Reportage / 24 July 2019


The Despondent Children

Janjanbureh, formerly Georgetown, three hundred kilometres from the coast: a run-down harbour with no paved roads that lives off the remembrance of slavery. The five daily tourists get various donation books and donation boxes stuck under their noses. Anyone who flashes even a smidgen of white skin or a Caucasian cranial shape is expected to have a bad conscience. Except I’m really not in the mood to serve as a straw man for the crimes and oppression of other eras. “Just take a look at your own president!” I’d like to shout at the money collectors. The dictator “President” Jammeh claims, among other things, that he can cure AIDS. A poster from a past election campaign is hanging on the main thoroughfare: “You cannot afford to continue hating yourself by not voting for him in 2011.” Not a bad slogan. 

Behind the covered market, a few kids are sitting on the sandy ground. They are wrapped up in blankets and staring despondently into space in a very unchildlike way. They are bereft of any cheerfulness. One of them looks at me. We observe each other, and the child lowers its gaze. My guess is they’re boys between six and eight, but appearances can be deceiving (undernourishment). 

There are four bright tangerines and a few banknotes lying in front of them. I buy a tangerine from them for twenty-five dalasi. Then a local tells me I can make a donation if I want to. These girls, he says, are between nine and eleven years old and were recently circumcised. They endured much pain, and the people in the village were incredibly proud of them. I was dumbfounded. They should be in a clean hospital, not at the marketplace. No doubt my twenty-five dalasi were going to end up, at best, with the she-devils who circumcise them. 

I visit the Wassu Stone Circles, ancient tombstones upon which the locals place small stones, each representing a wish. I have no idea if I’m eligible to participate. I set down a stone and wish for me to die before my children. Afterwards I realize that this is a pretty egotistical wish. And so I add another stone. It may be unrealistic, helpless, or presumptuous, but I wish for no more girls to be circumcised. 

Janjanbureh Market, Central River Region, Gambia. 

Translated by Geoffrey C. Howes

From: Typisch Welt. 111 Geschichten zum weiter Reisen. Vienna: Picus, 2016.


Martin Amanshauser

is an Austrian author, travel writer and translator. His latest book is called Typisch Welt, 111 Geschichten zum weiter Reisen (2016).