I can happily say that since moving to Thiabekaare, I have gotten to work more with the land than I ever have in my life before. Once the harvest season ended, around November, and all of the corn, peanuts and cotton fields were picked dry, we moved into the gardening season. I enthusiastically started my own small garden, where now every morning I make sure my cabbage, onions, lettuce, eggplant, spicy peppers and carrots are growing as they are supposed to. As much as I’m enjoying having my own garden to take care of and watch grow, I have to say that even more fun is the community garden. After a bit of a delay, we have also started up our village-wide garden, which consists of all the families of the village getting together and planting a giant array of vegetables, which, once ready, will be distributed evenly between each family to eat or to sell. The garden is a bit of a walk away from the village, on a rocky road.
When we first started walking to the garden, it was to dig up the land and de-weed. I was often quiet on these walks. Listening intently, trying to understand as much Pulaar as I could, it was a struggle to understand what exactly people were saying to me. I would spend a lot of time noticing the trail- an interesting tree or a beautiful rock catching my attention and holding it as the sun set magnificently over the mountains. Next came the planting of the seeds. During these walks, I was louder, more outgoing. Feeling more comfortable every day with my Pulaar skills, I would use the walk as a time to ask questions. I learned a lot about the politics of the country and the logistics of farming and gardening on the land here. I learned during one especially memorable conversation with one of the oldest women in the village, who looks to be 110 years old but still works with the youthful energy of a teenager every day, the Pulaar attitude on spirituality beyond religion.
Next came the watering. Now, every day, other than general maintenance, we lug watering cans from the river to water the vast garden. During this stage is when I truly, truly began to feel at home. I get yelled at by my mom for forgetting to shut the gate and letting the sheep in, teased by my brothers almost non-stop and have hut dance parties with my friends, which are as completely ridiculous, if not more so, as dance parties I’ve had with my American friends. These walks are full of laughter and banter. I remember piggy-backing my friend over a small stream, and stumbling on a rock, both of us both falling and getting very wet. Once when a car of foreigners drove by on the road, a rare occurrence, one of my best friends stopped and started laughing. “Batouly, for one second I forgot you’re not from here,” she said. My favorite thing is when I am speaking to someone who has known me from the beginning of my time here, from my tentative greetings and constant repetition of the phrase “I do not understand” and they stop and say “Batouly, now you really know Pulaar.” The Pulaar culture being a very physical one, these walks are filled with being chased and chasing my friends and neighbors, ducking friendly slaps and refusing calls of “Batouly, come here!” because I know that they will be followed by a well-placed insult or, every now and then, a surprisingly firm head-lock from an elderly lady.
Full of laughter, of joking, of marriage proposals and of practical jokes, the daily sunset walk to the garden has become one of my favorite times of day. Our plants are almost ready now. I know that this experience cannot last forever, but I do not believe that my learning here is finished. Actually having the vegetables was the main goal, but maintaining the garden has done nothing but enhanced my days to the very core. We had originally planted the garden for the end result, but something different and perhaps more valuable has grown alongside the plants.