Culture

Week 5 starts today!

I spent some time chatting to Abass on Saturday. After my brief visit to his compound a few days ago, I was asking about his family.

His father was a small-holder and had three wives: the first wife produced some daughters but failed to provide any boys to help on the land, so a second wife was called into service. She was likewise negligent so, at a third attempt Abass and, in due course, his brothers were born. Now apparently supplied with sons and heirs, Abass’s father decided that the eldest should be destined to be a Koranic scholar. Unfortunately, the old man died when Abass was ten and there was no-one to continue the boy’s religious education.

With the three women, three young boys and also the sisters, things were tight and there weren’t enough able hands to manage the land, which was situated in the compound where Abass and the extended family still live. To make matters worse, neighbours and other family members basically hijacked the plot and divided it up amongst themselves, leaving the original owners of a considerable parcel of land in poverty. Without adequate funds or external advocacy, Abass and his close family have had to reconcile themselves to this loss and live alongside many of the people who purloined the land in the first place.

Abass summarised the people living in the compound: about 20 children, (step)sisters and husbands, various mothers/step mothers/ mothers-in-law some with their husband, Abass’s two married brothers and his own family. It all seems very ordinary to him, but sounds like hell on wheels to me. At least there’s never a shortage of people to look after the kids!

Abass is probably the most intelligent and hard-working staff member at the PIA. Discussions with him are always interesting as he is knowledgeable, expresses himself well in English and is open to a wide range of views. He is a firm believer that Islam is more than praying five times a day: it is a way of life and we have discussed how the religions of the world all seem to have the same precepts about decent behaviour, though their theological background obviously differs. Given a common original source, it is not surprising he is knowledgeable about the Old Testament – and Judaism in general terms, certainly more so than me.

He feels most of the religious problems of the world are due to the various interpretations adherents put on their holy text and says the word “Jihad” means “strive” not “war”, holy or otherwise. Apparently “jihad” could be used to describe the efforts of the PIA to educate and better the chances of young people. I have already mentioned his supporting the rights of the Jews to a homeland. I can’t help feeling that if the world were better supplied with people like Abass in positions of power, it would be a much better place.

That’s my Sunday sermon over: we will now finish with a rendition of the Gambian National Anthem:

For The Gambia, our homeland,
We strive and work and pray,
That all may live in unity,
Freedom and peace each day.
Let justice guide our actions
Towards the common good,
And join our diverse peoples
To prove man’s brotherhood.
We pledge our firm allegiance,
Our promise we renew;
Keep us, great God of nations,
To The Gambia ever true.

 

Yesterday I was given a leaflet entitled “Banjul Demba Cultural Festival” and thought it might provide some interesting things to see and do in the weeks ahead. It is a 36 page booklet and the first 15 pages are photographs of key people (including HE….Jammeh) and official welcomes. Pages 16-29 are adverts and I was beginning to flick back to see if I had missed something. Pages 30 to 33 contained the program: Cultural Manifestation, a Discussion: “What Makes a Good Student?”, an InterSchool Quiz and another Discussion: “My Dream as a Patriotic Gambian Youth”. It was at this point I discovered the leaflet dealt with a festival in January 2011, so we’ve missed it. These events do tend to be very worthy out here: speeches by the bucketload, a detailed minute-by-minute programme that is rarely adhered to or even achievable and not – dare I say it – a lot of fun, to Western eyes at least.

I’ve just this minute been invited to a wedding! Alhagi, one of the guys around the PIA, is getting married to a girl who is an Award Holder and who apparently cooked for the IRA group last year. I’m sorry to say I didn’t catch her name. As in the UK, there is a religious bit and a social bit. Strangely, neither the bride nor groom attend the religious bit, but the two “sides” sit opposite each other in the mosque and uncles represent each of the absent participants. There is asking for “your niece’s hand in marriage” and hand shaking etc. I got this information from Mousa.

The catering arrangements are being handled by the Home Science staff here and one of the girls says they are catering for 300.

The reception is taking place in the bride’s family compound, which is only a short distance from here and I’ve to be ready about 6:00pm as I’m being collected! I’m approaching the event with mixed feelings – culturally it’ll be interesting, but I’ll probably be the token toubab, though I will know many people there as it’s very much a PIA-family affair. I hope there’s no dancing! I’ll report back when I get a chance.

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