Flo photog' Bah family 2JPG copy
Jason Florio sets the scene, to photograph Mr Bah, the marabout, and his family, Tuba Dabbo, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘ 2009

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.

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Mr Bah, the marabout, reading the sand – The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

 

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!

Gambia expedition 2009
Tea’s up! Helen, Mr Bah, and Janneh  (expedition team mate)- Basse Santa Su, The Gambia, West Africa. In the background is ‘Neil’ one of the two donkeys who walked the whole 930km with us © Jason Florio 

 

Words by Helen Jones-Florio – journal entries from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’ Read/see more on the blog about the journey.

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