Jigeen Jambar

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


November 29, 2010

Suma yaay (my mom), Ndiy, tried to escape to the field without me, but I was ready: lathered in sunscreen and wearing my capris and bandana. Even as Ndiy protested I’d be hungry and tired, I hopped on the crowded carriage at 9AM – a wooden slab laden with ten women and their large buckets and bowls, all pulled by one horse. Is this a moment where insisting I can get my hands dirty has gotten my mom legitimately mad?

Raking my hands through the sand to find straggling peanuts, I could feel the sun beating on the strip of back above my pants that my shirt exposes when I lean over like this. Note to Self: next time wear a longer shirt. I worked on my own, feeling stupid for insisting on coming, and talking to myself.

You WILL stay out here until 7  with them. You WILL NOT be hungry. Just because they have a system of working in pairs and you’re the odd man out, you WILL show them that you can be helpful: like preparing each pile for the separation process…they’ll be glad you came. Hopefully…

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“Nafi Kia!” Fatou Sec, my neighbor who must be fifty years old, calls from across the field. I go as beckoned. She handed me a woven wooden basket with gaps – a peanut sifter, and showed me how to use it.

“Bax-na! Yow laay fi.” “Good, you sift here for me.” The sun was giving me a nice burnt strip, but I continued laaying for Fatou for an hour and a half. It didn’t take long before other people began summoning me to sift for them.

Ndiy told me to rest; the sun was turning my tubab skin xonk. I told her I’d rest when she did and continued sifting. Everyone began calling me “Jambar” which means “warrior”.

Eventually Ndiy let me try “guttehing”- slowly dumping the mixture of peanuts and hay. The wind carries away the lighter sticks and empty shells, and after approximately 9873 times, they’re left with only good peanuts. Holding a heavy tub of peanuts way above my head is an acquired skill, and I wasn’t quite doing it right. They had me go back to sifting. I looked over at Fatou Sec who had been doing this for hours and was still going strong. Jambar.

We finally began walking back at 6:30PM – each woman carrying a heavy tub of peanuts on their head for the entire 30 minute walk.
The next morning, Fatou came over, bragging on me to my father, Djiby “Nafi jambar!!” I stopped her and said what I’d been thinking about the women here for weeks but had yet to say aloud.

“Jigeen fi, jambar. You wake up early, sweep sand out of the house, wash the kids, make breakfast, do the laundry, cook lunch, go to the fields, come home, cook dinner, wash the kids, sweep the house, go to bed late, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.”
“Waaw, liggeey, liggeey, liggeey rekk!”
“Yes, work work work only!” She agreed. Her next comment couldn’t have made me happier.
“Jigeenu Senegal Jambar. Yow jigeenu Senegal. Yow, jambar.”
“Yes, Senegalese women are warriors. You’re a Senegalese woman. You’re a jambar.”

Madeleine Balchan