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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Childhood and early life: Growing up from rural Gambia

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By Batou Saidy

Back in the days, those days when poverty was at its maximum height, things were very hard for a lot of people. Life and livelihood were a living hell. Destitution was threatening a lot of people, families, and areas. That harsh nature of poverty. Those were the days of ‘bee kucha, saama bukoli, sininding beh Allah bulu’.

As a villager, born into and brought up in a struggling family, growing up from the countryside, you largely realize that poverty is a great enemy to humanity. Because odds are – your parents are either poor or you live with poor people. So by chance or by circumstance, you’re bound to know or recognize poverty very early in your life.

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In those days, going to school was a great challenge for many kids. From struggling with essential materials like uniforms and shoes, to indispensable stuffs like stationery, lotions and suchlike. Sometimes, even food, commonly monikered “lunch” per se. That perfect depiction of a true life poverty that attacked many people from get-go: the one that threatened their bright futures, trimmed their odds of turning things around, for themselves and for their families – the one that attracts inconsideration, discrimination and marginalization – both within the family and in the neighborhood; that’s the very poverty I’m talking about.

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Going to school in an empty stomach, without any lunch, with the expectation that there’d be breakfast at home by break time around midday, only to discover that mom has gone to the rice field or pounding some coos at the backyard, or rice that she’d cook for lunch that very day; that’s a bad feeling second to none. That’s the real life heartbreak. The practical demo. The invasive type.

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Those days when you’d wake up in the morning, only to realize that all your clothes have been wet by a night rain. The days when you’d realize that all the clothes you have, including the ones that you put on during Tobaskis or when Yahya Jammeh was on tours wouldn’t even fill up a pan, are the ones I’m talking about. Poverty isn’t far from death on the wickedness scale. They’re siblings. One is masculine whereas the other is feminine.  The only difference is: you can overcome the other, but not the other one.

There used to be dark days when they’d send you away from school for fees, only for your dad to go with you to the school or tell you to ask the headmaster to give him some time to settle it because there was no money at that juncture. The days when mom would send you to collect fish money from dad, only to see that he had only two currency notes – a ten and a five dalasis – with some coins that would only afford jumbo from Mariama Sellou and a smoked fish from Mama Kudas.

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If you come from a family where you’d hoe a farmland nearly a month but wouldn’t even finish it because of insufficient machinery or daddy’s inability to hire labour, you’d know what I’m talking about. If you know that, you’d also know how it feels to fetch firewood in the bush at the peak of such rainy seasons. There was hunger and fatigue all hiding in common poverty, the poverty that claimed the respect of many people, conditions, and circumstances. That poverty that catalyzes women’s journey to widowhood when their husbands feel sick or get old. The one that even attracts livestock to use your veranda as shelter. That’s the one I’m referring to.

If you were born and brought up into a poor family, you must know or recognize poverty of all forms and degrees. Even if you succeed subsequently, you’d still bear memories of such critical life events. You can kill poverty but you can’t kill its memories, unfortunately. If this isn’t the case for you, then it’s a déjà vu.

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However, in those days, many people were happy. Maybe even happier than now. Maybe due to their gratitude. Because there’s happiness in gratitude. Today, many people are comfortable instead. Maybe poverty is evolving. But the finest recipe for happiness is probably gratitude. If you’re grateful, you should have enough reasons to be happy on the reminiscence of your childhood and early life from the countryside. It doesn’t necessarily need to follow the script or descend into these extremes. If you can just relate it, without minding the degree or duration, maybe you’d see the poverty I’m talking about. And you’d be grateful and happy for whatever life has presented you so far.

This might not be the exact or mainstream depiction for you particularly as life events differ from person to person, place to place, but verily; this isn’t a hyperbole either. I don’t like it. Euphemisms and paradoxes are my literary devices. And seeking relevance isn’t my cup of tea if you know that this is my thirty-fourth article on this platform alone since 2020. Albeit some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, this is just a general depiction of what some other villagers would normally endure in childhood and early life, the one that their parents would go through just to eke out a living or see them through school – the one that you and I can also relate and now smile in gratitude.

Batou Saidy is a Public Health Officer and a writer. He’s a football fanatic and a Manchester United aficionado.

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