When we stayed with Alkalo, Fatou Dansu (one of only 5 female chiefs, at the time, in The Gambia), in the town of Basse, we met a strange, yet intriguing, old man called Mr Bah. Outwardly, he reminded me the obsequious Uriah Heep, the oh so humble character, from Charles Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’. He walked with a stoop, continuously rubbing his dry, parchment-like, hands together. And, when he shook your hand, he stroked the back of it, slowly, with his free hand – as if to somehow take away an imprint of who you were – whilst all the time, not breaking eye contact. It was a little disconcerting, to begin with, but as we spent more time with him, it began to feel as if we were in the presence of a rather unique individual. He had this odd little click in his voice, when he spoke; indicative of the Fula people, of whom he was one. The chief, Fatou, explained that Mr Bah was a marabout – a medicine man, spiritual healer, Koranic teacher and fortune-teller – and a much respected, highly-esteemed man, throughout the area, at that.
After Mr Bah did a ‘reading in the sand’, for Florio and I, when we eventually reached his village of Tuba Dabbo, I would go so far as to say that I felt very honoured, to have met him. Even if he did always seem to magically materialise, whenever we put hot water on the fire, to boil, for tea!