Cows say “Mwaam”

21 November 2011

 …and other things that are different.

1.  Needing rhythm to work efficiently.

Two days before a naming ceremony in village I went with my female counterpart, Fanta, to the compound where the new baby lives and helped the women pound corn for fuuto,  This involves beating the corn into a powder using a giant wooden mortar and pestle.  The thing is you can’t pound any old way because there are at least two, if not three women working at once, so you must be in rhythm.  The two-man was easy enough to pick up, but it took a while to get the hang of three.  And while I was knocking into other women’s pestles, the other group was making a game and song out of it, clapping between turns.  (I’ll try to get the video up on facebook soon.)

2. What is polite:

a) Inviting everyone to eat, even when they have their own food.

b) Sharing any food another person can see.

c) Greeting everyone—even (and especially) when they’re sick or just gave birth four hours ago.

d) Telling the right people what you’re doing and when—I think this includes both my counterparts, my dad/the chief, and whoever is cooking.

e) Giving gifts to the right people—when I bring food back I have to give it to my counterparts wife even though she is one of younger women in the house and definitely not in charge.

3.  One more about cows, they’re smaller here.  This means their teats too, which makes them harder to milk.  For me at least, my brothers have no problem.

4. While we’re on animals, people don’t raise chickens for eggs or goats for milk.

5.  Not always being properly informed and/or not knowing if I am properly informed.

One morning I woke up preparing to figure out a new schedule than originally planned, because my male counterpart, Seyni said he was going to another village as the family representative for a ceremony there.  I did the usual, went for a run, cooked breakfast, showered, and went to greet Fanta, who lives in a different compound.  When I asked her what she was doing that day and told her I wanted to come too, a confused look came across her face.  She knew today I was supposed to work with Seyni.  I explained the situation.  She was not convinced.  We go back to my compound together, where Seyni is lounging on the outdoor bed in front of my hut.  He was not going, and some how everyone else knew this.  There wasn’t a free bike in the village.  He couldn’t go.  They started laughing.  It was funny that I didn’t know this.  Why?  And when was I supposed to figure this out.  This also plays in daily with language I don’t know yet and implied meanings I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out.

6.  Awkward silences and sitting in them for a long time.

The problem here is I don’t know what to say to fill awkward silence like I do in English.  Mandinka small talk I know is not natural to me, “Hey, the sun’s hot,” “the cold was here last night,” “today, you went to the field.”  I guess it’s just like how we talk about the weather when also else fails, but sometimes it feels too obvious to say.  Also, what do you talk about with Senegalese teenage boys?  Sometimes I help my brothers who are still in school with homework, but the other guys come to hang outside my hut and we generally have no idea what to say to each other.

7.  But at the same time, my Mandinka is surpassing my French.

I went to meet the school teachers the other day and I would start a sentence in French and would unconsciously switch into Mandinka.  We did talk about potential for an English for French tutoring exchange at some point.

Nali and Diara, two of my favorite little ladies.

There are many more things, but these are the ones that have been pressing on my mind most recently.

Oh, and here are some pictures of cute kids.

Hope all is well wherever you are.


Check out this posed picture. I was just going for the one on the left and the second guy popped down to join in.


5 thoughts on “Cows say “Mwaam”

  1. Precious girl! Keep writing. We are all immersed in Fode Bayo and village life. Please explain exactly what a counterpart is/does? Love you always.

  2. Oh Mary, yes indeed those little rug rats, or should I say, bush rats, are adorable and look full of mischief. Mary, where are the men and what are they doing? Does the work music the ladies make sound rich and melodious or just like noise? I’d like to hear it. Does it sound like any of the music that was transported to the colonies by slaves and handed down to us as spirituals? It sounds like you are enjoying this crazy life, despite the awkward silences. Don’t worry. Before you know it you’ll be thinking in Mandinka. Best wishes, Jo Catron

  3. Wow Mary! Was with your Dad, Julia and Jess yesterday talking about how amazing you are. I have just finished rereading your blog and it’s so amazing. Nacho sounds like such an amazingly normal companion in a world where you are learning not just one thing but several new things a day! I was wondering if I’m able to send you a little care package from Australia? I see the address in the blog and was just checking that it is still valid.
    be safe and a Merry Christmas! Love Melissa

    • Melissa! Wonderful to see you are reading along with my adventures.
      Been wishing I was over on my first continent the past couples of days. Miss you all. And who on earth would say no to a care package?! The address in “A hut of my own” is current and working. Merry Christmas to you and yours! xoxo, Mary

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