By: Ebrima Baldeh, New York.
I wasn’t devastated, because, as Muslim I’m supposed to be immersed in the religious dictum that every soul shall taste death whatever happens. If death means the final separation from loved ones, then, I can say without any misgivings that I am finally separated from SM and I’m going to miss my friend and brother, Buba SM Ceesay, who died last week.
I was bonded with Buba SM Ceesay in Armitage in the early 1990s; even though he was one year my senior in the boarding school, it was journalism that brought us together. Little did I know that this fraternity was going to keep us together in one newsroom in the years to come.
As a budding reporters, a raucous environment we were confronted with in school while trying to arduously study for our primal course, myself, Buba SM Ceesay affectionately called ‘SM’, and Alieu Badara Ceesay were engrossed with writing bits and pieces of articles for what was known as the current affairs club. The writing club was initiated by the famed historian Hassoum Ceesay who was a geography teacher by then. Members of the club were sparsely a potpourri of commerce, arts and science students who had a knack for writing and reporting news and plastering the handwritten papers inside a keyed box covered by a transparent glass and wood frame.
The reading box was placed at the back of what used to be the principal’s office window, not far from what used to be the school’s book stores where during our time, the likeable Old Marong used to occupy. So, I don’t know how this place was chosen to be the ideal reading spot, but whoever made the decision was a smart cookie.
It was also famous for two reasons: the last spot where hungry lads after performing the zuhr prayers, or in some cases students coming from elephant house or end of island, exhausted will be waiting before the gong is struck to storm the dinning hall and take the best plates. The other reason behind what I’d love to describe as the spot’s magnifying glass effect was that it was within the premises of the old basket pitch, the venue where speech and prize giving ceremonies were held.
Sometimes, SM will tell us to hurry up and remove old news articles from the box and replace them with fresh stories during what was generally prime time for us. I must say that our news gathering style was sometimes queer to say the least, because when the noise was deafening we will retreat to the nearby behind the block to finish the work before the students disappear from the spot.
Despite the onslaught we faced from the school administration and some rowdy student councilors as a result of our unrelenting quest to report events in the school and take turns to transcribe the national news from Radio Gambia and BBC, SM was hardly unfazed. With his infectious smile, he will ensure that everything was captured and neatly written, before one of us will open the box and paste fresh news on it.
I could vividly remember how SM was usually the first to take sharp bullets for us when some students attempted to discourage us from doing this ‘dangerous, good for nothing job’. In one instance, Mr. Kanjia, one of our English teachers, invited us to his quarters. Instead of telling us to quit,he prodded us to keep up with the job and offered to proofread our pieces. He told us to be cautious, because journalism does not thrive well in these hostile environments. On the whole, Mr. Kanjia used to be one of the editors of a leading daily in his native Sierra Leone, when he showed us his official press card, we were inspired.
As time went by, the school administration extended an unconditional invitation to cover outside events such as independence anniversaries whenever the famous scout band was invited to perform. So, it was a memorable event to be given a spot in a car that transported the band; we felt that we were now becoming real journalists – so we began to dream big and bigger.
After we were done with Armitage, the trio began to put to practice whatever rustic skills we acquired in Armitage to the real world of the newsroom. The Daily Observer was the first port of call, but entry into that place was trying to storm North Korea’s DMZ; Alieu Badara Ceesay was the first to publish an article under his byline. Wow! But this was not long before the editors at the Daily Observer began to publish rookie freelance reporters under the famous column call briefs.
Not willing to face the onslaught, I didn’t give up entirely but I changed my direction to a lesser known media house – the Gambia Daily, under the Department of Information Service. After a time, the thought of moving to GRTS gravitated in our minds, but we knew getting hired there was not going to be an easy ride.
For SM, there were three things that he gravitated toward which was: a return to Armitage and interact with the students there to talk about our experience, talking to students about his struggle in the media and how he served as a teacher when he was unable to be hired as a staff reporter for one of the leading media houses and his unrelenting quest to work at GRTS.
In one of our famous expeditions to Armitage, we stormed the dining hall and began reciting the pre- and after meal prayer, which we memorized in our hearts several years after leaving the school. For SM, a return to Armitage was always a rare opportunity to admonish students to buckle up- that no storm will outclass the one we had in the school. The parting message will be: study hard and make Armitage proud.
The first time myself and SM applied to be hired at GRTS was during the summer of 2001; from that period until 2005 we refused to give up. I got my chance in 2005, it took SM 7 solid years before he joined me at GRTS, where our reunion was cemented when we shared a common newsroom unlike the one we had in Armitage.
In 2011 and 2012, we traveled as UTG students and reporters to Guinea and Guinea Conakry to dig into the history of the Kaabu empire. The trip, organized by professor Essa Touray, offered us the chance to understand the oral history of the greater Senegambia subregion. During the trip, we put together a daily newsletter in which he [ SM] edited and was designed by the gifted filmmaker and documentary specialist, ML Touray.
SM was indeed a fighter, a man of fate, who was not easily blown away by obstacles. I have definitely missed a friend, a brother and close confidante. May Allah subhana Wa ta’ala cancel his shortcomings and grant him Aljannah Firdausi, and enable his family and loved ones to bear the loss.
Till we reunite again!
Ebrima Baldeh, New York.