29 November 2011
Leaving for Thanksgiving seemed like cheating 5-week challenge, but I was excited to see familiar faces again and to meet the Kolda folks I’d yet to see. And, of course, to finally go to Kolda-meme. I was also out of oatmeal and needed silly things, like a working lock for my door—don’t fret it locked, but getting back in was the challenge. #vigilance. Eating green bean casserole (with the crunchy onion sticks imported from America) and mashed sweet potatoes (well, these were in fact yams, so the misnomer is perpetuated in reverse) provided a kind of comfort in regularity I was not expecting here. I suppose if you put a group of thirty Americans together anywhere on the last Thursday of November, a Thanksgiving feast will appear. It was also an unexpected treat to get to sit in the living room at home with my family. #skype.
The best thing, though, was going back to Fode Bayo and seeing familiar faces there. I had to stop three times on the way into village to greet everyone, including the warmest greeting from Fanta, my female counterpart. I almost passed her compound, bound to put my bike and bag down. I found, though it was impossible to ignore a friend joyfully skrieking my name—despite having acquired this name eighteen days ago. It was like the first day of summer camp when you don’t know if all your friends are returning and you’ve concocted the scenario where you’ll just have to start over, make new friends, but the they all come, your best friend at the last minute with a smile on her face and a harrowing tale of travel mishaps. Fanta hugged me, her Mom hugged me, her sister hugged me. So many touches in one greeting. Since I’ve been home my Mom has also been hugging me every time I see her. Before this I was counting Nacho and the toddlers in my compound for all of my seven required touches. And y’all know I love a good hug.
I was apprehensive about spending time with my male counterpart, Seyni, because I’d set him straight on the concept of Lincoln logs and speaking over others before I left. But it seems, despite the frustrations I know I will continue to have with Senegalese men, he does care. Saturday afternoon we went to a neighboring Mandinka village, Jankang Kunda to watch the Fode Bayo football team take on the home boys. It was a tie, 2-2, with no tie-breaker, lots of dancing, cheerful arguing and the same celebratory rituals that athletes perform everywhere. I had fun talking to the teenage girls from my village about the party later that night, drooling over benyees,1 and throwing of marriage proposals from Jankang Kunda men. This happens, and its not cute, but its becoming more entertaining to come up with refusals. After the game, night was coming fast, and we had to greet everyone on the way out, but Seyni made sure we were leaving, helping throw-off the ever-hospitable Mandinka’s offers for dinner and a bed to stay in. When we were on the road back, me with flashlight squeezed between hand and grip, Seyni told the other man from our village traveling back with us that I didn’t want to spend the night there because I didn’t know the people and men were asking me to marry them. He got it. Without me saying a word, he got it. And he bragged a bit about how I laughed-off the marriage proposals. Bouncing around, riding my bike on a bush path in the dark, I thought to myself, “he does care.” And that’s the first step, because I think, as volunteers we come here caring about these people for selfish, detached reasons—for work, for service, sometimes a sense of guilt concerning our own fortunes—but when we see these connections, when we make real friends, the important kind of caring starts—and it goes two ways, Alhumdullilah2.
Hope Thanksgivings were wonderful for all and in the spirit of real time, a Merry, Happy Christmas to all. And congratulations to my two youngest uncles. Uncle Si, for a beautiful new life, my namesake (tooma in Mandinka), Ashlin Mary O’Neil Rowe, born 23 December. Uncle Mat, for a beautiful new wife, Toon, who I was lucky enough to meet at her wedding reception early this morning (afternoon in Wonthaggi).
Sending love and holiday cheer,
1. beignet – deep fried flour dough. Kind of like a doughnut, or rather a doughnut hole, but less sugar and more oil.
2. Alhumdullilah – (arabic) Praise to God