What’s Mine is Yours

Madelaine Guss - Senegal


February 11, 2013

The culture that surrounds lending, borrowing, giving, and taking within Segou and the surrounding villages startled me at first. Nobody seemed to ask for anything, but rather demanded that it was given to them. The language translates to “give me your,” or “I want that, give it to me.” At first I thought this demanding tone was taken with me only because I am an American, and assumed to have more, but after listening to and observing interactions between community members, I realized that this tone was a normality.

I was uneasy leaving my well known world of “may I,” “could you,” “would you be willing (I mean…if you get the chance,)” for the new and direct “you-have-it-gimmie-it,” but soon found myself embracing this new approach. Not quite comfortable demanding things of people just yet, I began giving and lending to every person who asked. Many times after having something demanded of me, I would precede to heed to their request, only to have them laugh and tell me they were only kidding. Though this was the case quite often, there were causalities in the form of bracelets and pens which haven’t been seen since. Other items such as my jacket, bicycle, and backpack found their way back after a couple days.

Material items are only one third of the pie though, leaving food and favors as the other two thirds. The most startling experience I had happen while I was making the 18 mile bike ride into the neighboring city of Kedougou. Around the halfway mark I was stopped by a rather heavy set woman who told me to carry her the rest of the way to the city. Thinking she must be joking too, I proceeded to tell her of course and to hop on back. Minutes later I found myself making the trek with Aissatou straddling my back, arms around my waist, wearing my backpack. We arrived around 90 minutes after my original ETA, me, a giant pile of sweat and Assaitou searching my bag while requesting, money for bread.

While it may seem I have a negative reaction to this, I really don’t. I have always been an extremely cautious person when it comes to asking things of people, worrying about causing inconveniences, managing to use “may I,” “could you,” “would you be willing” all in one request. Now I feel I have really adapted a bit of Assaitou’s mentality. If it’s extremely hot and I’m looking at another 9 miles of walking, yeah I’m going to stop the person speeding by on their bicycle for a ride (though I may offer to bike some of the way).

Madelaine Guss