Remembrances: Yaya Jallow
Monday, April 22, 2013
Milestone: Yaya Jallow, 1968-2008
Yaya in The Gambia, 2002
Life as Art
by Cherno Baba Jallow
Writing appreciations is always a daunting exercise because it is an attempt to give life to the lifeless and to bequeath to them a token of commemoration lasting – hopefully – well beyond the momentary grief over their departure from earth. It would be a lot easier if the person were a public figure or if he or she had occupied a place in the public imagination.
But Yaya Jallow was no such person; and it wasn’t like he would have cared about anything of that sort anyway. He was mostly a private man, unconcerned about the trappings of publicity. He died in 2008 in Dallas, Texas, following a sudden illness. He is survived by a daughter.
Born in Basse in 1968, Yaya attended Koba Kunda primary school and later went to St. Peter’s High School and then to the Sixth Form at St. Augustine’s. He briefly worked at the Personnel Management Office (PMO) at the Quadrangle in Banjul. He won a scholarship to attend Brock University in Ontario, Canada where he graduated with a BA Honors in Administrative Studies and Politics in 1994. He returned to The Gambia during the early days of the military coup. And shortly after, he left for the United States and attended the University of North Texas – Denton, bagging an MBA in 1997. He worked for Applied Behavioral Sciences Marketing, a firm of marketing consultants in Dallas.
With big brother, Bala Jallow (right) in The Gambia, 2002
When he was younger, Yaya left on-lookers rapt at his stylistic skills with his childhood bicycle. He could have apprenticed for Kay Bendo, the Bissau Guinean unicyclist, whose theatrics with the one-wheeler mobilized and mesmerized huge crowds from Basse to Banjul in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yaya was a great lover of the arts. He collected African art. He loved music, traditional and the great oldies. He was a die-hard Bob Marley fan, never leaving behind his Marley gear, particularly those shoes he professed to love so much. When he visited Michigan in 2005, we toured together the Motown musical museum in Detroit and the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn. (This museum is named after Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and one of the 20th-century's leading industrialists.)
Yaya was also fascinated about the giant Uniroyal Tire erected on the busy I-94 freeway along Allen Park, Michigan. He had read about it and had briefed me on it (I had no idea such a thing existed in Michigan). We visited the giant tire, a symbol of Michigan's industrial grittiness. Standing at the base of the tire, which commanded a hulking presence over us, Yaya was awestruck. He looked up, his attention immobilized by the exquisiteness of the tire (it's said to be the biggest in the world). He began taking pictures, shooting from different angles, and each time demonstrating a certain determination at photographic luminance as though he were a photojournalist on assignment.
The world's 'biggest' tire - in Allen Park, Michigan, USA
Yaya had something of an anthropological curiosity about the world. He was just fascinated about other countries, cultures. He just loved to hop on a plane and fly wherever. He had a daredevil appetite for those long, tedious journeys through Guinea Conakry. He marveled at the hills and mountains of Guinea and the Alps of Switzerland.
After finishing my O'Levels at Nasir High in Basse, I went to Gambia High School in 1990 to study History, Government and Economics at the Sixth Form. At first, I struggled with some indecision: Should I drop Economics for Islamic Religious Knowledge? I loved Economics for its breadth on the interlocking synergies of society but the subject was beginning to gnaw at my confidence with its humdrum graphicals and numericals. And more than that, I also had a special passion for Islamic knowledge. So I sacrificed Economics but two weeks later I returned to it. And two weeks later I dropped it again, returning to IRK. In his office at the PMO, Yaya cautioned me against my vacillating tendencies. “A’ Levels are not like the O’Levels. You need to make up your mind quick,” he scolded me. In the end, I decided to stay with Economics, this study of man’s most essential and predominant activity.
In 2007, when the Gambian authorities arrested the US-based Gambian journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh on a home trip, Yaya wrote on the Gambia Post: “… does she have her US citizenship? If so, her family needs to contact the US embassy in Banjul. Word of advice to all Gambians who are traveling to The Gambia: get on the US Dept. of State website and register your travel in case you need assistance. I wish Fatou well.”
He was such a person, caring in his advice and companionable in the midst of others. He was smooth to a fault. He was always well measured in his remarks, occasionally punctuating them with squeals of hearty laughter. He was just about having fun and being true to himself. Yaya was different in so many wonderful ways. Let the late English poet Norman Rowland Gale wrap it up:
It hardly seems that he is dead
So strange it is that we are here
Beneath this great blue shell of sky
With apple-bloom and pear:
It scarce seems true that we can note
The bursting rosebud’s edge of flame.
Or watch the blackbird’s swelling throat
While he is but a name.
No more the chaffinch at his step
Pipes suddenly her shrill surprise,
For in an ecstasy of sleep
Unconsciously he lies,
Not knowing that the sweet brown lark
From off her bosom’s feathery lace
Shakes down the dewdrop in her flight
To fall upon his face.
Editor's Note: an unedited version of this appreciation first appeared in 2008 in the online paper Gainako.
Cherno Baba Jallow is a contributing editor at My Basse. He lives in Southfield, Michigan, USA.