A MEMORABLE HOMECOMING (PART 3)

11/25/2010 10:45

 November 25th, 2010

In this third and final recounting of his first Africa trip with his little cousin Mariama Jallow to The Gambia and Guinea in 2009, the author waxes on the town of Basse and the importance of family ties.

  Of Town and Family  

By Amadou Basiru Jallow

Now that the pestering driver was off my back, I was able to buy a can of cold drink to quench my thirst and catch my breath before returning to the Customs and Immigration posts. At the Customs post, the officer (s) went through our entire baggage one after the other before allowing us through.  Unsurprisingly, an immigration officer had his eyes on us. He requested our documents before we finished loading our baggage into the car. I knew he was doing his job. However, from the sound of his voice and timing of request, I felt like I was being profiled.  Anyway, I was not upset at all. In fact, I was happy to present my documents. I believed that the immigration officer was surprised to find out that I was Gambian.  Then another officer asked where I was coming from. "Dakar," I replied. "No," he insisted. “Before Dakar, where were you?” "I am coming from Dakar," I repeated. Then, he blurted, “you have to be coming from either Europe or U.S."  I did not want to admit that I was coming from the United States because I saw no reason why that mattered in this case. However, I merely obliged just to end the conversation. Well, the conversation did not end; rather, its dynamics changed. Now, the officer(s) wanted me to pay some money in order to affix an arrival Visa on little Mariama’s U.S. passport.  I found this ridiculous. We did not have to pay anything in Senegal. What I found most frustrating was the fact that the fees were negotiable.  Of course, I expressed my dissatisfaction. Then, a senior officer, with better customer service skills, intervened. At the end, I made some friends, and enjoyed a delicious meal (NYANKATAN) with the immigration officers. We did it the African way: all of us gathered around the bowl of food.

Several hours later, we were driving down the ALLUNHAREH Bridge. Suddenly, old memories emerged. Some of my childhood friends and I used to jog to and from this bridge every morning after our GRADE SIX Common Entrance Examination. It was another way to while away time while we awaited our results. I quickly started noticing the changes that my beloved town had gone through over the years as our car drove down the main highway.  Basse, Koba Kunda, and Allunhareh are now interconnected as one big town.  The town has added new settlements namely, LAYOUT and NATURE. The prominent symbol of change for soccer fans is the Mini-Stadium that was to my right. However, when I turned to my left, I realized that the famous GPTC Depot had vanished. Of course, the physical location was still there. However, there was no sign of buses in the vicinity.

At home, my father-in-law was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild, Mariama. The rest of the family did not know we were coming. So, they were surprised to see us. It is amazing how fast information travels. Within minutes, the house was fully occupied by family and friends who came to welcome us home. Honestly, I felt a sense of freedom and belonging that I had not felt in a while. It definitely felt good to be home. Although I was tired, I still went out for a stroll at night with my wife. I had missed this town so much. I was basically trying to reconnect with my past. Although times have changed, most of the street corners remained fairly the same.

L-R Amadou with childhood friends Mamadou Salieu Jallow and Cherno Jallow in Basse last year

The next morning, a group of the town’s folks gathered at our compound to build the tents to provide shade for the gathering crowd the next morning. It was the annual induction ceremony. Every year, during “JULDEH JUMBENTEH” (MUSUKOTO SALO), the townfolks would gather at our compound to induct the children into Quranic recitation. As everyone would expect, I got up and joined the group through the completion of the project. Definitely, I would have loved to sleep in and rest that morning. But I was glad I did join the crowd. I was able to discuss with the youths the existence of the Basse Association (BA) and its goals. Everyone in the crowd welcomed the idea of the BA. The next day at the ceremony, everyone shook hands and sought forgiveness from one another. As always, the event that year went great. The crowd was exceptionally large. I had the opportunity to meet and greet many of my family members and friends. Also, I was privileged to meet and greet the town’s elders; among them were the Imams, the Alkalo, and many more. The gathering was a perfect display of the town’s symbolic multicultural and ethnic diversity. I was happy to have witnessed this occasion once more.  I realized this was a rare opportunity for someone like me.

ONE ON ONE WITH PRINCIPAL MAMADI CEESAY

My high school days were filled with great excitement and wonderful memories. Therefore, I felt compelled to visit Nasir and reconnect with my former school and a few of my former teachers who were still teaching there. I did not announce my visit to the school. I decided to keep a low profile and make a surprise visit. Of course, Principal Mamadi Ceesay did not know of my arrival in town. When I visited him in his office, the receptionist just had me walk in without consulting with him. To my surprise, Mr. Ceesay was able to call me by my first name after a short pause.  We had not seen each other in almost a decade, and nor did we communicate during this period. He offered me a seat and then the conversation started. Mr. Ceesay was just coming from teaching a Physics class. Of course, this was not an official visit. However, we were able to talk about a range of issues impacting the school. Surprisingly, Mr. Ceesay did not know of the existence of the BA, and as a result, he had not followed the heated debate about Nasir on this website several months ago.

As a member of the alumni, I expressed my concern about the performance of the students in the WASSCE lately. Also, I brought up the issue of the “Foundation Class.” These issues were the focal points of the heated debate we had on the BA website.  He outlined a number of contributing factors to the low performance of the students. Some of these included:

- Lack of motivation of the students nowadays as compared to those of the past.

- Most of the qualified teachers move on in search of greener pastures. It is difficult to attract and retain good teachers.

Mr. Ceesay said he came up with the Foundation Class to give some of these students a second chance. He realized that leaving all of these students who failed their Grade nine (9) to wander in the streets, was simply not the solution. Some of the students in this perfunctory class work hard to fulfill the requirements set forth and as a result do get promoted.  As for those who do not fulfill the requirements, they are basically let go.  I did not get down to the nitty-gritty of these issues because I realized that I was not there on an official visit. I gave him a brief spill about the BA. Like many of the townfolks, he welcomed the idea and indicated that it was a step in the right direction.  At the end, he said that his doors were open to the BA at all times. I hope that the editorial board of My Basse will conduct an official interview with Mr. Ceesay in the near future.

Amadou receiving a price during the 17th annual Speech and Prize-giving Day at Nasir. Principal Mamadi Ceesay behind Amadou

BASSE'S SANITARY CONDITIONS

The town of Basse is a fun place to live in and raise a family. The people are very welcoming. In fact, these are just a few of the characteristics that earned Basse the name “NYAMU –JODOH”.  Although most of the houses I visited were clean, the public places weren't. We have to work together to keep them clean. I was very disappointed to see several major streets turned into trash-dumping sites. Literally, most people clean their homes and throw away the trash in the street corners outside their homes.  I saw several dumping sites that were not necessarily designated as dumping sites by the responsible authorities (Basse Area Council). It is extremely important that we keep our environment clean so that we can stay healthy ourselves. Without a clean environment, we cannot have a healthy population.

 I understand that this is a very sensitive issue to mention, but I find it ill-advised to just paint Basse as a perfect place without mentioning some of the most important issues adversely affecting the town. The following are suggestions that I think if followed, will go a long way in helping us ameliorate this sanitary condition.

- BA as an association should work with the Basse Area Council and sponsor a sensitization program through the local media outlets.

- The Basse Area Council should designate trash collection sites (i.e. provide large trash cans across the town). There should also be scheduled pick-ups of these trash cans bi-weekly or once a month to be transported to designated dumping sites outside of the town. These dumping sites should be fenced and only accessible to employees. The employees who manage these sites should be well trained in trash-handling in order to minimize their occupational health hazards.

- The governor should encourage monthly cleaning exercises.

- Businesses, associations, individual organizations, etc., should be encouraged to adopt a highway. Adopting a highway is a simple way of giving back to the community. For example, Gamtel may adopt a highway/street that spans a distance of one mile or kilometer and take responsibility of keeping it clean.  Their employees can come together once a month and clean their adopted highway/street or pay other people to clean it for them.  GRTS, the police, the military, the schools, Basse Area Council, BYA, the Red Cross, just to name a few, should do the same.

- Recycling programs should also be encouraged.

THE POWER OF BLOOD RELATIONSHIPS

I had the opportunity of visiting my parents in the village. The last time I visited my father’s village was back in the summer of 1998. I was much younger then and mostly interested in having fun with my fellow youths than understanding the family lineage. Now, over a decade later, I am a responsible man interested in understanding my family lineage. Besides, I had missed my parents so very much. It is really hard to live alone without the family around.  It is amazing how transformed the village had become in a decade. I got lost and had to be accompanied home. When I walked into the compound, my stepmother was standing on the stairs curiously looking at us wondering who this stranger was. But when I got closer enough,  she recognized me. She jumped down the stairs and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tight and won’t let go until we got in the living room.  Her excitement quickly attracted everyone. My mother, who was inside her bedroom, quickly ran out, hugged me and started crying. At this time, my little brother went to pick up my wife and little Mariama who were waiting at the car. My sister, who was at the neighborhood, ran as quickly as she could with tears of joy running down her face and screamed at the top of her voice when she saw me; she almost collapsed.  Now, I was getting overwhelmed with the crowd and their tears. I was happy to see everyone but I was tired and wanted to rest. People were coming from all the neighboring villages to welcome us home, and others just to see us. I literally had to sneak away in order to take a shower.

Sometime later, my father came back from the mosque. Although he did not display the same outburst that the ladies had displayed earlier, I knew, by the look on his face and the tune of his voice, that he was very happy to see me.  It was a perfect-picture of a loving family reunion. My family and I had been longing for this day for a long time.  My father had almost given up. He stopped talking about it.

Amadou in his father's village, Kula Mawndeh, Guinea Conakry

I was really happy to see my father, who had been sick for the past weeks prior to my arrival, all excited as if he had been never sick. It really touched my heart that my father who is several generations older, was always looking forward to share a meal with me and my younger brother every day. If we were not around, he would send for us. He would walk up and down the village with me showing me around. He was always happy to introduce me to our extended family and friends. To him, I was a lost treasure that he had recovered. Of course, I wished that this family reunion would last but like everything in life, it was only a temporary enjoyment.

CONCLUSION

My trip to Africa was both challenging and rewarding. I have learned a lot about the preparation involved in international travel especially to Africa. It gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my past, to strengthen the family bond, and to see and experience first-hand how my beloved hometown has changed and evolved in the last decade. Certainly, there has been a positive development but we still have a long way to go in order to improve the town, particularly its sanitary conditions.

Overall, the people were great and welcoming. My in-laws were wonderful. Little Mariama had a great time. She has been constantly requesting a second trip. It is often said that revisiting the past helps us understand the present, and the present guides us into the future. For me, the trip was a great eye-opener. In fact, like little Mariama, I am looking forward to embark on a similar journey in the near future.

Amadou Basiru Jallow (Cherno Mbaila), a member of My Basse's Editorial Board, is currently attending the Northern Arizona State University in Arizona, USA. To read the first and second of his three-part article, please visit the archives on this site.

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