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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Choose your group, or your group will choose you

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Part 1

Speech by Katim Seringe Touray to graduands at the Anglican Mission Institute (formerly called ATC), Farafenni, Upper Badibu, North Bank Region, The Gambia on Saturday, July 30, 2022.

Part 1 of 4; the complete transcription of the speech (edited for clarity and brevity) is available online at https://tinyurl.com/3aad758m, and the recording of the speech is archived at the Internet Archive (https://tinyurl.com/mrytve8j).

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Good afternoon everybody.

Thank you very much Mr. Mbye, the MC of the occasion. I think it’s obvious that we didn’t consult; that’s myself and him, because if we did, I would have asked him to tone down a little bit his enthusiasm so that I would not disappoint the crowd.

All the same, thank you very much, Mr. Mbye, for a very, I would say, flattering introduction that you had of me. Thanks very much and I’d like to say good afternoon to the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the ATC, my Big Brother Mr. Oremi Joiner, we go back a very long way. I’m so happy to see you here because for a long time we haven’t seen.

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I’d like to say good afternoon also to the rest of the members of the Board of Directors of the ATC, as well as my brother and relative and everything from very long ways ago, Alhaji Sait Saine, who invited me and of course I had no choice in the matter but to accept gladly at that, his invitation to come here to share a few words with you.

I’d also like to say good afternoon to the parents of the students that are graduating today, and to the representative of the Commander of the Farafenni Barracks, Mr. Bah, is the officer’s name, and I’d like to say good afternoon to you students as well as the staff of ATC.

It is indeed a very great, great pleasure for me to come to ATC to attend your graduation ceremony and give a few remarks and share my thoughts on where I’ve been and what I think are very important and critical issues that you might want to consider moving forward in your lives, which I hope would be so successful beyond your wildest imaginations.

What I’d like to do is just to touch a little bit about my background and then having done that discuss a few issues or few points which I think would be lessons that I, at least, can say I have learned from my experience.

As Mr. Mbye said, I’m fromBallanghar which is just next door to Farafenni, just about a few miles from here, a few kilometers from here. That’s where I started. And I always keep reminding people I never went to kindergarten. I never went to nursery school. I started straight like everybody else, and Mr. Saine here, your Principal, will bear me witness. Like everybody else, I started with Primary one and took it from there. And from Ballanghar Primary School, we sat to the Common Entrance Examinations, that’s what we called it back then.

In 1969, I went to Armitage High School, [a boarding school in Janjanbureh, Central River Region] which, I always tell my friends, I call the University of Life, because at a very early age we were thrown in the midst of kids like us from all over The Gambia, and we basically were living with each other for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for as long as the term was on. Now, what this did was it allowed you to learn from each other because you came from different backgrounds. There were people from rural areas. There are people from urban areas. They were Mandinkas, there were Jolas, there were Serahules. But in all entire time that I was there not once did I hear anybody being criticized or being praised by virtue of their ethnicity or the tribe that they belong to or the area they came from, or the language they spoke. In other words, I always tell people that it is not possible, in my judgment, for somebody to have been to Armitage or a school like it and become a tribalist. It was completely an impossible characteristic to have [because] we all were very much on top of each other and living as brothers and sisters.

From Armitage I went to Gambia High School [Banjul]. That’s where I did my Sixth Form and then from there I continued to Nigeria, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus. That’s where I studied for my undergraduate degree in agriculture specializing in soil science. Now, besides the agricultural training I had there, Nsukka was also very interesting from the late 70s to early 80s because it also was a ground where I was exposed even further to people from different backgrounds. [This is] because Nsukka, and the University of Nigeria more generally, also happened to be the destination for many, many students from different African countries. So, we were all there together, not to mention the fact that we also were living with Nigerians from all corners of Nigeria. For this reason, I feel perfectly comfortable, I think, interacting with and dealing with and working with people from all corners of Nigeria as indeed all other parts of Africa because it’s been an experience I was exposed at a very early age.

Then I returned home in 1981, and got employed by the Ministry of Agriculture to work with the Soils Laboratory in Yundum where I was employed as Scientific Officer. After that, I went to the United States [in December 1984] to do my Master’s degree in soil science at Montana State University, [Bozeman].

Again, that was a very interesting experience because I was one of very few Blacks there and all of a sudden, I had to adjust the idea that there were some people that would take their fingers and rob your skin to see whether your dark skin will rub off on their fingers. And that’s how low the level exposure that many of them had to African cultures. So, it was also an opportunity for me to only get an education, but also to in turn educate a lot of people, especially Americans about Africa, our cultures, our values, and things like that.

I was once invited to a school, a Grade School [with pupils] who are about eight years old or younger, and I told the children that in The Gambia where I came from a man can have more than one wife. And this was really mind-blowing for young Americans like that. One of them raised his hand, and I said “Yes, you have a question?” He said, “No. I want to move Gambia!” because I said that in The Gambia, you can have more than one wife! So those were valuable experiences.

I came back home [in 1987] and worked again for the Ministry of Agriculture, and went back [in 1990] to the States to do my Ph. D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison [UW] in soil science. And there again, it was a very interesting experience. As a matter of fact, just my going to Wisconsin was an eye opener. First because it wasn’t supposed to happen, because at that point in time we had a boss who said that there is no way in hell he would sponsor anybody to go do his [or her] Ph. D. So I was fortunate to have had a sponsorship from the university itself to do my Ph. D.

The second reason why it was also just quite an experience was that when I finished my bachelor’s degree from Nigeria and I wanted to do my Master’s program in the States. I remember applying [for admission] to the University of California, Riverside. I got a letter from them rejecting my application for admission. Furthermore, the guy who wrote the letter, I still remember his name, said “Mr. Touray after a careful review of your papers, your transcripts and everything we have determined that you don’t have the potential for Graduate School.” In other words, [I didn’t] have the potential to go study for a Master’s or a Ph. D.

As it happened, when I got to Wisconsin to do my Ph. D., I found that the same guy who wrote that letter denying me admission to Riverside to go do my Master’s and telling me I [didn’t] have the potential that he himself got his Ph. D. from Wisconsin. Even more interesting was the fact that he got his Ph. D. from the same Department I went to, the Department of Soil Science. Even more interesting is that he got his Ph. D. in the same room, that is from the Soil Physics group, that I went on to get my Ph. D. [from]. And I’ll say a little bit more about this because it’s very instructive that very particular experience that I had in going to Wisconsin.

Now Wisconsin was also a great opportunity because Madison is a very liberal town, and one of the things I just really plunged into was the volunteerist spirit that Americans are very famous for. It just happens, again by Providence I suppose you could say, that I volunteered to do a radio program. Believe it or not, I was a DJ doing an African music show for like six years at the WORT FM Community Radio [in] Madison, and I also was a talk show host [there] for like three years

All of this experience actually will go on to have very significant impact on my life much later, something that I did not think of when I went to volunteer at WORT FM. I volunteered at WORT precisely because I wanted us to maintain a voice on the airwaves as a community of Africans in Wisconsin. So that’s what happened and of course, what led to a whole bunch of other stories.

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