18 July 2006

Janitorial Hubris

From the annals of indignities heaped on our school caretaker…

Given the low rung on the pay scale occupied by our school caretaker, his attempt to become the only Njau Lower Basic School staff member to retain two wives was bound to raise eyebrows. With a lower salary than even our unqualified teachers (whose monthly earning were unfavourably compared by our deputy headmaster to the money needed to feed an English dog – see June 4 entry), Ebou Incha’s gambit to take on a recently-widowed mother of three children seemed a classic case of overreach. Ousainou, our headmaster and, along with my host father Chebo, a staunch advocate of having only one wife, was quick to announce his disapproval of Ebou’s assuming this added financial burden. Alas, a great many destitute Gambian men cannot resist the allure and status of a second wife (which aims to obviate, yet simultaneously worsen, their sorry financial states), and Ebou Incha proved no exception. After Ebou gave a warugar/bride price which included two cows, the new wife Jai arrived at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year, just preceding my own arrival.

It wasn’t long afterwards that Ebou pointed to his onerous financial obligations when I pestered him about his daughter Incha’s dropping out of school. It soon came to light, too, that Ebou’s first wife Sohna was not happy to have Jai join the household, with the ill feelings exacerbated by the compound’s precarious financial footing. Soon Jai was spending most evenings in a neighbouring compound which I sometimes visit. Jai often bugged me about buying her stuff but, as I get that treatment from quite a few people, I thought little of it. After about six months of acrimony and deprivation, Jai decided she’d had enough and returned to her in-laws’ across the river in Niamina.

Following this turn of events, the women of Njau decided to do a “roast” of Sohna – Ebou’s first wife. To the accompaniment of drumming and dancing the women teased Sohna, needling her for driving away Jai, who could’ve been a big help with work around the compound and on the farm. Ebou recounted this final humiliation to Ousainou, with the coup de grace being that Malick Ceesay (yours truly) came along to watch insult be heaped on top of injury (in truth I came for the music and dancing and only learned of the event’s agenda later on).

1 comment:

Colleen said...

This is hilarious, Chris. I'll be sure to check in with the guppy more often.