Mar Lodj Rural Stay 1/2

For my rural stay, I was welcomed into the Sarr family for one week. Their village of Mar Lodj is located on the 150km2 island Mar Lodj in the Sine-Saloum delta. The first two days were filled with travel and peanut fields. My journal is uploaded here (continued in Part 2; rural stay goals here).

Monday | Nov 5, 2012
9h | We’ve been sweating in our waiting minibus for over an hour now, avoiding eye contact with the vendors pushing their goods through the windows. Successfully bargained for a reasonable baggage fee. We’re still overpaying by a few cents but I just wanted to hand over a round number.

13h | Minibus is terrible. Four people squished into three-person aisle. This supposedly 3.5-hour journey to Fimla is taking much longer than 3.5 hours thanks to unexplained stops along the way.

14h | The taxi to Ndangane is narrow and we have more than 5 people (typical), so Ass (pronounce it like Oss), the man who is taking us from Fimla, sticks me in the hole between him in the passenger seat, and the driver. My thigh is pressed against the stick shift and the only thing preventing me from flying out of the cracked windshield is hanging from the rearview mirror: a string of prayer beads that smack me in my dirt-streaked face every time the taxi is jostled by the potholed road, which is to say, constantly.

20h | Mar Lodj. Nafii yo? Ma he men. (How are you? I am here only). No more Wolof: this is Serer country, and my family’s French is great. Ass has turned out to be my host brother!

It’s beautiful here. The pirogue was huge and we rode past some resort-like vacation homes. The scattered palm trees on this island give such a different feel – I’ve grown up around palm trees but have only ever seen them in straight lines.

Our welcome lunch had a few small chunks of meat for many people, reminiscent of the we-don’t-have-much-but-have-this teranga meal we’d received in Dindéfelo. Dinner was made specially for me, a very oily plate of deep-fried eggs and fries.

The village has no running water but the electricity will start up again tomorrow, maybe. My family is hoping that I’ll be able to fix their solar panel, but I work with software, not hardware. I don’t know how they’re going to charge their phones if it doesn’t get fixed. The family also has a rainwater tank thanks to an American NGO that donated 20 sacks of cement to each family. But the tank leaks because the local executor kept back 6 sacks from each distribution to sell somewhere else. The folly of one-way communication.

It’s dark. You get so intimate with the night when you get outside a room. Family compounds are large outdoor areas composed of many one-room chambres. There’s also a cooking structure and some goat sheds. The chickens run around pecking at garbage and invisible bugs. Now I’m laying with the family on a huge communal mat, barefoot underneath the stars. Hélène, the grandmother, massages her granddaughter’s hurt foot.

family compound

Ass took us around the peanut fields. The kids ride the horses and donkeys bareback here – they just jump on as the horse starts running. We watched a slender boy launch himself up a palm tree and hack down les noix des palmes. What delicious pockets of jelly!

I went to the buutik and some kids took an interest in me, each grabbing a hand, and a third my wrist. Comment tu t’appelles? they asked. It was all the French they knew, just like the opportunistic children from Ibél. But – this was the real thing. They took my name, Kati, and whispered it amongst themselves. No asking for les caramels or les cadeaux.

In the night, someone greeted me and when I reflexively said “Ça va?” he said in surprise, “ah, toubab.” We are the same in the night.

Tuesday | Nov 6 2012
7h | What a TERRIBLE night. Donkeys brayed (it’s not just hee-haw – go listen to a real donkey; they sound like they’re being killed), roosters crowed, the imam called… and I could hear the high whine of mosquitoes, which bit me through the mosquito net. As soon as light came in I saw several buzzing about. Beyond that, sweat waterfalled into the crevices of my neck, leaving a heat rash.

8h | I think I would be ecstatic if I were clean, but as it is I’m quite happy. The children are eating from a bowl of millet couscous with milk from their cows. I just watched their mother distribute chalk to them (probably for their teacher) and saw them wash out their water bottles, which are tiny soda bottles, with detergent. I wish I could give them something BPA-free, but malaria’s a much more pressing concern.

9h | Made several trips to a well and the water pump carrying a bucket on my head. The special head-carrying tool has turned out to be just a roll of any fabric. I have a bucket half the size of theirs and it still hurts.

waiting in line at the water pump

15h | Walked around village. Fed baby goat with leaves that fell from the ground. Daoda, my host brother, just taught me the basic Muslim prayer. Now my head hurts and I have two pages of Arabic that I have to memorize by the end of this week.

This place is so patriarchal. Maybe it’s because this family has few daughters, but Fatou Lidi is worked to the bone. The patriarch, who sits in the hammock under the shade, gets served the best meals. The other men do work in the fields but the women work there too, and the men get to sit in the shade for half the day.

15h30 | Rode a horse bareback!

19h | Got back from the peanut fields. I wouldn’t say the work is backbreaking but I don’t see how they can make any appreciable amount of money from this. I’ve asked two of my brothers what their favorite animals are, and they chose le cheval, the horse, which is my favorite as well. I say, “Ils sont beaux, ils sont vites, ils sont fortes, ils sont… libres.”

plowing peanut fields

That’s the thing. This life is beautiful and it’s healthy (as long as you’re not female because of cooking smoke, nor light-skinned because of skin cancer, and don’t get a disease). But you have no choice. Bryan, who missed his pirogue to Bassoul, and I talked with Ass about his visiting the United States. We could write him a letter of invitation to aid the Visa process. But the plane ticket – impossible. He’d never get the chance to get off of this continent.

Once again I am struck by the amount of privilege I’ve been granted. That’s the reason my ancestors worked so hard to get me to where I am now.
Freedom.

Continue to Part 2.

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