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Bullied and Depressed, Young Gambian Writer Finds Therapy in Her Debut Book

Awa Badara Joof

In school, Awa Badara Joof was always the happy jolly girl who was always smiling and warming up to everybody. That was her public image. But underneath her veneer of happiness was a world of depression. She was bruised by bullying and abuse, a feeling she kept to herself just so she wouldn’t attract sympathy from anyone.

“I exude the happy-go-lucky girl, always smiling, laughing and making jokes. I was really scared to show people the other side of me because there’s a lot depression in there,” she says. “I’ve had personal experiences like bullying, abuse, and feeling like you are not enough, questioning your adequacy.”

For a long time, Awa suppressed her emotional pain because of censorship imposed by her society as well. “We live in a society where we have the forbidden fruit kind of philosophy. You’re not allowed to touch that fruit. You’re told not to talk about this or talk about that.”

But while she didn’t speak out about it, she found a way of not keeping quiet about it; she started putting it in writing, as personal notes. By October/November 2018, Awa started feeling that she could turn her personal notes into a book that would capture her life experience.

“I’ve always loved writing. I always knew that I wanted to be an author someday. When this started going on, I already had poems written and a blog. I would write flash fiction on them.”

Awa and her aunt Aminah (middle) at her book launch

Awa, 23, would frequently visit her aunt Aminah, who would encourage her to push for a book. By February/March 2019, it was clear that her book was coming. On Saturday June 8th, she officially launched the book titled “Flow” at a ceremony in Kanifing, attended by family members, friends, government officials and members of the academia.

“In Flow there are four sections; there’s cracking, dripping, breaking and then flowing,” Awa tells The Chronicle, giggling. “The idea is to show that life is a journey.”

She describes Flow as “the movement of the in-between.”

“It is what happens when you let go and decide to live. It is, paradoxically, the ease that comes when you embrace the pain and difficulties.”

Asked what Flow does for her, Awa smiles, giggles and smiles again, circling her smiley face with her hand. “You can see me smiling. That’s what it does for me. I think people haven’t seen me this happy in a while.”

“It validates that everything I went through was worth it.”

Family and friends at Awa’s book launch

For Awa, Flow is not just a book. It’s the story of her life. Where she struggled with the ‘forbidden fruit’ in the book, she used characters to cover her identity.

Her hope is for young Gambian girls to read Flow and use it to boost their confidence as well as their relationship with other women.

“I’d want them to give life a chance, and give themselves a chance. I’m the person who used to beat herself up but with the right people behind me, I can flow now. I’m growing into a woman I want to be.”

Flow is available for purchase on Amazon and at Timbooktoo bookstore in Fajara.

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