Heather in Senegal

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 11, Tuesday
A pack of men in their early twenties were drumming and singing as they danced down the street, and one man was swinging and tossing a big wooden club, so I followed them. They were wearing green and black striped hooded tops and loose pants with the same pattern. Each one’s outfit was slightly different. Thicker stripes, jagged edges on the stripes, angular stripes, occasional polka-dots. Under the green and black they wore bright colorful patchwork clothing. Around their necks, wrists, and ankles were thick green and black ropes, and photos of their marabout, spiritual leader, hung from their necks and waistes. I have seen these men alone or in pairs before. They sing for a moment, sounding like a chassid belting a nigun, or a wolf trying to turn a howl into a melody, and then they ask for money. Judging by how their eyes gleam, I think they prefer if at first you refuse to donate. These men have none of the usualy shyness and humility of beggars. Rather, they look like street corner con-men taking delight in the banter and wit demanded by their profession. They will try to heckle, bully, and cajole you into donating. I suspect Damon Runyon would have adored them. Between their attractive outfits and the wily, firey gleams in their eyes, they are the most exciting sights on the street.
I have never previously given them money, but because I respected what the man was doing with the club and was enjoying the music, I gave the clubber some change. Once I made this donation, the drummers beckoned me to continue following them. We went down into a grassy field, and the parade ended under a tree beside some weaving machines. (It is a lovely site. The weavers sit in the field working the machines with their feet, tossing the spools of thread back and forth through the looms, watching cows graze.) Here the guys all sat down, and someone tipped a drum on its side so that I would not have to sit in the grass.
They are of the Byfoll (rhymes with hi-doll) sect of Islam. They come from Dakar, and not one of them speaks Pulaar. They all know French, but my French has greatly deteriorated since I started learning Pulaar, so until Abdoulaye introduced himself, my conversations were primarily of gestures and facial expressions. Abdoulaye spent three years living in NYC. He told me the Byfoll believe in forgetting about material things. Instead, they believe people should celebrate life and all the gifts from Allah. He has an infectious smile and a trustworthy, kind face. He gave me two mangos. He told me the Byfolls believe in being kind and honest, taking care of people, and sharing generously. He described the village they set up on the outskirts of Kolda, where it is all peace and love. Excluding the passing reference to self-flagelation, had he and the others been wearing tye-dye instead of the green and black I would have been sure I was at a rainbow gathering. Certainly the smell of what they were smoking would have been appreciated at a rainbow gathering. Abdoulaye told me that their religion prohibits premarital sex, and that they say me not as a female but as a person. It was amazing. This has been the only time since I got to Africa that I have spent time with males without even jokingly being propositioned. Abdoulaye was very positive about me being in Africa. He was excited for me, and all the things that I will see and learn. And he kept telling me that I was lucky to be in Senegal because in Senegal people do not eat people. Through Abdoulaye translating, the club swinger offered to teach me to play the club and to give me a small one of my own.
Naturally, by the time I got home my mother already knew I had been hanging out with the Byfolls. Her face was twisted into a look of horror as she told me I must not talk to the Byfolls because they murder people and they use drugs. As she gestured and ranted about the perils of these happy, musical, and very floppy and high fellows, it was very hard to not laugh. Some friends of mine in the compound agreed that these guys would rob me and then dice me up if given a moment’s chance. They mocked the Byfolls, saying they do not shower and are nothing but a dirty bunch of musicians, not realizing how nice that description would sound to me. Regardless of what I think of their warning, I want to retain my good standing in this community, so I will not pursue a friendship with any Byfolls.
Not so luckily, it turns out that the pack of them is staying in a compound across the street, and all night I have been hearing them singing and drumming. I ache to join them. In California I had friends in a band of Gamilan players. Unique excentric nut jobs, all of them. I have no doubt that mothers have warned their children against my friends. I miss my friends. It sounds as if the Gamilan troup is having a party across the street.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

What a tough choice - thinking of your standing in the community versus that ache for musical connection. Argh! You have more willpower than I would. Good job!


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