“On this episode of a Thousand ways to die…”

Marvellous John - Senegal


March 22, 2017

It has been over two months, but it still seems like it was just yesterday, when this young toubab* almost met her end.

It started off like a usual Saturday in Pambal*, but little did she know that today will be far from usual. At 8 o’clock she was awaken by her alarm clock, but as always, she went back to sleep and it would not be until 9 am that she would finally get out of bed. As she pressed snooze for the last time, she contemplated if life was really worth living today (i.e do I really have to get up). But she realized that she did not have the linguistic skills to explain to her language tutor that she would not be coming to class today because as the saying goes, “I cannot come and kill myself because of immersion”, so she finally rolled-up her mosquito net and began what would turn out to be one of the most interesting of her Senegal experience.

As usual, the shower was quick and cold, but as she approached her breakfast tray in the kitchen she realized that her trusty chocopain* was missing from the tray. “Damn” she thought, I guess it’s mburu sèche ak lait* today”. But wait! What could that triangular and shiny package on her tray be?! She could not believe her eyes, for the first time in 3 months, her choice of spread had been changed to the one and only “La vache qui rit*” ! Damn, She didn’t even know they sold this particular type of fromage* here! “Well” she thought to herself, “This is definitely something worth waking up for”.

The first bite of her special breakfast was “rudely” interrupted by a phone call from her language tutor. In conclusion, she basically said that they would be having an experiential-learning type of class today in the city, Tivavoune. Because she knew that she lived in a village with no bus schedules, she gobbled up her breakfast and ran to meet her language tutor at the main road. As she got to the main road, she realized that the dust on the road was a lot more stirred up than usual, and there were certainly a lot more people waiting for bus than she had expected. But then she finally remembered that this wasn’t just any “Saturday in Pambal”,it was in fact the Gamou* holiday , and people will be traveling back and forth from Tivavoune to Pambal for the celebration. “Well, today seems to be the perfect day to get a lung infection all in the name of experiential learning”, she thought to herself.

Eventually, the bus came and after about 10 stops and 100 “waw jam”s*, they finally reached tivavoune. While they were walking to their learning destination (a friend’s house), they saw a herd of cows and using a mix of french, English and seeree laalaa*, her tutor explained to her that she should be cautious when walking because the cows were very dangerous . She smirked because she had walked by many cows in the past 4 months and in her opinion they were more scared of her than she was of them. But then again, these cows were about to be killed and adrenaline can really do wonders to someone’s state of mind.

Not long after, they reached a non-functioning railway station that had been transformed into a market place, which, as you can imagine, was very busy today. As they continued, they saw a crowd of people ahead of them, and as they walked towards the crowd, it began to part, and she thought to herself “Damn, I know I’m a toubab, but I didn’t think my “foreigness” was explicit enough to part crowds”. But then she realized, that they weren’t just walking away, they were actually sprinting and she looked up to see a cow that had escaped its noose, running towards her.

By the time she knew what was happening, she was already charging into a stranger’s house with a bunch of other strangers and because all 15 of them were trying to get into one small gate at the same time, they all fell to the ground and basically had to crawl away from the gate and into the compound. The cow as you can imagine was now chasing  its abductors who were also running for their dear lives. Eventually, others started leaving the compound to watch them recapture the cow, but because she knew that her insurance didn’t cover death, she stayed put until they told her that the cow had been captured and was actually being taken in the opposite direction. She thought she had seen it all, but she came out of the compound just as an old man was descending from the tree that he had climbed to avoid the cow, and then she decided that she had had enough of experiential learning/cultural-immersion for one day.

Eventually they made it to the friend’s house and they (and by “they” we mean just her language tutor) retold the story to the family, who of course laughed at them and offered them Bissap* to soothe their pain. As she held on to the cup, she realized that she almost did not live to enjoy this glass of Bissap, and because she knew that her love for (especially cold) Bissap exceeds any thrill she receives from such adventures, she decided to restrict her future experiential learning activities to non-religious holiday weekends.

It is safe to say that Gamou 2016, was one hell of an experience for our precious toubab, but at least she now knows to stay away from a cow on its way to the abattoir, because nobody, even cows, ever goes through untimely death without putting up a fight.

Word list:

*Toubab – means foreigner in Wolof

*Pambal – the toubab’s village community, that includes other mini-villages

*chocopain – chocolate spread made with peanuts

*mburu sèche ak lait – “dry” bread and milk

*La vache qui rit – specific brand of cheese

*fromage – cheese

*Gamou – religious holiday celebration that took place in December this year, in Tivavoune (pronounced tiwawan) (see other Senegal fellow blogs for more details about the Gamou celebration)

*waw, jam – means “I’m fine, thanks and peace” in seeree laalaa, but it’s not spelt like this

*seeree laalaa – A local language in Senegal

*Bissapp – a sweet drink made from hibiscus plant.

Marvellous John