KAKA

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


January 11, 2011

A baby is crying. What’s new? But for some reason I stick my head out of the window to investigate. Khady, my one-year-old sister, is sitting smack dab in the middle of the tree’s shade by herself. She can project. I approach her and say “massa” in comfort, and then I see the source of her crying: KAKA. She must be sick, too, because it’s runny and managed to get all over her legs. She looks up at me as if she is wondering the same thing I am: “Are you going to clean this?”

I glance around our sandy courtyard; my three other siblings and their two mothers are nowhere to be seen. I see Djiby, my dad, watching us. I think he’s wondering the same thing as well.

I pick Khady up by her arms and set her down by our water spigot. No water, as usual. So I turn to find water in one of the green buckets scattered around our yard and Khady starts wailing again. By the time I return with the only liter of water on our compound, Djiby is standing next to Khady, calmly evaluating the situation.

“Where is Absa?” he asks.

The next two minutes are full of laughter and arguing. As I splash water on to Khady’s legs to commence the cleaning, the conversation begins, a mixture of Wolof and French, and at the heat of my frustration, English.

“Are you going to help me wash her?” I ask.

“No! Where’s Absa? This is women’s work!”

“Your child is crying and you just sit by and ask where her mother is?”

“Ohh but that’s dirty. That’s women’s work. I can’t do it. That’s women’s work.”

“Women’s work? I don’t believe in women’s work. She’s screaming! She’s your child! Your child!”

“She’s your little sister!”

“But I AM trying to do something about it. You’re just standing there.”

At this point Djiby concedes to splashing the water towards Khady for me to scrub. Thankfully Absa arrives before any damage is done, bringing soap and more water. Absa scrubs Khady. I scrub my hands.

Once everyone is clean, we continue our playfully controversial conversation. After five minutes of ping-pong between Djiby and me, I asked Absa “Do you think washing the kids is women’s work?” I am fully expecting Girl Power backup.

“Yes.” She states.  It’s as if she doesn’t really understand why I’d ask the question, and is slightly put off by the fact that I’ve been arguing this.

Pause.

Rewind.

Step back.

Assumption.

Again.

I assumed she would be behind me on this, supporting me with a “Yeah! Why can’t you wash the kids?” I projected my thoughts into her, convinced I was arguing FOR her. I should listen and see how Absa feels about her own situation, instead of defending how I would feel in her place.

Thankfully, Djiby isn’t offended. “You say what you think, I’ll say what I think, and in that way we’ll exchange our cultures.” He, like I, enjoys discussions with disagreements. As long as we steer clear of better or worse and focus only on the different, I foresee many pleasantly controversial debates in our future.

Madeleine Balchan