Heather in Senegal

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I am in a club with my neighborhood women. We meet once a week to put money in a pot and to share tea, a meal, and juice. A name is drawn from paper slips in a handkerchief, and the woman chosen hosts the next week's meeting and gets the money in the next week's pot. Everyone wins once before anyone is allowed to win a second time, so we all break even. I thought the weekly gathering was the group's only activity, but a few weeks ago my host mom told that I must buy fabric for a special occasion, and that Madame Byla, one of the members of the group, would sell me the fabric. My mom has cleverly won money away from both me and my guests, so I was suspicious and hesitant. I pressed her for more information, and she explained that all the women were going to buy the same fabric for a party, and that she had already purchased some for herself. With that cleared up, I bought the fabric and had a tailor sew it into a traditional outfit for myself.
On the morning of the party, two men brought a pair of huge speakers and a stereo on a sheret (a donkey-drawn cart), and they set up the sound system in front of my neighbor's compound. That afternoon, the members of my group gathered to cook a meal and a juicy drink. I was involved in the latter, stirring, tasting, straining, tasting, and pouring into bags. The pouring into and then the tying of the sacks is done quickly, almost rhythmically, by the group of women who sit around the bucket of juice, and I was pleased to be invited into this ritual.
Once the meal was prepared, my mom sent me home to bath and dress. Very much a mother, she came into my room after I was dressed to fix the clumsy way I had tied my head scarf and skirt, and to chastise me for thinking I could wear my ordinary sandles; she insisted I wear my fancy sparkly blue flip flops.
Properly dressed, I came outside to find chairs arranged in a semi-circle facing the sound system which was blaring dance music. Someone had splashed water on the sand between the chairs and the speakers so that it would be more floor-like and easier to dance on. Women began to show up wearing the team's colors, and the dancing began. Many people from the neighborhood came to watch and to dance outside the ring of chairs, and the senior man of the area made a long speach blessing the old, the young, the folks of various neighborhoods and countries, new mothers, people who like leaf sauce on their rice, and everyone else. He tried to look serious but could not consistantly swallow his grin. Whenever he felt he had made an especially good point, he would shout, "Let us clap!" and the gang of us would hoot and cheer. Some other men were chosen to be the honored guests, and they were seated at a special table. The women kept going up to greet them deferentially. The dancing lasted about four hours, and then suddenly, at some cue that I never saw, women gathered the chairs that belonged to their household and everyone went home.


At 8:39 AM, Blogger alau said...

Hey Heather, did you know there's another VC person from our class serving in Peace Corps in West Africa now? Do you remember Sherman Brooks? His blog is over at Dabbler in Burkina and he's in Burkina Faso now. He was mentioned in the VQuarterly.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Bex07 said...

Nice! I love the pic of you in traditional dress:0) Can't wait to visit!!!!! :0)


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