By: Buba Positive Gaye✍️
An adage I’m very accustomed to states, “Memories are treasures man cannot steal.” And the memories of my journey to UTG still ring a bell in my mind.
Every man indeed has a story to tell. And mine, an intriguing encounter, is one of them. I cannot convincingly say that my story was the funniest, the most interesting, or the saddest. However, it was unique. I know you’ll probe, “unique?” Yes, it was. And you’ll agree with me when, in Siman’s voice, “I unfold the folded folders.”
It all started when I left for Region 6, at Passamas BCS. The Gambia National Posting brings along both joy and sadness to the faces of teachers: while some smile to have been posted to their desired regions, clusters, and schools, most especially those who see themselves within the Kombos, others wallow in despair and have their hopes shattered for having to leave for the provinces! But why? Well, in order not to invite riddles or keep dawdling in this story, let’s save the answers to this question for now and maintain our target of getting the full story.
Passamas was not actually where I was posted. The Gambia National Postings in the 2015/16 academic year saw me retained at Somita UBS/SSS, a school where I did my teaching practice the previous year.
Ebrima Camara, a friend we fondly call “Anfield” was the one posted to Passamas BCS; this was when Passamas was newly upgraded to a basic cycle school. Ebrima, after having seen his posting, nearly showered tears of rain. This was partly because his dream of accomplishing his studies at UTG will come to a halt. If he had been posted to any of these schools within the Kombos, he could have managed to pursue his degree – I can now guess this has helped in answering the “why?” part of the question that we asked.
I saw Anfield standing alone in despair. I went to him to discover what might have been the reason he was soaked in distress. His gloomy face showed all impressions that he wasn’t happy with something. I later discovered that it was because of his posting. When I told him that we could swap, for the very first time after having seen his posting, he smiled broadly. I could assume that it was the most exciting clause he’s ever heard! “I’m posted to Somita in Region 2. Let’s swap so that you could manage your UTG studies.” I said. “Really?” He probed. “Yes!” I retorted.
Mr. Camara could not believe his ears. Perhaps, he must have thought, it was those mere dreams of receiving a lot of money or being in an airplane journeying to his favorite country. I was happy to leave for region 6! For Passamas in Wuli East! Ebrima couldn’t digest this. “Why do you want to go to region 6 when everyone is looking for a way to be at least where you’re posted?” He asked. “I want to experience other parts of the country. I have been to Foni, and I have spent my entire life in the Kombos. So, I want to change the environment. I want to taste different waters.” I exclaimed.
In my second year third term at Passamas, a week before we closed for the summer holidays, teachers were on their usual chit-chat. I was in their midst, but I was too occupied in the “Ataya” I was brewing, so I listened to their debates and discussions on contentious issues unfolding. Then, the topic of, “Let’s Upgrade Ourselves” came in. All the discussions centered around this subject inspired me to pursue my studies. This was what triggered me to apply for UTG.
After having gotten my admission, I didn’t get any scholarship at first. I went to Region 2 Directorate for them to post me at any nearby school so that while I continue teaching, I can, at the same time, pursue my studies. But the office, after having shown that they’re willing to help, cannot post me to any school without Region 6 granting me a release memo. I swallowed all pebbles that came my way and mustered the courage to go up to Region 6 for this memo after endless telephone conversations proved to be unyielding!
After having spent three entire days imploring the then Regional Director to release me to continue my studies, he insisted that he was not going to grant me my request. And that I should go back to Passamas and leave UTG for now. When he saw the resistance on my face, he exploded on me, “If you want to go to UTG at all cost, I’ll write a recommendation for your salary to be stopped with immediate effect and if you secure a scholarship from MoHERST, I will not stamp it for approval! Go back to the system and wait till next year.”
I have faced many threats in my life, but I have never been threatened to discontinue a course of making myself better. Then I began to question in mere rhetorics and despair, “Why are these senior officials reluctant to grant us an easy ride when we want to upgrade ourselves? What pleasure do they derive from seeing us under them?” Why? Where have we gone wrong for wanting to become better? Wouldn’t we collectively contribute to national development? Or are they afraid that upgrading ourselves will pose threats to their positions?”
All my hopes of pursuing my course began to crumble. But no! I wasn’t going to give up no matter what! Then the following morning, I called my mum. I told her that I was going to continue my studies despite the director’s reluctance to grant me a release. I also told her that I was not going to receive salaries anymore. Then, my mum, the best mum one can ever dream of, poured out the most inspiring statement I have heard since I started pursuing this course! This is the point that I realized that if there was any “Hero” in our compound, that “heroine” sorry, “Hero” was my mum! Her words were so strong that every dead spirit in me came back to life! “Dear Son, come and continue your studies. Before your salary, we were living.” The words were enough to wake the dead up from their never-ending sleep until D-Day!
Then I left Region 6 that morning. When I was leaving, I never gave any impression to the Director that I was going to continue my studies. To him, he had won. To him, I had given up! To him, Passamas was my next destination until next year! But I was more determined and courageous than Achebe’s Okonkwo!
When I came to UTG, for three months, I have not been going to the bank. To me, the Director has instructed for my salary to be stopped with immediate effect. To me, he had already found out that I had gone to UTG – to upgrade myself and make myself better at all costs! But my pockets were dry and desiccated, perhaps, drier than the Atacama Desert. Then I rushed to the bank to see if I can get at least some hundred! Guess what! Alas! I found three months of my salaries laying smiling at me waiting for my vulturous hands to devour them! At that moment, I remembered the Director’s threats. Why didn’t they stop the salary? I tried to convince myself that maybe they thought that I had gone back to Passamas.
Before spending the money, I tried calling one “sheik” for advice because I wasn’t comfortable with spending the money I haven’t worked for. Whatever his advice was, and whatever I did with the money, is in the annals of history!
In all, I was grateful that I had a scholarship from MoHERST. Even though the Director threatened that he was not going to stamp it, it was eventually stamped by his PEO when Mr. Bah, one of my trusted allies and brothers, took my letter there. I was afraid to take it myself because the Director might recognize me and insist on his threat. Thanks to Bah’s efforts, I’ve now completed my course requirement, and I’m due for graduation.
In a few months from now, I’ll be a degree holder! Thanks to my mum, family members, and friends who selflessly stood by me throughout this journey.