I give you my yesterday. I am woken by my cat howling and meowling incessantly. He pesters and lashes me with his sandpaper tongue until I stir. My hut is sealed in total darkness. I jolt open the corrugate door and let the rain cleansed air drift in and Lionel Mussi (muss is the Wolof word for cat) explodes out into my patch of backyard and hurls his lithe skeletal frame around before setting on a place to do his business. I do my business simultaneously where I always do my business – a five meter deep pit with a rudimentary concrete cover. I squat and shoo the cat away from the hole I have terrible fears of him falling in.
I brew myself a nescafe, mixing up some powdered milk whilst the water boils on my gas canister. I eat an overripe mango, inelegantly plastering my bearded chin with tendons of the fruits sickly sweet flesh. I pierce the final airlock of my hut and go out into the swamped surface of the compound, kicking Lionel Mussi back into the hut for his own safety.
The morning ritualistic greetings ensue more drowsily than usual. Everyone’s sleep was disturbed by the wind and rains, most people’s huts roofs are not that watertight and can only keep out so much of a torrential downpour.
I head down to the school on my bike in nervous anticipation. There were only two teachers there the previous day, but I am consoled as from a distance I see the entire faculty cramped around a breakfast bowl of millet and milk. The relief in me is palpable, school without teachers is a struggle.
I soon realize why attendance is higher than usual – the president is doing his annual drive along the north bank road of The Gambia. The Gambia, the smallest country in Africa, it has two roads traversing it, one along the north bank and one along the south bank. It has 1.5 million people. The President drives along the north bank road once a year. No comment.
Back at school nobody is sure of when he will pass. One teacher tells me that last year he didn’t reach here until 10pm at night. He tells me that they have to keep all the children at the school at the side of the road in case he stops. Last year he didn’t stop but he did throw some biscuits out of the window of his car. Biscuits.
I had been forewarned by another Peace Corps volunteer that today was going to be a less effective school day than usual. I am enlisted into helping make posters to wave at the President’s convoy from the side of the road. We make three. They say WELCOME MR PRESIDENT!, Thank You Your Excellency! Education Is Your No.1 Priority, and School Grant Please.
I’m torn. A part of me wants the big guy to stop and shower the school with wads of cash. We need it. The teacher quarters just fell down and now the teachers are all sleeping in a classroom. But if he does stop and honor us with his presence and money, there will be difficulties over how to spend the money, and he will have successfully manufactured positive feelings towards himself.
We send the children home early from school. The World Food Program school meal supplies have run out (the new supply is supposedly stuck on the other side of the river as there has been a problem with the ferry) so the children are to go home quickly, eat lunch, and then return to school.
At 3pm we begin standing at the side of the road. A couple of teachers try to whip up a bit of enthusiasm and excitement in the children. They sing welcoming songs and chant traditional English children’s songs to different rhythms until everyone’s throats are raw.
The motorcade passes by at 6:30pm. One man, over 50 vehicles, most gleaming 4×4’s and army jeeps. His Excellency is poking out of the sun roof of a stretch Humvee, a despotic Pez dispenser. We chant, we wave, we swing signs. He doesn’t stop. One vehicle throws out some t-shirts emblazoned with the President’s ‘electoral’ success of 2012. No biscuits. And he is gone.
Everyone walks home.