Heather in Senegal

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 4, Saturday

My first fall off my bike happened because my right pant leg got caught in my gears. This trapped my leg, so when the bike began to tip over I was unable to extend a foot. I landed on my knee on soft sand. I lay still for a moment, and the gang of kids who I had just biked past let out a loud cheer for the falling of the toubob.

The second and third falls were because of minor obstacles in the road. No one saw me topple.

Two days ago I took a spectacular spill. The beginning of my ride home from the garden takes me on a very busy paved road. Traffic includes tractors and trucks that the Chinese are using for road repair, cars, motorcycles, Senegalese busses, carts drawn by mules, bicyclists, and pedestrians. All of these have different capacities for speed, so passing and being passed is a constant sport on busy streets. There are no marked lanes, so you can never guess how much a person might swerve to the left or right while proceeding straight ahead.

My work at the garden on Thursday consisted of clearing weeds and pulling up old plants. Most of our tomato plants have expired, and we are replacing the adults with younger plants that are currently in pepinaires. I spent the morning thinking of the future of the garden, the lush produce, and the experiments I will perform. I was biking home slowly, liesurely, when some shmuck sped past me on the left. His handle bars smacked mine, and this made my front wheel snap to the right. I flew off the bike. So many sandy roads in Kolda, and I had the luck to skid to a stop on cement.

Unlike the first time I fell, this time I was instantly surrounded by a concerned crowd. Again and again I see that if a situation is less than quite serious, everyone here will laugh and make fun, but that if there is a real problem, people will do all they can to help. A police officer pulled me to my feet, and about a dozen different people offered to take me to the hospital. My knee was bloody and already swelling, and I had scratches all along my left side from the bit of skidding, but I knew I had nothing worse than scratches and bruises. The crowd guided me to a raised piece of cement designed to keep people from falling into the sewer, insisting I sit and rest. Someone picked up my bike and set it against a wall for me, and an old man came to me with some cotton balls so I could clean up. The shmuck who hit me came back and appologized with a sheepish laugh. He said he had been looking at the oncoming cars and had not seen me. It is a good wake up call. I have been taken by surprise by bikers and pedestrians who were immediately ahead of me, and on one or two occasions I might have passed other bikers with extremely little room to spare.

I biked home with a whole new sense of skittishness, and after lunch I took a long walk. I went into an area I have but little explored. Every second household had a child who, regardless of my greetings and attempts at converstation, squeeled, "toubob!" until I was out of sight. I came across a woman using a long forked stick to bend Nebedie branches into reach so that she could harvest the leaves. With my Nebedie trees at the garden slowly showing signs of life, I have a great and newfound interest in the tree. We spoke at length about how she prepares the leaves. By the end of the walk my knee was stiffer than when I had begun. At dusk, when my little brother and I walked to a trash pile to get good, composted, dirt that we put in small plastic sacks with some flower seeds, everyone could see my limp.

My host mom, who often presents what I find irritatingly inflated, dramatized versions of her feelings, completely dropped her flamboyant personality when it came to my knee and my accident. I was touched. She seemed hurt that I had not mentioned the accident until now, and lightly berated me. She was angry at the shmuck who hit me and at the police officer who did not catch him. When she saw the scrapes on my bike and the dents in my helmet she suggested I ditch the bike and take to walking instead, like the other women in the neighborhood. She insisted I take off my shoes to help circulation, and she commissioned my sister to massage my leg and arm with Bengay cream. Later she brought me dinner in my room, and she drew water from the well for me. When I was getting ready for bed I could hear her telling other people about my accident.

Yesterday I could not bend my knee, so I had a delicious day of relaxation. I spoke and sat with my family for a long time, played violin, read, and helped my mom prepare lunch. I went with my brother to sell juice at the nearby elementary school. My mom makes delicious sweet drinks. She ladles them into sandwich bags, ties them shut, and freezes them. Buyers bite holes in bottom corners and suck out the juice. The school scene was chaotic. Three women and two little girls were selling food and drinks, and about fifty little kids were running, shouting, dancing to complicated clapped beats, climbing trees, and having little fights, all around us. The girl selling limes grabbed a skinny branch and jokingly whacked at younger kids when they stood too close to her limes. One girl kept buying bags and putting them up to other people's mouths until all the juice was gone. A very tall and a very short girl wrapped themselves together to become a three legged giggling creature that chased other kids. My brother and some of his friends hopped onto a big cement rectangle and raced around it until they got dizzy and fell off. The teachers have not yet come to school, so the kids had the whole day to just run around the school's grounds.

In the afternoon I sat under a mango tree with some girls in their late teens. When the sun lit the land where we were sitting we carried the bench across the sandy and sat on the other side of the street in the usual early-evening spot. I had a vocabulary list with me, and we had an impromptu reading lesson when Nene started trying to sound out the Pulaar and English. The schools here conducted in French, so no one gets accustomed to reading and writing in Pulaar. Nene speaks it fluently, but she still had to sound out the verb list. She was especially delighted when she sounded out the English words. I do not know precisely how the English classes are run, but despite the fact that all students take English classes, I know of only two teenagers, Boubacar and Dura, who can actually speak English.

Boubacar lives in my neighborhood. He heard the English and came to join us. He was like an eager puppy. He kept interupting when Nene was trying to sound out words, and when I finally got him to leave the word list to her, he began interupting to show off other words that he knew. For example, he was very pleased to know the difference between, "I am used to X," and, "I used to X." When Nene left to do the evening prayer, Boubacar and I began talking in English. I had him speak about himself. He has been with his girlfriend, Binta, for three years, and he says he is very American about the relationship; he believes in being faithful to her and does not want a second or third girlfriend at the same time. So many men here try to have multiple girlfriends. Likewise, I have spoken to a woman who was proud to say that she has a husband and three boyfriends. That is a lot, but by most standards here, one boyfriend is very little. Boubacar first saw Binta at a dance club. He said he loved her immediately, and he went to her and told her that he is intelligent, hard working, loyal, kind, etcetera, and that if she did not believe him she could ask his friends. She agreed to be his girlfriend that night. Boubacar told me he wants to go to school in Holland so that he can find work there and give money to his family. His dream, he told me with a bright innocent glow, is to have many many cows. I do not see it much in the city, but in villages the collection of cows is a key venture. The cows are not to be eaten or sold. Simply, because we are Pulaars, we want to have a lot of cows. While everyone else I have asked here dislikes George Bush, Boubacar greatly admires Bush because he thinks Bush is bravely fighting terrorism and working very hard to lead the fifty states.

Today my knee is still swollen, but it does not hurt so much. Negotiating my squat-toilet is slapstick, and I could not ride my bicycle today, but otherwise I'm fine.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

Oh no! Glad your knee is better!


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