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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Not a child’s play: Dear Mawdo revisited

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By Rohey Samba Dear Mawdo, My childhood plays were a chock-a-block of wonderful imaginations; I was a medical doctor one day, a market woman the next day and a teacher the following day. To a child with simple ideas, all these occupations were given equal importance. No one occupation was better than the other one. I would act out the roles with my maternal cousin, Mariama Jamba, or intone the role-plays to myself upon the reflection of any standing mirror I could avail myself with. The plays were unassuming productions of the simplistic views of my sheltered childhood. They became the fodder that fed my notoriety for oversimplification and in my adult years, my awkwardness with people who took themselves too seriously. Like really? Yet part of growing up means knowing when to stop playing pretend. It’s unlike the role play of a jerk who unceremoniously ‘decides’ to terminate my livelihood in hopes that I would automatically resume where I started. Like really? If I had wanted to stay where I was, would I have stuck my neck out of the box to the vultures. How much humiliation would I suffer to return and be cut down by people I left in search for better only to come to worse? My God, the jerk destroyed my sanity. But I have one lesson to offer you Mawdo. Never beg. If a man makes his decision about you or your life, never question, never beg, never stoop low… Let him be. In this cycle of life, you will certainly meet again. Nothing is in vain. Thus, remaining attached to childhood play is like toiling on dead soil without realising your folly. Until the energy of toil sucks up all the energy required to toil the land, the realisation of such folly cannot be appreciated. This was what happened in that dissolving period in my life when I got admission to the Nautical College in Ghana. I was still inscribed in the glitz of Nautical College of legend. Availing myself the notoriety for pretend magnified my anticipation. Like child play did for me when I was young, infusing my mind with wonderful imaginations about Nautical College was oversimplification to say the least. After all is said and done, Nautical College was no child’s play. Without antedating the end, let me continue on with my narrative. As we approached the Nautical College gate, the security guard, who was at the guardhouse, involuntarily readjusted his beret. He marched briskly out of his guard post towards the van, which was at that juncture put in the accessory position just before the gate. The guard came forward and exchanged brief pleasantries with Kwesi, our driver, who offered his gate pass to him. On his request, we presented him with our passports, which he formally examined and returned through the half-opened window of the van. He then smiled at the three of us seated in the van before saying in an incredibly soft voice for his large statue ‘Akwaaba – Welcome to Ghana’. Precipitously, he stood at attention, in military style salute, and then ordered the gate to be opened by a junior ranked officer. At that very moment, the security guard had given us a prevue of the regimental fixation of Nautical College without us even realising it. Kwesi started the engine and drove through the gate. Finally, we entered the famous Nautical College of repute. Everything looked green and beautiful. Well-mowed Cynodon dactylon also called Bahama grass sprawled across the expansive field from end to end. On the far left, there was the Atlantic Ocean and a number of ships at anchorage. We drove a few hundred metres on tarred road before we reached the campus area, where the classroom, offices, staff quarters and accommodation structures were built in addition to various sporting fields and the sick bay. In the open space around the campus area, the grass was wild and looked like it needed some tending. A big oval-shaped parade ground with slabs at the edges to seat spectators was flanked by the flags of the five member countries that constituted the college. The flags flew above the flagpoles facing the huge accommodation building. At the period of our arrival, it was no longer called Nautical College; it had been renamed The Regional Maritime Academy some years priors, to reflect its regionalisation to serve Anglophone countries. It was so-named for cooperation in training the sub-region’s maritime personnel with a sister academy established in Ivory Coast to cater for Francophone countries in the sub-region. It would again be rechristened during our graduation as The Regional Maritime University. For indeed we were to be the first batch to pursue a four year BSc programme catered for both seagoing persons and shore-based personnel. And that was going to be our Catch-22 no doubt. Still, we preferred to call it by its endearing name, Nautical College. We alighted in front of the accommodation block and were assisted by a uniformed private security officer for the accommodation, called Stone, who would become my very close friend and confidante. Stone, along with Kwesi and a boy from Sierra Leone called Darrel Coker helped us carry our luggage to our various dormitories. The female cadets’ dormitory was so dismal looking that when I was taken to it, I told Darrel and Stone to please transfer my things to the non-cadet girls’ room, which they did but not without fair warning. “As someone doing Nautical Science, Rohay,” Stone cautioned, he never could pronounce Rohey, “you will certainly be a cadet, therefore you should try and make yourself comfortable in the cadets’ dorm.” At that time, I did not know what a cadet was. But the name was not invasive after all. Whatever it was, I thought, I would make it. But my comfort first, I reasoned. The non-cadets’ dormitory set apart for female’s pursuing degrees in Port and Shipping Management was less stuffy with only two beds each in a dorm, whereas the female cadets’ dorms had three bunk beds in one dormitory. All the dormitories were dusty, dirty and a bit dank. I set out immediately to clean the messy room only to realise that the taps in the common toilet were not flowing. As if on cue, I had a knock at the main door, and it was Stone who had brought me some water in two 25l containers. A while later, after I had cleaned the room and taken my bath, one of my Gambian compatriots came over to tell me to meet downstairs for a late lunch. It was downstairs; I met with an older Gambian student, Fatty, who was there before us. The kindly man took us out of the campus to the outskirts of Nungua and my heart sank. Nungua looked like a village. Indeed it was called Nungua Village – one of the original settlements of the Ga tribe in Ghana. The dilemma being that Accra had expanded to become a sprawling metropolitan city incorporating even former villages like Nungua. At that time though, Accra’s rapid development had not reached Nungua yet. Everywhere looked grey to my eyes when we left the campus. Nautical Road had a few shops set up in 20ft containers and one or two shops erected in cement blocks. We settled in one of the shops closest to the campus and ordered fried eggs and Adamsa bread, for there was no cooked rice available. After the meal, which Fatty paid for, for we did not have in our possession any Ghanaian Cedis yet, we agreed to meet in one of the empty rooms for jama’at salat, as proposed by one of my colleagues, the very religious Abas. When we parted ways at the basement of the Accommodation to our various dormitories later that night, I never felt lonelier in my life. We had prayed Isha salat together with some other Muslims we met in the course of our interaction during the day, one of whom was Momodou Jalloh, from Sierra Leone, who later became the director general of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration. As I climbed to the fourth floor of the Accommodation, to the females’ dormitories, my heart weighed heavily in my chest. My despondency knew no limits. I had imagined the accommodation at Nautical College to be like a hotel with self-catering suites. Instead, it looked like an outmoded barracks in that forsaken part of Accra. Because I had always carried with me a diary, as soon as I reached my elected dorm, I took out my diary and did what I knew best how to do. I began to write. Like a spoilt child, I began to write, already, about my disappointment with Nautical College, my loneliness and the fact that I was going to stay there for four years. Now this is devastating, because I had been married the year earlier at the age of nineteen to a very caring young man, and while it was my choice to learn and at least appease my father with a degree after marriage, I was beginning to question my temerity. The very thought of being away from The Gambia for the next four years amplified my sorrow. And then it began to rain. All of a sudden, tears began to flow from my eyes as the rain… When shall I see my home? When shall I see my native land, I began to sob. But in the few days that followed, when the cadetship programme began in earnest, loneliness was the last thing on my mind. No hardship would compare to cadetship training coupled with academics. Because up till then cadets from Nautical College graduated with HNDs, ours being the first BSc programme and a higher diploma than our seniors made them drill our batch hardest. The rigorous discipline, overslaughs and mischief by our senior cadets could not be simulated ever again in the history of Nautical College – in short, it was no child’s play… (to be continued)]]>

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