Reading Hemingway on the Savannah

Janet Sebastian-Coleman - Senegal


November 23, 2015

November 6th 2015

 

I look over the cover of A Moveable Feast as my sister Rama and her friend Sally Ba dance into the compound holding out bowls full of guavas. There’s a guava tree down the hill from the compound; when I go to the well to get water for my bath I can just see it, its branches arching over to the right and often the forms of my siblings below, flicking in and out of view as they pick as many guavas as they can carry. I carefully fold the corner of my page and take a guava – the romance of Paris can wait.

 

A few weeks ago Ruby, my fellow fellow, texted me promising to bring me A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway when we saw each other next. Somehow she knew I was a total sucker for Paris in the 1920s or maybe I’m more clearly a romantic than I thought.

 

A good novel is consuming and some moments I need the head space a good story provides. Its easier to process reality when you’ve been out of it for a while. I’ll always love Paris but I’m just as happy to set the book aside and watch the light softly change over the mountain as night arrives and my sisters share little smiles as they munch on fresh fruit.

 

There is as much simple beauty in my daily life as in the cafés of Paris. The mornings and evenings have grown a chilly blue, but when I walk home across the village at one o’clock the golden sun still tans my arms. Each night as the darkness blows in, one of the women in my household builds a fire outside and begins dinner, everything holds a blue tint except for this orange glow. As many interesting characters walk through my compound and through the streets of 1920s Paris. Each morning and evening a line of women walks through our compound exchanging greetings on their way to the well.

 

I write this under the shady tree in the center of our compound. There’s no red wine or good coffee to accompany the work, but my Nenee is pounding the rice harvested this week from my Baaba’s fields. No grand boulevards, but every morning I can pick out the kitchen huts out of the purple-gray roofs by the smoke rising from them and mixing with the morning mist.

 

More than making me want to take a plane to Paris, Hemingway makes me want to write well about Senegal, write well about life. I know this time is as special and as limited as his early years in Paris. Post by post, I seek to capture a little bit of truth, a little bit of the life of Ibel. These small stories may only be the notes for the greater conclusions I will draw about myself, my time here, and people as whole. Glancing at the publishing date, 1964, I’m reassured its not necessary nor possible to know or seek the whole truth of my year right now, I can live in the peace of knowing I’m saving memories of a beautiful and limited time.

 

Janet Sebastian-Coleman