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Echoes of Fulladu: Weathering storms in the unforgiving landscape of 1960s Kanjor (Part 22)

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Before establishing roots in Farato village in The Gambia, amid the challenging terrain of 1960s Kanjor within the Fulladu region of Casamance, the Mbalo family grappled with the oppressive dominance of Yerro, the patriarch. Yerro, a tempest of anger and silent contemplation, tightly clenched the family’s fate in his hands. Within this household, charged with tension, the lightning of his rage struck most brutally at Borogie, his first wife and the mother of his children.

In those times of eloping through the fields, sustenance was woven from the earth itself. Men toiled in the fields cultivating millet and corn, while women nurtured rice paddies and tended to the growth of essential vegetables. Footsteps were imprinted on soil untouched by shoes, and the fabric that draped their bodies was spun from cotton harvested in those very fields. The simplicity of life was dictated by the land, and the Mbalo family’s struggle unfolded against this backdrop of bare necessities and agrarian dependence.

Borogie and Yerro’s relationship unfolded as poignantly as the unwilful poisoning of a stranger’s porridge. Their familial ties were rooted in a unique bond, shaped by a shared upbringing that began with a twist of fate.

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In their formative years, Yerro and Borogie were more than just companions – they were siblings, growing up together in the household of Borogie’s father, Samba Mawdo. However, their connection extended beyond mere blood ties.

The roots of Yerro’s inclusion into the family traced back to a moment of profound trust. When Yerro’s biological father, Samba, fell grievously ill, he entrusted the guardianship of his son to his close friend, Samba Mawdo. In a moment that echoed with solemnity, Samba reportedly said: “I give you the bones of my son. Should he ever wish to marry, I give you the right to find him a wife. He is yours to love as a son.”

Samba Mawdo, a man of honour, dutifully upheld his friend’s wishes and assumed responsibility for Yerro a few years before he wedded Mariama Baldeh, Borogie’s mother. Yerro’s integration into the family was a testament to the unwavering trust placed in Samba Mawdo, creating a bond that surpassed the formalities of adoption.

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In his youth, Yerro grappled with an overwhelming fear of death that robbed him of sleep on most nights. He would lie in the darkness, gazing at the faint blue moonlight filtering through a small opening in their thatched rooftop for hours, but peace eluded him. Afraid to close his eyes, he cradled the weight of his mortality in his small hands.

His anxieties kept him captive, plagued by questions about the nature of death. Would there be pain? Would awareness persist after death? Was there existence beyond this realm? His inquiries loomed large, like a cosmic black hole, vast and unsettling. Confronting the truth was a prospect he steadfastly avoided.

Borogie, in her role as Yerro’s younger sister, gracefully navigated the intricacies of their shared upbringing. Growing up together, their connection transcended mere familial bonds, embodying the camaraderie forged through shared memories and experiences.

In the simplicity of village life in Casamance, where clothing was a scarce commodity, Borogie took on the responsibility of tending to Yerro’s modest wardrobe. With unwavering diligence, she laundered and cared for the few garments he owned, showcasing the resourcefulness demanded by their environment.

Moreover, Borogie assumed the mantle of culinary stewardship, crafting meals for the family they both belonged to. Her culinary expertise became a renowned feature in their village, celebrated for its flavourful excellence. The enticing aroma of her cooking permeating the air served as a harmonious backdrop to the stories of their shared past, each dish carrying the distinct and rich flavours of Casamance.

In the midst of their responsibilities, Borogie and Yerro navigated the sibling dynamic through ordinary yet endearing interactions. Their exchanges comprised teasing banter, shared laughter, and an unspoken understanding fostered by growing up in close proximity. The rhythms of their daily lives mirrored the harmonious notes of familial bonds, with each task and shared moment strengthening the foundation of their relationship.

At the core of Kanjor, Borogie and Yerro embodied the essence of normalcy in their sibling connection, finding joy in the simplicity of everyday tasks and creating memories destined to endure. As the narrative of the Mbalo family unfolded, the roots of Borogie and Yerro’s relationship delved deep into the bedrock of trust, obligation, and the intricate dance of family dynamics. Their connection, shaped by destiny and fortified by unspoken vows, added layers of complexity to the evolving tale of the Mbalo household.

As Borogie reached the age deemed suitable for marriage, a procession of suitors sought her hand, only to meet repeated rejections. Yerro, who had always regarded her as a sibling, hesitated to make such a significant request. However, prodded by the encouragement of one of his uncles and driven by an undeniable connection that transcended their sibling bond, Yerro summoned the courage to seek Borogie’s hand in marriage. To her immense relief, as she had begun to despair that her father had no intentions of marrying her off, Samba Mawdo accepted Yerro’s proposal. Thus, at the age of fifteen, she became the last of her peers to embark on the journey of marriage.

However, the transition from familial bonds to marital ties proved to be more challenging than Borogie could have anticipated. At fifteen, having always seen Yerro as an older brother, their marriage seemed doomed from the start. The dynamics shifted, revealing latent resentments and unspoken tensions.

Borogie, the only surviving girl in a family of five boys was both assertive and fiercely independent. Yerro had always harboured secret resentment towards Borogie’s boyish independence. He felt that his adopted father, Samba, had been excessively lenient towards his only daughter in comparison to himself and the boys. The clash between Yerro’s expectations and the reality of Borogie’s individuality became a source of friction, laying the groundwork for the challenges that would plague their union.

Their father, Samba Mawdo, presided over their household with a stern and violent hand, resorting to mercilessly whipping his sons for even the slightest transgressions. This brutality extended beyond the sons to include Borogie’s mother, Mariama, who suffered beatings so severe that she often found herself in a degrading state, unable to control her bodily functions. In an inexplicable twist of fate, Borogie seemed to be exempt from the brutal lashings that plagued the rest of her family.

Yerro, shaped by the stern discipline of Samba Mawdo during his formative years, unfortunately carried these harsh tendencies into his own marriage. It seemed that, in his perception, violence became the sole means of addressing conflicts within the confines of matrimony. Perhaps, as a deeply wounded soul haunted by the untimely deaths of both parents and unable to properly mourn their loss, he suffered profound psychological harm. In the absence of proper channels for grieving, Yerro’s emotional wounds festered and found expression through violent tendencies in his marriage.

It was a poignant irony that the bonds he forged within his family as a sibling did not translate into healthy dynamics within his own marriage. The clashes between Yerro and Borogie became frequent and intense, persisting even after the arrival of their first child, a daughter named Nata. Instead of fostering harmony and connection, the marital journey became a battleground of conflicting expectations and unresolved resentments, casting a dark shadow over their family’s narrative.

The turning point in their tumultuous narrative came with the birth of Matou, a second daughter. At this critical juncture, Yerro made a fateful decision that would further exacerbate their already troubled relationship. He chose to marry a much older second wife, Dado, who had been twice divorced – a move that seemed like pouring gasoline onto an already blazing fire.

Borogie, a woman characterised by her persuasible nature, initially displayed unwavering courage in standing her ground within the confines of her marriage. When Yerro insisted on marrying Dado, she deftly dismissed his bluff, steadfastly refusing to become a passive recipient of his transgressions. However, the unfolding pattern of conflict laid bare a painful truth – her resistance seemed to only stoke the flames of Yerro’s relentless pursuit of Dado. Even when an outsider intervened in an attempt to resolve their heated disputes, Yerro’s aggression stubbornly persisted.

In the aftermath of these tumultuous encounters, Borogie found herself battered by the tempests of Yerro’s betrayal. Seeking solace, she turned inward, embracing herself both physically and emotionally as she tended to the visible and concealed wounds inflicted by his unpredictable outbursts. The scars left behind were not solely on the surface; they ran deep, reflecting the toll taken by the emotional turbulence within their marital relationship.

In the midst of this tumult, a subtle yet significant contrast emerged through the presence of Dado, the second wife. Though overt affection was notably absent, Yerro’s demeanour towards her exhibited a peculiar softness. Dado, in her fair complexion, bore a resemblance to Yerro’s late mother, Buya, who had tragically passed away during childbirth. Yerro, having never known his mother, could only hope that she embodied the essence of her mother.

The echoes of Buya’s departure lingered in the recesses of Yerro’s heart, an absence that left an indelible mark on his emotional landscape. Dado’s likeness to Buya seemed to act as a bridge, connecting Yerro to a gentler side of himself that had remained hidden beneath the storms of his temper since his marriage to Borogie.

Dado, on the other hand, twice married and still without a child, grappled with societal expectations and the whispers of marabouts attempting to solve the mystery of her infertility. Despite her unyielding efforts and the interventions of spiritual leaders, her womb remained obstinately barren. Her silent struggle to conceive added a poignant layer to the intricate dynamics within the Mbalo family.

Whether it was the subtle mirroring of his mother’s features in Dado or the shared history of loss and hardship, Yerro’s heart appeared to soften every time he was around Dado. The connection to his past, the yearning for a motherly figure he never knew, or perhaps even Dado’s unfortunate barrenness, played a role in creating a space for compassion within Yerro’s otherwise tumultuous emotions.

As the Mbalo family navigated the intricacies of their lives, Yerro’s softened stance towards his second wife became a source of both solace and complexity. As the relentless march of time continued, the family’s narrative underwent transformation. Yerro, with the passing years, exhibited a subtle mellowness, and his violent storms became less frequent. However, the scars of his past actions persisted, especially on Borogie, who bore the emotional and physical toll of a life intertwined with a tempestuous partner.

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