IMPROBABLE JOURNEY, is a fascinating and inspiring rendering of Bakary J. Sonko’s journey from Sika Village in the Gambia, to life as a Cambridge-trained Human Nutrition research-scientist, and scholar of international renown. It is at once a riveting read about Sonko’s life’s formative challenges and triumphs, puncuated with unexpected twists and turns. This memoir is also as much a story of enduring deep faith, love, humility, the Sonko family, as well as service to humanity. It is as humorous as it gets and will send you screaming in laugher and tearing-up at the same time, with stories about village life, wrestling matches, boyhood adventures and mischief.
Accordingly, the memoir is as much about important lessons on perseverence, as it is on character, self-respect and committment- lessons too easily glossed over, or lost in an era of increasing economic and cultural globaliztion- considering that young Bakary was almost denied the opportunity of a formal education because of his responsibilities to the family farm. A strong desire to join his friends at the local school and Bakary’s persistence would lead his father to finally relent. Under the strict guardianship of his late brother and teacher, Landing Jallow Sonko, (a former minister under Jawara), Bakary would be admitted to Armitage, but would transfer to Gambia High because of the latter’s stronger science offerings. Subsequently, Bakary would go on to attend college in Sierra Leone, Libya and Cambridge University, where he earned a doctorate in Human Nutrition.
In retrospect, it was Bakary’s upbringing in a family of chiefs and leaders (the Sonkos of Sika/Numi), that have ruled the area for decades and known throughout the Gambia and beyond, that provided him the requsite foundational values to succeed: hard-work, respect for elders, service to community, nation, and beyond. Important to Dr. Sonko’s life and success is the love story between him and his devoted wife, Ajie Ramoutoulie Jonn-Sonko, their fascinating courtship, marriage, children, and a shared life of mutual devotion and respect. Here, Bakary highlights important advise on family cohesion and dyanamics.
Following a stint at the Medical Research Council (MRC), in Gambia after his studies at Cambridge, Bakary would later accept an Assistant Professorship at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and later would secure a coveted research position with the United States Federal Government. Giving back to the Gambia, and humanity through his research on Human Nutrition and Diabetes, establishment of several US/Denver, Colorado-based Non-governmental organizations, and another he helped found for his village of Sika, reflect a life of dedicated service implanted at a very tender age.
You will find this memoir impressive in its fluid prose and Bakary’s ability to leverage his rich childhood and life experiences to capture an era almost overtaken by time and social change. It will be particularly appealing for older and younger readers alike for its nostalagic touch, and certainly practical family values and life-lessons it proffers, generally. Predictably, IMPROBABLE JOURNEY, in years to come could well enjoy the readership and popularity of Camara Laye’s, The AFRICAN CHILD, and Wiliam Conton’s, THE AFRICAN.
Ultimately, Dr. Bakary J. Sonko’s life exemplifies excellence as a humanitarian, a person of intergrity, a world-class researcher, a devoted husband, and father. In the end, this is a memoir written with great humily, and humor and one that generations of Gambians, Africans will enjoy for decades to come. Though rooted in Sika, Bakary’s story has universal appeal and a showcase of the immigrant experience in the USA, specifcally. I highly recommend this book to all, and especially, to young Gambians, in high school and beyond. It should occupy a prominent spot in personal and school libraries throughout the Gambia, and elsewhere.
Kerr Sering, The Gambia