Tag Archives: dreams

LinguereSpeaks: Storytelling As A Means of Empowering Girls And Women

Statement written for and read at launching of ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, a book authored by young Gambian,  Charlotte Ajuwa Smith.

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My name is Jama and I’m a writer. It is a great honour for me to be a part of this very important gathering, as we not only launch the book ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, but also celebrate the talent and bravery of Charlotte Ajuwa Smith.

I say talent and there may be no questions about that, but I understand there may be some of us wondering what is so brave about writing a book, publishing and launching it into the market. Isn’t that supposed to be an easy thing, especially in today’s world where we have access to relatively more resources and platforms than before?

That last part is true, but access to these resources is still not equitable, and therefore, some sections of society fare better than others. As with most sectors of growth and development, girls and women are dealt the lesser hand when it comes to access. This is due to a number of reasons, and key among them are the social and cultural environments in which we raise our girls, who grow up to be women.

I look back to the periods of our history where the education of the girl child was seen to be of little or no significance. Where we were taught that the place of a girl is in the home, where she is taught the skills that will make her desirable for marriage and ready to keep a home. Her value lay in how expertly she handled domestic chores and how great a home she could make.

This is not to say that there is no value in learning these skills, as they benefit all of society; the problem begins when we see this role is all a girl – a woman – is good for, therefore neglecting the whole package of wonderful gifts they have been given by God.

One of my favourite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, once said and I quote “We teach our girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to our girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.”

How is this relevant to our conversation today, you may ask. First, because she is a storyteller who has taken it upon herself to create a strong example of what an educated and enlightened girl can grow up to become; the spaces we can navigate in our world, and the opportunities we can create for the millions of young girls who are still tied to society’s limits of who and what they can be. She is keeping the dream alive through the stories she tells and the speeches she gives. That is empowerment.

In The Gambia, we do not have a scarcity in the number of women living lives that tell stories of achievement, resistance, resilience and a breaking away from the norm. We are seated in a theatre that was established by one of such women, in the person of Aunty Janet Badjan-Young, creating a centre of excellence for young men and women in The Gambia to explore their talents and grow the creative arts in the country.

We have many more examples of women writing stories that speak to the humanity of girls and women, leaving their footprints (or can I say handprints) in the narrative of our lives – past and present. Again, this is important.

Comparatively, we may still have many more men telling our stories, in oral and written form and using other media around the world. However, there is a growing shift in the ownership of our narratives, and therefore, the kinds of stories that are produced and shared about girls and women.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to read and discover stories that provide more empowering and dignified images of girls and women, especially African. With the new generation of writers and storytellers, especially female, there is even greater hope of discovering stories that we can easily relate to, and of characters that look like us and share similar cultures with us.

I go back to Chimamanda in her TED Talk entitled ‘The Danger of the Single Story’. In this talk she says and I quote, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are not untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

The stories that have been told of us may not necessarily be untrue; the roles of the female characters may be roles that we have assumed at one point or the other. However, when we continue to create these roles, we are teaching the girls and women that there are limits to what they can become and this is what we will continue to embody, perhaps never discovering how much more potential we have.

In the few years since I started writing actively and taking my stories seriously, I have learnt lessons that I continue to share. I may still be young and I still have a long way to go in this journey, but each day comes with a learning moment, each one leaving me with more determination to pursue the course. What started as casual storytelling for me has morphed into a journey of telling my story and the stories of other girls and women that I encounter. This has become one of my life’s missions, and though it can be challenging, it is also very fulfilling.

When I write, I am aware that I do not only write for myself. I write for the many people who encounter my work and often find inspiration to also break out of their shells and tell their stories. In doing so, we are reclaiming the narrative of ourselves and are telling our stories from our perspective. We are cancelling the danger of the single story. We are dispelling the myths surrounding our experiences and are telling the world that there is more to us than the boxes we are forced and fit into. We are unwrapping the gifts we have been blessed with, and are sharing them with the bigger world out there. This is what hope looks like. For the next generation of girls and women, this is significant.

Today is significant, as it is yet another manifestation of what we can do when we have the necessary structures and support spaces we need. I believe Charlotte has achieved a milestone, not just for herself, but for every girl and woman, in and out of this hall. In the audience today, there may be a girl, a young woman, looking at her today and telling herself ‘I can do it too’. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the empowerment we need. The ones that come from living examples of possibility, of opportunity, of talent, of grace and of success.

Today, I urge everyone present here today to help in keeping this chain growing. There is no measure of the significant progress we all can enjoy if we encourage everyone in society, regardless of their gender, ethnic group, social standing or other man-made qualification, to reach for their goals and meet their fullest potential.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the author and everyone who’s supported her through this journey. I say this on behalf of the girls and women who will read this book and gain a stronger conviction and clarity of the path ahead of them. It is one thing to have a dream; it is another thing to keep it alive and turn it to reality. I am without doubt that the book we shall launch today will create another road of opportunity, belief, confidence and self-assurance for the many who read it.

We are the present and the future, and to build our country, our work needs to be supported and celebrated. We are the dream; help us keep us alive.

I thank you for your attention.

Jama Jack

17 July 2016

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Day Twenty-One: Someone You Judged By Their First Impression

Korkor Chu,

I think it’s only fair to say that we both judged before getting to know each other. I’ve never really been a fan of that ‘don’t judge a book by its cover‘ line.  I have always believed it’s just another ploy from society to stop people from looking at the ‘superficial’ and drawing conclusions from them. In all honesty though, don’t we all do that? ‘What you see is what you get‘ has been a permanent resident in my mind and more often that not, it has turned out right. Your case was an exception and I am glad it turned out that way.

You were a part of my promotion and I remember us having the same schedule for French classes, even though we were in different groups. We both lived off-campus that year and would bump into each other often on the way to and from classes. Hence we were all new, we moved in small groups, mainly for security reasons and often for the ambiance. I was familiar with everyone in your circle, especially the boys, but you always looked uninterested in getting to know people. I wasn’t the only one who’d made that observation and we just held on to interacting and hanging out with your guys and a few of the girls. That year went by and we  met in many gatherings and parties, but each would stick to herself, even when one would catch the other stealing glances. A mutual friend of ours described it as the ‘war of the beauty queens’. We were both skinny and had a similar structure, attractive and almost walked in the same way. I dismissed his remark, blaming it all on the fact that we had never been introduced. I know it sounds silly for we could have done the introductions ourselves, but I still stick to that reasoning.

I woke up one day in our second year to find a Facebook message from you. I thought it was the usual requests I got from girls who wanted their hair braided. I was still curious, though, for it was unexpected, especially coming from you. In the message, you told me about a dream you’d had about the both of us… one contrary to the reality we lived. You described the beautiful friendship we had, gradually turning into a sisterhood, with bonds getting closer each day. You asked that we break the ice between us and become friends. It seemed funny at the time, for it sounded like a request for reconciliation when there had been no fight at all. I took you up on your request and we exchanged a string of messages getting to know each other. The beauty of it all was when we both acknowledged that we had judged each other and laughed over it. Eventually, our conversations moved to everyday life and I ended up getting tips on gaining weight from you. You insisted that I take all meals for each day and I agreed, knowing very well that it wouldn’t make any difference. I had an unstable system and my eating habits are the worst you’ll ever see. Sometimes I stay away from food like it were poison; other days I just can’t break the bond between my hand and my mouth. Anyway, I digress.

We haven’t really met again since our ‘reconciliation’, given that we both lived in different cities. We had quite a short spell when I came to your country this summer, as I was too busy with my course to hang out and have fun with you. We’re both back in Morocco now and I hope we’ll get to see more of each other. Otherwise, just get set to be my host when I finally finish saving for my pleasure trip to your country. I loved it there and will definitely go back if God wills.

I am not the best judge of character, and in your case, I was proven wrong. Where I thought you were stuck-up, unsmiling and totally arrogant, you actually turned out to be sweet. I know you’ve come to the same conclusion about me and realised just how different I am from what people claim to see (wink). I hope it served as much of a lesson to you as it did to me and that we both live to tell the stories to each other’s kids, turning your dream to reality. Meanwhile, I’m glad that you reached out despite our differences. It changed a lot!

 

Day Eighteen: The person that you wish you could be

Hi,

It’s going to be difficult to get this letter to you because the Moroccan Postal Services  do not deliver to your address: my mind. That is where you exist and for years, I’ve hoped to see you change your abode and join us in this world. I’ve been told that no man is perfect and that perfection belongs to God. I also read that God created man in his image and so I wondered how that attribute of perfection missed the route. In my own little world, I felt I could create the perfect person. I knew I could never breathe life into its being, but I could always have it up there in my head… someone I could look up to in my journey towards perfection. Don’t write me off as stubborn just yet. It’s just a journey, for I believe we can only achieve what we truly believe in.

Physically, we are quite identical and I have not made much alterations to your appearance. You are more daring though. Where I would usually be shy to venture out into the world and make new acquaintances, you would go all out, exuding a pleasant aura and connecting with great people. When opportunity turns up at your doorstep, you don’t even wait for it to knock. You grab it right there and make the best use of it. You’ve always known what you wanted to be and have worked hard towards achieving it. Many young people are faced with different choices as they grow, switching into all career fields, before finally settling for one. This might even end up being the wrong one, but sometimes, it’s too late. You, however, were saved from this dilemma by your level-headed nature and focused spirit. You faced opposition for your choices, but surfaced victorious, making it clear that it was your future and the final say had to be yours. You probably hurt the feelings of your loved ones, but each day, you work hard to show that you will succeed and remove their doubts.

Deep inside, you fight your own battles. You struggle like everyone else… like me. However, you never hesitate to express your real feelings. That facade of a happy life doesn’t work with you, for you believe in being real. Sometimes, you come off as hard. Other times, you are an emotional wreck. You do not put it all out there, but it gets people to understand that you are not all iron and steel. You hurt sometimes and are not scared to show it. Around you, people keep worrying… some about huge issues; others not. They come to you for solutions and you offer them when you can. You show that you care again, but you don’t let yourself get drowned into that pool of worry for things beyond your control. You do what you can and well, leave the rest for God.

You are reliable and procrastination is foreign to you. You hate working under pressure and never put off work to the last minute. When things flop, you’re there to save the day, superwoman style.  You never hesitate in asking for help too. I mean, you are efficient to a fault, but you sometimes need a hand and are glad when one is offered. You are quick to share credit for your achievements,for you’ve been guided all the way. You stay in touch with your loved ones and make sure communication is at its best among you. If anything, you’re the bond that holds them all together. When thoughts of someone come to you and you feel the need to reach out, you do it right there, never waiting for the next moment. You were taught to never leave for tomorrow that which you can do today,and you lived by this mantra. Perfect smiles, trustworthy, patient, kind, humble, loyal, respectful with unwavering faith in God… those are just a few of your qualities. If that isn’t perfection, it certainly isn’t too far away.

In another world, I would take all that and make it a part of my being. Then I would turn around and declare myself perfect. However, I realise that these are all qualities that people achieve when they work on them. I look deep inside and recognise my imperfections and my shortcomings. To many people I have met, they are quite few, for I hardly show them. To me, they are many and sometimes get the better of me, taking me a few steps back in my journey. Despite all this, I am sure of one thing. They are what make me who I really am and I do not wish to alter my personality to fit the frame of perfection. You stay in my mind, where I’ll continue to polish, cover you with gloss and admire you. When I go out of the door again, I shall remain me, for it is all I want to be.

Day Five: Your Dreams

Yo Dreams,

You were born with me

You definitely are going to die with me

In between birth and death

I’ll make the best of each breath.

We’ve been rocking this for so long

Sometimes right, other times wrong

While, in my head, you choose to float

I plead to you to take note.

My name is Jama, and I’m coming for you!

Three Months, Maman!

I heard her voice. Tiny and faint at first. Then , gradually, it rose and I could hear her better.

‘Maman’, she called out, ‘can I ask you a few questions?’

I groaned, knowing what to expect, and braced myself for the usual requests for food, followed by questions on how it was made and how I gained access to it. Njillan’s curiosity from her very early days had always baffled me. However I never complained, knowing very well that the apple does not fall far from the tree. I looked down at her and said softly, ‘Go ahead child.’ Little did I know that today’s discourse was different and of a nature I never would have imagined. What followed blew my mind away and I found myself speechless, searching for suitable responses to her questions.

Why do I live here? It feels so tight and I can’t move around as much as I’d love to.

Child, this residence is temporary. It is during your stay here that we’ll be able to build a strong bond together; a bond that’ll be impossible to break. Your closeness and dependence in me increases my love for you each second. Soon, you shall be free to move around as you wish. Soon, my child

You’ve been saying that since I got here. It’s been 6 months now. How much longer do I have to wait?

Be patient, my child. Patience, as you’ll learn when you get out of here, is a virtue. You have less time to wait than you’ve already spent here . Be patient.

Okay Maman. So tell me, what’s it like out there? 

Hmmm. This world is vast. Bigger than you can ever imagine. When you look up, there’s a blue expanse called the sky. Sometimes, it’s blue and breathtakingly beautiful. Other times, it is covered in grey clouds moving wildly and threatening to pour their contents on Mother Earth. Down where we are, we’ve got the land and the great seas; each spreading as far and wide as the sky. There are more than 7 billion  people out here and the number keeps growing. When you finally come, you shall increase that number by one. All these people live different lives. Some are happy and satisfied with the way they live. Others despair and hope for things to get better. In some parts, there is peace while war ravages other parts of this land. Some kids are happy, well-fed, go to school and have the very basic things in life at their disposal. Some have all these and more, living in luxury. Some have nothing at all. Looking for a means to survive is the order of the day for them. These people; they SURVIVE while others LIVE.

I don’t understand. Why can’t there be an equal distribution of all things so everyone can live well and be happy?

That, my child, is a question billions have been looking for an answer to. Some say it’s how life is supposed to be. Some say it creates a balance in society, with the two extremes that exist. You,like me, may wonder where the middle class fits in. I guess they’re just the fulcrum on which the two extremes lie. Others say there is a need for a hierarchy, you know, to distinguish between the different classes. This distinction eventually determines how one is received, considered and treated by others. The rest just dismiss it with a sigh and say life is unfair.

Exactly what I was going to say Maman. How do you feel living in a world like that?

How I feel? My child, how I wished my feelings really mattered. How I wished my feelings could change the status quo. If only they mattered, there would be equity and equality in all parts of the world. The most remote of villages shall be known and recognized. There would be peace everywhere.  The basic necessities in life shall be at everyone’s disposal. Leaders shall guide their people and oppression shall be a thing of the past. Freedom of speech shall finally become reality, and not just an article written in a certain convention. The world would be a proper global village, not a division of lands with restrictions to movement. Each shall practise his religion freely, with no fear. A person shall not be judged by his sexuality but by the substance of his character. The love of God shall reign in all hearts. It shall come as easily and freely as enmity is now sown between people. Children shall be free to play, run, jump and dance with no worries. My child, all these and more are what would exist if my feelings mattered. Unfortunately, I can only wish for them. Only in my imagination do they choose to come alive.

Maman, exactly how much longer do I have to wait to see this world? 

Hmm. Three months , my child. Three months and you shall be born. Then you shall see everything I’ve mentioned. You shall understand them, as you grow. Three months, my child.

Don’t worry Ma. They may only be wishes and dreams for you, but for me they shall be reality. Your child shall stand up against the injustice in the world. I shall make sure no-one goes through pain, hunger, oppression, discrimination, hurt and all else you’ve mentioned. Three months Maman, and I shall be born. Then it shall be felt in all corners of the world, that a great one has come. Great I shall be and you, my mother, shall get to see your dreams change to reality. Do not give up hope for I represent the new generation. With me, are many others who, at this moment, are having the same conversation with their mothers. Three months Maman. Three months and the journey to overcome shall begin.

My child, you speak with so much confidence and this renews my hope in the future. However, I’m old enough and have seen enough injustice to know that the road shall not be easy. I shall not dampen your spirits, but I shall prepare you psychologically. You shall face opposition, but I trust you to overcome them. Place your trust in the Almighty and you just might get there. It’s getting late now and my bones are weary. We’ll talk about this another day. Sleep well, my child, for we know not if sleep shall be this comfortable for you again. Sleep, my child.

Good night Maman. Remember. Three months. 


I sighed and turned over, my hand flying impulsively to my tummy. I caressed it gently, feeling Njillan’s kick within me. I smiled, knowing that she shall be great. Three months, she had said. Three months it shall be, before the world welcomes a Shero. I close my eyes and fall into a deep reverie, where pictures of all my wishes come to life and my soul hath no worry.