May 10, 2011, 1:54 PM
And We did not grant to any man before you eternity [on earth]; so if you die - would they be eternal? Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned. (Surah Anbiya V. 35-36). I received news of the passing of my beloved mother on Tuesday April 28 from a sobbing wife, Jai Sarr. I asked her to stop crying and I thanked Allah for keeping Yaboye this long and for giving her a good and beautiful life.
I later mourned her on in my bedroom because I could not afford to allow my sisters to see me in tears fearing it would worsen the traumatic grief they felt. I mourned her on social media with many a post; among them this:
I have a way of insulating myself against high emotions but my devices have failed in this case: Yaboye! I am grieving; am gonna cry, I accept; I know this can only be good. Nothing comes from Arrahmaan but the is good for us. Still I grieve. I am human; am not playing any heroics in this. I am going into the Treasure of all treasures, and I am borrowing the words of no less a wise and anointed soul than Jacob: "I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah..." (Surah Yusuf, v. 86)
With the outpouring of messages of solidarity, support and prayers, I posted on facebook my appreciation and that of my family for the love and beauty that still abounds in this country that my mother loved so much:
My family and I are deeply touched by your overwhelming show of Love, solidarity and support. The messages are too many to respond to each. But we do sincerely appreciate all of you for reaching out in this most difficult moment. May Allah reward you all. In spite of its trials and tribulations it’s still a beautiful world adorned with beautiful souls like YOU! We Love you all...
Alhamdulillaah alaa kulli halal
Yaboye Is My Hero
As our griots have sang, I quote “nyettah xamugn wai nyarr xamnen; man kumako wahut duko xam suma yaiboye…” Daughter of Maa Bintou Sabally and Burama Mata Jammeh of Kataba and Illiassa, Aja Khaddy Jammeh lived in Kataba during her early life; then in Banjul renting in many abodes, among them that of Ya Gass Jarra, and then at 84 Old Perseverance Street where I was born and where she sold porridge to feed her children whose father passed on when his last born (myself) was barely 3 years old. She then relocated to Lamin, Kombo North, selling vegetables and condiments at the village market while at the same time working as a cleaner at the Ministry of Agriculture.
My mother was strong; she was brave. She was deeply hurt by the fact that I was sent to jail even before my trial started. But she took it in good faith. Anytime I saw her, she reminded me of the Prophet Jacob for she always said to me, “my son, I have committed your affairs to Allah.” I always smiled at that and told her, “Well, then you need not worry for whatever is under the care of Allah is in Safe and Perfect Care!” I tried to convince her that my going to jail is the Best thing that ever happened to me. The last time I saw her, about 48 hours before her demise, I told her that she should further maintain her gratitude to Allah for Allah has favoured her with His Grace more than many a mother; She smiled.
She taught me many things, life skills and philosophies too many to be recounted in one book let alone an essay. For this eulogy I dwell on only a few:
The Power of Words
She taught me about the need to process and properly digest words. She would say “Modou, kumoe buka doma; aka moil leh!” (Modou, words are not for eating; they are for hearing, understanding and implementation); she would proceed with “sondomeh tangtango; kungo leh kaa dong” (the drumbeat of the mind is danced to by the head). She taught me a lot; I understood and implemented a lot; but I was not a perfect student. Some of the lessons I never fully understood and the ignorance of those lessons is the making of my current circumstances. These unlearnt lessons include the following: “I teh ko I daa teh moe la kuwo to; bari a long ko moe lu daa bay la kuwoto leh” (you say you are not nosy about other peoples business; yet you must know that others are nosy/interested in your personal issues with intent to hurt you).
She also told me this: “nyingo doe ka jehleh I fay; ning wo yeh I maa; laakira deh” (some glistening teeth that smile at you; when they hit you, you will die;). She said this for so many years: “doe ko I yeh nga nlaa kaira la; nee faata wo sootoe, wo ning kaakaa leh ka wuli” (some who would bid you a peaceful night; would wake up laughing out loud upon hearing news of your demise that night). Everything she said has come to pass. But that is the testimony that I have passed her exams. Lessons learnt! And oh, just one more thing; the old woman would not end her counseling without saying this one: “baa la saayaa woka baatiyo leh dew bari baa fango kungo, kalero kono; wo mu baa taa leh ti” (the death of a goat is of concern to the owner of the goat; but the pain of the head boiling in the cooking pot is suffered by the goat itself and no one else!)
Politics and Civic Duty
Yaboye was a patriot and active player in nation building. In the heat of her occasional verbal expositions she would brag about her nationalistic credentials citing her involvement in politics since what she calls “selkomen independen”; growing up I decoded that to be “self-government and independence”. She was a die-hard PPP militant and campaigner for former Vice President Saihou Sabally. During the second Republic, she switched allegiance to the APRC with dignity and great pride; her adherence to APRC was for many reasons very positive and patriotic, the one she emphasized to me was the APRC’s ushering in of University education in The Gambia, especially when I attained a degree from the University Extension Programme, the precursor to the UTG. She was chided and snubbed by friend and foe because of her political views; she maintained her stance with dignity and pride. Yet she reached out to those with opposing political views with love and respect.
She was a politician and she died one. She was APRC; but she had beloved friends who are UDP, PPP, NRP members of other parties. She loved President Jammeh so much that just before she passed on she told me to make sure that I tie a piece of green cloth on her white ‘shroud’ before burying her; if it were sunnah I would have done it. My profile picture on facebook features her in a recent photo dressed in green; featuring President Jammeh’s picture. But she also died maintaining love and honour for Vice President Saihou Sabally. Few days before her passing a thief came to my house armed, but we caught him. When news reached my mom that the thief was CLAIMING to be a relative of Saihou Sabally she began to plead for me to release him; I demurred. She wanted me to release the thief even though I have no reason to believe the thief is related to the former V.P, but just because Saihou Sabally was mentioned my mom would not verify; we would have fought over it but she would have won in the end; she was a great fighter with a great spirit of magnanimity in tandem. Yet even if the thief did not claim to be related to her uncle my mom would have insisted that I release him. She had an abiding love for all children and young people, maa shaa Allahu laa quwwata illaa billaahi!
Her lesson in politics and civic duty is well learned and it shall be well lived inshaa Allah. I have hence re-dedicated my life to public service and I shall do it with great cheer and fair play. I am APRC just like she advised me to be but I shall continue to love and respect Honourable Omar Jallow (OJ) and Honourable Halifa Sallah just like I love and respect Yankuba Colley and Honourable Fabakary Tombong Jatta. National Assembly Speaker Honourable Abdoulie Bojang was at my mom’s funeral and so was Honourbale Buba Ayi Sanneh from across the isle. They are all my brothers and I love them all equally just like my mother did.
I knew my mom’s political activism but I always thought it was one driven more by passion than by reason; it was only when she passed on that I found out how wrong I was. I had received, during her lifetime, several stories about my mom not limiting herself to her store at the Lamin market but bossing everyone around insisting that sellers should reduce the prices of their commodities to reasonable levels as advised by President Jammeh; and she did fight for this on a few occasions to my chagrin. I ended up building a store for her in her compound in Lamin to save her and the market people the trouble. She only fought with those who didn’t know her; those who did, understood her positive spirit, and never took offence.
It was during her funeral that my sister Ramou who was a revenue collector at Brikama Area Council told me a story of my mom’s civil rights approach to politics that reminded me about no less a soul than American philosopher Henry David Thoreau. My sister, with corroboration from her colleague who witnessed this scene, spoke about a day when my mother told all sellers at the Lamin Market to refuse to pay their regular market rates to the local government authority; her reason was simple, then there was no toilet or tap-born water facility in the market. When the tax collectors told her that her own daughter Ramou Sabally was their supervisor; she asked them to call Ramou. When my sister showed up, she called on the market women to boo and chase her away with her team. The revenue collectors left and never came back to that market until the local government authority provided the requested facilities.
She was a highly outspoken woman; she would not hesitate to lambast you in public if you offended her but yet she held no grudge against anyone. After the emotional outburst, she would embrace you and move on. Her own siblings, younger than her, would come to her house and disrespect her. I would be mad and want to take corrective measures. She would shout at me and put me in my place: they are your uncles and aunties, you must never raise your voices against them. “They are my brothers and sisters,” she would say. Enough said!
Yaboye: my mother is gone! This day have I begun the continuation of her legacy in public service, freedom of self-expression without malice, generosity, love of family and foe, and, useful purposeful work for honest living, inshaa Allah.
William Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 18 in commemoration of the death of his son. The bard of Avon is right; through words lives can be preserved to grow and blossom. I am hoping, that through the words I am writing here; have been writing for years; and shall be writing further by the Grace of Allah, the memory of my mother will be preserved; for truly Shakespeare is right about by mom just like he is about his son:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
On the second day of her funeral her namesake, my 3-year-old daughter, came to my study at dawn to remind me of my duty of bathing and dressing her for school. She saw Yaboye’s picture on my facebook profile and she stared at it. I asked, “who is this?” She answered “Yaboye Kebbaa” (Yaboye Senior). I then asked her where is Yaboye Kebba; her answer, “mungsi kerram” (she is at her home!) She is right, Yaboye: my mother has gone home. May Allah, “oft forgiving, full of loving kindness”, receive her with Rahma and admit her gentle soul into Jannatul Firdaus. I humbly seek your kind prayers for my mother, the late Aja Khaddy Jammeh,Yaboye.
Former S.G, Minister of Presidential Affairs and the Civil Service
Sabally is a motivational speaker and author. The April Edition of New African Magazine featured his Guest Opinion column “Letter to Barack Obama”; the May edition is featuring another piece from him on the deadly migrant disasters off the coast of Europe.