(written Mon, Aug 12)
After I wrote yesterday, I took a nap and kind of hid away for a little while. I had more energy when I came down, and ended up having a really nice evening. Again, I mostly hung with the women while they were cooking. Haby Thiam is the leader of the pack; she is 23 though not yet married, which is pretty late. It is more typical to get married by late teens. She shouts at everyone and is talking all the time. It is clear from people’s faces that it is good-natured banter. I have no idea what she is saying, but based on people’s faces and how fast they move (not), I am guessing it is along the lines of “my love, go get me the slotted spoon! I need it, and you must eat! Look at you, you skinny little one - get me the spoon so I can cook for you!” She does it with a sharp tone and a scowl, and then she hugs someone or cracks a beautiful smile. I like her, can you tell?
Ahmadou took off in the evening (“I’m going to go see a friend for a few minutes”), and there I was with 15-ish people I can’t communicate with. For longer than a few minutes, by my standards - but we are in Guinea. I played some hand games with the girls, and they started teaching me a song which I think is the Fulani version of “eenie-meenie-mini-mo.” I got some of it, but not all of it so I asked them to write the words so I could learn it all. Three girls, 12, 12 and 8. None of them could write it. One of the older, male cousins took the pen to write the words for us. And then we sang and sang.
Haby Thiam then invited me into the home to the inside living room - heavily draped; a heavy, ornate living room suite, including 2 couches, matching chairs, and coffee table, a decent sized flat-screened TV on the wall. She started flipping channels, and I shit you not, the Kardashians show up. The cable connection kept breaking because of the rain, though. Thank heavens I didn’t spend the evening watching the Kardashians with Haby Thiam in a place where we had just cooked on charcoal, washed dishes in buckets, and I washed my hands in the inside bathroom from a spigot. I think my head would have exploded.
I figured out that one of the men who picked us up at the airport was one of Ahmadou’s brothers - and who had lived in Boston for nearly 10 years and speaks perfect English! Good gravy, I could have used that helping hand earlier in the day. Let’s just say he is very reserved.
The young men who live here hang out. They hang out in the pavilion and at least one gets up for prayers. They are healthy and handsome young men - who don’t seem to do anything. It is a little hard to figure out because this is a holiday. So I don’t know what is normal, but Ahmadou confirms they don’t really do much. The men sit and stare; scroll their phones, and lay around. Occasionally, a hot topic will spring up, and there will be lots of fast talking about I have no idea what. Ahmadou tells me it is idle chatter. It is hard to figure out how they don’t just do something out of complete boredom - play a game? Play an instrument? Go exercise? (This was an obsession in Dakar.) Ahmadou’s father built this house and made his money through building, selling and renting buildings. He “made it,” and now the extended family lives in this house - and others of his homes.
The women, including girls down to 8 years old, are working constantly. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, washing dishes. Clothes washing is by hand, in the same tubs they wash dishes in, complete with a washboard. The washed clothes are hanging all over the place, on lines, on railings. It has rained twice today already, but all the clothes stay out.
I keep getting challenged with what I feels to me like things that oddly co-exist. Maybe they are not odd; maybe that is my judgement. Last night, I shared my Instagram and Facebook names with Haby Thiam while she was cooking dinner for 20ish in large pots over bits of charcoal. She would toss the charcoal occasionally and wave a fan at it to get it burning, and charcoal bits would float around us. I told her it was like snow. The little girls were right by us, doing chores and excitedly looking at the phones Haby Thiam and I were sharing with each other. I went through all my photos with Hadiatou, an 8-year-old who can’t stop looking at me and then darts her eyes down and covers her smile with her hand when I look back. The little girls finally asked to touch my hair. We were squatting on little plastic stools under an alcove while it rained and rained, and while Haby Thiam stirred, poured, yelled, directed, and scrolled her phone.
On jarama - Fulani for hello, good morning, or thank you. The “on” confers respect. I learned this and then heard it when people greeted each other. And then I started saying it, and now I can greet people.
We leave for Labe as soon as I get registered as a visitor with the US Embassy and we visit a security office to convert my paper visa into a page in my passport. Ahmadou says each thing should take about 10 minutes, but we should plan a day. It is a 6-8 hour drive to Labe.
Love and light,