I find myself wishing for rougher hands so that I wouldn’t wince from the heat of the rice as I eat. I want my spine to be perfectly aligned to avoid the sore back I endure after spending hours picking bissap. And I curse my eyes for being so sensitive that they tear up from the smoke as I help make lunch. I wish the soles of my feet were thicker so I could walk through Medina Thiolom without sandburs getting lodged in my skin. I say all this because I no longer want to be the only person in my village to proclaim, “dafa metti.” It hurts.
I’ve watched as the inhabitants of Medina Thiolom complete all this tasks without the slightest inclination of discomfort. At the health post where I work, I’ve cleaned countless wounds, each, painful in itself, infected to the point where it is discolored, bloated, and oozing pus. Yet, when asked if the tweezers digging into their broken flesh are causing pain, they always reply in the negative. I’ve observed women give birth without any medication and also without so much as a sound. These warriors are having their bodies torn apart and don’t shed a tear. Only once have I witnessed Senegalese tears, and it was from my older sister as she passionately battled to her breaking point against the accusations of an incendiary woman she lives with. It seems as though the Senegalese physical and consequent mental toughness is an armored fortress, while I, on the other hand, sweat and ache through each menial task.
This toughness does not make for an especially tender and compassionate culture. Yet, when I shared with my family the struggles of another Fellow after a tearful late night phone call, they finally said, “dafa metti”. Only in this context, they worriedly announced she’s hurting. They spoke with an overwhelming sense of understanding, because they, of all people, know pain.
Just when I had written the Senegalese off as imperturbably insensitive, physically and emotionally, they demonstrate an outpouring of warmth so unexpected, I can’t help but re-evaluate my own aches. Burning my hands doesn’t have the same effect when the food is truly great. The hours spent bent over in the field are overshadowed by the breathtaking desert landscape that rolls into the horizon. And now I barely notice the sandburs caught in my sandals as I walk through Medina Thiolom, because I am always walking with a new friend or greeting the very people who mitigate my discomforts. It’s difficult to focus on any such pain, when I’m immersed in all the unpredictably good things around me. While I will never ascend to the effortless warrior status of my Senegalese counterparts, they help me to realize that mettiul bu baax. It doesn’t hurt that much.