Photos/Basse in the late 1980s
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Whiff of Time
Galen and Rebecca Kennel arrived in Basse in 1988 as volunteers of the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), something akin to the United States’ Peace Corps or Britain’s Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO). It was the Kennels’ first visit to Africa, or more to the point, to an African hinterland.
On arrival in Basse to begin a two-year duty on an array of Canadian government-funded projects, the Kennels put up residence with the Jabbi family in Manneh Kunda, a Basse outlier to the south of the adjoining borderlines. Why they chose to stay with the Jabbi family was perhaps simply an act of fortuity. Or perhaps, they felt a certain professional kinship with their Manneh Kunda hosts. Galen is a professional carpenter and the Jabbi family, headed by the late Bilali Jabbi, is a household name in Basse for its carpentry acumen, its knowledge of wood, and its assortment of woodsmen, nurtured over time with the skills retained and passed down from generation to generation.
Galen and Rebecca, adopting the Gambian names Sambujang and Nyima respectively, spent the next two years working with the Carpenters and Masons Association (CMA), a local group comprising over 100 members. The CMA, which also included welders, was formed to harness the potential of its members and to turn it into a strong competitor for project contracts financed by the Gambian government and private entities in Basse and the surroundings. Local professionals in Basse had felt marginalized and powerless when it came to landing business deals from entities headquartered in the capital city, Banjul. The CMA was formed to help redress these imbalances and to help its members grow their potential in their various fields.
Galen and Rebecca helped revamp the CMA which, by 1988, had been on the throes of collapse. ‘The Carpenters and Masons Association,” says Galen, in a recent email to this writer, “had been started before we arrived in The Gambia in 1988, but wasn't doing too much. So I helped them get going with the business end.” Over the next two years, the CMA, with the support of the Kennels, was able to hone in on its acquisitive skills. The group landed a number of contracts: building the latrines and walls for the Basse Market, remodeling a border crossing into Senegal, en route to the Senegalese town of Vellingara, building the Women's Training Center, St. Mulumba’s Upper Basic School and the agriculture training center for the Catholics.
The CMA landed good, high-paying contracts and also purchased tools (wheelbarrows, bicycles, etc.) through the Kennels, to help the membership take care of its own, be self-reliant and take full ownership of its enterprise. While Rebecca did much of the bookkeeping for the CMA, Galen went out into the fields working with the group.
But the Kennels also went about town, mingling with the people, documenting their lives and times through a catalogue of photos, some of which were sent to My Basse recently. They say they have lots more photos of Basse, taken between 1988 and 1990, stored in their farm in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Looking at the photos, it is hard not to feel nostalgic for the past. The photos give a certain aroma of the times – it is like feeling the presence of a delicious meal in the area through a waft of its palatability in the air. These photos give Basse a certain Arcadian gleam – Arcadia is, historically, a mountainous and picturesque part of the ancient Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire, an area known for its unspoiled and harmonious wilderness and whose people were also known for rural happiness and contentment.
The flickers of smiles planted on the faces of the folks in these photos say a lot about their self-effacing qualities, about their resiliencies, about their gratification with whatever fate destined. The 1980s, or, at least, for the greater part of the decade, were turbulent years for The Gambia. In 1981, a violent uprising swept much of the Greater Banjul Area, leaving hundreds dead and scores of properties destroyed. In Basse, a convoy of Senegalese troops, in an eerie display of military muscle, was seen passing through the center of town that year, heading to Banjul to quell the armed insurrection.
In the mid 1980s, The Gambia underwent a severe economic crisis, due to droughts, falls in the prices of the main exporter, groundnuts, deterioration in the country’s terms of trade with other countries, and a host of macroeconomic policies gone south. The cumulative effect was the International Monetary Fund’s dictated Economic Recovery Program of 1985 and to be followed by the Program for Sustainable Development in 1990. Thousands of government employees were furloughed and a number of public entities privatized and services curtailed. Gambian families, through losses in breadwinners’ incomes, suffered the brunt of the economic policies of the 1980s and early 1990s.
But beneath the economic tremors lurked some discernible determination. The people, long conditioned to the bleak economic times, had learned to soldier on, to make do with whatever feasible to advance their livelihoods. From the surface, it really looked as if nothing had changed at all. Gambians were living it and in peacetime – again. By 1988, the year the Kennels arrived, Gambians had long gotten back to some sense of normalcy, having put back most of the shattered pieces of their individual lives wrought by the incidents of 1981. In 1988, The Gambia sent Dawda Jallow, Jabou Jawo and Momodou Bello Njie to the Seoul Olympics in South Korea, Tahir Ahmadiyya Muslim Senior Secondary School was opened in Mansakonko; the Gambian soccer star Ousman Jallow was born.
These photos give us a snapshot of time – a time when an easy calm spread wide, across our plains and in our midst. It was a time when the natural environment was an ally, not a foe. But now, the unrestrained quests for and the commoditization of, land, have reached gluttonous proportions as to handicap the environment, undermine our co-existence and confront us with the social problems of high population density.
--- Cherno Baba Jallow.
Galen with CMA member Duta Jawneh and his wife
The Jabbi Family
Galen and colleagues relaxing at home
An up-and-coming businessman in Basse
The neigborhood bakery (now closed) in Angal Futa: a popular joint for the youth man, back in the day
The neighborhood marathon: a young Alhagie Jabbi (now in Finland) leads the pack
The women's skills center in Basse
Atop the hill, the greenery and the underbrushes. The beauty of the natural landscape.
Galen and CMA member Samba Jallow observe the project sites from afar
CMA members at work; homegrown talents in the service of local development
Laying the foundation, it starts from here on ....
The CMA Group, 1988. Top Row (l-r): Sambujang Kongira (late), Galen Kennel, Soriba Ceesay, Amadou Manneh, Samba Jallow, Demba Bah (IBAS officer), Rebecca Kennel, Serign Gaye, unknown. Bottom Row (l-r): Momodou Malang (late), Sidia Drammeh (Kaba Kama), Korka Jallow (late), Bilali Jabbi (late) and Duta Jawneh
A token of appreciation, Galen receives a popular cultural dress from his colleagues; with the late Bilali Jabbi (blue) and Amadou Manneh
Galen (Sambujang) Kennel and Rebecca (Nyima) Kennel at home in Basse Manneh Kunda
About Galen and Rebecca Kennel
The couple live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Galen is self-employed as a finish carpenter, building everything from fancy cabinets to gates to fences; you name it. Rebecca works for the ferry company and is an author of a top-selling book.