later, all of them were gone. For the next eighteen months, now that we had a sense of their numbers, we went to war with them. It was a conflict we couldn’t win, but the casualties were many.
Incident at Denton Bridge, 1983. It was past eleven on a harmattan-shrouded, moonless night when I drove [my guests] back to their hotel, the Palm Grove, on the outskirts of Banjul. We encountered no traffic on the dark, narrow highway, and my passengers were silent, dozing. My headlights barely penetrated the fog-like atmosphere and I didn't discern the outline of Denton Bridge, or depress my speed as we entered it. I saw only the soldier's mottled camouflage pants and high boots and heard him yelp as he leaped out of my headlights. . . . . My sleepy passengers seemed unaware that I had just driven through a military check-point. . . . I dropped them at their hotel and took a few minutes to consider my options. However, there was only one option - one route home - back across Denton Bridge. . . . This time I saw him clearly, from helmet to boots, armed and waiting. . . .
Matthew teaches neighbourhood watchman Omar how to play ground hockey, 1982.
Louanne and the Fishman, 1982.