Sunday, September 16, 2007

Growing up in Badibu in the '80s

My friend Baba told me a story about Badibu (a town in The Gambia, where he comes from), and growing up there in the 80s that I found so fascinating that I thought I would share it with you. He told me the story in Wolof, and I have tried to make the English transcription below as faithful to the original in tone and meaning as possible. Any errors, however, are mine.

Badibu in the 80s

Every morning, we would be woken up at 5am to learn the Koran until 7, no excuses. The head of the family was also our teacher - I had been given to him as a child to raise - and though he is old now (almost ninety) back then he was still a strong man, capable of giving us boys a serious beating. He would be waiting for you when you played truant, with a long cane and a short one, the better to reach you with no matter your distance from him. I had a strategy I used to handle him: I would grab him, and get lost within the folds of his voluminous waramba. He would try hard to disentangle me - you cannot effectively give someone a beating when they are that close - and I would hold tight until his wife, the mother of the house, heard the commotion and came to my rescue.

I had been assigned the task of fetching the milk for breakfast every morning, and in this I was lucky. Every morning, after our rude awakening at 5, I would be excused about 30 minutes into the class to carry out my duties. I would walk off happily to the shop that sold the milk, a few kilometres away from my house. I would return triumphantly with the milk an hour later, as it was beginning to get light and Koranic classes were almost over.

At 7am, we were let off classes, to eat breakfast, shower, and get ready for school. The primary school was located a few minutes' walk away form the house, and this is where we all went.

Everyday after lunch, at about 3pm, it became so hot you couldn't stay anywhere comfortably, in- or out-doors. So we would go, all of us, to the beach, to swim and splash around in the sea until the heat became more bearable. You learnt to swim, at an early age, to protect yourself from pranks: the older boys would grab any boy who showed the slightest sign of fear of the water or swimming inability, throwing you in and laughing and jeering, not coming to your rescue until you were exhausted and had reached the edge of your panic.

I had a friend, who could stay underwater for so long we would think he had drowned, before emerging again, far from where he had gone under. Many of us tried to beat his record - all of us failed.

Then there was the hunting. In the forests surrounding our village, there were all manner of animals, from foxes to rabbits. We would take our dogs (I had a dog, and it was one of the best in the village), we would take them into the forest. Upon catching sigh of an animal you would bend down and lay your hand on the dog's back. Tsss, you would say, at the same time pointing with your other hand at the quarry.

If you had trained your dog well, it would set off after it, and when it had injured it hold it down to await your arrival, so you could slaughter it. This for docile animals, like rabbits - for ones which fought back, like foxes, your dog only cornered them, until you arrived with a large stick to put an end to the fight they were putting up.

I had a large trap, with a spring so heavy that you had to put it on the ground and use the strength of both legs to prise it open, and wicked metal teeth that clamped onto an animal's legs and never let go.

I would set this trap at night at a spot where I could see many animal's footprints, covering it with a thin layer of dirt and grass so it was invisible unless you knew it was there. I would add a huge stick to the side which would leave a track behind should the trap be dragged away by an ensnared animal. The next day when I returned I only had to follow this track, with my friends, to where the injured and by now exhausted animal lay, bleeding and helpless.

When a fox is caught in your trap and drags it back to its hole, here is what you do: you reach carefully forward and grab it by its barely visible tail. Then you must jerk it out of the hole and throw it away - really fast! - from you, all in one motion. It'll land stunned, and then you and your friends must immediately hurl yourselves upon it, bludgeoning it with sticks until it lies unconscious.

We tried not to kill the animals we trapped: we would stun them and carry them home, where an obliging adult would slaughter them for us, so they were halal. Then the girls would cook them, everyone bringing something - salt, spices, kerosene for the stoves we had back then - from their house as their contribution. We would sit around during the evening, eating meat and drinking attaya, the noise of the dice in the pot as people played Ludo.

This was before urbanization, and the modern world, before everyone had to move down to Banjul and the Kombos, for school, to get a job.

Every weekend my friends and I would work for hire weeding farms all across the village. You would pay us D12 (there were twelve of us), and also give us breakfast and lunch - in return we would work on your farm from nine until noon, weeding and cleaning away the space for plantation. Back then it could take up to three months to weed and prepare one farm - now it takes three, four days. The land has been overused, and consequently the areas available for farming have grown smaller. In any case there are not many farms left, because there are not many people who want to be farmers - they all want to come down to the urban areas, to make it here. The few farms remaining are called gardens, and are cultivated by people who make a little money off of them.

Near my house there was a certain area where you could catch lungfish.They were very slippery, and the trick was to use both hands and, grabbing them from the mud, throw them onto dry land where you could have a better hold on them. We took them home, and our mothers prepared and cooked them. They tasted like kong (catfish).

There were also many rabbits. When rabbit-hunting all you need is a heavy stick. There is a strategy to it: when a rabbit sees you approach its hole, it will bolt. You must resist the temptation to run after it. Instead stand at the hole and wait - it will come back, eventually. Rabbits are very bad-sighted, and if you stand very still it will come right up to you without recognizing you, its nose sniff-sniffing like an old woman with a bad cold. Then - ! - you must strike, hitting it with your stick until it lies unconscious. Afterwards, don't lift it by the ears to carry: they are not strong and will tear off under the weight of its body.

A bush fire happened near my house once, and when I went out I saw a rabbit bolt from its hole as it sensed the approaching heat, running off in the opposite direction into the forest. A few days later I returned to the spot with a stick. The hole was still there and sure enough, after I had waited for some time the rabbit came out, sniffing away. Thwock! Thwock! I went with the stick, and then I took it home to be cooked.

Once in a while, we would decide to throw a party, and that day when us boys went out hunting we would kill more than the usual amount of game, so we could have a feast that evening. If you line up three ants before you go out hunting, and severe their heads with the edge of your knife, there is no way you will come back home without killing something, guaranteed, this has worked for me many times.

These days, when I go to Badibu, there are few of my friends left. All of them have gone away, to the city, or travelled abroad. Last time I went the old man - my foster father - was sitting alone in his room. His wife died a few years ago, and such a good woman she was. I said salamalekum to the old man, and then I got a broom, and cleared away the cobwebs that the spiders had made all across the ceiling of his room. He smiled as he thanked me, shaking his head and laughing as he remembered how stubborn I had been as a boy.

I came home a few days later, back to the Kombos. Badibu will never be the same for me again, as it was, then.

1 comment:

  1. baddibu is not a town but a locality with several towns and villages.a