Coups and Rebellions
yes, Coups and rebellions. About a month into my training I was in class (which was in a lean-to on the river). I was zoning out, watching the crabs do their "come hither" mating ritual. (I call it this because these crabs have one big claw and one small one and while trying to mate they wave the big one in the air, the same way you would beckon a friend over from about 100 yards away).
I was starting to adjust and feel at home when suddenly...
I hear a transister radio. One of the trainers is walking to or classroom with a radio turned up very loudly. "How strange. And rude..." I think.
He stands in front of our class playing a radio I can't understand (I didn't then, nor have I ever learned Mandinkian that well). Finally he exlains to the class that there has been a military coup. The phone lines are cut and no one knows what will happen. Will killing and chaos take over? Will communications be restored? Will the Americans and other foreigners evacuate?
Weird huh? Well, later we learned what happened. It seems the military hadn't been paid in a long time. So, one young captian, Yayeh Jammeh (was he 25 years old at the time?) apparently he was fed up. So he got his buddies worked up and they stormed the "president's" house. (President is in quotes because just like in Egypt they have a democratically elected president yet have NEVER changed presidents in over 20 years. The same guy gets elected again and again. It is an untested democracy and probably not a true one. The people's voices are NOT being heard.
So this young man storms in there.
well, it just so happens that there is an American military boat parked in the harbor. Just stopping by on it's way elsewhere. Well... the president flees to the boat and takes refuge.
Young Yayeh spends about 36 hours negotiating over the phone with this guy for pay, food.. stuff for the soliders until he finally realizes... "Hey. The president's house is empty and open for business." He then sends the message back that is is through negotiating and that, in fact HE is president.
So there you have it, a bloodless coup. No one hurt and no foreigners involved.
Of course there must be more to it, but that is how it was explained to me.
And to shoe you how aware my family is...
We were told to call home as soon as the phone lines were restored, to assure our families we are safe. I call me mom. She says "Where are you?"
I say "In Africa."
She says "Why are you calling?!"
I say "There has been a coup, but I am OK."
She says "Of course you are!.... What is a coup!?"
(How did I ever grow up in this family?)
Months later after training and being sent to my site, another strange thing happened to me. I was riding the bus on the way Down Country. Everyone had there transistors pressed to their ear. Of course I paid no attention as I couldn't understand the language.
After about on hour of travelling we were stopped by police. Everyone had to get off, bags were searched, etc etc... EXCEPT for ME! I got to stay on with all my bags.
And Lord how I bitched. Human rights... hassels.. etc.. searching a bus at gun point! I mumbeled a lot. Luckily, jsut as I couldn't understand their language, they could not understand mine.
I get Down Country and get off the bus. It feels weird. There is definitely something amiss. First of all, there are no people. Second of all, there is an area blocked off.
No matter... I continue on my way.
Finally I arrive at the Peace Corps office. All the lights are off. No one around. I finally find the mail run people. And they say to me "HOW DID YOU GET HERE!" There are riots in the market! PEOPLE ARE DYING! HOW DID YOU GET HERE?!"
"I took the bus." I reply.
So typical ME style, I wander haphzardly through history, never knowing what the hell is happening.
There is more to this political story. When ever a democratic goverment is over run, America must remove all of it's aid. No one wanted to. No one blamed Yayeh. But policy you know...
But no matter, everyone was back and working in a month or so.
And I remember stories of mass murders and mass graves. But there was NEVER a problem with any foreigners. They had domestic trouble and they view all foriegners as potential income or aid money. neither side wanted to lose that. No matter what group the foreigners moved in, we were always safe.
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