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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Breaking the omerta: One woman’s recount of her MOJA activism (part 6)

But the ORS was a complete new journal. It was striving to be the mouthpiece of all Gambian students. Addressing pertinent questions as to wither our educational system? The rains had failed. Drought has become a normal phenomenon. The government has shifted priority to the tourism industry. We posed a question to the Gambian Government and specifically the Ministry of Education as to how they could justify hotel rooms having two beds for a single tourist whereas parents had to buy tables and chairs for their children and carry the furniture to and from school Monday – Friday?

Can one person sleep on two beds at the same time? What were they thinking? Where was our development heading? Articles were coming from all over the country as to what conditions prevail in different schools. That info was compiled, edited and published, with a most fitting editorial for each publication.

“I have no idea” was not a good enough answer. I was arrested and the copy of the ORS was taken as evidence found at my residence. We drove back to Banjul and straight to Buckle Street Police Station, leaving the rooms in mob-invasion scenario. At the police station, I was taken to the CID-Special Branch office which was on the ground flour of a two-storey building and placed in custody at a corner incommunicado. At that time Sidney Riley was the head of the Special Branch and Samba Bah was boss to Marena and his colleagues. Samba wanted answers, and he wanted them quick. He was a tall and skinny man. Samba Bah was the one pulling the strings with a large team of errand hounds. I was not collaborating. I was taken upstairs, past Riley’s office to the SB office where Daba Marena and company have their quarters. Here the interrogation was about the ORS: articles, editing, typing, printing and distribution network. They wanted to know everything. Who is who in the ORS, who does what, you name it! Again I answered as innocently as I could, that I have no idea what they were talking about. I was later taken downstairs to the CID office and “booked” according to police terminology: my name, the date and time was entered in a file. Here, I was kept in custody at a corner on a long bench with the instruction: Incommunicado!  In the meanwhile, the same officers returned to Brikama and arrested my grandma. Took her to the Brikama Police Station and interrogated her as to my activities: who were my friends, who visits me and if she is aware I had documents hidden in her suitcase; seditious material that was going to land me in big trouble if she does not collaborate and tell them all she knows about my subversive life. A tearful grandma told them she knows nothing about me getting involved in state matters. That what they are telling her is news. That all I do is report to work in Banjul and come straight home. That they should not hurt me! They took her back and learnt my cousin attending St Peter’s High School was also domiciled in the same house. They arrested him but after a couple of questions, he too was released. He was never tortured as he later claimed. They were never after him.

By afternoon, word had gone around like wild fire that I have been arrested by the police but nobody knew where I was and on what grounds. My aunt who was an auxiliary nurse at the Brikama Health Centre placed a call to the Farafenni Post Office and requested to talk to my parents. We did not have a phone at my home. One of the Dibba brothers working at the post sensed the distress in my aunt’s voice cycled to our compound. My mom came to answer and like any parent the news shocked the day-lights out of her. She left Farafenni the next morning, on Wednesday. She later told me that was the longest night in her life. She arrived in Brikama greeted by tears and wailings. A group of seven people including my grandma and mom rented a van looking for me starting at the Brikama Police Station. I was not there. Next: Yundum Police Station. I was not there. Serekunda Police Station: I was not there. At Serekunda, they reasoned whether to drive to Bakau or just straight to Banjul. They decided Banjul dreading the gravity of my supposed crime and drove to Buckle Street. Here, at the counter they were told yes I was there but as if that was not bad enough news, they were informed I was not allowed visitors. They broke into tears again. And let me tell you this: it may now, after the event and many years on, seem funny and as a reader you may even laugh, but as an expression of distress, sorrow or pain, Pulo Futas (Peul Futas) sing while crying. They would wail questioning what wrath had befallen the family; their daughter and grand-daughter. Where are you Neneh-galleh? Calling on Allah to be with ‘Galleh Bah’ and protect her wherever she threads, wherever she is! It must have been the most bizarre display of emotional grief to the station officers. My folks were refused entrance to see me. They had brought me food and fruits. Those were accepted by the officers on duty and later given to me. I had not eaten a morsel of food since my arrest. Not because I was not offered some, but because I did not feel like I was hungry. When the basket arrived I was told it was from my family. I offered the CID officers. They took some fruit. I ate a little, I was still not feeling any hunger. Extended family members and some friends in Banjul were contacted and the news broken to them. Ndura Njie, my friend at Dobson took upon herself to bring me food everyday from that moment: lunch, dinner and breakfast. Remember her eldest brother is Police Inspector Wally Njie. But Ndura was like oblivious of the implications of her actions. She displayed character and integrity. Those were the days! She too was not allowed to see me but the delicious dishes always reached me and later even the CID officers guarding me would be looking forward to them. From saucy yoxos, mburro akara, mburo liver, benachin, domoda, supa kanja, you name it! I am forever grateful to her!

The CID office is inside the police barracks, behind the main tation. I spent my days sitting at the corner. At night fall under the escort of a female officer, I take a shower under a tap in the yard and I sleep on the long bench in the CID office. I really missed my bed. A few mosquitoes feasted and early in the mornings by 5:30 am, I wake up, escorted by a female officer, again I take a shower under the same tap in the yard. Ndura has already bought me some ‘Lifebuoy’ soap, tooth paste/brush and some sanitary articles to change and saved me much embarrassment since I had no money on me when we left Brikama. I was not allowed to take anything, not even my handbag. It was during those days the idea of providing female prisoners with a kit of basic necessities on a monthly basis came to me. I am grateful to have lived and honoured that pledge on a small scale, made during a very desperate period of my life. Here and now, I would like to seize the occasion to appeal to all and sundry to assist convicts especially female prisoners with basic stuff that would make their lives a little bit dignified under the dehumanisation of custody/prison existence. Being a woman is the personification of biological drama – we are a unique specie!

 

Author: Jainaba Bah, Sweden


 

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