Social Security

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


March 15, 2011

JAN 11
Today, like many other mornings, as we finish breakfast of Café Touba and bread, Absa, my “tanta” (dad’s 2nd wife) hands me a small teapot full of Café touba and tells me to take it to Baay Sier, my uncle.
I slip on my sandals and trudge through the sandy street to our larger family compound. It’s only a minute walk if I slide through the back entrance, being sure to walk around the front side of their house, duck under any laundry hanging on the clothes line and pass through the half-built new rooms.
I shake hands with all 9 people lounging outside, siting on mats, separating peanuts, or walking by with buckets full of lunch ingredients.
“Nafi! Nafi!” they call.  I can’t make my way around to greet everyone fast enough as they test my Wolof by asking about the morning’s activities so far. I give Baay Sier the coffee, as I’ve done many times before. He smiles and asks if I made it and what my plans are for the day. Questions, questions, questions – I tell everyone I’m sorry but I have to go to work at 9. Fifteen minutes later I’m back home.
I ask my dad, “Djiby, we bring Maam Away and Baay Sier dinner and coffee all the time. How come no one likes you enough to bring you food?” I was joking of course.
“Cause they’re old” he responded.
It’s tradition. Baay Sier and Maam Awa have the means to take care of themselves, but we bring them food anyway. Baay Sier, 71, is Djiby’s older brother by 33 years. Their mother, Maam Awa, doesn’t even know how old she is.
There is no such thing as a “Social Security System” here.  An “Old Folks Home” is beyond their conception or comprehension. Here, you respect and obey your parents without question, and as they age you nurse them yourself.  It is true social security.

Madeleine Balchan