By Musa Bah The original bucket list of Fatou Jange read as follows: l Complete senior secondary school l Go to the University of The Gambia to study Law (provided she gets a scholarship) l Do her bar examination (provided she gets a scholarship) l Seek scholarship to go for her LLB in England l Come home and open a practice l Get married and settle down l Advocate for legislation against FGM and the end to early marriage l Advocate for a quota system for women representation in the national assembly l Build a house for her parents in the urban area l . . . She had written this list while she was still in Grade Eleven. Fatou knew that the only way she could make a difference was to acquire a good education. She vowed to work hard in school to ensure that she attained all the items on her bucket list. She did not wish to die without making a difference in the lives of her people. Fatou always thought about the plight of her mother. Her mother would get up as early as five o’clock in the morning and start work. She would start by washing the dishes used the previous evening; cook breakfast, and prepare the kids for school. Then she would carry the breakfast on her head and take it to the farm where her husband and her older sons would be weeding. If she was late for even a short while, her husband would rain insults on her. After returning from the farm, she would go to the village market, which mostly had only a few vegetables and some dry fish. She would exchange these for some coos which she had earlier pounded for the purpose as her husband wouldn’t even give her fifty dalasis to take to the market. When she buys these – or to be more accurate, exchanges – she would then start her cooking. Meanwhile, she would bring out all the dirty clothes worn by almost all the men in the house and start the laundry. By the time she completes her cooking, it’s already two o’clock. She dared not be late to serve the lunch as this time it wouldn’t be insults that would rain on her; rather, it would be slaps and punches. She would thus rush to the farm a second time (sometimes, this would be for two or three kilometres away from the village). She would carry the basin on her head, hold a five litre gallon of water for them to drink. With all this, a baby is on her back and a toddler walking by her side. This was the daily routine for Fatou’s mother, and indeed all women in the rural areas. As if that is not enough of a torture, she would pass by the forest while returning from the farm to fetch firewood which she would carry in addition to the basin. This would later be used for cooking the supper. As soon as she returns home, she starts the preparation of the supper. Within intervals, she would rush to the well to fetch water for various purposes. The men would take a shower from that water, the calves, goats and sheep would drink from it; they would also fill their jars with it in order to have water to drink in the day. The cooking of the supper, fetching water and other chores will only end at around nine or ten in the evening. She takes a shower and goes to bed, being totally spent. On the nights that it was her turn to entertain her husband, she would try to be as romantic as possible in such settings. Thus, totally tired, she would also have to perform her other marital functions. Without any birth control mechanisms, she soon gets pregnant again. Fatou observed all this while growing up and decided from early on that she would pull her mother out of this hell of a life. This is not acceptable. The society is so patricentric that whatever a woman does is looked down upon. The worst part was that when a son or daughter succeeded in life, the father claimed the pride and honour. But when a child turns out of be a disappointment, he or she would become the mother’s child, as if she gave birth to him or her from space. She vowed to ensure that she does not live a life like her mother’s and to do whatever it takes to give the women in the country the life that they so richly deserved. Fatou had a childhood friend from the school. She belonged to another ethnic group who believed and performed female circumcision. She told Fatou about it and she had the urge to go through it also – peer influence. But when she informed her mother, she told her, “May God forbid. We don’t do that in our ethnic group.” “But all my friends have done it, Mama,” Fatou said wearing a forlorn look. “This tradition is dangerous and should be discouraged,” her mother said. “Thank God we do not subscribe to this culture.” A few weeks later, Fatou’s friend, Alima came to school with a swollen face. She had cried the whole previous night. She was so distraught that she could not concentrate in class. Everyone knew that something very serious had happened to Alima or one of her family members. They tried to find out but she wouldn’t budge. She just remained mute throughout. During break, she and Fatou went out and bought a loaf of bread with some beans. They found a lonely spot and sat down. “It’s very hot today,” Fatou said, she didn’t want to bring up whatever was eating at her friend. “Ah yes, it is,” Alima muttered. “You were a little late to school today,” Fatou said. “So, won’t you ask?” Alima quizzed. “Well, I know that when you’re ready you’ll tell me. So, I needn’t ask,” Fatou responded. Alima had then narrated the most heartbreaking story Fatou had ever heard. Her elder sister, Maimuna, had been trying for years to get pregnant. She and her husband had done everything they could but could not get a child. Finally, by some stroke of luck, Maimuna got pregnant and everyone was jubilant. However, when the time came for her to give birth, she couldn’t. Thus after many hours in labour, she had given up the ghost. The village was full of sorrow on that day as both mother and child had died. The doctors said that it was because Maimuna was circumcised that she died. “You see, Fatou, my sorrow is not only about Maimuna but myself as well because I also underwent this circumcision,” she said leaning towards Fatou. Fatou was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. But after a while, she knew that her friend was seeking solace and that she had to say something. “Don’t worry; it is not all the time that people who are circumcised face such difficulties, you will be fine.” Alima was not convinced at all; but, Fatou was grateful to her mother for not allowing her to undergo such a risky traditional practice. She thanked her stars – or her God – for being born in a culture that does not subscribe to that tradition. It was from this day that Fatou developed a strong desire to educate people – especially women – about harmful traditional practices. That was the genesis of her bucket list. As if the picture and predicament of Maimuna had flashed through her mind, and the fright it engendered the first day she heard the story from her friend resurfacing on her mind, she suddenly woke up from her comatose condition. She saw the elderly nurse holding a scalpel. To be continued…]]>
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