You all know this kid of “Kulujaleh” (the real name of my birth place, shortened as Jaali, Kiang West) is not fit to be regarded in the league of intelligent chaps.
I wonder what was I thinking when I even dared to make the commitment of helping Gambians fight obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps, I’m still caught up in the euphoria of the remarkable transformation I’m able to achieve within a short period. The reality is, sometimes I find it hard myself to come to terms with the new me, especially when I look into the mirror. Even the thought of it gives me goose bumps.
But then hang on a moment! Ask the author of “When My Village Was My Village”, about me. I’m not one to shy away from challenges. Thus when a private message dropped from my personal friend and close confidant, Hatab Fadera, I guess there’s no place to hide my face anymore. After all I’m no coward so I can’t contemplate excuses when challenged.
“I have just finished [reading] your masterpiece; truly inspiring and reinvigorating. See, I won’t be wrong with your writing skills; perfectly told,” the annoying Hatab sent me on WhatsApp. He was making reference to the comments he had passed before reading the piece.
“I have two observations,” he wrote in the comment. “It looks like there will be part two of this piece. You seem to have concentrated more on your passion for sports and how it benefited you than telling the arduous battle that reduced you by almost half. Like how many workouts you did; first few days of it, what length you went and how you even accomplished that while on a full-blown graduate programme with a thesis to write. That’s magical and mind-blowing!”
Indeed, it is mind-blowing but not magical my good friend. I know what I did. I set my goals and was committed to achieving them come what may. It was grounded in discipline, hard-work, determination and dedication. You were trying to act polite but you know me too well my humble friend. I’m not one to pretend, not when I know I would be lying.
So I would be blunt and honest as usual. There was never a thought for part 2, not anytime soon anyway. But as a result of your provocation, mate, I’d make it a bit longer before you get all your answers. Thus expect a third part “Chingu” (Korean for friend).
This story has to be told in a chronology of how it enfolded and I’m afraid it is too much to be told at once. I don’t want to bore you with long pieces.
Now my doctor friend, Foday Manneh, would be happy that I’m finally telling the story after several attempts on his part to cajole me fell on deaf ears.
It was September 19, 2019 and I opened a booklet. The summary states that I weight 112.8 kg. Standing 173 cm tall, with a Body Mass Index of 37.6kg/m2 and looking at a Body Fat Percentage that read 48.2%, almost half of my body composed of fat. That was crisis point. My life hanged on a knife-edge.
With a moderate fatty liver –I knew I had to do something. And fast. But I had to wait. Just a little bit. Until after my health analysis report, the last stage of my admission into the Dream Together Programme, an 18-month master’s degree sports management programme at one of the world’s leading institutions, Seoul National University, before I would accept my faith. That report was indeed mind-blowing. The results would later have a great impact in shaping me into the fine-looking young man I am today.
I had always been a skinny-framed and short boy that earned me the nickname ‘Small’ from my mates. But in the early 2000s, I started to build up weight, which I was delighted about. However, it was an on-and-off basis until, in 2006, when I begin to pile up the extra kilos in my body. Because, throughout my entire life, I had never trained consistently for more than a month, my metabolism began to slow and I could never recover from the weight gain, and by the time I reached my 30s, I was already beyond 100kg.
But I wasn’t bothered. In typical Gambian society, those of the middle class are celebrated for their beer-bellies as a sign of an uplift in status. I began to tell anyone that dared to mock my physical appearance that it was a sign of good living. This earned me another nickname: “Good-Living.”
I come from a country whose citizens know not much about how to live a healthy lifestyle. The World Health Organization in 2010 said 22% of Gambians are involved in low physical activity. Another 93% eat fewer than five servings of fruits or vegetables per day. Non-communicable diseases and injuries accounted for 41% of all deaths in 2017; the probability of dying between 30 and 70 years from the four main NCDs was 19%.
I was wrongly diagnosed with hypertension by a nurse at the Serrekunda General Hospital in Kanifing, in September 2017 following a mild headache. I trekked for more than 20 minutes and conducted the test without having time to rest. For two weeks, I was on anti-HBP drugs but it coincided with the visit to the country by a brother who practices medicine in the United States; the Dr. Manneh I mentioned earlier.
He asked me to stop and conducted several further tests on me to conclude that it was a wrong diagnosis. A clear testament of our healthcare system but I’d leave that to the experts in those areas like Florida’s Mariama Samateh or the jacks of all trades and masters in all like Foday Samateh and Alagie Saidy-Barrow to postmortem it. (I don’t want to be challenged outside my comfort zone - laughs).
But by this time, the damage had already been done and I had to fight anxiety disorder for nearly two years, giving me all sorts of health complications. I was on anti-anxiety drugs prescribed by one Dr. Jaiteh, a cardiologist, for two months but had to stop because I didn’t want my body to get used to it. This was because I had begun to read extensively and consulted a lot about living a healthy lifestyle. Through another random test in those difficult times, I found out that my total cholesterol level (bad cholesterol) of 228mg/dl was beyond the normal limit.
To prevent a coronary heart disease, I underwent a lifestyle modification and within one year I struck 150mg/dl of total cholesterol. However, I never lost any weight. But because I watched movies about how healthy Koreans look and the availability of a gymnasium inside the dormitory during my application process, it provided me, I thought, the perfect opportunity to lose weight.
Part 3 to follow:
Baboucarr Camara is a former Daily Observer Editor. He’s the Director of Marketing & Communications, The Gambia Football Federation. He holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and is a Master’s Degree candidate in Global Sports Management at the Seoul National University, South Korea.