Balla Gaye

Russell Bollag-Miller - Senegal


October 25, 2011

Everyone is dead.

Well, not really. But it really looked like it. In a matter of seconds, the entire hundred-something people who inhabit my village cleared out. Women screaming. Men sprinting for the road. And then silence.

Balla GayeI was dazed, sitting alone under a tree that had previously been bustling with life and conversation that I didn’t understand. Slowly, I made my way towards the one road that runs by Mberes. As I weaved through the maze of thatched fences and cinder block homes, the screaming grew louder.  I turned a corner and  saw the horde of shrieking people.

Someone must have died, or at least been badly injured. A car accident? Did someone finally run over a goat? I reached the crowd took in the scene of utter chaos. There was a van surrounded by the crowd of people, and in the center was a gargantuan man.

I’ve never been to a Justin Bieber concert, and don’t really plan on going to one anytime in my near or distant future, but I imagine that it would resemble what I observed. This giant that the crowd had encircled was smiling and handshaking while a cameraman filmed the action. The screaming became more and more audible as I advanced. “BALLA GAYE! BALLA GAYE! BALLA GAYE!” The name and face seemed vaguely familiar but I didn’t know why. Then it hit me. The billboards, the cell phone commercials……the wrestling!

The national sport of Senegal is a combination of wrestling and boxing called Lute.

Balla Gaye stayed for a total of about ten minutes but those minutes appear to have been the highlight of the year for Mberes. Since his visit I can hear girls whispering his name and giggling. Men wrestling with one another while shouting “Balla Gaye!” He is Senegal’s Justin Bieber, except that Balla Gaye has definitely gone through puberty.

Russell Bollag-Miller