People were waiting to hear from me as they wondered about our frequent travels. Our crossing through the airport was swift, but there was a checkpoint ahead. The drivers would stop and passengers crossing the border would pass close by the police. I was noticeable! My name had been mentioned in recent court cases in the news, particularly as a witness for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in The Gambia.
The worrying was enough to make my wife, Theresa, shake. But we were only waiting two more weeks for the final touch in our resettlement quest.
The IGP was apprehended for stories I notified the police about before publishing, especially his involvement with armed robberies and drug issues.
It was a surprise to know that the IGP was part of these horrible activities that were perpetrated on the masses over several years. He was, it turns out, one of the most notorious criminals whose story I dug up. He was called Ensa Badjie, commonly called “Jesus,” because Ensa in their language, they say, means “Jesus.” I thought he was a very reliable man with the name Jesus. He was not reluctant at all to send his men with me — the crooked ones — to show me where the crimes I’d been writing about [such as the taxi scam from a few chapters back] were happening — the crimes, it just so happened, he was orchestrating.
Augustine’s last chapter: Surprise News That Set Us Free Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale
One of those criminals implicated him and had facts to support his claims. Badjie was then apprehended and put behind bars. His case had now come up for hearing. That was when he mentioned me as the journalist he’d worked with. His argument was that if he was part of the crime ring, then why would he have raided them with the help of a neutral journalist?
My heart pounded when my friends told me I was wanted by the court in the next sitting of the case. Well, there was a mistake in my name.
I had a pseudonym for certain assignments. The Inspector General of Police, Badji, knew me only by this other name. I was clever. Since he was behind bars he could not have seen me to identify me as the man. My pen name was Manlafie Badjie. This was the name that baffled the lot.
I held onto this name a long time after changing between a few others — like Modou Lamin Jarju and Famara Jammeh — over the years. My colleagues would easily identify me by the pseudonym, and it would spread, and then I would change it. But Manlafie Badjie lasted until I vanished from the place.
I finally got a call from my managing editor, telling me that I was wanted by the court on the day we were to go to Dakar to further our resettlement process. He was a coward who told them I was the man behind the name.
I had taught my daughter that Manlafie Badjie was my name. And she made it known to many that it was my name. And her name was Jorjor Badjie, one of their Gambian names.
A police source who had only known me as Manlafie Badjie was on a mission to Sudan when he saw the news of me, Augustine Kanjia, being thrown into the Gambian prison — had seen my true name and face. He did not tell me how I fooled him with that name, he only told me that he saw my problem with the police. He returned and would be a good source for news, but I was hesitant to go for any hard stories since my legs were almost out of the country.
The mercurial editors at The Point newspaper were now against me. No one wanted to publish my stories because they did not want my story to bring me fame. Ebrima Sawaneh was the senior of the editors, but he hated me for no reason. I would give him my stories, but he would not read them and would not pass them on to editing. He would trash them.
So I started working with complacency, and no interest. I was tired. I knew I was going to be sacked because I had become redundant to them, but those who consume the news were very close to my heart. I had two columns, the Christian Panorama and Society and Development, being published, but not hard news anymore.
I had covered a story of corruption perpetrated against Tina Ellis by the registrar at the newly established University of The Gambia. He hated the woman and had not paid her salary in a long time.
I gave her an interview, and made it question-and-answer. Ebrima Sawaneh was a friend of the registrar who happened to be from his tribe, Mandinka. I tricked him. The Q&A format gave me an edge over Sawaneh. He thought it was for my column, then gave it to one of the editors for my column. He proofread it and passed it on for publishing.
The news shook the city. President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh read it and took an interest in it. It was only when it was published that Sawaneh called to reprimand me. He said he had warned me not to tread on the news from the university. I apologized and left. This, too, added to the non-publication of my articles. But my time was near.
A few days before our resettlement orientation I was delighted, and I started finding the means to return to Dakar. I searched within for a new lie that would set us free. I did not want to use the plane this time. We looked for a better way out. We did not want to overdo our privilege of free passage on Slok Air International again.
Before we figured out a plan to leave, there were some urgent articles that made our Point office unbearable. The editor of the online newspaper Freedom Newspaper had been a friend before he got asylum in the United States. That was the trend of the day, journalists being targeted for their work.
Hot news that shook the Gambian government was on the Freedom website. It was written by Famara Jammeh, which was another of my pen names besides Manlafie Badjie. The news concerned a secret meeting between the Iranian delegation and the Jammeh government. All the journalists there were asked not to talk about the help Iran was ready to give to The Gambia, including ammunition for their defense. If I had more news, though, I could publish it in The Gambia but not on Freedom.
The managing editor, who was away in India, called Sawaneh to discuss concerns about Point reporters being involved with the Freedom Newspaper. They did not want to come straight out and say it was me sending them hard news; they instead spoke in generalities. As they turned the phone on loudspeaker, Pap Saine, Point publisher, quickly said they should advise me to stop involving myself in the political situation of The Gambia, because they knew what I was doing.
I was a foreigner among them; I could not deny it. I just said God, who sees in secret, will reward me — since it is not me.
But I knew I did write stuff that could not be published in any of the papers of The Gambia if I loved my life. It felt uncomfortable.
Which made it a long three weeks until the return to Dakar for our orientation.
No exit story was yet suitable. Our going there again was too much for many to believe possible. Well, the best plan came to mind during our night prayer. I told Glen that if he went to school that day, he should pretend to faint. “Don’t talk. Stay still and calm,” I said. His concrete lies could not be broken. He fainted and I was called. The whole family went there. Our bags meanwhile were ready and had been taken to friends in Banjul. We put Glen in a taxi and left for Banjul. I cried loudly that I could not see my son die.
“I will take him to Dakar!” I shouted. The news reached The Point newspaper that my son collapsed and what we were going to see his cardiologist in Dakar again. The plan worked.
We left for Banjul to board the worrisome ferry. It was overloaded that morning and dirty, but we made it through. We were praying for a safe journey the entire time. I had made some friends on the way, and we ate some food from those friends. Was the border a safe place for us? No! But yes. Glen’s health was paramount, and no one wants to see a child die.
We were given the chance to go across with not much questioning. Our road was swift, because we were all looking forward to our program, and to seeing people who succeeded in going to America. We arrived in the evening, and were given a different house this time by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. The house was like a hostel in the heart of Dakar.
We all arrived very early at the orientation site. My mouth could not close, agape with excitement and anticipation.
We started the three-day orientation. We were quite small in number. The number had dwindled due to lack of support document or lies.
It was quite something to be among the winning few. We started dreaming of America. My wife was made the head of our household. I liked it because she had to fill out documents and represent us in places. I would only be a support to her but not the team lead. The three-day orientation was done in a flash.
Our family was bonded further despite our financial shambles at that time. I had opened an account in a bank in Dakar. I did not disclose how much was there to my wife but my children knew it well, and did not say a word. My heart was on the money to enjoy ourselves.
We were given certificates of participation. It was during the orientation that I got to know about flea markets and yard sales. I valued the two, and since then have made it my big market for shopping. I see very little difference with other markets.
Theresa was called to go get our final message. Alice, my oldest daughter, and her little baby were asked to go to Worcester, Massachusetts. We were asked if we knew anyone in America. We knew many people but we were never in touch and we did not know where they lived.
“You will go to Massachusetts,” Eugene, the resettlement officer, said.
“Alice will travel before you people. She will leave in August and you guys will leave in October. It shall be communicated to you,” he said.
Our journey to The Gambia was full of plans, including leaving without the authorities knowing. We took two days off to relax and enjoy ourselves before returning to work. We called to tell our office that the boy was improving and we were expected to be released soon. “That was the saving sentence,” I said.
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