Before I settled into my apprenticeship, I took a tour of Ross Bethio with one of my advisors. When we walked into one of the rooms of the elementary school, sixty or so ten-year olds stood up and chimed “Bonjour Madame Prof” in relative unison. Hmm, I thought. This was not the apprenticeship I had been given… My advisor remained expressionless and leaned against the side of the door. “Commence” he said and raised his eyebrows. I literally gaped. I was playing freeze-teach, unable to move, in need of someone to tag me.
I don’t know how I got from there to writing the conjugation of “to be” on the chalkboard, but I had only gotten to “he is” when I saw a tiny hand twirl in and out of my peripheral spheres. I didn’t even know how to call on him in Wolof, so I pointed awkwardly. In short, he told me that this wasn’t English class.
“Francais?” I asked. It wasn’t French class either. I considered just bolting through the door, but my advisor was rather large, and the door rather tiny. I decided against it.
As I had stared at him in contemplation, a smile had begun to form until he slapped his knees and yelled “Joost Keeding!” and the kids fell to the floor in heaving gasps of laughter. I hated my advisor for a few safe hours after that, and also every time he tells the story.
On Tabaski, my brother Samba brought me out, to our front yard, where I could see eight small ditches prepared, like empty plates of doom. You see, there is this sheep. There is this black sheep that loves to claw all up on the only window in my room from the outside and then tell me about it, very loudly, all day and all of the night. I for some reason know how to complain about it in Wolof, and it’s kind of a daily joke with my host momma. My neighbor grabbed the sheep and pushed it down by one of the ditches so that it’s neck was neatly placed directly over it, and he pointed at me and screamed “This is for Ndeye Bator Diop (my Wolof name)!”, at which point my other neighbor began sawing at the sheeps neck. What?! I think-screamed. Don’t you dare sacrifice that thing in my name. I looked at the bleeding sheep and it was pointing at me with its eyes, saying you did this to me!
I stopped worrying about what I supposed to be feeling when everyone started laughing “See? Now he’s quiet”. Good thing my family had seven other sentenced sheep to make me feel better.
You know what though? I didn’t wake up once that night- slept like a baby.
I knew it was going to be a good day because it was my host-mom’s birthday and I had brownie mix. Things like that don’t happen in preparation of a bad day. After I showed my little sister Bintu and my friend Aida what I had, we walked three blocks straight into somebody’s kitchen and waited. No big deal. Soon after, a woman came in. I know this woman very well because she owns the boutique that sometimes has muffins. That’s right, muffins. She smiled after we explained our time-sensitive project, and pointed to her gas ‘cuisinier’. After fifteen minutes the woman came in and opened the oven. “Ready!” she boomed and reached her hands inside. I flinched. Then she began inching the trays forward with her fingertips until she straight up held one in her hands. Weirdly instinctively I threw my arms about her. Retrospectively, I’m not sure what my plan was – give her the Heimlich or tackle her to the ground. Even with a running start I probably couldn’t have moved the muffin lady an inch. Instead, I disentangled my arms and said “Careful!” but I knew it came out like a question. She stood staring, the tray still in her hands, threw back her head and laughed. After what felt like an hour, my sister choked, trying to catch her breath. The muffin lady put down the tray and dramatically wiped the back of her hand to her forehead, “You saved my life! Ndeye Bator- the hero!” On our way back home, it was necessary to account the recent adventure to each we passed. A few times, we even went out of our way – crossing the road or calling out “Guess what Ndeye Bator did?” They would cry, tears running down their cheeks. “Yeah, frickin’ hilarious” I would mumble in addition. When my mom got home from work, we ate the brownies, giggling in recollection. They were frickin’ delicious.
Playing with Fire:
I had just gotten back from a long monthly meeting in Dakar, when my little sister Bintu stormed in to welcome me home. She pointed at the candle on my table, and asked if I wanted another. “Sure!” I replied. I continued writing the college essay which had become a sarcastic joke, as if I could possibly describe how I was feeling at any point during this crazy revolution of emotion. When Bintu returned, the ‘candle’ she held was blue. “Oh that’s pretty! Where did you, wait, is that a – ” I stopped. But it was too late, she had lit it and everything went into even slower motion than usual as the fuse began to disintegrate. Before I could even mumble out my fear, sparks went shooting towards my ceiling, bed, suitcase, her, and me. Our screams united into one glorious beacon of excitement and I chased her out of my room as if I too were ten years old. We watched the rest of the firework outside in the dirt, where it was safer. I smiled and looked up as the stars became clouded by the smoke of the colored flares, and felt at home again.