“We do not store away our old people like you do,” quickly retorted Samia Batch Secka, after I simply asked him how Gambians treated the aged. The conversation quietly started as we casually walked across the inn’s court yard where I usually stay in Kololi, The Gambia.
As we walked toward the kitchen where he works, Secka looked at Lucy Gomez and told me how she would come to work to the inn’s office very tired after caring for her ailing mother. “It’s what I was supposed to do,” said Gomez, who became a widow soon after losing her mother. Though Secka and Gomez are of different ethnic groups and religions, they share a common perspective on caring for the elderly. Their thoughts and actions echoed what I have seen and heard from other Gambians.
“Even when elders lie you must not say they are lying,” declared Alhasan Bah is his usual full-of-life way. That sounded tricky to me, but Bah insisted that there are creative ways to move forward without being disrespectful.
“Always help them carry their luggage or anything. Help them in any work they are doing. In any gathering when elders come, younger ones should give them their seats,” he admonished from his village in Soma. For the later, I laughed as I told Bah that Americans have codified that younger ones must give up certain seats for the elderly and disabled, but we still have to remind too many people what seems obvious to many Gambians.
Showing deference is what Ebrima Jallow followed when dealing with his father’s health care decisions. Not long after the passing of his mother, his father became ill in their rural North Bank village of Bakindick. Jallow brought him to his home in Banjul, the capital city, to access better health care, but his father insisted upon seeing a traditional healer.
Though Secka and Gomez are of different ethnic groups and religions, they share a common perspective on caring for the elderly.
“And sometimes beliefs and trust matters, you know, when it comes to treatment,” concluded Jallow. “I couldn't insist that he see western medicine practitioners,” he said. “I only hopes it works. otherwise we will go to the main hospital,” he continued. Jallow reports that his father is back home, not stored away, and enjoying and transmitting his knowledge to the next generation.
Note: Also see “A Love Not Returned,” from the book “Golden Nuggets,” by Sonya Dunbar, which provides elderly perspectives on being mature Americans.