Heather in Senegal

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 17, Friday
Yesterday Jenny and I biked to Guinea-Bissau. The above pictures are from the trip. She thinks the ride is about 35 km each way, but it is hard to be sure; every person we asked had a different estimate for the distance between Kolda and the border, ranging from 15 km to 45 km. The road, in its good moments, resembled the back of a Nestle’s Crunch bar. The road is made of red packed dirt, big puddles we had to bike around, and far too many rocks of all sizes. Most of the ride was painless, but by the time I collapsed into bed yesterday afternoon everything that can ache from a bike ride was aching. However, it was a glorious ride. As we progressed south the scenery grew more green and lush. We passed many tiny villages, each of which looked like a cluster of maybe thirty huts. We greeted people in every village. Jenny says it is a safety measure. If anything was to happen to us, from an offensive person to a sudden cloudburst, we could return to one of those villages, and because we had greeted them the people would most likely welcome us like family. (There used to be a volunteer in Senegal who would simply bike until she was tired and then go to the nearest village for food and a place to sleep. I hear she always found warm welcomes.) Also, it is really fun to speak Pulaar to people who are stunned to find white people speaking their language. We met a traveling salesman who was going to the villages with a huge cage of clothing, shoes, and cds tied to his bike. We came across a grove of giant palm trees and calf high black toadstools that were made by termites. This field looked prehistoric. I missed paved roads, where I can balance without using the handlebars, and sit up straight in a position that leaves my lower back and arms free from any discomfort, but much of Senegal has roads like the one we took, so I hope in time to grow used to the bumpiness.

Today I did not so much as touch my bicycle. I walked to work, and everyone who knew me asked what was wrong with my bike. After lunch I was craving a mango, and no one in my house had any, so I grabbed Khadjitou, who I think in fact is not my sister or niece, but I’m still not sure, and said we should walk to market to buy mangos. She agreed, but insisted we wait and rest first. When she was rested she roused me from my reading, and we began the walk. We were instantly joined by two other girls. Leaving the immediate neighborhood took a long time because we had to greet everyone and tell them where we were going. Once we got outside the neighborhood things did not speed up. The girls drag their feet as if that could possibly prevent them from getting drenched in sweat. They kept complaining about my pace, and they started holding my hand or the back of my shirt to keep me in check. Any time someone spoke to us in Pulaar, even if I understood the person my girls would try to translate for me - into Pulaar. They seemed to view me as a rambunctious pet dog. So, I played the part. Every time I saw a pretty field, a path leading into a woods, or a climbable tree, I would aim for it, and the three girls would have to pull on me, leaning and throwing their full weights into the effort of keeping their wandering toubob on track. They humored me to a degree, letting me choose to cross the Casamance River using an informal bridge that is a string of old car and truck tires lying in the muck. At the market the girls bargained and haggled like pros, getting many more mangos for the cfa than I ever could. Walking home, faces dripping mango juice, the girls tried to teach me a song in Pulaar.


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

I love the image of the "wandering toubob" kept in check, straining to climb trees and walk fast! lol!


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