Last Friday, the crew traveled up to Banjul to attend the opening of the National Assembly. We finally, after two months of being in the Gam, saw President Jammeh in the flesh (and not just passing by in his motorcade throwing cookies out at children).
We arrived at the Assembly building around 4:45, probably later than we should have, because we almost didn’t make it inside for a seat. (That meant we would have had to sit outside, watching the speech on a screen.) But Dr. Fourshey worked her magic, telling the people at the door that we did get there early, but we’re just too polite and wouldn’t push forward like all of the other people were doing. (Seriously, these are important people in the Gambia, and they were all clamoring to get in, practically climbing over each other! Insanity.) We made it inside, claimed seats in the back row, and waited.
Jammeh rolled up in his stretch Hummer, standing up through the sunroof and waving to the crowds around. We watched as he made his way through the entrance to the Assembly grounds, and waited for him to eventually make it into the Assembly room to give his speech. We had prime viewing seats. Even though the people sitting in front of us were kind of tall and we had to crane our necks to see Jammeh, he was literally directly in front of us.
Jammeh talked for a very long time, over three hours. He talked about education, jobs and the economy, youth, the military, democratic elections, creation, the environment, roads and transportation, civil service. He cracked a lot of Fula jokes. When he talked about creation, he said that Westerners are taught to believe that Africans come from monkeys—but sometimes when he looks at some monkeys, he can understand that maybe Fulas come from them. Oh, and when people are taught evolution, they are taught that rocks became Fulas, fish became Jolas, ants became Serahules. He said that democratic elections will certainly continue in The Gambia, but that he will be president as long as the sky is up. He said that he will continue to pour as much money into security and the military as he does into education and conservation. He talked about The Gambia drilling for oil. He also said that men need to start working the land and the farms as hard as women do. That certainly got a lot of laughter. But he was serious, oh he was serious.
Let’s just say that he talked about a lot of things. I mean, he talked for three hours. I certainly can’t remember everything he mentioned, because I zoned out a lot. It was definitely interesting, listening to him speak about the issues that really concern him and The Gambia, about what he plans to do in 2011 and beyond, hearing the jokes that I usually didn’t really understand but laughed along to anyway, watching many important people around me fall asleep at various times. Dylan and Holly fell asleep for periods of time throughout the speech. Apparently, Holly was shown sleeping on TV.
At the end of the speech, as Jammeh began shaking hands with people and saying goodbye (sadly we did not get to shake his hand, but we are positive we will find another opportunity), Bridget managed to get his wife to wave to her. We had all made eye contact with her at various points throughout the evening. Maybe she’s our in—she can get us a meeting with the President!
Oh, and I rocked my brand new Gambian outfit, too. I have to say, I think that Holly and I were looking pretty fly.