Monday, April 1, 2013

The Life of a Street-Side Sap Seller

My little friends
Rural Visit. One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad in Senegal. One week of living in a rural village, the purpose of which was to experience and learn about life without electricity, running water, and internet. To taste the life of those who rely on the rains, who have cultural traditions that dictate responsibilities around the village, and who have possibly never seen a white person before. And let's just say that I did scare some children, especially babies. [Poor Moustafah is probably still hiding behind his mother's skirt at the memory of that white face looking back at him.] It was not much of a culture shock for me, I must admit, growing up as one of the first foreigners villagers had seen (in southern Ethiopia). I had forgotten how it felt to have kids sidle up next to you just to touch your skin then dash away, how it felt to walk around and have everyone call out after you. I was glad I chose to introduce myself by my Senegalese name: Mariama Kabou. I would have been sick of my real name by the second day if I had used it instead! Everywhere I went, "Mariama! Mariama! Toubab!" (Toubab= white person/foreigner) It seemed like everyone knew my name, as in small towns word of a stranger travels fast-- especially if that stranger is white. I stopped wearing my watch on the second day, as I discovered it attracted too much attention. A sign of wealth. As did my cheap Old Navy flip flops-- top quality. My anklet was also an area of curiousity. My maman asked me which marabout had made it for me (as a protection against evil) and found it hard to believe that I just made it for fun.

Maman and Assi (the 3 of us shared the room)
The cultural value of Teranga (hospitality) was huge in my town, and a combo of that and the money my host was being paid created a week filled with sitting and eating. I went with a Senegalese-run organization for the empowerment of women called APROFES and was placed in a small town called D'Inguiraye with one of the Chief's wives. She is the president of that town's APROFES group and is an incredibly strong woman, well respected in the community. We lived in a compound shared by about 8 or 9 other women and their children, and slept in a one room place (furnished with a bed and a small table). She gave me her bed and slept on a mattress on the floor at nights, a girl she is taking care of temporarily taking another corner of the room on a mat. We shared our room with a whole pack of mice I saw running along the rafters and heard at night scurrying around my bed. Because we lived with the chief and it was a town instead of a truly rural village, my household had electricity (and that fan got us through many a hot night). Cooking was done outside, and the bathroom consisted of an area out back walled off by compact dirt blocks and some tin. Showers at night were spectacular, possibly the most scenic real showers I have ever taken! Bucket shower, of course. There is nothing quite like washing away the dirt and sweat of the day with well water while star gazing right next to a long-drop. All you need in one location. With the refreshing wind, the clean skin, and the light cast by the moon and stars, I came to the realization that I want an outdoor shower of my own someday.  My town was Wolof-speaking, almost exclusively so. This meant that any time I found someone who knew some French it was like stumbling upon an oasis in the desert! All of a sudden I could communicate with words and be understood! I knew enough Wolof to make it around, but I wished I knew so much more. I couldn't hold conversations with my family there, and did not always know what they wanted me to do or not do. It was a challenge that was good for me, and it definitely showed me the importance of what I am learning in my Wolof class. I was glad I knew enough to be able to say, "begguma jekker" (I don't want a husband), as this seemed to come up a lot (like usual here). I decided I need a shirt that says that to save people the trouble of asking me to marry them on the street.

I ate really well. Too well. Multiple women of the compound cooked for us, and one night I had the equivalent of three dinners served to me! My last night there, my "maman" decided to cook us up some red meat- a real specialty. This deviated greatly from the typical staple of "ceere" (sort of a ground up millet? I honestly still don't know exactly what it is), and she was pretty excited to prepare it for me. As its cooking was nearing a close, she gave me some to sample. Fat and gristle are welcomed in this society's palate, but I was able to eat my way through what she had handed me. What remained, I realized after eating away the interesting textured meat, was a goat tooth. She had cooked up part of a sheep skull for me. I chose to eat dinner that night outside under starlight, better lighting than a light bulb if you want to enjoy a meal that has potential to trigger the gag reflex. This may sound unappetizing, but really, the food was delicious and I ate way more than I needed!

My maman: Fatou Ndeye
My maman ran a boutique and a random spices and veggie stand during the morning. I would often sit with her at the stand and help her bag tree sap and peanut paste while practicing my Wolof numbers and munching on some kind of root they eat with their rice. It was an excellent people-watching location, on both ends. I watched all the happenings around me, and many of those around me watched my every move. There was the man who was not right in the head who wandered in nothing but briefs and a dirty black vest, hair pointed to every corner of the earth. There was the ladies with the bread stand who started out under the mango tree, only to move over next to us when the sun rose higher in the sky shifting the location of the shade. There were the children who would walk past me staring over their shoulders, wait about 10 seconds, then walk back the other way for a second look at the toubab. There were always minivans coming in with passengers packed inside and belongings (and goats) strapped on top. I sufficiently enjoyed my time as a road-side seller.

Our "back door": the cookfire is to the left of the tree
The final day in D'Inguiraye broke the normal schedule of wake up, eat bread, go to the boutique/stand,  return for a nap with maman in the heat of the day, eat lunch, nap and read some more, socialize, go back to the boutique, socialize, eat dinner, star gaze, go to sleep. We had a town newcomer: the peanut roaster. Placed in a small, horribly ventilated room and fueled by a gas canister, we soon found the roaster to roast more than just the peanuts. We took turns entering the black smoke-engulfed room to turn the crank that rotated the peanuts. You could really only do a couple minutes in there before it was necessary to switch people. I made them let me do it with them-- I wanted to truly experience their life (though they seemed certain in just about everything that I would hurt myself or get blisters or get too hot). But they had told me "sit" too many times, and I refused to just watch this one. When I blew my nose after, all that came out was pitch black, similar to my skin color after the roasting was done!

I felt a sort of spiritual wall during my time there.  I am pretty sure that I was the only Christian in the village, and I got used to my maman getting down on her prayer mat each day to pray towards Mecca. It was interesting, though, that every time I was about to or did pull out my Bible to read I would promptly get interrupted. I tested it sometimes, and would head over to my bag to pull out my Bible, only to have someone show up right then to stare at me, try to talk to me, play with me, or bring me somewhere. I kid you not, about 9 times out of 10 this would happen. And so when I did read, there was almost always someone there watching me or having a conversation around me making it difficult to focus on the French text I was reading. But God is faithful and I pray that I was somehow a light to my family there regardless of my inability to talk about my faith with them for lack of vocabulary. I can't help but think, though, about how many villages are like that in the world, complete people groups  without a single believer in the One True God. And we are happy just sending a dollar here or there to help the spread of the Gospel? We are happy pursuing comfortable lifestyles and job security, knowing that at least we have a church? "Oh those poor people in Africa, starving physically and spiritually who have never heard of Peace in God. That's just too bad! Someone should help them, surely. But not me. I'm called to that which I know." But isn't that the whole point of trusting God? I hope and pray we don't miss the reason for our existence on earth. La vie est courte: for us and for those who have never heard Jesus's name. I'm praying that I will follow God wherever He leads. I want Him to teach me to go to the broken places, knowing that it will be hard but that in that difficulty God will be there. And that sweet communion with God is worth any sweat and tears shed along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the update, Jodie...I appreciate knowing where you are and what you're doing with the Lord's help. You are so blessed to be able to do this at your stage of life...bless you!
    Aunt Leslie