Yesterday morning, I decided to visit a village about an hour bike ride from me. I had worked with this village to teach them how to successfully create and maintain a vegetable garden; a local NGO had given them the money to build a fence and purchase materials but had neglected the important fact of training the women in the necessary skills. Last year, I visited them about twice a month to provide advice and check on the garden’s status. However, since the rainy season began in early July I have not been back for two reasons: the dirt paths have large holes that are often filled with water making biking very difficult and the women are all in their fields working rather than in the garden or at their homes. I’ve seen some of the women at the weekly market or in town, and they’ve asked when I’ll come visit them again. I decided that it was finally time for me to return.
The cold season has begun, so nights and mornings have become chilly. So I pulled myself out of my sleeping bag, went to fetch water to shower (the water left in the bucket overnight is too cold to shower with in the morning, and I prefer the warmer water from the tap – my host family boils water to mix in with the tap water so that it’ll be even warmer to shower with), and left my village around 8. After a stop at my favorite bean sandwich lady in the nearby town for a delicious breakfast of beans on bread with a cup of quinquilliba coffee (not sure why it’s called coffee-it’s actually a leaf tea, and I get it mixed with milk, so it’s a delicious way to start the day), I headed down the dirt path to the village. I love this bike ride because the paths are not well traveled so I can get lost in my thoughts as I go. I have to pass through one village on the way (a Pulaar-speaking village), and they all called to me by name as they see me and commented that it’s been awhile. I was nearly at my destination when I saw a group of women heading toward me on the path. I realized they’re from the village I’m going to, but they were all headed to the field to harvest their peanuts. I’d thought by getting my early start and arriving before 9:30, I’d be able to catch them before they left; then my main friend in the village would have remained with me for the day rather than heading to her field. They informed me that she’d already left, and there were no women in the village. Nonplussed, I continued into the village, greeted the men, left an oral message to greet my friend, and decided to continue further into the bush.
I’ve wanted to venture to these further villages for a while but never had the opportunity. With no work to do in this village, I was excited to be able to explore and to roam around on my bike. I asked for directions to a nearby large village and headed down that path. Somehow, I must have missed a turn (there are lots of side trails off the main trails that villagers use to head to their fields), and I ended up on a narrow, very bumpy trail that is closed-in tightly by weeds. I was enjoying the adventure though and continued until I saw a women working with her children in the fields. I called to her and inquired about the village. She instructed me to cut across a few fields (requiring me to walk my bike since the fields have heavily grooved in neat lines), and I soon met up with the main path. I crossed through a small village and nearly an hour after I left my friend’s village, I entered this large village. Here, too, all the women were in the field, and I stopped to speak to a group of men. I asked them what village lay beyond theirs and inquired about the path. I then continued to this next village. When I arrived there, I stopped to speak to a group of men under a tree. I asked them where the next village was, but they laughed. I could take the path to my left, which would lead me into Gambia, or I could continue straight for a very short bit before I’d hit water. This area has an extremely high water table at just 1.5 meters. This encloses them from other Senegalese villages, but it allows them easy access to water for gardening; in the dry season, they have huge plots of onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, tomatoes, etc. that they sell at the Senegalese weekly markets but also as far away as Banjul. They also have access to fresh fish as a result, which I’m reminded of as a donkey cart piled high with fish passes by. I stand and talk with these men for awhile. They asked about where I live, and then they inquired about friends and family who live in my village. My village is just 400 people, yet several people knew members of my community. We talked about my work, their village, and the harvest. After awhile, I decided it’s time to head back. Doo xar ane? (You won't wait for lunch?) They insisted that I should wait for lunch or at least until the women returned so that I could speak with them (and also for me to return and lead health lessons in their village), but I had my girls’ club in the afternoon and was a 2-hour bike ride from home. I declined their offer and continued home.
I passed through the large village again, and the men inquired about my visit to the other village and also insist that I stay for lunch. I declined again and continue on my way. I decided to take a different path back to town to see new places. It was hot by this point, and my water bottle was nearly empty. The landscape was beautiful, and I enjoyed how spaced out the villages are, but my mouth was parched. I was very happy when I passed through another village. I stopped at a compound, greeted the woman, and asked for water. She brought me out a full liter cup, and I stood there, gulping it down. Meanwhile, other people in her house returned from the fields, and they all greeted me; no one as surprised at my presence in their compound drinking water. I returned the now-empty cup to her, and she asked if I had a water bottle that she could fill. I happily handed mine over. She insisted that I should wait for lunch. I thanked her, declined the offer, and continued on my way. Finally, I reached the town and then continued to my village. It was now 2:00, and I had arrived just in time for my first of the two lunches I always eat. I was exhausted after having ridden my bike for nearly 5 hours, much of it through very sandy areas (and some parts so sandy I had had to walk my bike as I trudged through), but it was a great adventure. It reminded me of how generous and welcoming Senegalese people are.