1993. A special year for planet Earth, for I was brought into this world. It also happens to be the year my host sister, Daba, was born. I seemingly won the geographic lottery by being born in the U.S., while the cosmic forces fated that Daba should be dropped down in the village of Medina Thiolom in northern Senegal, thus forever diverging our paths.
By age 5, as I was entering the confines of pre-school, Daba had already developed the same blisters, which are comparable to an experienced rower, that I now see on my host nieces and nephews. One could only develop such marks from aiding in the family’s agricultural entrepreneurs by repeatedly smashing the shells of black eyed peas in a large mortor and pestle. When I was concerned with memorizing time tables and perfecting grammar, Daba had mastered washing her family’s clothes by hand. And at the ripe age of 17, I was receiving a list of potential colleges, while Daba was already married and delivering a child.
2012. Another special year, for Daba and my seemingly contradictory paths are fated to cross for this short window of time.
The men of Medina Thiolom are conspicuous only due to their widespread absence. This leaves the bulk of work to the women, and in my 10 person household, that work largely falls upon Daba’s shoulders. She single-handedly produces every communal meal often in the unbearable Senegalese heat that is only compounded by the open fire she must cook with. Every morning she rakes and sweeps the entirety of our large, sandy compound before heading to the fields with the other women. Upon return she still has the energy to joyfully entertain her daughter. Every day I am awed by the strength and confidence exuded by Daba, a women who has spent the same amount of time on this earth, yet is a world ahead of me.
Yet Daba is only a microcosm for all women I have met in rural Senegal. What makes these women so strong is each other. There is a tacit understanding that Daba can feed 10 people daily, because those people will always be willing to look after her daughter when she is occupied. And she doesn’t mind the blisters from her field work, because it is a field shared by multiple women and the work is necessary for the communal wealth.
Alongside the men, it seemed as though the teenage girls were also missing from Medina Thiolom. But that is only because the girls my age are not teenagers but women, who carry the same workload and self-assurance as their middle aged mothers. When whatever cosmic forces fated that I should grow up in the United States, it seemed as though I had lucked out, yet as I watch Daba skillfully work with some of the most fierce, resourceful, and loyal women, I can’t help but think that she may be the lucky one.