This Woman’s Work

Miniya Ali - Senegal


November 1, 2017

The wait to receive the slip of paper that would detail our host family members names and ages was one of the most anxious and nerve-wrecking times of my life. What kind of people would we be staying with for the next eight months? Since I was one of the last people to receive my paper I could over hear other fellows talk about the cool jobs their host parents had. Some were principals and others were village chiefs. Some fellows even had multiple host moms. This made me even more eager to find out what my host parents would be like. My team leader finally handed me the paper with the front facing the ground. The number of siblings in total was five and the number of host parents one. A woman by the name of Adama Sene. As soon as I saw this I asked my team leader why I didn’t have a host dad, and he told me that the man who would have been my host dad died last year. I was disappointed. Not because I wanted a host dad, but because I felt like I would be a burden for a woman who was already raising five kids by herself. I grew up with a single mother, so I was somewhat familiar with the hardships that come with it. Truthfully, if it was anything like I knew, I couldn’t possibly understand why she would take on another child. As the weeks passed by and I was finally settled into life with my host family, I decided to do a miniature observational study. What were the similarities and differences between the experience of a single black American woman and a single black Senegalese woman? Would my time growing up in a one parent household in America bear any resemblance to my eight month stay in Senegal?

 

    I had never truly seen the “It takes a village to raise a child” proverb play out so beautifully as I have in Senegal. My host mother is one of the many people in Touba Toul who make the emotional well being of my host siblings their top priority. My eleven year old host sister is surrounded and nurtured by the women of the village. In the daytime they teach her how to wash clothes and at night they braid her hair. They guide her in making traditional foods and adjust her taibas when it’s lopsided. The men of the village act as an anchor for my host brothers. When they need a medium to release all of the pent up masculine energy, they are there to teach them the wrestling style of laamb. And when it’s time to discipline them, one or two men come over at any hour of the day to give them long lectures. The village is constantly checking in to comfort my host mother whether it’s through advice, money, or sparring some extra chere. They formed a network in order to ensure that the most important thing, the children, are thriving.

 

    This is vastly different than my experience growing up in a single parent home in America. All of the lessons and values that the village works so hard to instil was enforced and reinforced by my mother. Every decision she had to make was pretty much made alone. She single handedly monitored our emotional health by constantly asking “How are you feeling inside” or “Is there anything you need to talk about.” Although she shouldn’t have had to, my mother was my village, and this makes me appreciate her even more. I know it wasn’t easy to juggling everything, and playing multiple roles to make sure my sister and I were well but frankly I believe she did an incredible job. This gap year has allowed me to stand outside and observe the world of two polar opposite experiences. It’s also allowed a new love for the power of community to blossom inside me.

Miniya Ali