A chance to grow, learn, experience…Appreciate

Tasha Torres - Senegal

January 9, 2013

I live just outside the city limits of Kedougou in a house with a blue front door that I’ve come to know so well. I live with my dad (Baba Ibrahima), two moms (Nene Dialamba & Nene Ruggie), six brothers (Alseyni, Moustapha, Papa, Oumar, Aliou & Amadouwouri), one sister (Aissatou), and my grandma. After much quality time and a tad bit of play fighting I realized that my little brothers here are awesome! They help teach me Pulaar and I help them write in English. I help my moms here cook, clean, and wash clothes. I also watch my dad while he works. Recently I’ve been watching the dismemberment of a car engine and watched while it was put back together.

Since I’ve come to Kedougou I feel like I’ve done so much and nothing at all! I’ve been to 3 weddings, 1 naming ceremony, and 1 circumcision ceremony. (All of which guaranteed that I wore awesome clothing), I had a very unpleasant interaction with the Jankuran (or as I know them the crazy tree people), I witnessed a goat commit suicide (personally I think the goat was smart…it was supposed to be killed for Tabaski), I witnessed the killing of another goat (the replacement goat for Tabaski) and then ate him for dinner. I’ve helped prepare lunch and dinner (which is extremely difficult…at least for me… when you aren’t using a stove or an actual kitchen), I saved the life of a baby goat, carried buckets of water (among other things) on my head, I wrapped a baby, I use the bathroom in a hole and I pretty much shower outside. I get my water from a well, and spend most of my days hanging out with goats and climbing trees so I can feed them. Given all that I’ve done this past month, the 3 events that are most prevalent in my mind are: my encounter  with the Jankuran (where that blue door was my refuge), the day of Tabaski ( where that blue door was my means of escape) and the day I saved a baby goat (where that blue door gave me clarity).

The Jankuran are men/boys that dress up in leaves and a mask. They do a traditional dance to honor the boys that have been circumcised. It’s a coming of age ceremony that celebrates their manhood. It’s also customary for the Jankuran to whip bystanders that show fear. The ceremony sounded pretty interesting so another fellow (Israel) and I went to watch. This was about 10 o’clock at night on a Wednesday. The walk is typically a half an hour walk but given that it was night time and pitch black outside the journey took longer than it normally would have. When we were about halfway to where the ceremony was being held, a group of about twenty 12 year old children came running at us screaming. They came out of nowhere so I screamed in fear and that seemed to provoke them so they started throwing rocks at us so we ran and they followed, but eventually gave up chasing us. It’s not every day that a group of children start throwing rocks at people so I was both freaked out and angry and called my team leader and explained what happened with the children. He then advised us that it’s not safe to go out at night and we should call a family member to walk with us. We stopped in front of the fire station ranting about the children and waiting for the other fellow’s homestay sister to come get us but the firefighters at the fire station stood there laughing at us so we left and headed in the direction of Israel’s house (which is also the direction of the ceremony) and not far after leaving the fire station I felt a sharp pain against my thigh. I screamed and looked up, I noticed 2 people in black masks surrounding me. One of them hit me again and I fell in a pile of gravel while they hovered over me. By this point I was hysterical and confused and I was screaming in both pain and anger and told them to leave me alone but they laughed and continued whipping me with the branches. I scrambled to my feet and searched frantically for Israel and noticed that 2 of the masked people were also hitting her. I ran to her and pulled her safely into a store where men crowded us and offered to help us find her house. I was once again on the phone with my team leader and explained what happened with the jankuran. We ended up leaving the store with one of the men who kept the jankuran away from us and took us safely back to Israel’s house. Her family was extremely angry at what happened so they took us to the police station to file a complaint. The police turned out to be completely useless and didn’t provide much help. I couldn’t deal with anymore and was extremely grateful when one of my family members (Alseyni) showed up and took me home. I have never been so happy to walk through those blue doors that promised safety and people that cared.  This being said the jankuran typically don’t hit foreigners and definitely don’t hit people with that much force.  This just happened to be one of those situations where we ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time, passing people that just so happened to be under the influence (which also isn’t typical). Now that it’s all over I do regret going out that night, but if I had to do it again I would. It was definitely an experience.

Everyone was eager and patiently waiting for the day of Tabaski making all sorts of preparations like braiding their hair (my hair included), and putting henna on their hands and feet,  people even got clothes specially made for this day. In my mind Tabaski is the day where they kill a goat and eat it. I woke up that day waiting for 10 o’clock in the morning when they would finally kill the goat so I could watch (more out of curiosity rather than yearning). I went outside just as the goat was taking its last breath, kicked up its leg and died. I watched as they slit open its body and removed its organs and cleaned them out. At one point I forgot that what they were cutting into pieces was once a goat. People kept telling me to go back to the house and not watch but I refused. It took me awhile to realize that I was the only female outside with a bunch of men. I went back inside to find the women and saw them all crowded around pots and platters and bowls preparing the food. That’s when I acknowledged what was expected of me as a woman here in Senegal. I’m supposed to be in the kitchen cooking and waiting for the men to supply the meat for the meal. That’s when I walked back out of the door. I walked away from all expectations placed on me because of my gender and went back to watching the men chop up the goat. I’ve decided that while I’m in Kedougou I will play both roles the woman and the man because I won’t allow myself to be restricted in the things that I can or can’t do because of my gender. I can adapt to and accept the culture but won’t do things that go against my personal values. I realize that the rest of my time here will challenge me in ways that

I’ve never expected, but because this experience is extremely trying I will have a better understanding of how much I can handle and my limitations..

About four days ago I was in my room trying to write a blog when I heard a cry. It didn’t sound like a human baby so I went outside to see what it was. I saw 2 little boys carrying a baby goat outside of my house by all fours. I couldn’t understand why and they dropped it right outside the blue doors of my house. I rushed to the goat to see if it was ok. The children motioned to its leg (where there was an open wound) and told me it was going to die. I couldn’t just leave the poor baby goat on the floor in the blazing sun (it was noon which is the hottest time of the day) unable to walk and wait for it to die. So despite numerous protests from my family members and the children that surrounded me I picked up the goat and took it to a shaded area under a tree. I just sat with it for a while unsure of what to do. I went back in the house got a bucket of water from the well, soap and my first aid kit. My mom told me to leave it alone that it was going to die and that touching its wound is bad. But I couldn’t accept that so she let me tend to the goat. I went back outside and gave the goat a bath because if the pain of the cut wasn’t hurting it, being in the sun for a long time probably was. Then I cleaned the wound with the help of one of my neighbors. (I’m extremely grateful for his help because everyone else thought I was crazy for trying to help the goat). Then I noticed the goat was biting at my wet hand so I helped it drink water from my hand, after it drank the water it managed to lift its head and cry out for its mom. By this point I was hopeful. I stood with the goat for about another hour when I noticed a female goat walk by crying out. I guided her in the direction of the baby goat but she was frightened by all the people so she didn’t follow. Instead I went to the baby goat and lifted its head hoping it would call its mom (which it did) which in turn caused the mom to get closer. I eventually moved the goat away from all of the people and its mom followed. It took about half an hour for the goats’ mom to stay with the goat but when it finally did the goat managed to get to its feet! I was beyond ecstatic at this point and on the verge of tears. It fell back down and its mom walked away so I went back and carried the goat directly to its mother and when it got the strength to stand again the mom and baby and a another baby goat (probably a sibling) walked off together. At this point my sister came outside and asked if the goat died and I said no as I pointed to the goat’s retreating figure.

This past month has been both hectic and exciting. I’m eager to experience what other adventures await me while in Africa. Although I’ve faced difficult and scary things since I’ve come here I realize that if I didn’t have to struggle and be pushed, my time here would be pointless. I want to have to overcome trial after trial because it’s making me a better and stronger person for it. Since coming here I’ve discovered my passion for helping animals. I can’t wait to uncover any other hidden passions or talents I might have.

Tasha Torres