By Jainaba Bah
Recent dramatic events have made me consider whether it is worth continuing this narrative. The unknown fate of Imam Baba Leigh, the spine chilling revelations of Bai Lowe on Freedom Radio and the gruesome rape ordeal of a sixteen-year-old teenage girl and her two friends at the hands of mercenary thugs in Kanilai all had an overwhelming emotional impact on me. I have seriously pondered during these past weeks the relevance of my writings while heart-wrenching atrocities continue being inflicted on innocent Gambians, especially the most vulnerable in our society – young girls. Yet, I feel it is compelling to share this story with all and sundry! Most especially, I feel I owe it to all those Gambian women and men, friends of The Gambia who see themselves as true agents of social transformation.
As our collective search for the truth continues and heinous stories of rape, torture and mutilated bodies dumped in wells churn our consciences, let us search in our innermost being to find the hidden strengths and courage in each and every one of us. Findings that will lead us to not only recognise our voices in calling out for justice and standing up for the truth but findings that will inspire us realise our historic call and seriously exert concrete collective efforts to make the change expected of us, as true sons and daughters of a sacrosanct country.
If it means torture, we should be ready to pay the prize. Many have already walked that path, we are not alone! We will live long enough to narrate the story later. If that call demands dear life, some of us must be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Think about all those who throughout history have paid that price! Let us exploit our individual and collective revolutionary potential! This article is dedicated to all prisoners of conscience and all torture victims! Most especially to Imam Baba Leigh! I feel your pain, I pray for you!
By Wislawa Szymborska
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 is and is
and has no place of its own.
Torture is one of the most extreme forms of human violence. As a victim it strips you of all self-worth leaving you with a dramatic feeling of helplessness. Think about being degraded and brought within an inch of your life! Well, Daba Marena and his colleagues did devise a method, or rightly, methods of inflicting pain. Excruciating pain: violence, trauma, cruel, inhuman, ruthless and degrading.
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 have stopped hearing the waves from the Atlantic Ocean. I have stopped hearing my own crying voice. This was worse pain than female circumcision; that rite where a part of your body is sliced away with a knife/razor blade by a pair of experienced hands while 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 it was 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 Buckle Street, Banjul. 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 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 lay 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 nightfall, no shower, more tears. I was wide awake for the best part of the night. My anger rises, reaches a peak and ebbs away into 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 and co. that I should be taken to the hospital right away. In a Range Rover I was driven to RVH. Dr Adama Sallah has just returned from Sweden as a paediatrician. He was on duty at the outpatient 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 have 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 guess 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 outpatient pharmacy. Still under escort we walked to the window and I received my drugs. We drove back to police headquarters and lo and behold, my mum was standing at the CID office entrance! She has finally been allowed to enter the CID office and visit me. One look at my mum 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 have brought her much anguish and pain.
I could see she has 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 here after, 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 mum 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 – present head of Women’s Bureau). They too have 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 were all anxious if I was alright 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 have 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 (police) headquarters. My friends left for work and my mum 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 info, but I have 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, there and then she revoked her lifelong PPP membership.
To be continued………
© Balang Baa Publications 2013
“I AM A HO$TAGE OF MY CON$CIENCE!
THERE I$ NO RAN$OM THAT
CAN EVER $ET ME FREE !”
Madam Jainaba Bah is Gambia’s ambassador to Russia. She is married to former ambasaador M Sarjo Jallow.