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Thursday, October 1, 2020

When wilt that statue, bend down low? A tribute to my maternal grandma, Fatmata Borogi Wanjanga

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With Rohey Samba

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The cynical old philosopher Hobbles was quoted as saying many years ago that man’s life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. This was his exaggerated conclusion drawn from his long experience of his fellow man.

If I were to draw mine from my dealings with my fellow women, I will call forth my conclusion in much the same way he did. Indeed, how many of us can really vow in all honesty that our relationships with the same sex have been complete successes.
Yet I would be the first to divulge that it is in the context of my relationships with women, be they my sisters, friends, colleagues, parents and so forth, that I derive the joy in living that is my birthright.
Jealousies, snitches and drama, if not for the discordance they create in the overall harmony of my wellbeing, have always called onto the reserves of my fortitude, brought insight in my dealings with people and inspired the courage, which ultimately taps onto my creativity.

Naturally, I am a very lazy person, unless I am pushed to the edge…
And when I am on edge, I propel ahead. Slow ahead or fast ahead and amidships. I may not always be successful. For indeed, what is success? Is it the means, or is it an end in itself? In the great philosophy of life given by Joseph Addison: “’Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”

Life is hard for the vindictive person. There are no points to gain or lose in a scoreboard of our existence. We are the quintessential model of our own person. No one mirrors the other person. Not even identical twins or Doppler twins for that matter. Each of us is unique, talented and very, very boring … unless our tedium is broken by the tragedies and crises that call forth our reserves.
There is no greater tragedy than injustice. No words, no action or deed can right an injustice once it is committed. There cannot be any justification or insight and understanding.

Remorse is in truth, the world’s best teacher. Cruel and bitter as it may sound. Yet the worse remorse is the remorse we feel for the dead. Now, didn’t I allude that life was short? Surrounded by death, motivated, inspired or reduced by it, death is the knell that truly and irreversibly breaks the cadence of our relationships.
My greatest relationship. My great love was my hypochondriac grandmother. When she died two years ago, a part of me left this world with her. Fearing that I may forget her sooner than I’d like to as a result of the weak facility of man to disremember, for love is not a sufficient hold, I wrote this homage…

“The last time I laid my eyes on you, you were so happy just seeing the love ooze out of you gave me pure joy. ‘I miss you so much nowadays, I get angry with you for not coming home to visit me more often,’ you said lovingly as you got up cheerfully from the stuffed armchair, where you have been laying down until then, to hug me tightly. It always amazed me, your bright eyed smile and angelic countenance whenever our two eyes met.

“But I was here just two weeks ago, Nenneh. Are you stranded already,” I had teased, as I held onto you in your signature big embrace. You never embrace and leave, you hug tight and tighter still, all the while beaming in laughter. We are both dark-skinned, small-boned people, but you were so much smaller, more dainty and of course, more beautiful. The only girl in a family of seven, you were a phenomenal lady, hardworking, no nonsense and highly spirited.

And you were sparkling clean and very health conscious too, advanced before your time, I’d say. Aside from an addiction to ground tobacco, an addiction I inherited and metamorphosed into my addiction to caffeine, you detested corpulence and took to your addiction to curb your cravings for food, just like me. You ate to your satisfaction without being prone to binge eating and preferred maafeh laloh to fried foods, and vegetables to meat. Just like me.

At a younger age, Mariama, my cousin, and I both feared and loved you equally. You were stern in countenance and strict in discipline. Although I don’t remember ever being spanked by you, there was always the aura of authoritarian and disciplinarian firm around you. Nenneh Hawa, your co-spouse was the easier pick to tease and play pranks on. Bright as the sun to your dark skin tone, Mariama who is fair in complexion had a natural affinity towards Nenneh Hawa, whereas I naturally gravitated towards you, the mother of my own mother.

You always said that as a Wolof, I would bleach my skin when I was old enough. It did not please me one bit to hear that though. Perhaps as a rebuke to your apprehensive caveat, I never touched a blemish of skin toner or had the predilection to skin bleaching. Looking back, that was the best warning you could have given me to date. For though I have nothing against those who bleach their skin, for it is make-up like any other to beautify a woman to her own satisfaction, I think the repercussions of this habit just outweigh by far, the feel-good sensations it gives in the long run.

Growing up, I had a good role model in you. You were always working hard. Your rice field was big as any man’s farmland. You grew vegetables all seasons through and sold at the marketplace the produce of your toil. I remember watching you in the aube of sunset when you would remove the bonga fish, which you had left to dry from the thatched roof and smoke them in the makeshift smoking funnel you had made with your own little hands, using corrugated iron sheets and raffia sacks. The smoked fish would permeate the compound and soon became perfume to my nostrils, a scent that makes me remember you throughout the course of my young life.

Those were the days when life was young and so very green. When hard work was enjoyable for it bore fruit in the form of sustenance for the family. Then, we ate mostly the yield of your handy work and that of Maama Gorkor’s, the exhaustive agrarian, your husband and my grandfather. Nenneh Hawa my other grandmother, your co-spouse, would equally contribute, but nothing as substantial as you did.

In the nights when the moon came out, Maama Gorkor would lay on his piliyan, a suspended swing bed made from hand-woven raffia strings, tied at the end of two logs rooted firmly in the ground to provide it with support. You would lay with us on the rhun palm bed and tell us stories about your childhood in Kanjor and how life was like in Fulladu. A proud Firdu of the Fula Kunda heritage, you would give us details about your customs and traditions, and teach us the beautiful songs you sang when you were a little girl. Because Maama Gorkor was your cousin, he would chip in to fill the missing pieces of your narrative once in a while and make us laugh in the shadow of the horseshoe rhapsody. Those were the days!
Most of the time, before we went to bed, you would narrate some folklore. All the folklores had songs in them, which I mastered before anybody else and repeated the following day to impress you with. Even though my mum was a notable story teller, a better story teller than I am, according to my own kids, I know with certainty that you were a great story teller; a master story teller with the oratory skills that would put even Shakespeare to shame.

Everybody in the family talked about your partiality towards me. You never hid that I was your favourite. You always stated that I was the only grand child who treated you like her own mother. When at sixteen years of age I wrote the poem, Time… “When wilt that statue, Bend down low, Those large clear eyes, Dim and blur…” as I translated in Fula what I wrote, you watched me in amazement and told me then that I would be famous one day for my words. But I was merely mimicking your oratory. I had learnt from the best.
Impulsively, I bought you a foam mattress to replace the rhum plant one you had, just after I started working at the Ports. So much joy that little gesture brought, you asked all your friends and everybody in the village, to pray for my enduring success. You were so easy to please. So appreciative of small things that you made me want to do big things for you. My only regret remains that I could not fulfil your heart’s desire to take you on a pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca. I always promised you that I would one day.
And in my favourite Nenneh Fatmata voice, I repeat, “Rokhy never fails a promise. What she says she will do, she does.”

But I failed. I failed you big time on that one. I wish I could fulfil that final promise. But time was not on our side; nary did I have the means or the wherewithal to do so. But I am sure one day I will walk into the corridors of the Holy Land, holding onto my Mama’s hand, and smiling at the sky, as then I would not be doing the Hajj for myself but for you in my own person.

For what is love, but speaks from one heart to the other. Your love spoke to me grandma. It spoke to me as the strummed ritti wounds into my being and becomes one with my soul. It still speaks to me in the ancient language I was born knowing. The language that is essentially unstructured, toneless and muted in the blood stream. Revealed often in quiet moments when I am at peace and in turbulent times when I am at war and the world makes me anxious.

Thank you Grandma, for you were the reason why I was born. Yet, you are the reason I see the world in tainted glasses, come rain and come shine. You gave me joy, and peace and self-belief. I know you remain high in the sky watching over my every move and urging me onwards to higher heights. I will not fail you. I will never fail you.
Rest in peace, till we meet again Nenneh.”

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