The day cadetship began and following the first two fall-ins, we were summoned a third time after 9 p.m. in the night when it was already lights out. It must be understood that 6.00 p.m. in Ghana is already evening, which was dinner time at Nautical. And that at 9.00 p.m., it was lights out and thus getting really late. I had just fallen asleep, inspite of the Westlife songs blaring over Laurice’s stereo, when I heard another ‘Fall-in’.
For my first year of cadetship, Westlife, Celine Dion and Gospel songs were the new lullabies I had to attune to in order to fall asleep. Evidently, it was hard for a light sleeper like me to adjust to music playing at high pitch or any kind of music at night for that matter. I had to, though, because it seemed like I was the only cadet in the dormitory affected. The remaining cadets either kept their mute on to maintain peace or were naturally unbothered by it. I did not ask, so I never knew.
Thus when I heard the dreaded call at first, I thought it was a dream. Then I realised it was not. Along with the other cadets, we ran down the stairs as fast as possible to avoid being punished. When we had all climbed down to the ground floor, we were ushered by the Senior Cadets to the parade grounds where we were told to sit down. At least no standing up for minutes that were like hours for the while…I thought to myself.
As we sat in sleepy mood, all of the cadets from the different countries were called out to sing folk songs from their respective countries. I recall singing “SonaaMariama” when my turn to sing came. It was a song I learnt whilst playing in the muddy puddles and expansive fields of my native village when I was just a little girl. The song evoked in me the much needed emotions to awaken my senses to my then situation.
As the voices of the other cadets trailed off in the calm night as they sang their respective songs I found myself lost in the mood of the moment. The intonations, the pitch and even the rhythm of their songs were vaguely familiar. For some, their words were akin to the native languages we spoke in my own country. For others, it was similar to the soulful melodies I sang in my dreams.
Following the songs, the cadets were regrouped and we were told to recount stories from our townships. What was left of the sleep in me escaped like smoke from my body as I sat agog listening to stories told beautifully and at times funnily by the young men and women of diverse African nationalities.The story-telling skills of my comrades themselves impressed me thoroughly.Pateh, for one,who was the most jovial amongst us, entranced the audience with his oratory and storytelling skills.
The stories recounted that day, were folklores such as were accompanied by detailed songs and anecdotes that never cease to amaze me to this day. And the lessons learnt were the most remarkable. In the quiet interspersed by the occasional laughter, we connected in ways I cannot fully express to this day. The gathering showcased the extraordinary talents of our predecessors,through our generation, and in particular, their insights in matters of life, death, bravery, truth and vicissitudes among others.
At that moment, I recalled my maternal grandmother as I occasioned the times she sat us, her grandchildren down, to recount stories from her childhood. And my grandfather also, who would recount his childhood exploits and make us laugh the entire time. Both of them were in their small ways trying to mould our characters by their story telling.
Thus as I sat and listened one story after the other, I saw each of the cadets in turn, sitting before their families in their family houses and listening to an elderly member recount the stories they were telling at that moment. It brought a connection I would grasp from that day onward.
It was a connection similar to the one I experienced when I first gave birth. I began to see children in a new light. In the light of the love, pain and joy that they brought their parents especially their mothers by their births. I encountered a new feeling hence forth that had developed to an emotion akin to kindness but more like compassion for all children, which was really not there before. From that day on, I could not forgive any one the excuse of being mean to little ones.
Inadvertently, on that night as I sat and listened, I wondered why they culled Africa the Dark Continent, with all its negative connotations.
Yes, we are black. Our skins are black. In fact, come to think of it, most of us are different shades of brown, rather than black. And moreover, God made it so. We did not choose our skin tones, or the geographical area we are born. Nobody should think they are superior to others because of their skin tones. How myopic can one be?We don’t make the excuse for being born “black” in the continent of Africa-commonly called the cradle of civilisation! (as it had been long proven that civilisation began in the so-called “Dark Continent”).
We are what we are. Nothing more, nothing less.
Moreover, there is nothing dark about out mind set or our intelligence. Given the opportunity, we could excel equally in every given field of knowledge and expertise. We may not have recorded our history or perhaps we did and then lost it in the nuisance of time, but by God, we had good memories to transmit our accounts through oral history over the years. We have to take credit for that. (Even though sceptics would give us a thousand reasons why oral history cannot be authentic).
We have good memories-That’s what our oral histories had demonstrated to us, time after time.
The exploits and conquests of Annanse, the bravery and daringness of Sundiata Keita, SoumanguruKonte, MabaJahu Bah, and our own AbdouSaidy Khan, the famous hippo hunter. In terms of intellect, who can dispute Leopard SedatSenghore of recent history, Cheikh Anta Diop and our own Lenrie Peters among others. And these are the ones I know. I am sure there are countless otherheros in every corner of the African continent looming to be celebrated.
Africa, let’s celebrate our own!
Well, not to digress; we were dispersed by midnight after a fun-filled night of storytelling and jaama songs that we were taught by the Senior Cadets.Jaama songs are the songs we were going to be singing whilst trotting at dawn to supposedly ease the pain on our legs.
Again, I fell in dead sleep at the top bunk bed which I had been allotted when we returned to our rooms. I was given the top bed by virtue of being a junior cadet. Climbing was not my problem anymore than being a junior cadet was. But after many years of comfort and ease back home on a large enough bed, my heart flipped a bit every time I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night at the edge of the narrow bunk bed, fearing to fall and break my neck. After many months, my senses would desensitize and from there on I would learn to sleep at one spot for hours literally without shifting position.
Pendant what seemed like a few minutes into my deep sleep, again, that despised clarion call, “Fall-in, fall-in.” Again, I thought it was dream, but when I saw my seniors getting up, I jumped and ran downstairs as fast as my wobbly legs could carry me. When we were all lined up and groggy from lack of enough sleep, those of us who came down with slippers were ordered to return to our rooms and put on our white trainers and socks. We were going trotting.
The girls were placed at the front rows and the guys behind as we ran to the gate, quite a distance from the accommodation and back. I learnt immediately that trotting was going to be a big deal when after a few minutes my tendons began to ache like they were on fire. As we ran in rhythm, and sang songs we had been taught earlier in the night, I thought my heart would burst. I was so tired. Soon boys and girls began to fall out of the tracks to catch their breathe and rest a little…
(to be continued)
by Rohey Samba
Rohey Samba is a Gambian writer and publisher of three anthologies of poems namely, Mother Gambia…Beats, Behind My Back and Heart Songs.