Heather in Senegal

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Earlier this week my sister, Nene, came to my window while I was eating dinner and tossed me a mint sucking candy, inviting me to a baby-naming ceremony. In place of invitations families buy bags of candy and hand them out with verbal notice of the upcoming party.
I was running around this morning, going to a garden and visiting a friend at her hut, so I didn't get to the party until after lunch. By the time I arrived there were about two hundred sitting together in an outline of a square in the sandy road outside the newborn's compound, fully blocking the road. The women were all dressed in fancy outfits, most in bright oranges, reds, and blues, and many had their faces done up with an extreme amount of make-up. The beauty standard here involves a lot of heavy face paint. Everyone had their hair done up in new mesh. I sat with some friends of mine who were selling bags of frozen juice to the other guests and helped distribute the bags to people who were passing their money down the line of chairs.
The newborn's family is wealthy, so instead of a simple gathering garnished with some cookies, or a bigger one with a drummer, this party had a stereo going inside the compound and a live band setting up outside on the edge of the square where we all sat. While the band tuned women brought out buckets of water which they sprinkled on the sand; if they didn't dampen the ground the deep loose sand would make for awkward dancing and a cloud of dust.
My friends teased me, telling me my boyfriend was here so I better plan on dancing well or else they'd lure him away. They said something about putting my name on a list, but I thought they were just joking. However, when the band finally got started a singer performed one verse of a song and then said that before anything else could happen Dienabou Ba had to get up and dance. I'm used to being the center of attention, but this surprised me. I demured for a bit, but with two hundred people staring at me, the music drawing more by the second, and all waiting for me to dance, I had little choice. After I did a satisfactory amount of wiggling in front of everyone, I took the microphone and sang my friends's names and taunting them, daring them to come dance. They laughed appreciatively, but only much later, after many dancing old women had filled the square, did they rise from their seats.
The band had two electric guitar players, an electric bassist, a drummer, and three singers. The two women singers wore head scarves, as most women here do, and when there were lulls in the dancing they would swing their scarves around and lay them on the ground in front of their friends or atop their heads. This forced their friends to start dancing, either to return the scarf, or to dance with it briefly and then lay it in front of another woman. Aside from the musicians, men were absent. Young boys stood close outside the square, watching. Teenaged boys sat further off, but within eyeshot. Only one male rose to dance, and he did so in a clownish manner.
I left long before the party ended. The music was too loud for me. The band had four gigantic speakers that appeared to be playing at full volume, and the stereo inside the compound sounded like it had a similar set-up. Straw huts and wells all around, but music amplification to put rock stars to shame.


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