Book Review

A Book Review


Foday Samateh
Title: Homegrown

  • The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program.
    A Memoir: Momodou Sabally
    Publisher: AuthorHouse (2007)

The opening two sentences of “Homegrown,” originally published as “Janji Jollof,” read: “‘I have been directed to expel you from the program!’ the voice thundered into my ears. A brief, uneasy silence ensued as my colleagues and I stared at the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education.”

Could it have been said better? In the realm of the possible, we can say a doubtful maybe. But within the confines of the thinkable, it is doubtless the perfect. In spite of its brevity, the scene in the office of the Permanent Secretary introduces the principal theme of the story, the conflicts and the tensions of the drama, power as a role, the challenges and, yes, a sense of fear of unsolicited consequences. Putting together the Permanent Secretary’s exclamatory exercise of authority as, supposedly, harbinger of the higher-ups; the ringing horror of his words into the vulnerable ears of the author; and the collective arrested stare with which he and his fellow students greet the shocking message of the government bureaucrat, “Homegrown” has from the very start successfully fulfilled the condition of memoir as a literary form that embeds the state of society in a personal story. Of course, it is needless to add that the perspective is at the mercy of the author’s point of view.

But more than professing credibility, Sabally looks up to the audience in many instances as priest to whom he must perform the solemn duty of confessing his troubles, doubts, faults, misjudgments and needs. At the actual beginning of the story in terms of chronological sequence, he watches time offer everything but opportunity. Out of school and without a job, he hangs out with fellow daydreamers begging with earnestness some magic moment for a flight into the bliss of the West. He begins his narrative from the doldrums of his life-story with a deliberate intent. We know that progression is not only a mathematical concept even though it goes by the name arc in the world of metaphors. Upward mobility is his only path from the concave of hopelessness to the convex of his dreams. But dreams (including university education) at this point exist only in mere wishful thinking for him and most Gambian youths.

Then the University Extension Program (UEP) materializes thanks to the tripartite collaborative effort of the Nova-Scotia Gambia Association, the St. Mary’s University in Canada, and the Gambia Government. This is a historic landmark that would be the foundation for the nation’s first (and only) university. Sabally is overwhelmed with a born-again hope when he is admitted as a pioneer in this international experiment derided and dismissed by no shortage of skeptics, propecia mail order critics and doomsayers in the country.

In spite of his enthusiasm, climbing the metaphoric arc proves nothing like the smooth and predictable linear progression of mathematics, his major. Unlike his fellow students, he is accepted into the program without the faintest of hopes for a government scholarship. There is his hardworking mother, who has done menial jobs to support her orphaned five children and could not wait for her last-born and best hope to land a job after his completion of sixth form in high school. She would not hear of any further education, because its potential benefits are too distant to her immediate needs. She even goes out of her way to help him find a job as a youth officer at the Department of Youths and Sports. And there are other forms of “challenge,” a word he and his classmates more often substituted with the disproportionately hyperbolic synonym “struggle:” an obvious lexical behemoth that, if it serves any purpose, truly measures the elastic exuberance of their youthful self-importance, self-assertiveness, self-idealization, and over-seriousness. The struggle almost leads to their expulsion from the program.

There are many high and memorable moments too. His mother finally comes around the idea of university education. He routinely deputizes for his boss, a divisional commissioner, at youth forums. His classmates become joke-cracking buddies, who also variously offer him helping hand during very difficult times. There are inspiring professors, Canadians as well as Gambians, who love doing what they do. And there is the highlight moment of student union presidency that earns him the privilege to deliver the graduate student convocation speech. The speech he uses to lambaste the skeptics and critics with the credentials of their success. It would also be the speech that puts him on national spotlight, sends him to an international youth conference in Taiwan, and paves his way to the Central Bank as an economist-statistician.

His candor in telling his most depressing and joyous moments, his innermost doubts and emotional outbursts; his full disclosure of the support and favor of others are not only admirable, but make him a credible and an honest writer. Publicists create heroes; flatters make angles; and writers construct humans.

The Bard of Avon asks the world: “What stuff are dreams made of?” Sabally’s answer in “Homegrown” includes the luck of opportunity, the willingness to succeed, the readiness to face the obstacles, and most importantly, a goal born of clarity and conviction.

Would he finally listen to his mother that he has enough academic education? The answer: He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Economics in Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, US.

Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2007 (Archive on Monday, June 11, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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