Learning to Walk

Aly Counsell - Senegal


December 30, 2013

November 5, 2013

It was a typical evening in Ndande, the village where I have been living since the beginning of October.  I had just eaten a dinner of cere, which is a coarse couscous-like dish made from millet flour, and I was sitting on a straw mat watching TV with my family, when suddenly my aunt walked into the compound and, after greeting us told me to come with her.  I got up and went with her, assuming that she was taking me to the store, which is a frequent evening activity in my family. But when we stepped outside of the compound, three of my other aunts were standing waiting for us.  When we reached them, they stopped and the four of them talked for a minute, and they suddenly started walking in the opposite direction of the store.  I was a little surprised by this and very curious to see where we were going.  I walked through the village with them, occasionally kicking up sand with my worn flip-flops and having to remind myself to relax my pace to fall back in step with my strolling aunts.  They chattered loudly in Wolof as we weaved along the sandy paths between the seemingly endless rows of houses separated by concrete and brick compound walls.  Wishing I could understand what they were saying, I watched their faces and listened intently, relishing the joy of hearing a word I recognized, and chuckling, despite my confusion, whenever they roared with contagious laughter.

Several minutes later, after we had walked deeply into part of the village I had never been to before, my aunts exchanged a few words and suddenly stopped walking.  I stopped abruptly too, having completely missed our reason for stopping, but wanting to follow along.  We stayed there for while, and though my feet fidgeted slightly in the sand, my aunts were still and spoke quietly with each other.  Then after a while, they turned around and started walking back towards our house.

I was incredibly confused. Why had we just walked to the other side of the village and back for no reason?  Did we forget something and now we’d turned back to get it?  Were we trying to find something or someone but hadn’t been successful?  Why, when we stopped, did we wait and talk before turning back?  Why was it so urgent that we do this???

A part of me wanted nothing more than to be able to ask these questions, but as soon as I had that thought, I realized that it really didn’t matter why we were walking—the stars and moon were glowing magnificently above us, a slight breeze blew the wonderfully cool air that had baked me only hours ago, and the only sounds I heard were the beautiful chorus of the crickets chirping, the murmurs of families together in their compounds, and my aunts laughing joyously.  It was a beautiful night and I was enjoying the company of everything that surrounded me on my walk; and with contentment like that, why would I ever need a reason for walking?

In the coming months, I anticipate having plenty of walks like this one, though soon, I’ll be able to understand what my friends and relatives are saying in Wolof and express my own thoughts to them.  Soon, I’ll be able to ask all the questions that I had last night.  But something tells me that by the time that day comes, I will have learned to adopt the Senegalese way of life, and those questions won’t even cross my mind.

Aly Counsell