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By Lamin Sabally (Head Boy) – Minneapolis, MN

Nusrat High school located in the heart of Bundung Ka Kunda decisively joined the league of few high schools during the first republic that introduced the afternoon shift session to satisfy the increasing demand of more classrooms for students with satisfactory results obtained from both the now obsolete popular Common Entrance and the Secondary Fourth Examinations.

Admittedly, having woefully failed my maiden attempt at Common Entrance in 1984 due to my extremely regrettable lackluster attitude to education then, I encountered the Hobson’s choice reality that was to repeat in 1985. With a pass at the 2nd attempt, I wanted to go to my school of choice at Muslim High, but my late father, together with my late Uncle Alhagie Bakary Sabally, bother of Alhagie Saihou Sabally, former Vice President and Minister of Defense of the Gambia, uncompromisingly advised that I go to Armitage High School. Overwhelmingly terrified at the news that Armitage was such a nightmarish place for most new batch of students known by their nickname “green leaves” who were reportedly cruelly punished for even over trivia issues just to satisfy the pleasure of their seniors for the abuse of the so-called authoritative Seniority privileges, I flatly with recalcitrance, declined the advice for fear of these tormenting news at the time. I was left with no choice, but to go to Farafenni Secondary where I spent 4 years and wrote the popular Secondary Forth Exam in 1990 and passed with 5 credits and 2 pass that took me to the indomitable Nusrat high school from 1990-1993.

The Armitage saga stubbornly rekindled in Banjul when I went to Baba Saikou’s office when he was the Minister of Finance to officially show him my results that culminated into the formal pursuance of my desire for furthering my education. With such good results by any standards, I was advised again to go to Armitage, and Oustass Kebba Jagne, the former Vice Principal of Armitage was even ready to accept my application expeditiously. It took me 2 months before my final plea to avoid my much-fear Armitage was accepted. I freely chose Nusrat High School, and by the time my applications were processed, admissions of new students closed out. Mr. Iqbal, the no-nonsense principal at the time could only offer me a place if only I chose to be enrolled in the afternoon shift pending the availability of space in the morning shift. I accepted the offer with alacrity to avoid Armitage even though I was convinced with every hard fact that my fears were merely unfounded and most of them were figment of my own imagination. In that year, there were many natives of Farafenni that were at Armitage and prominent on list included Alieu K Jammeh the school Sefo at the time, (Armitage equivalence of head boy) who is the current Gambia Youth and Sports Minister.

The perceptions of the afternoon shift were highly misconstrued in the early 1990s. There were mixed labels of all sorts tagged on its students. The shift was at its rudimentary stages in most of the high schools then, and some of the perceptions were that only average or poor performing students were enrolled in afternoon shift. There were disturbing claims on the grapevine or the rumor mills that it had poor quality teachers and that most school administrations were given unbridled preference in terms of quality and resources to the morning shift while deliberately ignoring the Afternoon shift. These were the information I gathered when I freshly joined Nusrat.

However, these were all found to be exaggerated malarkey based on what I witnessed on the ground at Nusrat. The students I met at all levels in the afternoon shift were embodiments of brilliance and determination and their resolute strive for academic excellence was indescribable. The academic staff was equally as excellent as the morning shift with most teachers teaching in both shifts in fact. The hours of lectures were a bit shorter in the afternoon shift, but those never compromised the delivery of quality or in any way lowered the moral of the students. Because of my instant undiluted love of Nusrat, the proposal I was given to transfer to Gambia High School was refused with vehemence. I fitted perfectly at Nusrat because of principally my provincial back ground. Nusrat was flooded with people of similar background I came from- that is underprivileged and provincial.

A former prominent teacher who I don’t want to name still jokingly calls Nusrat a village school because of this reason. On a serious note, I got increasingly attracted and magnetized to Nusrat for many reasons, but mainly due to its core mission of maintaining strong academic excellence to keep the Nusratarian flag flying higher. It was unarguably a top school among prestigious schools like St. Augustine’s, Marena and Gambia high schools, and still maintains that niche in the Gambia’s academic map. It is a dependable incubator and provider of excellent and brilliant students. At Nusrat, the most cling mantra was that you must pass your exams or you will otherwise not survive staying in the school. Its zero tolerance for poor exams results really consistently galvanized students into taking their studies   to the zenith of unwavering seriousness and discipline.

Classrooms at night during exams weeks were continually full to capacity by students studying all night. This phenomenon euphemistically became known as TDB- Study Till Day Break and these were times when you routinely saw students visibly emaciating because of the brutal academic pressure or initiation they are put through. I never did TDB myself, but admittedly, I studied frequently and was a couple of steps short of a bookworm. As a student who frequently attended group study times at Nusrat from 7pm to midnight, I repeatedly saw some stanch till day breakers literally dipping both feet in buckets full of water to stay awake to study until in the morning. During one of those nerve-racking exam nights that were given never-ending jim-jams to students, a regular TDB student who was completely emptied out of energy, fell on the classroom with a loud bang after being overwhelmed with sleep. After the bad ordeal, instead of retiring by going home and get the needed rest,  that student, who I know very well,  to the utter bewilderment of all, unbelievably ran around the football field to regain some lost energy and finally went straight to the school local well  and profusely soaked himself in water. That student surprisingly came back to the study room and continued to study with added exuberance from chewing cola nuts that was given the name academic biscuits by a celebrity Nusrat High Teacher.

That 1993 batch made indelible mark on the annals of the school chapter, and the authenticity of these accounts can absolutely be elucidated by both the sitting principal, Mr Karamo Bojang and students in that cohort. Most of the students were active contributors of Al-Nusrat, the school magazine. We also energized and revamped the school debate and journalism societies by our active participation with the morning shift counter parts. One of the major achievements of the Journalism society was the procurement of a tape recorder with a mic that were used for many events including the recording of the speeches by candidates of the ferociously contested Head Boy Election that I won with a flawless landslide with the support I gathered from campaign experts like Dr. Abou Jeng, Ebrima Sillah, aka, Sosolaso, Kalilu Bah, Ida Touray and many others.  The battle for the head boy position was fought out by candidates presented by the Commerce, Arts and Science classes, which made it a class issue election. As expected, the Arts candidate who was Lamin Sabally won for their show of grammatical and rhetorical flourishes by way of the unstoppable exhibition of their sustained oratory superiority with the aggressive unleashing of grandiloquent or bombastic words that were continually rained on the junior students during vote canvassing. With the now Dr. Abou Jeng, Kaliu Bah and journalist Ebrima Sillah behind me, we conquered the campaign trail releasing words from our rich vocabulary arsenals. Some of the highfalutin words have now completely evaporated from my memory.

The journalism Society’s single most important achievement was the symposium it organized that gathered the Gambia’s press and media titans. The eminent panel comprised participants like the iconic Bora Mboge of Radio Gambia, the heroic Kenneth Y Best, founder of Daily Observer, the indefatigable Suwaibou Konateh, who is also an indubitable doyen of Gambian Journalism and Founder /Proprietor of the Gambia News and Monthly report, and the prolific writer Junkunda Daffeh of the Point Newspaper. It was one of the high profile gatherings at Nusrat and that event is still ineradicable in my memories of the many former students. Earlier on in the early 1990s Mr. Tombong Saidy, former Gambia Ambassador to the US and former GRTS boss was also invited to give an inspiring speech when he was reportedly a reporter for the then US-based Jaliba newspaper.

The History /Government club undertook some memorable filed trips of both shifts to different historical sites around the country including the Abuko Nature Reserve, James Island, Fort Bullein, and the Wassu Stone Circles. The 1992 trip to Armitage forced me to instantaneously repudiate all the unfounded fears and perceptions I harbored for the only boarding school the country can still be excessively proud of today. On the contrary, the experiences were pleasingly fruitful. I found Armitage to be a perfect breeding place for hardworking, smart and brilliant students from all tribes and backgrounds. Our planned debate match was abruptly cancelled to our chagrin by the head of the trip, Mr. Mark Halim Collier, who is arguably a celebrity teacher in his own rights at Nusrat up to this date. The cancellation was later found to be absolutely necessary and justifiable for myriad reasons. For example, Armitage is known for its ferocious debating styles and had an indomitable team at the time that had propensity for only a win. And because we were accorded the most enjoyable accommodation and hospitality, a debate competition would have turned that joyous experience awry and possibly heralded a resultant bad blood between the two schools that had a lot in common. I saw firsthand seniority privileges though when in my presence, a senior student forced his junior who is even older by age, to run some bruising errands without an option of a question. During one of dinning sessions too, some senior students displayed their authority by bringing the whole feasting to a sudden standstill just to put up a few commanding military type instructions. I concluded that these were positive experiences because I came to the awareness that Armitage was able to establish a concrete disciplinary regime, which had helped produced a conforming student population.

The competitive nature of the class of 1993 afternoon was climaxed in the compelling impressive performance registered in the 1993 O’ level exams. A good number earned pass with Division 1 with Distinctions, while those that passed with straight Division One was incredibly outstanding. Individual subjects in which student earned an A grade were phenomenally remarkable. Most of these students including myself joyfully went ahead to attend top schools like Saint Augustine’s or Gambia High schools for their A level, while a good majority decided to stay at Nusrat, whose A level program was at its infancy and had a solid foundation in Commerce. Today, students of the 1993 batch are comfortably morphed into many professionals having acquired the requisite higher education overseas they had long yearned for in many areas and they  now gladly find them in commandingly fitting places in the intellectual fraternity of the Gambia. The list is gigantically long, but the batch of 1993  Afternoon Shift included the likes of  Dr. Abou Jeng, Kalilu Bah or Kal, respected for  his miraculous verbatim memorizing of  the famous literature text book Mcbeth, Ebrima Sillah AKA, Sosolaso, Bakary Krubally or Krubs, Bakau Dem, Baluta Marong, or Balmas, Ida Touray, Superintendent Olimatou Jammeh of the Gambia Immigration Services, Ida Mendy of the Customs Department, Major Sambou Barrow  of The Gambia Armed Forces who is nick named Robin White of the BBC for his perfect mimicking of the iconic broadcaster’s baritone voice, Alpha Bah, Foday Ceesey & Lamin Jassey ( my election rivals) and many others who are in various functions contributing their quota to the development of the Gambia either directly or indirectly.



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