By Momodou Sabally
In my own classification of people I have encountered in this world, there are three types: those who manage to survive in this world; the ones who are alive and those who live life.
The late Ansu Suso falls under the third category. The erstwhile Customs officer who was born in Boroba village, was a lively, often positively boisterous, elderly friend of mine, who had always maintained a happy disposition for the close to seven-year period that I have known him.
My first encounter with the late Ansu Suso was at my residence during the period that is served as Presidential Affairs Minister. He came to my home with my uncle, Sheriff Marong and former Managing Director of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation, Tumbul Danso. These two men were among his close friends
I was to get better acquainted with Mr. Suso during the past three years as I worked on my long-held desire of developing the enlightenment period past time of a salon culture in imitation (and honour) of some of my key role models like the American Founding father Benjamin Franklin. The closest to an enlightenment-type salon setting for me is the cool and cozy La Parisienne restaurant on Kairaba Avenue. It is a place where I enjoy the company of such brilliant minds like the former Action Aid International top executive Malamin Sonko, my former boss at the Central Bank, the late M.A. Ceesay and his good friend Banta Kaira.
This was Mr Suso’s favourite spot as well as the nearby Attaya Cafe, which i also frequent. “N-na Kaybaa”, as I fondly called Mr. Suso, was always happy, ready and eager for a conversation whenever he set eyes on me at these spots. We would hold some noisy discussions mainly about politics, punctuated with laughter.
Occasionally, I would step into these restaurants to do some creative work and on such occasions when he pulled a chair by his side for me to sit by for a chat, I would politely decline and tell him I have some work to finish. He would oblige; but if it happened a second time he would protest and remind me that he just loved to hold conversations with me but sometimes I would not give him the opportunity. I would laugh and take the chair for yet another exciting conversation.
Mr. Suso was passionate about politics and the party he loved and supported is the United Democratic Party (UDP). He never hid his political affiliation and he would proudly defend his party and tout its leadership; but Suso was tolerant of opposing views. I had many debates with him on such matters before I joined the UDP.
When I became a member of his beloved party, our bonds became closer and we would hold chats at the gate of the party Leader’s residence, next to our favorite restaurants over some hot Attaya.
Suso loved academic excellence and the English language, which he had a good command of. He would narrate to me tales of my own academic prowess as explained to him by my senior friend Buba S, who attended the same schools with me in Lamin. And he would also make references to speeches I made or wrote while I was in public office.
His love of academics extended to a desire to discuss legal issues especially those with political connections being handled at the courts. In recent days he got me laughing when he came to the party leader’s office on Kairaba Avenue and buoyantly told me that the UDP was seeking a “writ of mandamus” at the Superior courts in their case against the recalcitrant Brikama Area Council Chairman. I laughed when he mentioned what I deemed to be cacophonous term. And then I asked him “N-na kaybaa, but what in the world is a writ of mandamus”; he smiled and then told me to ask lawyers like Lamin Darboe, “just ask these lawyers- Lang Montang is here; they will explain to you what a ‘writ of Mandamus’ means!”
Lamin Darboe’s junior colleague in the profession, Yanks Darboe, was also one of Mr. Suso’s favourite intellectuals. I remember him joyfully quoting some interesting passages from a recent interview Yanks had granted one of the leading newspapers. Suso was well informed about the happenings in the country. From the executive to the legislature to the courts, he was always well informed about current issues.
The late Ansu Suso was a highly affable person with a contagiously jovial disposition, always clad with humility.
A few weeks before his unexpected demise, we were at the Party Leader’s Office area when I needed someone to call a third party for me to come and meet the party leader while I was busy dealing with some important matters.
There was no young person nearby to send. I reluctantly approached Mr Suso and told him “N-na Kaybaa, it is not right for me to send someone older than myself, but I really need your help to go and extend a message to someone to come over and meet the party leader.”
His response was humbling, “well I am older than you but I am also your griot in our cultural relations and therefore you can send me.” He smiled again and capped the conversation with a jovial remake “mark your words! I am older than you ‘bari e la jaloe leh mu nteh ti!’”
And, yes, he knew I always dealt with him with respect but he also held on to his cultural heritage because he comes from a family of griots. Yet I also related with our griots back at home with deep respect. The man who served as griot for my family in Lamin, Karungka, is treated with the same level of honour and respect that I showed my own parents. Mr Suso’s remarks that day showed me the beauty of our traditional relations when handled with the level of decorum that our forebears dealt with it.
One key conversation I will forever remember is when I asked Mr. Suso to tell me the meaning of a Mandingka saying famously sang by the late Kora maestro, Lalo Kebba Drammeh .
My uncle, the retired top Regimental Police of The Gambia National Army, M.L. Dibba, once asked me to find out what the term ‘kuru’ meant in Mandingka. It was a tough assignment emanating from an enriching dialogue I had with him.
As an elderly Mandingka man from a family of griots, I thought it wise to consult Mr. Suso. When I asked him the question about the term ‘kuru’ he leaned in his chair, took a deep breadth and then responded “from what I know as told to me by some elders, the term ‘kuru’ which has been referenced by the late Lalo Kebba Drammeh in his classic song “Cheddo”; is often cited in the Mandingka saying ‘kuru takki ta moe la kuru saa dimindi; moe takki kuru la, kuru see dimindi’; it refers to a person who is obedient to his/her parents, takes care of them and seeks their blessings until he/she earns those blessings and prayers from the parents. Once the parents bless that child and pray for him/her, he/she is the one referred to as “Kuru”. Once such a person sets out, he/she becomes successful and prevails over enemies and opponents in all encounters.”
I looked at Mr Suso and smiled. I was glad to have learnt a great lesson from him. On many other occasions he had explained to me the intricacies of our socio-Cultural relations given his knowledge of our recent history as a country.
I will miss his enriching conversations. And so would the young men and women who used to relish his company during our regular gatherings at the gate of Lawyer Darboe’s residence on Kairaba Avenue.
Lawyer Badou Conteh told me about an encounter he recently had with Mr. Suso that confirmed that the late Ansu was a loyal and genuine friend. My mother-in-law, Aunty Philo, also told me about an incident where the late Ansu demonstrated gratitude and loyalty to the late former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ben Jammeh, who happened to have rendered him a favour while he served as IGP. I will always remember him for for blissful camaraderie and also his dedication to obligatory Muslim prayers. I have witnessed his consistency with his salat whenever the time came up for that while we hung out in the evenings.
May Allah grant the late Ansu Suso His Gracious Mercy and admit his soul into the company of the righteous in heaven.