Breaking the omerta: One woman’s recount of her MOJA activism (part 8)

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Torture


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Nothing has changed.The body is susceptible to pain,it must eat and breathe air and sleep, it has thin skin and blood right underneath,

an adequate stock of teeth and nails,

its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable. In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.

The body shudders as it shuddered

before the founding of Rome and after, in the twentieth century before and after Christ.

Tortures are as they were, it’s just the earth that’s grown smaller,

and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It’s just that there are more people,

besides the old offenses new ones have appeared, real, imaginary, temporary, and none, but the howl with which the body responds to them,

was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Nothing has changed. Maybe just the manners, ceremonies, dances.

Yet the movement of the hands in protecting the head is the same.

The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away, its legs give out, it falls, the knees fly up, it turns blue, swells, salivates and bleeds.

Nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries,

the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.

Amid these landscapes traipses the soul, disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away,

alien to itself, elusive, at times certain,  at others uncertain of its own existence,

while the body is 

and has no place of its own.

 

 

******I stuck to my version of not knowing a b from a bull´s foot of what I was being interrogated on. I had no idea or clue as to what Sajo Jallow was up to in terms of planning treason or subversion. I had no idea where the ORS paper found at my place came from and I had no idea as to what MOJA-G stands for! As the torture continued unabated, death would have been most welcomed! My nose started to bleed profusely. A vein must have ruptured due to the pressure exerted by high voltage electricity the body is not used to. Both Abou Njie and Secka Bai rushed to stop the dripping blood from reaching my dress with rags that looked like they were retrieved from an auto-mechanic’s greasy toolbox. I had stopped hearing the waves from the Atlantic Ocean. I had stopped hearing my own crying voice. This was worse pain than female circumcision; that ritual rite where a part of your body is sliced away with a knife/razor blade by a pair of experienced hands whilst a dozen others pin you down to the ground. I knew I had descended in hell! Finally with one heavy wind, Daba Marena brought the handle to a stop and there was complete silence… It took a long moment before I realised the torture has ended… My body was like set on fire. I felt so sore! Daba Marena turned around in the front seat he was occupying, the machine was bundled up by Abou Njie and tucked away, Sowe 

 

 

started the car engine and we headed back to Banjul, Buckle Street. No one uttered a word; it was a resonating silence all the way. Upon arrival, the gates opened and I was ushered to my corner and made to sit down.  My legs could not carry me and literally I was carried under the arms by Abou Njie and Secka Bai. That was not a pretty sight to look at. The officers on duty started whispering and speaking in low voices. One phrase that came out succinctly clear was: “She was taken to Talk-True School”.  Then the obvious follow-up question: “Waaxnaam?” (Did she spill the beans?) . Someone came back later and revealed that Sowe the driver has informed them I had kept to my story….. “I have no idea” ….. The officers at the CID office started showing signs of concern. Earlier they had a detached attitude towards me, unless when it came to sharing my food (which they enjoyed with relish), now they were sort of showing sympathy. I lay stretched out on the bench facing the wall and my back to the rest of the office when I felt some wetness on my arm…a closer inspection revealed oozing blood from my right ear. I started to sob. The sobs turned to crying. I wailed! Nobody said a word. I was left to exhaust my lungs. I felt miserable. That day I went on a hunger strike. I refused to touch my breakfast that was waiting for me.  Lunch came and I was at my corner and did not look at the bowl. Dinner came and I was again crying. The officers asked me if they could give away the food to the fitters who worked in the yard and I nodded.  Night fell and I could not move to go take my routine shower. I just laid on the bench and tears were streaming down my cheeks. Occasionally, I would blow my nose. Strains of blood were evident on the toilet paper.  Sunday morning: no shower, no breakfast.  I started running a fever.  No lunch, no dinner! At night fall, no shower, more tears. I was wide awake for the best part of the night. My anger rises, reaches a peak and ebbs away in to sobs of helplessness. By the wee hours of Monday my fever was so high I was ready to embrace an episode of delirium.  My body was numb.  The female constable escorted me and with heavy faltering steps I made it to the tap in the yard. Under gushing waters I washed my hair and took a purification bath. I realised I had lost much weight in less than a week.  

My breakfast came and I refused to touch it. 

 

One of the constables was urging me to eat    when Sidney Riley walked in. He took a look at me and told the officers to inform Daba Marena & Co that I should be taken to the hospital right away.  In a Range Rover I was driven to RVH. Dr Adama Sallah had just returned from Sweden as a paediatrician.  He was on duty at the out-patient clinic. When it was my turn to meet him all three (Daba, Abou and Secka) followed right behind me. We entered the doctor’s room and Dr Sallah inquired my ailment. I told him I need my privacy and would not say a word if my guards are present. Dr  Sallah agreed that according to medical praxis I had a right to a moment with him in private. He asked them if they could excuse us and wait outside. Between sobs I narrated my story to the doctor, who was horrified at my burnt thumbs and who I guessed never expected Gambian democracy could look so ugly. He looked into my nose and ears; did some physical examinations like checking for my reflexes by hitting my knees (knee-jerk response) and looking for other bodily harm. He asked if I had been subjected to any other violence like sexual assault and I said:”NO!” I was twenty years and my curiosity and knowledge at the time never ventured beyond my high school biology notes. The thought of the possibility of such a nightmare scenario made me cringe with fear and disgust. I swore to myself that I would take my life if that were to happen. I would rather die. Fortunately, I was spared that ordeal! Dr Sallah wrote some prescription drugs. He also wrote and signed under a health certificate in which he stated that after his examination he has observed torture marks of severe burnt skin and he could verify that I was subjected to electric shock torture. That blood has clotted in my right ear and that I had reported having bled from the nose during the torture. I folded the certificate and placed it in my bra, took the prescription paper and walked out as the doctor stood by shocked by the revelation made by his last patient. Immediately I closed the door Daba Marena jumped on the prescription paper. He read it and understood we are to collect some Paracetamol and antibiotics (Penicillin) at the out-patient pharmacy. Still under escort we walked to the window 

and I received my drugs. We drove back to headquarters and lo and behold my mom 

 a Ra

was standing at the CID office entrance! She had finally been allowed to enter the CID office and visit me. One look at my mom and my heart sank to the ground. The last thing I wanted was for her to see me in the wretched state I was in. I felt bad; I had brought her much anguish and pain. I could see she had been crying a lot. One look at me and tears started rushing down her face.  She wept and told me I was sending her on a walk to the here-after – laxara – in Pularr (Laxara tépéré). Meaning people have to die first before they can reach the hereafter, but it seemed I wanted her to walk on foot in reaching that destination while living.  I pulled a brave face. I did not want my mom to see me broken down. Just as she was wiping her eyes so walked in my three high school friends: Lauretta Sowe (UN), Lucy Thomasi (MRC) (Marcel Thomasi’s sister) and Fatou Sanyang – head of the Women’s Bureau). They too had been allowed to visit me now. Later I was made to understand that my family and friends were visiting everyday, but everyday they were turned away, until that Monday! They all were anxious if I was okay and I told them I was not feeling well and had to seek care at the hospital. To which they thought it must have been malaria – Blame the mosquitoes! I was relieved that I had taken a thorough bath that morning and they did not find me in my earlier sorry state. I could not bring myself to tell them what I had been subjected to. It was a price I paid, one that I was also ready to pay without self-pity, complaining or looking for sympathy. Anybody who declares war on the powers that be must in the same vein be ready to pay an equivalent or higher price. Sometimes that price comes with losing a job, arrests, imprisonment or exile. Many a time, the ultimate price comes with paying with one’s life! Actually, this is the first time ever, I am giving a detailed narrative of what I had undergone during those fateful days at the Special Branch headquarters. My friends left for work and my mom stayed a bit longer. She asked me why I was held in custody. I told her the police were after some newspaper publication editors and wanted me to give them information, but I had no idea as to their inquiry. Later as the charges became clearer to her from information the CID officers willingly offered to share with her, she there and then revoked her lifelong PPP membership.

 

Author: Jainaba Bah, Sweden

 

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