Being born in the provinces to parents not blessed with affluence could be challenging and frustrating. The implication is that you struggle to get a descent upbringing in terms of feeding, shelter, clothing education and even health. So I had to negotiate with life as I grew up in my village under the tutelage of my parents.
Kanni Kunda at that time was a settlement that could not boast of more than twenty compounds. And like most rural settlements at that time, most of the compounds hosted extended family systems which are even very typical of African societies and communities in general. The village was located east of the country stretching about 165 kilometres from the capital city, Banjul. And it takes you a walking time of one hour from Jara Soma, the administrative town of Lower River Region. We never had the luxury of boarding cars from the main road for our village was off the road. So we either had to walk or get transported by donkey and horse carts on the bumpy narrow gravel road.
I grew up in a polygamous environment and my mother was the second of my father’s four wives. So you see, I grew up along with other siblings but most of them were younger than I. There were only two out of the twenty five children my father had who were actually older than I was. One of these was the first son of my mother, Baburama, named after my mother’s father who was not only a revered figurehead in Sankwia, but he was also known for being erudite and generous. Sankwia is still a hamlet situated two kilometers north my own village. The other older brother I had was Ba-Saikou who was the first son of my father, born to N’naba, the first wife of my father.
My father was a farmer who grew groundnuts for the family to subsist. Because it was an extended family, there was never a dearth of labour on the farm. We all worked on the farm. Men, women, boys and girls all had to go lend an industrious hand on the several farms my father always had. He grew millet, rice, sorghum, groundnut and findi all on separate large plots. No matter large the farmlands were, work never overwhelm us. We were too many to be overburdened with work regardless of how daunting it may first seem to be. But we had to do this alongside schooling. The seasons were usually good as they most often than not ended with bumper harvests. We filled barns and silos which would last till the following farming season. We were always well fed. We were always well nourished.
Everyone shone with health and energy. In spite of all this though, we were never rich. We were poor. Life in the village was not very kind to me unlike many of the folks of my generation. I grew up in the same village as a child in abject poverty, and lost the warmth and love and care of my father as early as 8 years old. He, my father, the greatest of all fathers, never squandered a second to offer his children, not least me, affection, care and security. He ensured that we grew up happily and healthily but he never pampered us. Discipline was something that he instilled in us. Unsurprisingly, I grew up into a well mannered provincial boy full of dignity and determination ready to face and conquer the world as it were. I was enrolled into Kanni-kunda Primary School in 1982 by my grandfather, Alhagie Baba Saidykhan, through the head teacher of the school at the time, Mr. Sheriff Boye from Brufut. Mr Boye was a vastly experienced educated headmaster who did a lot in the education of many of the boys and girls in our village at that time. The pool of talented teachers and the general atmosphere he created at the school attracted a lot of us and we eventually viewed the school as even a better place than our very homes where we were born.
Through him, the school expanded and became a successful one preparing and producing excellent young people ready to go to secondary school. Fortunately, I was one of the trailblazers whose excellent performances, at the end of the primary school, announced the name of Kanni-Kunda Primary School to the entire country enabling it to compete favourably with the so-called elite schools in the urban areas. The certificate I obtained earned me a scholarship to go to Gambia High School. This was one of the very best schools in the country. The vast majority of the students there came from affluent families mostly resident in the metropolitan areas of the country.
However, few from the provinces who excelled themselves would find their way there. I was meant to be one of those rare provincial gems but fate would have it differently. The scholarship I merited was mysteriously snatched from me and given to Karafanding Kinteh, the second child of our district chief then. Karafanding and I were in the same class but he was never anywhere near me in academic performance. But being the son of a chief meant that he was more privileged to benefit from that government scholarship. In that time, district chiefs were powerful and influential as they were political propagandists for the incumbent presidents.That was the order of the day. My parents became bitter and indignant. But being common peasant farmers, they could do nothing about it. So, dejectedly, we all resigned to my fate.
The prospects of high school education soon began to dissipate. Because my family lived from hand to mouth, paying tuition fees at high school was an extremely remote possibility. Nonetheless, since I had had an excellent result in Primary Six, I was allowed to enroll at my school of choice in the capital.
Throughout the short period I stayed at the school, I was engulfed in a sea of apprehension and anxiety over my fate. I had always known that it was going to be a question of when and not if I would be ejected from school for failing to settle my tuition fees.
As feared, midway into the second term of Form One, my first year in high school, I, along with a few in the same financial strangulation as me, got a warning at a Monday assembly that students who did not pay their first time fees would be served notice to stay away from school and would be expelled if they failed to pay after two weeks. We agonisingly failed to pay but the school did not ruthlessly fail to delete our names from the school roll. My closest friend, Abdoulie, had endured a life no different than mine. He was my alter ego and we were inseparable.
The sheep my grandma sold and the subsistence farming I ventured into did very little to keep me in school. I hassled throughout my early life with so many rejections and disappointments. However, I had one goal in mind; to never let negativity sabotage the bright future ahead of me.
My journey has been from village to city, grass to grace poverty to affluence, rejection to progress. I hardly knew that a villager like me, without any trace of importance one day ever leave the confines of my village to travel around the world, coming to Taiwan penniless without any relative or close family member, free and graduate cum laude.
I recently started my PhD fellowship with no funding but yet still I am determined to complete the program and go back to The Gambia to serve my people. None of these milestones of success have been achieved through my own abilities but by God’s (SWT) unwavering grace alone. Today, I stand to witness God’s amazing grace in all phases of my journey across my life. To those of you who have lost hope and have become despondent, remember this: be faithful to God (SWT) and trust Him always. He
will take care of you.
By Seedy S. Fofanah