In the dusty yard of Farafenni Power Station, a figure on a bicycle emerges from behind a distant warehouse. As the man draws nearer, I see the striking sky blue of his Muslim attire, and a wide grin beaming above a stark-white beard. He comes to a halt and nimbly dismounts from his ancient bicycle, propping it on a kickstand and striding towards me.
‘Alssalam ealaykum,’he says. ‘My name is Forday Conteh.’
Forday is a 72 year-old ex cashew farmer who lost his leg to type 2 diabetes 15 years ago. Since receiving a prosthetic leg from Legs4Africa six months ago, he has taken up work at the power station as a security guard.
‘The rainy season destroyed this kitchen two summers ago,’ says Forday as he gives me a tour of his house, two miles down the road. The kitchen is a rammed-earth structure with a tin roof. ‘I had to rebuild it. God willing, it will last another year before it collapses again!’ He chuckles, and leads me past a vegetable allotment and bathing area.
‘When I lost my leg,’ he says matter-of-factly, leading me through the room where he and his family sleep, ‘I had to give up cashew farming. Nobody would employ an amputee, but luckily I had my bicycle, and learnt to ride one-legged. A prosthetic leg in The Gambia costs more than a year’s wages, so I made crutches out of wood, and bought and sold produce in the local markets.’
Forday recounts all these memories with a sage-like fondness, his smile concealing any memory of hardship. ‘When I received a prosthetic leg from your charity in 2013, I began walking straight away. When people saw me in the street, they cried out: ‘God is great, Forday can walk again!”
Forday stops when we pass a towering mango tree, its upper branches bulging with fruit. ‘ I climbed this last week,’ he says. ‘If you’re hungry, I can climb up there now and shake the top branches for you.’Not wanting to cause this extraordinary man’s untimely demise, I turn down his offer.
As we prepare to leave, tears well up in Forday’s eyes.
‘You came all the way from England to see me,’ he says, embracing me tightly. ‘I’ll never forget this day.’