The Good Life

13 November 2011

Binta and Fatou coming back from the well, oh, and the huge tree in the middle of Fode Bayo.

I’m sure I’ve lucked out with my placement.  Fodé Bayo is wonderful thus far.  I’ll start with the really wonderful things then I’ll get to the work, which has also been great, but I guess work can’t be wonderful as it is necessary.  With Fanta Konté, my female counterpart, I keep saying work is not sweet but it is good.  Dookuwo maa dia bari a betayata.

            Foloo foloo, the sweet stuff.  People here like to play games.  Fanta and Binta Dandio, my 12- and 14-year-old nieces came over the other day during the break after lunch (the people in FB do not sit nearly as much as other Senegalese I’ve encountered, especially not the women).  At first we were doing the minimal girl chat I’m capable of in Mandinka, then they started quizzing me on the names of plants in my yard.  There was a pod plant I didn’t know, which they said was café Touba (the local coffee, I’ve yet to see drunk in village), and Binta took down a pod, cracked it open and started playing a game with the beans similar to jax.  I’m really bad at this, so they showed me another game in which you throw all the beans in the air and try to catch at least one on the back of your hand, then you have to pick up the rest while balancing the bean(s) on your hand.  I was better at this, but as Fanta said, it was easy.  I’ve also witnessed Malaa and Abdou, my 16 and 18 year old brothers playing a game similar to Mankala called wuuro.  I hope to get in on this one soon.  The little kids were also playing a game during the wuuroo session.  This one looked suicidal for anyone over 10.  Two kids wrap a rope around their four legs and a third kid tries to jump in and out of the loop they’ve created.  The more success the jumping kid has, the higher the rope goes and the more likely I’d be to knee myself in the face, hook my foot on the rope and take everyone else out with me.

Other wonderful things include: 1) The fact that the women will make a song out of anything.  2) One of the older girls left for Dabo because she goes to high school there. #women’s education. 3) There is also a school here in tiny FB.  Kids from other villages come too but the school is here. 4) Everyone works really hard and is just as motivated as I was told.  But before I get carried away with work, there is a number 5, Nacho!  My sweet, sweet puppy.  I have no idea how Amanda was able to leave him here (except for the fact that he is very much a village dog).  He sleeps next to my bed every night, goes running with me in the morning, he lazes about in my room during the day, begs for food in the most polite manner, knows sit, shake hands and come in Mandinka, and snuggles up next to me wherever I’m sitting.  Don’t tell Sydney, but he’s my new best friend.  Not only is it easier to form a bond with a dog than any human but I also speak English to Nacho when we’re alone in the hut and I think that serves as a kind of mental therapy/keeps me from talking to myself entirely.  Thank you so much, Amanda, for this one.

Now the serious stuff: work.  Umm, I can’t even feel serious about this because although I know it’s good work I’m starting, I’m having fun with it so far.  I’m trying to split my time between my counterparts and we’ve arranged that I work with them on alternate days and eat lunch with whoever I’m working that day.  This still presents a challenge because one, Seyni my male counterpart, lives in the hut next to mine, and the other, Fanta, lives a whole compound away.  Because even when you live in a village with 200 people, you see the ones in your immediate home a lot more often.

Fanta working the ends of the bale into a bundle worth beating.

And when I say beating I mean it. I was a little sore after this day.

Anyhow, so far with Fanta I’ve harvested two different kinds of rice—one shorter and white, the other taller and red.  Growing rice is a woman’s job and it seems most women have their own spot in the faaro.  Harvesting rice is calming, really, though it is hard work.  We use knives to snap off the dried rice, collect the stems in one hand and fill a bucket when our hands are full.  The really hard part comes with the processing.  I had never considered the difficulty of processing any grain without machines, but the physical labor involved in hand-chaffed rice is absurd for the nutritional value of the product.  I was sent home with a bundle of the red rice, which I was instructed to let dry for the rest of the day.  In the afternoon Fanta helped me pound the skins off to produce a beautiful batch of which rice, which I intend to cook for breakfast when my oatmeal runs out. (real time addendum: When they’re processing the harvest for storage they use bamboo sticks to wack the rice off big bundles of dry grass.  Fanta and I have done this twice.  It takes most of the day and we have lunch brought to us in the faaro.)

And then today, after a morning of bamboo weaving (I’ll explain this soon), I went with Seyni, his brothers and nephews, Mama, Abdou, Idrissa, and Bachadi to the field to harvest peanuts.  Now harvesting peanuts is like harvesting potatoes, only harder.

Malaa, Idrissa and Bachadi harvesting peanuts.

Seyni kept asking me if I wanted to take a break, and naturally, I refused.  At first especially, I know I was disrupting their total yield, but I would not give up.  I won’t break until I’m tired.  I’m usually only tired at night.  The sun is not going to burn me because I put on medicine to stop it. They thought this was really cool.  I’m surprised neither of the volunteers before me tried to explain sunscreen.  My excuses kept rolling and they finally settled on regularly saying that Fatemata is not habitually tired and that Fatemata likes to work.  That sounds alright to me.  Let’s just hope my vigor doesn’t fade.

Last order of business, my chicken coop. The first full day I was here I told Seyni I wanted chickens.  The second day we started making crimping, woven bamboo, for the walls.  It’s taking a lot of explaining but I think I’ve mostly gotten my idea across, and slowly, slowly

the product is coming.  And added bonus: I now know how to make crimping and went

into the bush with Seyni to chop down the bamboo. #points. (Real time addendum numero

Abdou and Malaa making crimping.

2, the coop was finished right before Thanksgiving, and the next chicks to hatch in village are mine.)  Life is good out in the bush, y’all.  I’ve been running in the morning, working with happy, dedicated people, riding my bike to visit and work with other volunteers, hanging out with my dog and the toads, cat, and chickens that wonder into my yard and hut.  Life is pretty good.

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4 thoughts on “The Good Life

  1. Mary-Wow. that sounds like hard work. So there’s no machinery to harvest-its all by hand? And you are there to help with harvest and help introduce new methods or maybe not the latter? Despite the hard work, life there sounds simple but idyllic. I love the look of the crimping-which I always called wattle-always admired the look as it apppeared in Medieval paintings of country life. Wonder if your dad ever used it in his garden. And your gonna have chickens! You sound like a chip off the old block. I’m glad little Nacho is helping you maintain your sanity. I need a little Nacho! Take care! Jo Catron

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