Heather in Senegal

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I am sure I mispronounce many words, but my family has taken delight in correcting me on two in particular. At the end of every meal, completely regardless of how much I have eaten, as soon as I put down my spoon or otherwise indicate that I am done everyone at the bowl yells "eat!" It is as if I am a conductor giving a cue to a well trained choir. I have been responding, "mi haddi." That is what it sounded like everyone else was saying when they are full. No, they have been saying "mi harri," and I have been concluding each meal by announcing that I am circumcised. My second colorful error has been saying, "I soiled my pants," when I intended to say, "I need."
My family and neighborhood does indeed speak Pulafuta. They can understand Fulakunda, but I can barely understand Pulafuta, so it is problematic. I hear the occasional familiar word, but by and large it sounds like they have mouthfuls of marbles. I am really frustrated to be so much more bewildered all the time than I feel I should be, but I am growing resigned to it. I'll probably leave here with my own personal blend of the two dialects, and, inchallah, the ability to understand both.
Last night was the first proper rain. At the pitter patter and the smell of it I ran outside and danced, leapt, spun in it until I was cold. I don't know why it was so intoxicating, but I felt like a gleeful toddler. As usual, my family looked on, bewildered by their toubob. Later, after the rain stopped, a group of girls gathered and, as has become a favored past-time, urged me to dance. I am terrible at their graceful moves, I do not understand the beats of their music, and I have such lousy control of my hip and tush-shaking that their three year old boys look like Micheal Jackson in comparison. We stood in a circle making vocal and clapping beats, and I did my best to mimic their moves. Oh do we laugh. And sweat runs down my body in full sheets.

Because of the rain, Sek called me this morning to say he would not go into the garden until the afternoon. So I read in bed, did yoga while listening to the bbc, studied, and talked to my family. In the afternoon I biked to the garden to join him for the afternoon watering. I found his daughter and two of her friends, sent in his stead because he is sick. Yesterday he told me very seriously that he is afraid of Jenny. He says she is dangerous. I tried to discern more, but all I could gather was that she is taking advantage of the fact that he is an old sick man. No doubt she is being held responsible for today's absence. I wonder if he will fear me too. Watering with the girls was fun. I got to practice my Pulaar, and we took turns climbing the garden's big tree. The heights they reached, and barefoot no less, put me to shame. I am worried about my role in the garden, my relationship with Sek, and the success of the garden as a demo-site. Sek has actively discouraged people from visiting, he holds no classes, and he is looking forward to moving to Dakar. As an urban aggie I am supposed to be helping folks who will in turn pass the info on to other gardeners. We shall see.


At 9:11 AM, Blogger Bex07 said...

That is really hard that you were trained in a language that isn't too useful. Kudos to you for going with the flow - I'm sure in time you will pick up (Pulaar or Pulafuta??).

I loved seeing your pictures - it really helped to give voice to your narratives to be able to see the particulars. You looked pretty happy in all of them!

Good luck with the garden politics - I'm sure you will find a way to create a self-sustaining project. Hugs!

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Holly said...

Would you be able to summarize who speaks which languages in Senegal? Does speaking Pulaar or Pulafuta signify anything in partiuclar about religion, class, or something else?

In any event, you've always been an excellent non-verbal communicator.



Post a Comment

<< Home