It is my wish to write a tribute to the late DegueneChimereBabou, to pay due respect to her for the yawning gap her death leaves behind as a result of her innateélan, and mainly to give credit to her, posthumously,for the influence she had in my life.
At her death, I had taken a long sojourn away from social media to concentrate on a project. It was very late, around 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon whilst I was preparing to travel for a Meeting overseas when I received the news from a colleague. Earlier during the year, I had lost family and friends. I still have problems grappling with the emptiness left behind. Still in denial, I have tuned my mind to believe that they had gone for a long sojourn. And they will return…
But DegueneChimere’s death felt so final, the knowledge of it sucked the breathe out of me. It left me baffled and wanting answers that no one can actually give. I thought I should write a poem for her. But at the heat of my distress, words came flying through my head that paralysed me with the depth of their sadness. I decided against a poem, and allowed myself to wallow in misery instead. In long transit stops for a one day Meeting, I used the free Wifi services available at the respective airports along the route to watch youtube videos of the grand lady all over again.
Even today, when I decided to add my voice to the millions of Senegambians who moan her loss, I approach the task of writing this tribute with a mixture of dread. Nevertheless, I am buoyed by the immense love I had for her, similar in nature to the love I had for Gambia’s own Satang Jobarteh; a gender activist I followed when I was in high school, who also died early on in her career.
It is not very often, a woman enters into the milieu of celebrity, fame as well as popularity in the same instance. Neither is it that the death of that person immerses people with so much grief, it is reminiscent of the passing of a grand marabout ofone of the illustrious Tarihas, such as Tidiania or Mouridisme. Yet, the death of DegueneChimereBabou was treated in equal measure. The whole of Senegambia grieved.
The Television Futur Media, TFM, for which she worked for, cancelled all of their programs for days on end as a tribute to the lady dubbed the Mother of GFM, GroupeFutur Media. Though childless, a fitting mother she was to the syndicate group. An ardent love for her could be seen whenever she appeared in any program on the television. She did not bear the grudging of a childless woman, neither did she allow self-pity to consume her over her privation. She accepted her fate and made it to look like a personal choice. Her colleagues loved and looked up to her. Not to copy her but to emulate her role, they were undoubtedly inspired by her cheerful, all-embracing nature.
A re-broadcasting of her show, Wareef, felt as undated as any work of good journalism. Through a replay of the Wareef shows she hosted, people got greater insight into the mind and heart of this beautiful human being, who died so young at just 50 years of age;and left such a big gap in the annals of Senegambia history.
I began fully watching Wareef in 2010, when I left The Gambia on an IMO fellowship to do my MSc. in Maritime Affairs at the World Maritime University, in Malmo-Sweden. Due to the availability offast internet speeds in Sweden, I could watch all Senegalese televisions live, on my desktop computer. My lessons in the university, which normally ended at 1 p.m.,where finished with eager anticipation about the topic of the week, running on Wareef. Once I completed lectures, I would mount my bicycle and race away in the cold streets of Malmo, to watch Wareef live on Tfm, in the comfort of my bedroom. Needless to say, it gave me a sense of connection and eased my loneliness.
I regaled in laughter and good humour for the length of the programme, due to the well-mannered, feel-good and cheerful nature of this lovely dame. She treated the darkest topics with deserving depth and intensity, without condemnation or condescension. She refused to be buoyed into accepting bad, evil and ignorance, however well it was package to reflect good. What was bad, was bad…what was good was good… this was the DegueneChimereBabou I came to love and defended till God took her away.
She did not condone mistreatment and/or maltreatment of other people. She believed co-wives should co-habit in peace and acceptance of their common fate. She emphasized the fact that your husband’s children, however they are born, are not the enemy and should not be madethe target of ones hatred. Offhandedly, she would add, “they did not ask to be born…yowitamit, dawalalyayrrmanday”
She emphasized above all else, the dignity of a woman, in her comportment and her way of life. She did not accept poverty or lack of opportunity to be justification to do wrong by God, to engage in prostitution or flirtious behaviour to win the hearts of men and suck their wealth from them, in common parlance, “Mbarane”. In effect, she covered those topics that intersected work and family life thoroughly. I did not always agree with her, but soon enough I found myself in situations where I would contemplate and ask myself, What would DegueneChimere say with regards this dilemma I am facing…
In exclusivity, she would feature both sides of the coin, for instance in the case of prostitution; both the prostitutes and their enablers, i.e. the men and women who payfor their services. In fact, that was what I loved most about her, her professionalism. She featured both sides of the story without prejudice or favour. It is no wonder that her success and fame were earned.
Journalism is one of the most ethereal professions in that the work is sooner forgotten than it iswritten/broadcasted. In fact, what is not new is not news. Yet, DegueneChimereBabou’sworks in themselves are eternal for she performed her role as a talk host with tact and tenacity. DegueneChimereBabou removed valued judgement from journalism and replaced it with ethics, calling onto the consciences of people irrespective of their stations in life.
Critics swamped her with the old trick of ‘practice what you preach’, and the bring-her-down syndrome of infusing negative talk about her husband’s problems and her supposed pretensions. These went to the extent that she had to reveal herself, in one of her weakest moments on TV, by insisting on the naturalness of her eyebrows, which were supposedly faked according to her critics.
Yet, the most painful ploy to denigrate her perhaps, was the questioning of her imaan, i.e. belief in Islam, because she chose not to ‘cover-up’. For someone who had performed Hajj nine timesin Mecca, her imaan was not to be doubted of course.
Undaunted by her critics however, her solid stand to dress elegantly, and as decent as could be in her African Boubous, with her head-tie held fast, was testament to her strength of character and her ability to lay her foot firmly on the ground, and not buckle to pressure by critics who would never have been satisfied even if she covered up her entire body and revealed only her eyes to the world…
I remember being very uncomfortable when on her return from the Tfm sponsored ticket to Mecca, she came out looking wonderfully alive in her DegueneChimereBabou way, albeit shrouded in white from head to toe to reflect her Al-Haja status. One man phoned in during the show and praised her overtly for shrouding herself the way she did. He added that it was his wish that she continued on in that trend for that is what Allah required of women. The brave dame after acknowledging her appreciation of the man’s praise profusely welcomed his intervention and prayed that God guide her to meet all of His Sanctions, for indeed she was human and not infallible.
True to her word, about a week later, she was back on television looking her regaled old self, dressed to kill in her beautiful African attire, flawless make-up, authentic human-hair and a wonder to the eye. There was no stopping DegueneChimereBabou. She was beauty, class and piety wrapped in one package of goodness, which only saints are endowed with. Yet in life, she did not ascribe to saint status, she chose to show that she was fallible like all the rest of us.
In fact, such was her beauty that lovers and enemies alike bowed down in admiration. Her sense of style and her ability to look good even in the cheapest attire was matched only by her lack of envy and her capability to make a little man feel like he is the best at everything. For her love of life, she treaded cautiously, knowing fully well that tomorrow was not promised. She dressed to the teeth and left tomorrow to God. Whilst her death was a shock to all, this dame was preparing for it all along, by her actions, by her words and even by her dressing. She wore a new dress almost every day on her show. Why leave a new dress behind for her inheritors? To me, all these were a reflection of her knowledge about her imminent mortality.
Yet what I love most about this wonderful creation of God was her love for her mother and her honour for the institution of marriage exemplified by her enduring lessons explicated time and time again in the tributes to her made on television, radio and social media since her untimely death. Many men and women testify to the fact that she mended their broken marriages either in person or through watching her show.
As a divorcee who remarried a fellow divorcee in the person of MaitreBabou, DegueneChimereBabou, perchance having learnt her lesson from her previous marriage, made her husband her King, her Ruler, her Saint and above all, her Lover. I remember watching her once recounting that her husband walks on ‘seerurabal’, an equivalent of red carpet, to reach their shared bedroom.
But like all married women, she knew her husband was not without fault. Perhaps in reference to that, her words of advice to women were consistent “only you can make yourself happy.” She lived by those words and was dubbed,‘No Stress’. Indeed, not once in any of her shows would you find this great dame wanting or emotionally removed from her audience. She was both a good listener and a very good speaker, Mashallah.
In what seemed like a rebuke in one of her shows, she admitted offhandedly to loving her husband wholly, erringly fallible as he was. She added that when she saw men, high in status as MackySall, current President of Senegal, she did see a man, what she saw was a sex-less being. “Suma jaykarrdoinahmah,” she concluded.
At the ripe age of fifty on her passing, this great dame had established an accomplished life as-a married woman, a role model for women and a lasting legacy as a TV talk show hostess who was many times more than your average talk show host.
Her husband on the other hand took faith by the hand and made a tour de force when he openly praised his wife for all to hear, when she was still alive and kicking. It grapples awe that this man called his woman his fortress, his partner, and his wife in this life and the hereafter.
In a society where men only had a good word to say about their wives… when they were dead as dead could be, MaitreBabou expounded for all and sundry to hear, about the paradise he lived on earth, in the arms of his dedicated wife, DegueneChimereBabou. In effect, my emphasis on DegueneChimereBabou throughout this write-up is to pay respect to the enduring love she also had for her husband to the effect that without the mention of his name to hers, she felt neglect of her wifely duties.
In the culmination of such love, it is only fitting that a man of MaitreBabou’s status, eminent lawyer, wealthy man and a man of status in a reputable country like Senegal, would make a vow of celibacy on the day when his beloved wife wasburied… MaitreBabou refused any offerings of money, as is traditionally accepted in our society and undertook an oath to remain celibate, and stay away from the media till the end of his days, when he returns in the arms of his lovely wife in Paradise. Nothing can surpass the depth and sincerity of such love!
Finally,I end with the love DegueneChimereBabou had for her mother; she who was without her own biological child, and her mother who had given birth to nine children.
Again and again, I watched on youtube, that fateful Mother’s Day when she went over to Point A to visit her mum, accompanied by AminaPote. The praise she heaped on her mum, “CamaraGibi Anta Mboge” and the pride in her mother’s eyes as she recounted her youth and adoringly talked about her daughter will however remain inscribed in my heart. That was no theatrics in display for the world to see; that was a love as natural as that of a child to her mother and a mother to her own child. I weep for the pain, her mother must feel, at the loss of such an illustrious daughter.
In the end, what the life and death of DegueneChimereBabou teaches young women like myself to be steadfast, unrelenting and not only love but respect and honor our husbands and parents. If nothing else, this suffices as morale for this short tribute… May Allah grant her Jannat and grant it to all departed souls. Amin.
Rohey Samba is a Gambian writer and publisher of three anthologies of poems namely, Mother Gambia…Beats, Behind My Back and Heart Songs.