Funny enough, it took a trip to Senegal to have my first tarot card reading. I was lucky to not only have my American parents visit me in January, but also Lukas’s mother, who came to stay with us in our village for a week. In addition to her refreshing company, she was also kind enough to do a 10-card tarot reading for myself, Lucy, and Lukas (the other fellows in my immediate area). I find it irrelevant to ask whether or not tarot cards are actually a means of “higher communication” with the universe, or how much I believe in their spiritual power as the Book of Life of the ancient Egyptians. It adds interest to the practice but really, I am just hungry at this point for any way to sort out this jumbled mess that I call my thoughts and emotions.
I won’t go into the details of the cards or even my personal reading. Really, I think any card pulled out of the deck could inform me in some way of my personality or human nature in general. There was one card in particular, though, that struck a chord with what I am observing around me in my life in Senegal. That card is the Moon XVIII, which represents the battle between authenticity and duty.
The conflict between duty and authenticity is comparable to the conflict between head and heart, obedience and self-direction, I-should versus I-want. An authentic person has the strength to act on their own wishes, whereas a duteous person lives under the direction of everyone else. An authentic person runs the risk of appearing selfish where the duteous person runs the risk of stifling their spirit and self-worth.
Everywhere around me in Senegal, I see people driven by duty. The best and most heartbreaking example I can think of is my cook and host cousin, Bali. She is seventeen years old and the full-time cook for my family and our restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the building next door. Her mother died seven years ago, and her father divorced himself of all responsibility for his children to go live in Touba with a new wife. He would not register the births of his children with the government, so they have never been to school. Bali lived in her grandmother’s compound in Rufisque with her extended family until my host family brought her to live here in Noflaye as our cook four years ago. She is quiet but sassy, playing the radio loud when she sits at the restaurant alone under the blinking Christmas lights, talking back to the neighborhood men who poke their heads in the kitchen door yelling her name asking if lunch is finished yet because it better be good, chattering with Penda, my host sister who is the same age but living a completely different life as a high school student with first-child status in the household.
Bali is bright but I’ve never seen her shine. Her life has been dictated by circumstances out of her control, and she walks the path that has been laid out for her. She knows it too, to a certain extent. As her constant shadow, always present in her kitchen domain, she has confided some pretty significant things to me during the course of my stay. She has told me in so many words how much she dislikes cooking, being stuck in the kitchen or the restaurant while my other siblings are at school or at their friends’ houses. She misses her mother. She dreams about life in America (the TV version), driving a nice car around a nice city with nice clothes, carefree and glamorous. I get the impression that she doesn’t truly know where her happiness lies, and I am wondering if she’ll ever get the freedom or the motivation to find it. I myself feel trapped not knowing how to help her find her passions, yet listening to her secret sorrows, a physical presence where there should be an emotional confidant.
What is saddest to me is that Bali’s story is not unique, in terms of her life history and the fact that she lives with a lack of choices. Everyone in the world, I think, might rightfully pull the Moon XVIII card from their tarot deck, as we all struggle to find authentic happiness in a world full of outside pressures. Unfortunately, the tarot stack does not contain any “immediate solution” cards; each individual voice must resolve the universal conflict.
Meanwhile, during the course of this struggle, you’ll find Bali and I dancing wildly in the kitchen, cracking jokes and stealing French fries from the restaurant plates. Just because everyone has a sob story doesn’t mean we have to spend our lives crying.