Heather in Senegal

Saturday, September 30, 2006

September 23
Last Sunday my host mom, Neenee, won the lottery at the women's gamboling group. This is a group of 40 women who meet weekly to put money in a pot and eat together. Each week a woman's name is drawn, and on the following Sunday she must host the group. She has to prepare tea, a meal, and a sweet drink, and then she will receive the money collected that week. It is a savings group. Once a woman's name is drawn, her name is removed from the pot until all the women have won. No one makes money on this, but they enjoy gathering and getting the big sum of cash. It is a pleasure to see the women relaxing together. Two weeks ago a rainstorm began during the meeting and we had to run inside. I was surprised to see how the women, dressed in fancy clothing for the occasion, laughed about getting drenched. At the end of the meal, after the juice was served, the women picked up their shoes, lifted their skirts, and went skipping into the rain. I skewered my foot at the beach in Mboor, so I was scared to go barefoot. Still, I admired how these women walked straight ahead, swerving only to avoid the deepest puddles, laughing as they went.
Neenee won the lottery, but she insisted that the honor be given to me first. Later, when my name is drawn, she will host a meeting and collect the money. Because there was the chance that Ramadan would start on Sunday, it was decided that I would host the meeting today, Saturday, so that we could assemble during daylight as we usually do and still eat.
I was overwhelmed by what I had to do.
Thankfully, Binta, the youngest woman in the group, was assigned to help me. Before Neenee and I had walked all the way home, word of my winning had reached the girls who sit near our compound. When we came into sight, Nene, a girl who has recently made it her prerogative to teach me Pulaar vocabulary, told me she would make the tea, and that she and Calle would prepare the juice with me. Such a relief.
This morning Binta came to the compound to pick me up, and we went to market with one of Neenee's buckets and a shopping list. Although my first choice was for a simple vegetarian dish, Neenee and Binta were such good advocates of doing a dish that the women would love, namely, a meat dish, that I succumbed. I have seen how the animals are treated here. They are mostly free, and they walk through town with as much confidence and safety as anyone. It eases my conscience a little.
Market. Some time I will describe it and will include pictures. It is crowded like a middle school hallway between classes, on mud, with women beckoning you to their tables of piles of vegetables, some bright and attractive, some molding. Binta took care of getting us the right prices while I hurried after her, trying to not let people squeeze between us. Chunks of bodies hang all around the meat section. I looked at my feet a lot while Binta found the vender she likes and haggled over cuts.
I helped with the cooking, but not very much. Senegalese women can chop, pound, peal, and do everything else so much faster than I. Still, I tried. Jenny came over, and she sat with me, Binta, and Nene while I pounded onions and spices. The scene was picturesque. The four of us chatted in Pulaar about our boyfriends and the names of our future children, teasing one another a lot.
To make the juice I selected for the gathering, we had to squeeze the fruit a lot, sticking arms up to elbows into the bucket. Fingers are licked, kids cough, utensils from here and there are dunked into the juice. Before I came to Kolda I was advised to never watch the cooking process, for I will be eating it whether or not I can picture how it was made. Yes, I see now. The juice was thick and delicious.
Each woman in the group is required to provide seating for the others. Much to my relief, as the hour approached chairs started to appear. Some little girls had been sent door to door to request plastic chairs.
When the women began to arrive, Neenee pulled out the nice TV and put on a DVD of music videos. Many of the women insisted on having a turn dancing with me, and I forced others to dance by tossing my head scarf into their laps. Binta served the meal, giving me a special portion that lacked meat. Most women took the time to thank me for hosting before they left. I do not think they usually do that.
Through the weekly gatherings I am able to see my Pulaar improving. Little by little I can grasp more words in their conversations, and occasionally now I can contribute, even if they were not speaking slowly for me. These matriarchs greet me on the road and in town. Being part of this group and having these women care for me is making Kolda feel like a smaller, warmer place.

2 Comments:

At 9:01 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

Yay for smaller, warmer villages! What kind of juice was it?

Hugs,
Becca

 
At 10:43 AM, Blogger alau said...

That sounds so fascinatingly warm and wonderful. That community feeling is such a big contrast to what is prevalent here in America.

 

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