Hello everyone! It’s summertime in the United States and monsoon season in Africa. I have readjusted back to village life. In fact, it’s like I’ve never left. I wrote a little something about my predicament here in Senegal, check it out:
There are two things that win the respect of a Senegalese woman: Pulling water from a well and shaking your booty. Last week, I was lucky enough to return to my village in time for a soiree, which is what my village calls the parties thrown before a wedding by the sister of the bride. For all intents and purposes, it is the Senegalese version of a bachelorette party. As you might imagine there is a lot less bar hopping (Senegal is primarily Muslim) and light-up bachelorette crowns. On the other hand, if I thought I danced hard at bachelorette parties in America, I’ve got nothing on the women in my village who don their prettiest complete and come to shake it.
There is a catch though. The first time I joined in the village dancing, everyone else stopped. They clapped and cheered as they stared at me as though I was a monkey in a zoo. I dropped my arms and stepped back stoically, refusing to move.
“Am! Am!” they squealed. They wanted me to keep dancing. One woman tried to drag me back into the circle.
“Absolutely not,” I answered them in Pulaar. “We dance together or I don’t dance at all. The minute you stop dancing, I stop as well.”
I am not your monkey, I thought to myself.
Alright, so I had told them I would dance as long as they didn’t stare. But could I actually dance?
Luckily for me, I have always loved to dance. So when I stepped into the center of the circle of women for my turn at the booty shakin’ competition that was taking place, the cheering and gasps of astonishment as I spun, crumped, and dropped it like it was hot were deafening.
As I stepped out of the circle laughing, I looked around at the faces still watching me. Something in their eyes had changed.
I can’t cook lechere over an open fire. I can’t pound corn very well. I am terrible at getting my laundry sparkling clean. When I sweep my room, my host mother always redoes it. In their eyes, I am lacking all womanly skills. But… I can dance. So now I saw a glint of something that made me catch my breath and smile. What I saw looked a bit like admiration.
Now, my dancing ability is a point of pride in all of my host mother’s conversations when she introduces me to friends and family who come to visit our village.
As I stated earlier, dancing isn’t the only thing I’ve been able to do to win the respect of the women. Dancing gets me in with the younger women. The older women, the ones who have years of hard labor and memories of droughts and dead children piled on their backs like bricks, are not so easily won over.
She can dance, their eyes seem to say, but can she work?
There is a big field outside my village where all the women do their gardening. I started mango and cashew tree nurseries in the same field. Although I don’t usually join the women to water in the mornings and evenings, I decided one day that I would bring my watering can and help out. As soon as I got there, the women engulfed me in a swarm of bright colors, laughter, and splashing water. I could tell that although they worked hard pulling and hauling water for their gardens, this was a cherished social time where they could gossip and talk without the chastisement of their husbands.
I positioned myself at the well, planting both flip-flopped feet in the mud and firmly turning down the offers from all the women to take my place. For twenty minutes, I pulled bucket after bucket of water as the women filled their benoirs.
Finally I looked up and wiped the sweat out of my eyes. What a great triceps workout!
Gasse? “Are you done?” I asked the women. They were standing very still and smiling.
“Heeey, Mariama can work. She can pull water too!” they said, shaking their heads as if they thought they’d live a thousand years before they saw a toubab at the well pulling water.
And then they said something that made me tear up. As it turns out, Senegal has made me very sentimental.
“Mariama ko debbo Pulo tiki.”
Mariama is a true Pulaar woman, I repeated to myself as I walked home, swinging my watering can.
Other then returning home from Portugal things have been swinging by. I had my first monsoon which was amazing and made me nostalgic for the big thunderstorms back on the ranch. I am in Kolda right now, trying to organize some things for the Peace Corps newsletter. It’s hard because if I don’t have internet I can’t access the articles everyone is sending me.
It occurred to me as I was weaving through the crowded streets of the market place in downtown Kolda, that I am completely comfortable here. This is my region, my town. It felt good to be home and the calls of toubaco didn’t even bother me, because I was thinking how much I feel a part of everything that is Kolda, Senegal, and in the bigger picture Africa.
I love my life.
Thinking of you always,
p.s. My first short story in the series I am starting is under the short story section next to about me.