Appreciation (Musa Jallow)

10/25/2010 10:45

Musa Kunadi Jallow: Native Son

He was the quintessential Basserian. Even though his teaching stint took him to near and far places, Musa Kunadi Jallow never left his roots. Basse was his base. He contributed immensely to the town's public life. His imprints were everywhere.

By Cherno Baba Jallow

It was near-impossible to not feel his presence around you or in the public arena. Musa Kunadi Jallow, who died on October 20, 2010, had a disarming personality. He was a towering figure. He drew rapt attention to himself partly because of his self-assertiveness (he exuded a lot of confidence in his ability to turn things around: from a bad class to a good one; a failing student into a successful one), but hugely because of his amiable, easy-going rapport with the folks in town, be they old or young. Age was irrelevant to his friendliness towards people. He was a gentleman par excellence. He loved and always wanted to be around people. His demeanor often had a friendly, companionable feel to it. It was irresistible. His son Bakary M. Jallow, living in the US state of Arizona, eulogized him recently: "We indeed lost our best friend...he was not only a dad and husband, but a partner in life. Dad gave us everything we needed."

Musa Jallow was born in Basse Santa-su. He attended St. George's primary and secondary schools. He later graduated from The Gambia College.

A Master Teacher

Perhaps Musa will be best remembered for his teaching profession, for he was a good and caring teacher. Teaching was his strong passion, and that fact was never lost on his pupils. It was easy to notice his interest and determination to not only teach but to teach better and help improve the educational goals of those under his care. He worked. Hard. He was punctual. He was accessible. He was a good resource-guide. Musa was a rare gem among teachers in Gambian educational circles. When others merely latched onto it as a means to an end and something to be tossed aside for better lucrative ventures, Musa simply revered the teaching field. It was second nature to him. He embraced it and made it not only his profession but also a cause for the personal growth and development of youngsters, particularly of lesser fortunate backgrounds.

Like an itinerant salesman, Musa often moved. And he did have lots of kids under his care at each posting. His teaching career took him to different schools: Sare Sofi, Dampha Kunda, Sabi, Fatoto, Nyakoi. He began his teaching career at Koba Kunda Primary and ended it there in 2008. At Koba Kunda, I had the sheer luck to be in his Primary Six class. My father had privately urged him to look after me. It wasn't that I was a bad student or was prone to episodes of truancy. None of the above. My father, like any other responsible parent would do, was simply being participatory in my educational life. (I would later know that the two families had some connections somewhere.) Teacher Musa and I hit it off very well. I knew he had taken a special liking to me. If nothing else, I was a good kid. I studied hard. I was barely late. I did my homework on time. Because of my usual 'good' behavior, I was often spared from corporal punishment. Musa was a strict disciplinarian. He wasn't harsh. He just showed tough love. He was judicious in his disciplinary actions. He wouldn't budge or concede territory to his pupils. He knew when to be jocular and when to be all business. He never conflated the two.

Musa did have an issue with my hair, though. It was often uncombed, not unkempt. He stern-talked me several times about coming to school without combing my hair. It wasn't intentional. I found it painful combing my hair; it was very curly. I was often teased for it during childhood. I would dread early mornings when my late mum would try to run the "peigne" through this thicket of hair. I often cried, and would forcefully break free from her hold. Musa would never buy my excuses. He would simply unfurl a smile. Probably he found my lamentations very amusing. This young child's reasoning was, at best, fodder for theatrical laughter.

He was a teacher with a competitive streak. He wanted his class, students to be the best, to out-rival others. He had his sights on his Alma Mater St. George's Primary School. St. George's had often produced bumper harvests of successes at the Common Entrance Examination. It wasn't uncoomon during the days of the late headmaster John Baldeh for the Catholic Mission school to have an entire class pass the high school entry exam. This feat, although with decreasing effect, would continue during the tenure of another headmaster the late Teacher Francis Jawo. Between the two primary schools, St. George's was the leader in the academic world. Koba Kunda often lagged behind. Common Entrance passes were few and far between. Koba Kunda Primary kids were often subdued. We fancied the world of St. George's. They had all the facilities. They had "Forms", meaning the senior school, St. George's Secondary, which was then the only institute of higher learning and which had some commanding attractiveness among the kids and parents in town. And certainly they also had a sister school, St. Joseph's Primary. We were even made to believe that their white and blue uniforms were better looking than our white and khaki browns.

Musa tried hard to cheer us up, to steel us away from this psychology of a largely self-inflicted inferiority. During independence celebrations, he made sure that we were all neatly dressed and ready to impress the crowd of spectators assembled by the roadside from the GPTC depot all the way to the High Level football field. Mothers, fathers, sisters, grannies and entire families would pour onto the road to watch the school bands and the passing, marching students. Musa wasn't the head master at Koba Kunda during my time, but he surely had a lot of influence in both the school's academic and extra-curricular activities. He was hardworking and determined to improve the school's standing. It was never easy, for Koba Kunda, unlike St. George's, was a government-run school which was often prone to limited funding, poor facilities and services.

But Musa gave his all. I passed the Common Entrance. I got news of it while tending the crops at the Basse rice fields in the evening. A beaming and fast-running Amadou Jallow, MB Krubally's brother-in-law, brought the good news to me and his older brother Sulayman Jallow. We both had passed. We left for the town center, where people had already crowded to hear of and talk about the results. I later went home, and was told that Teacher Musa had come by to check on me. He had wanted to congratulate me. He left a message that he would come back. Sure enough, he returned a few hours later, riding on his usual motor cycle "baybay". We chatted for some time, he patting me on the back with a glint of approval, and me thanking him profusely for his support and guidance. He would tutor me privately and for free at his house. He also had me, Mutarr Jallow, Momodou Alieu Jallow and Bakary's uncle Cherno Mamudu Jallow take maths, Verbal and Quantitative lectures from Cherno's brother Amadou Jallow at the old and now defunct Teranga hotel going down riverside. He wanted us fully prepared for the Common Entrance.

My father, happy with my success and keen to show gratitude to Teacher Musa, handed me a five (5) dalasi note to give to Musa. Back then, this was a lot of money with a lot of purchasing power. I never delivered the money. I was just too shy and embarrassed to approach Teacher Musa and hand-deliver this gift from my father. I didn't know how to do it. I was overwhelmed with shyness. Frankly, my father's idea discomforted me; it is the kind of discomfort you felt as a young boy wondering about and finally deciding against telling your friends that your mum had a baby. It was hard to do that. I couldn't return the money to my father and up till today, he has never known about this. And I can't recall whatever I did with the token sum.

Sports and Culture

In addition to farming, gardening and animal husbandry, Musa also adored sports. Football was his thing. In his youthful days, he played in Basse Nawetaan for the Duto Koto football club. I do remember this team very well as a very young kid who, like the rest of the folks in town, would trek to Mansajang Kunda to attend games. My memory is too fuzzy to make of Musa's exploits in the field of play or what position he played for the team. I, however, remember that their white-jerseys had a small mango tree imprinted on the left breast pocket area. It was artfully emblazoned. YaGuba Njie and Hadrammeh Sidibeh were some of his teammates. During half time, they would assemble around a small radius, debating the half just gone and coaxing one another to do more, strengthen here, watch over there. It was a small team, not in the category of the biggies Fulladu, Manju and others.

Musa also played referee at the High Level. He was usually impressively uniformed: neat and professional. He had his own way of blowing the whistle and beckoning plays. He would raise his hand and dash off a few yards away in readiness for the next play. Just like with teaching, Musa showed a great deal of interest in Basse sports. During team and officers' meetings, he would debate passionately, voicing his concerns about the state of Basse football. He, at some point, headed the Basse sports committee. He had been a scout master, too.

During inter-school sports competitions, Musa was at his usual managerial best for Koba Kunda Primary. He was a constant presence in the school's sporting unit. He was present at rehearsals. He would challenge Ebrima Manneh, the former star for Manneh Kunda's Kuteh Jungbulu and the national Scorpions, to work harder, to get better at it, to do more, to rev it up, and not to question his potential. When Ebrima would doubt his ability at conquering increasing heights in high jump, Musa would pep-talk him: "You can do can jump that high," he would say. It turned out that no height was too high for Ebrima. He raked in victory after victory for Koba Kunda Primary in high jump, sac race, 100 meters --- everything. Musa also helped revamp the Boys Open relay unit: the late Mamadi Sanneh (Ijah), Mustapha Bah (Tanda Vous), Kebba Baldeh (Koba Kunda) and Muhammed Jiana from Bakko (Wuli/Sandu). Koba Kunda Primary would dominate this area for a considerable period of time. It finally was able to wrest control from Kora Julla Kunda Primary, one of its fiercest rivals in inter-school games at the High Level.

During the Christmas season, Musa's cultural group ("Compin") Mansa Musa with their "Kankurangs" and drummers brought a lot of life to the town. Mansa Musa was the arch-rival of Dice Ludo, Selu Bah's group. These two groups with their respective look-alike dresses "Ashobis", engaged in turf and membership battles. Occasionally, there would be fights whenever they encountered each other in town. Stones would be thrown from all directions. Tensions were usually high. But it was fun for the most part. I often tagged along Mansa Musa because my sisters belonged there. On numerous occasions, Musa would preach peace to his group, an assembly of fun-loving men and women, young and old. He would urge restraint, and he would sanction his group against taking collusion lunges against the other group.

This period, precisely in the 1980s, saw Basse teeming with a lot of fanfare. Mansa Musa and Dice Ludo "fought" pitched battles in the dark corners of Angal Futa and along the way to Mr. Allen's Basse Cotton Ginnery depot. They also energized the town with moments of carnival flourishes. The late Karamonding of Kaba Kama was at the peak of his drumming prowess. There was fun to be had everywhere. Musa Jallow and Selu Bah provided lots of it in town. By the sheer might of their own individual charisma, organizational abilities and an unflinching love for the town of Basse, they were able to assemble large groups of people year after year in the spirit of togetherness and communal belonging notwithstanding the occasional inter-group flare-ups.

Musa Jallow's contributions to Basse life were many and varied. He graced and attended every function of public import. He was into sports and culture. And most importantly, he was a teacher of caliber and timbre. He helped many sons and daughters of Basse excel well in school and later become productive citizens of society. All along, it was never about him and nor was he interested in any credits for his students' accomplishments. He simply wanted the best for those under his care, and for the larger community. He was proud to be a Basserian. He never forgot his roots. Basse always had an intrinsic value to him. He wanted good for the town. And he gave his best with every ounce of his being. His was the portrait of a humble and selfless public servant. And that of a true son of the soil.

I last saw Teacher Musa in 1995 at the Daily Observer, my former employer. He had been the Observer vendor in Basse. He told me I was doing a good job and Basse was proud of me. And he told me of my late uncle Naphew Jallow's delight in reading my writings. Uncle had been one of his reliable newspaper customers. In the recent past, I called Musa to say hello. The conversation was a bit difficult. He spoke in a muttering tone, his baritone, authority-laced voice now reduced to inaudible monosyllables. It was my gut feeling that he was straining to talk. Frailty had already conquered much of his usual buoyancy and spurts of energy.

In addition to son Bakary M. Jallow, Musa Jallow is survived by his wife Mariama Benteh Jallow, and three daughters, Ma Kanday, Maimuna and Habbi Jallow. Habbi is currently attending college in the US state of Nebraska.


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