It was one of those telephone calls, you know, the ones that come in the middle of the night to shred your soul into pieces, pull the ground from underneath you, and dump you into an “emotional landfill”. My phone had been buzzing on the nightstand, but I could not hear it because I had already hit the fifth gear in my sleep. I was sailing. But with every sleep, no matter how deep, there are always moments of interruption, whether from tossing and turning or snapping out of a bad dream. Mine was the former.
It was in the middle of my toss and turn that I heard my phone buzzing. With one eye half open, I contemplated answering the phone for a minute, but reluctantly picked it up and said “hello”. The voice on the other end called out my name “Mod Ndow!” and my heart sank right away. It was my sister, Salan Ndow. I was tempted to deny that it was me and tell her that she had the wrong number, for I knew exactly why she was calling. I could sense it in her tone. First she asked if anyone had called me, and I said no. But that was a lie because I later saw all the missed calls I had – they were too many to count. But I guess Salan must have been the chosen one – the one chosen to deliver the bad news to me.
The sad news busted the doors of my memory bank and different recollections of dad throughout the years started bursting out. Dad started teaching English and Literature at Gambia High School at age 17, after graduating from Boys High School. He also taught at Armitage High School when I was a baby. Further down the road, dad became the headmaster of Muhammedan School, and that’s how I became the Headmaster’s Son (Dommi Master Ndow).
He later became the president of the Gambia Teacher’s Union, fighting for the rights of teachers and the noble work that they do. I vividly remember when teachers would come from different parts of the country to see him, and sometimes to his house and knock on the door in the middle of the night with their grievances, and dad would wake up and get into his car with them to go address their issues.
In his time at the Ministry of Education, he served in different capacities; but the position I remember the most was his role as Chief Education Officer. This role was a unique and dynamic one. The position requires careful programme planning and management as well as spending a significant time nurturing external relationships. It was a position that demanded strong leadership and vision. From there, dad retired in 1995.
But that was “retirement” just in name only, dad continued to serve as a board member on various school boards, helped set up and ran both Bakoteh High School (SOS Hermann Gmeiner) and Daddy Jobe Comprehensive, while building his own institution – Kairaba Upper Basic and Senior Secondary School.
Kairaba Upper Basic has now been in existence for 14 years. He was also a member of the initial team that was setting up the university before [someone] hijacked it. In the late 1990s to early 2000s, dad served as the president of the Gambia Red Cross Society.
From 2003 to 2006, he served a term as the chairman of West African Examination Council (WAEC). I remember him calling me while attending a meeting in Geneva on behalf of WAEC, and left me a message with a call-back number and his room number. I soon realised that he was staying in a motel and asked him why he didn’t lodge in a hotel. He said the motel was decent and in a good area and that he didn’t want to waste WAEC’s money by staying at some fancy hotel.
Dad was that honest, simple and humble, he can sleep anywhere and hang out with anyone. In his capacity as Chief Education Officer, president of the Gambia Red Cross Society and chairman of WAEC, dad had access to all sorts of scholarships, but mann morm musuma giss takanderri scholarship sah! I had to hustle on my own (kotorr-kotorr). He always felt that as his kids, we had a somewhat decent enough foundation and will be able to fend for ourselves, so he mainly focused on the less fortunate.
For 60 solid years, dad served in the public sector, shared knowledge, developed minds, and impacted many lives. He had a passion for teaching and education, and his vision was laser sharp. He poured his heart and soul into it. He did nothing for money, and when there was a surplus, he recycled it right back into his passion – education and helping others. As an educator, he was a father to many by default, and he treated every student with care and compassion. Dad never talked much, but he said a lot.
His words are silent, but his actions are loud. He never taught me anything, but I learned everything from him. He exemplifies honestly and integrity, and his wisdom was infinite. In our many Sunday two-hour beach walks while here with me, dad once told me “never compromise your values and always stand up for what you believe to be right.
I have friends who compromised their values, and today they have robbed themselves of their dignity.” He was admirably principled and understanding. He left some big shoes I may not be able to fill, but I will be more than happy to shine them. I can confidently and proudly say that dad did more for a lot of other people than he did for me, and I would not have wanted it any other way. He had a rich and generous spirit that will keep on giving. He will sorely be missed by many.
In loving memory of Mr Ousman Alieu Ndow.