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Footprints in my life. A warm tribute to my father Alhagi A. A. Faal

Apr 12, 2012, 2:28 PM | Article By: Ebrima Faal Banjul, Gambia (April 4, 2012)

My father, Alhagi Abdoulie Faal--A. A.--as he was popularly known was a God fearing honorable man. Dad as we called him and “Pabi” as our large extended family called him was the anchor of a large and prominent family. He was a loving husband, father, uncle father-in-law, and grandfather. He was a trusted and confident friend that has in one way or the other touched almost all Gambians mostly because of his modesty and humility. His demise has brought pain that cannot be described, but we know that he has gone to be with the Almighty Allah. We know this to be true for as the Quran stated:

“Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have succeeded. For the life of this world is but goods of chattels of deception” (al-Imran 3:185)

Thus, for as my father always reminded us, death is not the end of the world but the start of an ever-lasting life.

I met this great man almost 52 years ago; although I must confess my recollection of our first meeting is indeed a foggy one and I am sure for him an anxious time!As his first son, he decided to name me after his elder brother Alhagi Ibrahima Antouman Faal, the Patriarch of the family at the time. He has had a profound influence on my father’s life and had a big part in molding him into the man that he became. My grandfather, Antouman Faal--the Patriarch, died when my dad was just 16 years old and still in high school. My siblings and I never had a chance to meet him. My father’s sense of loyalty to his brother and family was a trademark he carried all through his 82 years on this earth as anyone who has met him would testify. Dad loved to remind us that loyalty and royalty go together and for him and the Faal family, the two have always co-existed going back to the Boal and Kayor dynasties of Senegal which our grandfather migrated from over a century ago to settle in the Gambia. The large family tree one encounters when you enter our house and endless sheets of papers in his archives provide ample testament to this. The same is true on his maternal side, the great Jarga Njie family of Lancaster Street.

I have thought much about what his demise and what Dad meant to me, my siblings, our mum, and many thousands of friends and admirers. He was like a shooting star, brilliant during his lifetime but now he has disappeared into the endless night. I would also think about my children who would remind me very quickly that “shooting stars are not really stars, dad!!” They are falling bits of dust and rock falling into the earth’s atmosphere and burning up leaving a trail of light behind them.But that too was appropriate for Dad was a rock. He was a rock in his beliefs and he blazed a trail for us to follow. He has left indelible footprints that we cannot help but try to follow.

He was a deeply religious and a pious man for whom religion was the beginning and end of everything. As Chairperson of the Council of Muslim Elders in the Gambia and Vice-Chair of the King Fahad Mosque he brought peace and purpose to at times loud and unreasoned positions that threatened the very fabric of our peaceful existence as Muslims and the credibility of the institution of the Muslim Elders. What was even more fascinating about him was how easily he was able to bring his deep religious convictions into his everyday work, using them as a basis for the way he lived his life.

He was a Giver. He always prided himself in giving to the community--from the many family obligations, Fidahus, Gamos, to service to the country as an accountant, banker, and trusted adviser to Presidents. It is no coincidence that he was the founding President of the Gambian Chapter of Rotary International and its associated Lady version, called the Inner Wheel. His philosophy was always to be a Giver, to help his fellow human beings. Dad was incredibly generous to all of us.

Sitting at the beach time and time again and always watching the surging sea beating against the rocks, determined to wear it away, I could not help but think of my father.He was like the elements themselves in that he had the force of a huge wave that carries everything before it. When dad decided to do something you know it will get done!He believed that with enough dedication and hard work you can achieve anything. As his children, my siblings and I, and mum sometimes felt as though we were being buffeted by a gale force wind by his sheer determination, his self-confidence, and his core strength.When he set himself a target he was tenacious and unshakeable. His loyal friends going back many decades to the Methodist Boys High School, Independence Drive Vous, andhis many protégés in the Mosque Community of Banjul and the Central Bank of the Gambia, and of course the immediate and extended family will miss his tenacity.

Dad was an achiever.He rose from the ranks of accounts clerk to Chief Accountant of the then Public Works Department to become the first Gambian General Manager of the Central Bank of the Gambia, and Chairman of many State Boards and companies. As a youngster I could not understand his long working hours, and his hard work ethic. It was only as I grew older that I began to understand the passion that drove him on to success. He fully intended that we, his children would have even greater opportunities than he had. That is probably why he was so focused on education. His beloved grandchildren always knew that his first question to them would be about how they were getting on in school. When asked why we as kids had to study every night for two hours and one hour every morning before going to school, he would quote us the following passage from Winston Churchill:

“The heights that great men achieved were not attained by sudden flight, for them while their companions slept were toiling in the night”

On going to University we all remember well the parting words he would live with us after the farewell prayer.

“This is going to be a defining period in your life. Remember your prayers, study hard and live well without being frivolous”

My father was a hard worker but that is not to say that he didn’t have his lighter moments. He loved cricket, especially the West Indies team. Unfortunately he had to endure the free fall of the West Indies team over the past decade. True to form he remained loyal to the team and continued to support them to his last day! He taught me to play tennis and was delighted when I showed an aptitude for the game. I did end up getting the better of him on many occasions, but he would still enjoy the game more than when he won. Similarly, he was cool and dandy in that he loved clothes and always took time to dress well.He would often model hislatest outfits for us asking “How is it E.Boy (me)?” or “How is it Waws?” his pet name for my sister. But really, he would model them for anyone that was close by obliging them to indeed agree that he was looking good!

My father has touched so many of you and so many of you came to share in our grief. All of you knew him in different ways. To his wife, Aji Yam Jallow, his soul mate for 55 years, he was the love of her life. To his children he was an inspiration and a role model. To more of you he was a mentor, a neighbor, a colleague, or a friend.

Today as we remember our father, we remember a man who seemed to have taken an oath to live a life of principle, purpose, and perseverance. His whole life was, I think, a prayer in that he gave of himself in service to others. Perhaps some of the difficulties I had with him as a young teenager longing to be “free” was that I couldn’t quite cope with trying to live up to him and his standards. Put simply dad was, and is, a very hard act to follow.

He got ill a little a little over two years ago and his death was a gentle one yet hard in some ways.It was especially hard for someone who had always been in control, always the Giver. Now he had to yield to his body’s imperfections and to rely on others, something that was totally foreign to his nature. The baby of the family, our youngest sister became his pillar together with mum, Dr. Jah, Foday Jobe, Ebou Jobe, Pa Modou Jobe, and the great nurses at Mbowen Clinic. Yet being dad, he also adapted to that. He changed and became even softer and more adaptable. In many ways he put his iron will into further strengthening the person he had been--the Giver-- and becoming someone even better. His death was a victory over his illness. On the evening before his passing, he smiled and said to my sister “tomorrow is going to be a great day. Rejoice in it and pray for me”. We thought he was being delusional but alas he was being prophetic.

Recently, and as if preparing us for his transition, he reminded us that as God’s Children we embody the history of creation, life, death, and the resurrection. He reminded us that:

“No matter how long one lives, nothing will save man from death. Fortified towers won’t save him; neither would medical science, family, friends, money, power, or prestige”

He backed this with a quotation from the Quran that emphasized that there is no escape from death…:

“Wherever you are, death will find you out. Even if you are in towers built up strong and high.” (al-Nisaa 4:78)

Dad is gone and we are left with tears in our eyes and sorrow in our hearts. Yet we are also left with his marvelous example and his genes. So perhaps you could say that he is not really gone but that he lives on in us. Someday, my siblings and I hope that we will pass on his good example to our own children. In the meantime we take comfort from the above and an old saying that says,

“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.”

Today dad is celebrating that birthday and our birthday gift to him will be to smile through our tears and to follow in his footsteps.

Dad, may you rest in perfect peace and may Allah grant you eternal bliss in heaven and grant us all the fortitude to bear our loss. And may the memories, values and principles that you stood for live on—footprints in our hearts and souls.