by Yẹmí Adésànyà
Gambia started on quite a happy note: a small serene country with clean beaches and monkeyed trees. I went to bed to the sloshing sound of the moiling Atlantic Ocean, drowning the indistinct chatter from drinkers at the outdoor pool-side bar. I loved Gambia at first sight.
Work too started on a good note, and I quickly made my way to Timbooktoo Bookshop, aiming only to deliver a few copies of Musings of a Tangled Tongue as pre-arranged, but leaving the store with ten new books for my bibliophilic babies.
The despair that found me comfortably ensconced in Brufut was not brewed in Banjul. A part of me perished in Gambia; a part I had hitherto taken for granted, but nevertheless nurtured and savoured, since a time I have no surviving memory of.
My younger sister was due to have a surgery in Lagos, and my last communication with her the day before my trip was hope-laden: I would come see her and her new baby as soon as I returned. It was not to be. I returned to Lagos to the new baby only. My sister had died during the elective cesarean section. Nigeria had taken a huge chuck of my heart, and I was in Gambia suffocating. My howls were drowned by the obstreperous sea outside my window, with every wave of the tide washing away my dream of enjoying the city’s understated beauty. The waves, only the night before reminiscent of an alluring melody, had turned irreversibly to an immutable threnody. Olaitan’s death is a loss that cannot be licked by the lapse of time.
I was only counting down to departure after I was notified of this tragedy, life would never be the same.
Time went by quickly in Banjul, work took the day, while evenings sought comfort curled up in bed, taking depressing walks by the beach and eating only fresh mangoes; the surrounding beauty recessed to the background of a solemn promise that I would be back.
I ate the Gambian equivalent of Jollof rice too, on my first day at work; a disappointing presentation, and befitting mediocre taste. But I’m glad I got that out of the way, and quickly filed that experience away beside its Accra compadre.
When it dawned on me by Friday afternoon that my time was up in the city, I inquired of my colleagues about Gambia and if there was anywhere one could see in town. I was not in a good frame of mind, and needed a distraction, something else to remember the peaceful country by other than my muffled yowls.
The Kachikally Crocodile Pool was the place everyone suggested, it wasn’t too far from the office and the incredible tales sounded exhilarating: harmless crocodiles living peacefully with locals! Some of them were said to have filed out of the pool once to pay homage to the deceased founder. And visitors could touch the harmless reptiles. This sounded insuperably menacing to me, but tickled my bereavement-sedated sense of adventure.
The crocodile pool was only about five minutes’ drive from the office; in the heart of Bakau village, an otherwise unremarkable residential settlement next to Banjul–Gambia’s capital city. The pool is owned by the Bojangs, a friendly family representative on sight to welcome us. Everyone in sight looked unperturbed, including the sun-bathing crocodiles. The pool is encircled with wire mesh; this was to keep humans out of the pool really, as there was sufficient allowance for the crocs to come outside unto the open dry land. Park attendants too were on hand, encouraging us not to run or panic.
True to the legend, the crocodiles appeared harmless, as least they were not hunting us; I touched one of them, eventually, after I was able to overcome my morbid fear of being eaten alive.