The Watermelon Complex

Kyra Halpenny - Senegal


December 9, 2014

Ndande, Senegal – October 20, 2014

A note to all those who love watermelon:

Fruit here is a luxury, so when it is available it is cheap in the beginning, but as the season comes to an end, the prices increase, as I saw happen with the mangoes our first month in Dakar.

Here in Senegal watermelon or xal, season recently began. My apprenticeship is with the Case des Tout Petits de Ndande and behind the largest classroom there was a sea of round, pale, green watermelons still suckling their vines. They were splayed out around painted tires and hibiscus plants, dominating the back area. They varied in size from fitting into my hand to being larger than my head. The day I officially started my work, I tasted my first Senegalese watermelon. Now, it had been a while since I had eaten watermelon, mainly because it had never been that palatable to me. That first Senegalese watermelon with juicy red flesh, sprinkled with black seeds was honestly the sweetest I have ever tasted.

Happily I returned to my house with one held securely in my grasp to share with my family. Not two days later, I saw multiple street vendors had mountains of them stacked 10 or 15 high. And not just for one day, but they seemed to multiply overnight and the mounds grew larger! The price then was 100 CFA for a large melon or $0.20 USD.

It continued that way for two weeks, and each day I left theCase des Tout Petits de Ndande carrying a plump melon in the crook of my arm, careful not to let it tumble to the pavement and suffer the fate of decorating the route national with its innards. My family and I would enjoy our communal lunch, and afterwards, while relaxing on the bassangue (a colorful woven mat), a knife would be brought to divide the melon amongst us. Each one has seemed as sweet as the one before and I am happy to have some fruit added to my diet after mango season ended the last week of September. It is a rarity to find fresh fruit in our town of 1,500, but as the season goes on spoiled melons and rinds are being diced, then fed to the sheep. The price remains 100 CFA and there are still plenty to go around for the community.

Update November 12, 2014: The season has continued for another two weeks and I can officially say that I am made of watermelon! There is still watermelon, although much less of it and because of this the price has gone up to 1000 CFA or $2.00 USD, so my family and I have only bought them once or twice. Having a slice a day was great, but the season is coming to an end, and I am looking forward to see what is in store next.

Kyra Halpenny