Behold, the Gambian drama. Imagine, if you will, the drama of a soap opera in a situation plucked from a Worst-Case Scenario handbook with a public service announcement to boot. And there you have it. My very favorite aspect of this many-faceted culture...DRAMA.
Drama is used primarily as a teaching tool, to talk about issues too sensitive to discuss openly. It can be used to start a dialogue as well, to coax people into talking about issues they aren't initially comfortable discussing. For various reasons, it's easier for people to talk about why "Fatou" is putting herself at risk rather than analyze their own lives and behaviors aloud. They're also a great education tool in general...they tend to make messages more memorable. The majority of dramas I've seen are health-related; the dangers of smoking, how AIDS is transmitted, what to do to prevent malaria, even how to recognize the symptoms of tuberculosis. But of course they dabble in other issues, the picture above is from a drama about climate change, there are more then a few about why girl's education is important, and why teenagers should avoid premarital sex.
The real Gambian spin is that they always have the most dramatic consequences imaginable. Now, I have heard people say that Gambians are not much for imagination. This is far from the truth. They might not be ready to embrace the fantasy style we imagine, for example Harry Potter and spells, but sit through any Gambian drama and you will see their brains can jump all over the place and bring out the most far-fetched conclusion you wouldn't even have dreamt of. The majority of Gambian dramas I have seen are performed by children, so even more imagination is required because 45% of the cast will be mumbling and looking at their feet. It takes quite a bit just to catch what's going on. There are rarely costumes, and though a narrator often opens and closes the production, he/she rarely pops in to help the story along. So the actors have the sole responsibility for making you believe.
Let me walk you through the basic plot on a drama about the dangers of HIV-AIDS...
There are 2 girls, perhaps their names are Binta and Kaddy. The dramas often start in a familiar setting, like the schoolyard. Binta, the star, will be talking to Kaddy, her friend, about her dreams. Maybe she wants to be a teacher, or a banker. Kaddy will use this opportunity to plug the correct behaviors, such as studying hard, or abstinence.
Enter Lamin. Lamin is clearly a "bad boy." He will sweet talk Binta, talking about buying her a cellphone and calling her beautiful. Kaddy will look disappointed in Binta. Eventually, against Kaddy's advice, Binta will agree to see Lamin alone.
Some point, offstage, Binta will submit to Lamin's persuasions.
.....Binta is pregnant! But where is Lamin? He has run off and is not answering his mobile. Binta is all alone.
And she has HIV! Kaddy asks her, why didn't you have Lamin get tested? The nearest testing center is ________, and it's free!
And Binta's baby is born with HIV, too! And her family won't let her stay because she had a child out of wedlock!
And now she has to leave her village! And she is all alone, because her friend Kaddy (who finished school and works in the village with her husband) has been forbidden to help her. Now what can Binta and her baby do? They will surely die...
That is just a sample. There are some where the star recovers, especially when it's a more treatable, less scandalously transmitted disease, like TB or malaria. The girl's education dramas often end in pregnancy, or sometimes are variations on a wicked stepmother theme. But what they all have in common is that they never fail to make you feel better about your decisions.