Weeping Women of the Gambia


tumblr_mh3hg5aFww1r8pxcho1_500Heart pounding violently against my ribs; Temples throbbing and head reeling, I feel the bitter bile rising from my stomach. I wake up in cold sweat, shivering and trembling. I want to scream out my anguish and my pain.

Fearful of waking up my son, I sob silently.  Chest heaving the hot tears flow down my chest.  I cup my chin in my hand and I stare into the dark space.  Engulfed by the darkness and solitude of the night, I reflect on the somberness of our situation.

I recall vividly the day that changed my live forever – An interview with a JUGGLER who confirmed the murders that many believe to be mere rumours.  His confirmation of the deliberate and targeted killings that changed the lives of many Gambian families; that many innocent Gambian men and women were annihilated. Unnamed victims of a cruel and heartless state machinery.

The day it struck that many a bereaved mother, widow and orphan had their son, husband and father snatched away in an untimely fashion. Their source of comfort, happiness, joy and security cut off in the prime of his life with no justification.

Nothing makes sense; nothing is real in my screaming brain.  I imagine how the mothers, wives, children and family members survive the rituals of burial, charities and widowhood.  Then everyone disperses, leaving them alone with their families – Orphans who will no longer see or know their father or mother; Wives who will no longer see their husbands; Mothers who will no longer see their sons or daughters.

People say it is the will of God an act of God.  No one can fight with God so it best to accept His will. But God did not fire the bullet that killed Deyda or Omar.  God works through people and this is His will.  They are told to be patient and to put their faith in God.   There is no need to argue as they do not understand. They know that their God is a Merciful and Ever Living God.

He created life and death for everyone.   Everyone will surely die.

Not in such an unexpected, rude and abrupt manner.  No time to say goodbye, no time to pray or to give water. Out of the blue they are told that ‘your loved one has passed away,’ their lives cut short by a bullet of an unknown assailant. The circumstances of their deaths are shrouded in mystery.

My silent sobs go unnoticed.  My son sleeps peacefully unaware of my pain and distress.  I say to myself Gambian women do not deserve this. But how do you explain it to them without hurting them even more.  So, I forge ahead stoically during the day, putting on a brave face for my child’s sake.  People are too preoccupied with their lives. They do not have time to ponder on the suffering of the women. The women victims of the deepest forms of violence; their emotional, economic, physical and social rights violated. They are expected to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move on.

No one really understands the frustration, agony and pain I feel.  Somehow I prefer the day to the nighttime.  I dread the night for as other people sleep I stay awake. Floating in and out of sleep I yearn for daybreak. Trying to make sense of a senseless situation:

I ponder on the painful situation of Lala. I think of Maria who had to lay Deyda’s bullet ridden body to rest. Many others have been able to bury and mourn for their loved ones. Lala, the grass widow has been denied all of that. She does not know whether her husband, Imam Baba Leigh is alive or dead.  The uncertainty of her situation haunts her every move. She does not know if she should mourn or not mourn.  Unable to face her children or answer their questions, she averts her gaze as she is unable to look them in the eyes.

I also reflect on the young Maimuna. Eyes full of pain and despair she strokes her last child Sheik Hassan. Now eleven years old, Sheik Hassan is the carbon copy of his dad.  The man he has never known, touched or seen. He was born after his father, a security agent who disappeared into thin air. Driving away in response to a phone call he was never seen again. Sheik Hassan is now in grade 5 and is doing well at school.  His father is not around to enjoy his accomplishments. Denied the right to enjoy his father’s love and care.  He only has his mum to turn to turn for protection and guidance. Now a single parent she struggles like many others to make ends meet.

Maimuna carries her load with a heavy heart, in her words “a heart torn apart”.  Endlessly she searches for answers to the whereabouts of her husband.  She has scoured all the detention centres in the country to no avail. No amount of weeping and wailing could move them to provide an answer. Clueless, helpless, hapless, her emotions are in a daily turmoil.

For her, like the mother of Chief Ebrima Manneh it is better to know that he is dead.  Death is certain and final and brings closure.  The doubt and confusion caused by uncertainty of not knowing the truth have disrupted her life and that of many other Gambian wives and mothers.

Everything is in disarray and they cannot move on.  She is urged to leave all in the hands of God and He will find solutions.  “Yala Yala bey sa tol,” but with what tools do we sow our gardens?  There is no one to listen to her complaints and no helping hand.  All she gets is a get is a blank stare or false promises or a sympathetic nod.

I also think of Lykke, Linda and Deborah brave and determined women who seek justice for their husbands; Husband’s who could face the guillotine at any time, their lives dependent on the mood of an unpredictable and erratic individual. I admire their courage, strength and faith yet I despair as the end in nowhere in sight.

The weeping women of The Gambia have nothing, no one to support them. A few voices here and a few voices there, give them the reassurance.  They hold out on this promise that truth and justice will prevail.  For now, their only solace is their orphaned children.  These children need parental love and care but now it’s only a mother’s.

They believe that their sons and husbands are in a better place than this; A place of truth and justice where the killer (s) will be asked:  “Is it you who created the person or are We the Creator?” “Is it you who gave life or are We the Giver?”  On that day the people who caused us so much pain will know that there is truly a God.

As women the world over celebrate International Women’s Day; Taking stock of achievements and mapping the way forward, the world needs to remember the weeping women of The Gambia. The women whose loved ones will never come back; The women who suffer reprisals for daring to speak out; The women, who disappear, are raped or killed as they search for justice. The women who are subjected to unabated violence while serving the state. When will this justice come?

Ndey Tapha Sosseh

Secretary General, Coalition for Change – The Gambia


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