By Lamin Sabally

Gambians and Senegalese in the Midwestern state of Minnesota on Thursday July 4th impressively converged in their huge numbers to celebrate the American Independence anniversary at the usual Columbia Park located at the suburb of the great city of Minneapolis. The annual fun- packed event which was jointly organized by the Gambia Association in Minnesota and their Senegalese counterpart, was also attended by non-Senegambian natives including friends of the two inseparable countries linguistically, ethically and culturally.

Part of the whole day barbeque and musical event was filled with exciting adult sporting competitions that included lemon race, sack race, Tug of war and musical chair which are all customarily reminiscent of the annual national Gambian school sporting day events.  Prizes were awarded to winners of each category and the level of participation was manifestly great and hilarious among kids, men and women of various ages.

The watershed moment of this year’s event was a fiercely contested speech presentation by 17 Senegambian children on their knowledge of the history, politics, religion and culture of Senegal and The Gambia. The exciting academic competition was a culmination of four months of intense preparation and motivating research by majority of children who are born to Gambian and Senegalese native parents and most of them do not have the chance yet to travel to their parents’ native countries. The panel of judges comprised distinguished personalities from both  the Gambia and Senegal and notable among them were Maafanta Proprietress and former renowned Gambian Journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh, Yorro Jallow of Gainako Newspaper and Kawsu Touray who is a former Nusrat High School Teacher and regular guest on the erstwhile weekly Literary Corner Program on Radio Gambia that was successively hosted by all living Gambian broadcasting legends like Saul Njie, Bora Mboge, Peter Gomez  and Malick Jeng.  The visibly energized and incredibly non- panicky children, whose ages range from nine to thirteen years, were accurately evaluated on how knowledgeable they were about Senegambian history in general encompassing politics, culture and religion and the accuracy of the information gathered. Additionally, the quality of their presentations in the form of persuasiveness and delivery formed important chunk of selecting winners of the keenly contested presentations.

At the end of the 2 hour interesting presentations full of rich Senegambian history, 9 year fatoumata Touray who is the daughter of Ebrima and Ramatoulie Touray decisively won the first position and was awarded the coveted tablet first prize. Her presentation attracted a deafening applause from the attentive audience when she narrated that before she traveled to the Gambia for the first time last year, she was very frightened and bitterly disturbed by the bad image painted of Africa. According to little Fatoumata, she was told that Africans live in poor houses, don’t have cars and that hunger, poverty and diseases were how the continent was characterized. When I got to the Gambia, all the bad things I was told were all wrong” she said.  Instead, she continued, “Gambia have excellent roads, nice cars, beautiful and big buildings, the people are nice, happy, friendly, educated and well-dressed and the food is very delicious”. Her unforgettable recollection of the Gambia is that whatever we have in America, you can get the same things also in the Gambia and in her own words “I found all the foods and drinks in the Gambia that we usually like and enjoy here in the United States”. Continuing with her expressly satisfying maiden Gambian experience with her mother and two younger sister, fatoumata Touray said she met so many of her relatives that she never knew of and joyfully added that she would like to go back to the Gambia again for another great experience about the county known as the Smiling Coast of Africa.

The 2nd prize of $75 gift card and an MP3 player was collected by Momodou Lamin Dibba, son of Lamin Dibba, a former GRTS Television reporter and Fatou Njie.  He told the crowded audience that the Gambia and Senegal have the same people who have the same culture, religion, language, tribes and ethnicity. Because of the great similarity, he compellingly observed, the only minor differences between the two countries are the official languages of English and French and Geographical boundaries, which he rightly pointed out were imposed by the former French and British colonial powers. Dibba who was born in the Gambia and later joined the parents about 5 year ago, said the Gambia is so peaceful that most people do not have to close their doors or compound gates. He said compared to the United States, people always lock their doors because of safety.

Momodo Ceesay who was the 3rd prize winner of $50 gift card and an MP3 player is the son of Kebba and Sainabou Ceesay.  He narrated that even though he has never been to the Gambia, but based on the thorough research he made and authentic accounts he gathered from his father as a resource person, The Gambia is a wonderful and peaceful place to live. He said the same thing is true of Senegal, and observed that the close ties between the two countries is so strong that one can hardly tell the difference between a Senegalese and a Gambian.

Winners of fourth through eight prizes were each awarded a bag pack and a book titled “Week of Hell” authored by Papa Faal on the failed 1981 rebellion by the late Kukoi Samba Sanyang.

The well-researched and intriguing presentations were moderated by former GRTS reporter Lamin Dibba. The memorable July 4th event ended with a soccer match between Minnesota Terenga Lions and Gambia Scorpions and ended in a draw of 3 goals each.

Author is the Secretary General of the Gambian Association in Minnesota

The Gambian Association in Minnesota