Garden beds– I’ve started a few garden beds with the women’s group in my village. Despite every one of them being married to a farmer, the only tool they managed to bring to the garden was a broken rake. We dug three janky beds with the business end of that rake and now we have tomatoes. What are limitations?
Goatee– I met a guy who had a goatee. I know what you are thinking. Yes, goatees are a very meticulous way to tell everyone that you are confused, but they don’t necessarily make for a blog worthy story. Well I have news for you. Most of my stories are not blog worthy. This goatee, however, was particularly heinous because it did not reside on the man’s face. It was a neck beard. Not only did this man have a neck beard, he had a meticulously trimmed neck beard. It was a whole new level of neck beard. It’s blog worthy facial hair if I have ever seen it.
Golden shower– I received my first golden shower from my host sister. I was playing with her and lifting her above my head. She laughed as she peed on my face. I think she might be possessed. Nobody should take that much pleasure in surprise peeing on someone else’s face. RUDE!
Grafting– The first training I held with a group larger than five was a grafting training. Myself and two other volunteers, Melissa and Bryce, taught a group of farmers how to prune and graft citrus and mango trees at Bryce’s site. It went so enough that Bryce invited me back to help with another session. I’m hoping he will eventually start introducing me as Fama instead of FOMO but life can’t always be perfect.
Grudges– Senegalese people are bad at holding grudges. I am good at holding grudges. I’m working on it.
FGM- Sometimes cultural barriers never get broken, no matter what we do. After a long morning of working in the field, I was walking back to my house when I ran into a sweet Pulaar lady on the road. She did not speak Wolof, I know exactly one phrase of Pulaar, and we both knew the same three Sereer greetings—we communicated mostly with nods and laughs. She walked with me for over an hour and prattled on in Pulaar while I smiled and nodded, eventually learning that her name is Fatou. Apparently I should have done less nodding because I somehow got myself invited to an event in her village. She knew enough French to communicate that there would be only girls celebrating and I should bring nice clothes. I wasn’t about to follow a woman I just met to a village I had never been to…at least not by myself. I went home with this woman and told my host mom that we were going to attend a party the next evening at the Pulaar woman’s village. Nobody in my village speaks Pulaar, so we didn’t have much of a sense of what we were getting into, but how bad could it go really? This lady seemed nice enough and Senegalese people are generally a very welcoming and kind community of people.
The next morning at 6am, Fatou knocked on the door of my compound in her finest dress and impatiently waited with my host mom, for me to throw on my new dress, tie up my hair, and find my right shoe. We were off! It was silly of me to assume that her village was close by, walking distance even. There were no Pulaar people in my area (one reason I opted out of learning any Pulaar phrases and instead started on Sereer) and so her village must be far. We sat, squished with eight other people, in the back of a mini van for what seemed like ten years. There was no breeze in the car—the only window not stuck closed being by the driver—so the stench of the man with no deodorant wafted throughout the cabin until our noses adjusted. After hours in the mini van, we switched to a donkey drawn cart to a small village. “Finally”, I thought, “We made it!” I was wrong. Her village was a short fifty-minute walk down a sand path with no shade. At this point, the sun was at its peak in the sky and we were all very tired. My host mom, Ndey, eyed me, probably thinking about the dinner to cook, kids to clean, and house to sweep upon our return. The Senegalese in her, however, got the best of her and, not wanting to be rude, we walked on.
Once in her village, we saw that all the men had gone inside—leaving only the women to greet us, the honored guests at their ceremony. Ndey prattled off her five Pulaar greetings to everyone while I silently smiled and nodded (having apparently not learned my lesson from the last nodding session). We finally got to the small compound where the event was to take place. A few mud huts surrounded by a fence made of old millet stocks surrounded a large table with straps connected to it, stained in old blood. Thinking this must be a table where they killed their sheep or goats for dinner, I didn’t think much of it and we walked into one of the huts for our lunch. Those Pulaars really know how to cook!
After listening to the Pulaar women for an hour or so and understanding nothing, the ceremony was about to begin. It was around 3pm at this point and my host mom started worrying about getting home in time. “We will stay for just a little while and then make a quick exit back to our village in time for dinner,” I said while we were hustled outside to the viewing area. That’s when things started to go down hill.
We stood in the front row next to the table with the straps and a group of about 15 girls—ranging in age from three to seven—was gathered in front of us. I started shaking their hands and smiling, but only received scared looks in response. I was used to being the tall scary white girl to children who had little experience with foreigners, so, again, I thought nothing of it. The adult women gathered around the children and placed their hands on their heads for a brief blessing. We were shuffled to the back of the large group and had to crane our necks. To my shock, they were lifting a little girl onto the table. She was no more than five and completely silent. They strapped her legs apart and two larger women held her body down as they pulled out an old kitchen knife, slightly rusted on the end, and lifted her skirt.
The practice of female genital cutting (or female genital mutilation-FGM) has impacted around 140 million girls and continues to affect at around three million every year in Africa. This practice is not popular amongst the Wolof group and thus was a shock for Ndey as well. After struggling to get a better view of what was happening, my tiny host mother’s face fell. Shock flooded over both of us as we watched the second girl strapped to the table. The same bloody knife and the same screams—once, twice, three times. The smell of fresh blood traveled to me through the crowd and I had to make a quick exit. I am no stranger to vomit in Senegal but it’s usually brought on by day old mystery meat. This time, the mixture of the smell and the looks on the recently cut, bloodied, wrapped little girls faces brought on the sickness in my stomach.
Ndey and I tried to communicate with a few of the women with little avail. We sat outside the small millet stock fence and she hugged me. The whole thing was over in a matter of minutes—fifteen little girls, wrapped in white cloth, blood-soaked and silent.
We walked in silence the fifty minutes back to the road-town, caught the first car back to my site, and never talked about it again.