Heather in Senegal

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Magic, or medicine, comes in many forms in Senegal, from powders to paper to animal pieces. People wear bands or shells, burn objects, eat things, and bathe in others. At worst this business can be lethal. A woman recently died because the powders she was given to force a miscarriage poisoned her. Magic can be found in common items like padlocks if handled with the right intent. I have commisioned a few arm bands to be made to protect people from sickness or evil, but for the right price they can be made to give people the power to become invisible, make people invulnerable to bullets, and all sorts of other positive affects. The less common an animal skins the greater its strength.

Before a recent trip up to Dakar my host mother asked if I would bring carry something to her daughters living there. I despise the woman, so I tried to refuse, insisting that I would not have time to travel around Dakar and find her daughters (cab drivers don't know where to find streets, let alone addresses, so it's impossible to get to a house if you don't know where it is.) but she told me they would come to meet me. I argued that I didn't have much space in my bag, but she promised it would be a small package. I gave in, and on the day I was to leave she handed me a plastic bag full of "medicine" for her daughters. I asked if they were sick. "No," she said, "It's just that sometimes children need medicine made by their mother."

In the bag was one very leaky bottle. She said if I just held it upright in my lap for the twelve hour ride it would not be a problem. I told her I couldn't do that and tried to return the bag to her, but she started calling neighbors over to see how little I was willing to do for her, so finally I just biked away, carefully holding the bag in one hand.

I went to the Peace Corps house where I met another volunteer who was going to Dakar with me. We tore into the bag to get a closer look at the medicine and fix the bottle. Through the bag I had been able to feel soft roundish items, and I was concerned we would find bird bodies. Instead, we found three bags filled with dark powders, a page of Arabic writing, and a bottle sealed only by a black plastic bag tied to the top. We poured the contents into a water bottle with a screw-on lid, hopefully not breaking any magical connections. We sniffed and closely examined the liquid. As far as we could figure it was water with bits of black plastic bag inside. Hurrah for a new use for old bags? I wonder if the magical power of that part of the package was supposed to be its ability to force a toubob to hold and worry about it for the duration of a long and uncomfortable car ride.

The next time I was going to Dakar my mom asked me to bring more medicine to my sisters. While she asked this, relatives visiting from Dakar were sitting in the compound. Even my Senegalese boss agrees that a primary purpose of this "medicine" was to demonstrate her control over her toubob.

Seck, the gardener with whom I work, has frequently spoken of magic. When his children and wife have been sick, in addition to buying western medicines, he has traveled far and paid hefty sums for special locally made medicines and talismans. He believes that the garden has failed to give him profit because of magic done by his enemies, and his spiritual leader agrees. He found a U-lock buried in the garden and thinks this item responsible for his poor harvest.

A few days ago he suddenly turned to me and, with great remorse, told me he knew why he and Jenny, the last volunteer, did not get along. He told me that Pisco's mother was doing magic against Seck. Seck told me that Pisco's mother has killed all of their relatives who dared visit because she does not want to share the land with them. He said she was jealous of his relationship with Jenny, so she waited until the wind was blowing towards him and then burned some powders. The smoke came to him and caused all his troubles. He said Pisco's mother then bewitched Jenny and forced her to wear a magical arm band that would set her against Seck. Seck was pained by the fact that it took him so long to figure this out, and that it was too late to tell Jenny that he understood what happened and held nothing against her. I promised to tell Jenny, and assured him she would see their falling out was the work of that evil woman. Pisco is a painter, a good gardener, and a friendly and generous man, all of which makes Seck jealous. His mother is an ancient woman who is always extremely sweet and gentle when I visit. Jenny had her arm band made and had nothing at all put inside it. But I've come to care for Seck, and if this version of things purifies his memory of Jenny, smoothing over the year of animosity, he's welcome to it.

A good friend of mine lives in a village rife with magic, and she says she has seen people healed through it. She is not completely sold on it, but between what she has observed and the fact that people are sent to her village's medicine men by western-trained doctors and nurses, she believes there's something to it.


At 10:45 AM, Blogger cheikh said...

Hello Heather, I am a senegalese man living in the U.S. and I wanted to tell you that you're doing a wonderful job by bringing to the worl your wonderful experience in Senegal. Many wishes to you! do you have a contact email address? Thanks


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