I can tell exactly what time it is in the morning by the sounds that permeate through our walls and single grated window. Around 6:15, the call to prayer is broadcasted through music and voices on a stereo speaker from the mosque. With this awakening comes the fresh cockadoodle-doos of the many roosters in our yard and the few hee-haws of donkeys down the street. I swear that I can hear Zenaib’s friend the donkey from our home two blocks away. The animals announce their survival in this dusty world before setting out to forage freely on the streets—goats, donkeys, and chickens alike. Fifteen minutes later, the chanting and prayer begins. Around seven, I hear the weavers, laughing doves, starlings, and house sparrows start their dawn chorus just as the women in my home begin to rise to their many house chores. Fati sweeps the entire galle grounds—sweeping dirt away from dirt. Binta tokosel scrubs the latrines and shower with palm tree brooms and powdered laundry detergent. I wake at seven also to sweep and get our water for the day. After prayer, the whole town comes to life and I can hear the cars passing, people chatting, cooking, and cleaning.
The cat of the house has a litter of kittens—ulundu tokosel (little cat). Nayi. Four of them. She keeps them on the roof of the kitchen under the shade of the mango tree. One night she somehow got stuck on the roof of the other building where everyone sleeps. And she ran back and forth over the corrugated metal roof, meowing to her kittens and making a huge racket. It sounded like a chimpanzee charging across the roof in an absolute fury.
When Senegalese drink tea or coffee, it is imperative to add a large quantity of sugar. At breakfast, my family fills their cups of tea or instant coffee one-quarter full of sugar. My aunt always leans over to taste my tea, makes a distasteful grimace, and says moyyani. Moyyi means it is good. Moyyani means the opposite.
The green mangoes taunt us. They hang heavy–huge green full luscious mangoes, not yet ripe but promising to soon turn sweet yellow. Kids eat them green even when it makes them sick. Some kids tap into them with sticks to see just how close they are to being ripe. The sweet syrups congeal into thick honey-like drips on the sides. One morning, my younger brother Pop confronted Sidi about the mangoes. A couple large ones were missing from the front of the tree. Sidi says it was not him. Pop ran to get the Koran, chasing after Sidi with the holy book, yelling in Wolof that he wanted Sidi to swear on the Koran that he did not eat the mangoes. We found our culprit. Sidi won’t do it, he’s backing away uneasily into the yard.
There are two tasks in Senegal that are quite easy in America but quite difficult in Senegal: washing clothes and cutting onions. Washing clothes is a huge process. There are usually about two soap buckets—one with a bar soap, and the second with the powder detergent. Then after that a bucket with some blue dye in it to make the whites “pop.” And after that possibly another rinse cycle. I do not understand it. When the women wash, they rub their two fists together with fabric between and get theses mini water jets that squeak with each motion up and down. Each pump and squeeze of water makes this “clean” sound. I can’t get it. Mi waawa wuppude (I cannot do laundry). I fake it and use my mouth to make the squeaking sounds. My girl cousins laugh.
And cutting onions. Impossible. There are no cutting boards. They cut, holding the onion in their palms, cutting first parallel slices one way (the way one would slice an orange) and then dice it cutting parallel lines the other direction perpendicular to the first cuts. Maama has cuts all over her thumbs from this.
Pulaar is incredibly hard. I feel like my learning curve has decreased to absolute zero. As proof, I have the following example of three similar words: there is the word laabi (with a funky b) which means “clear or clean;” then there is laabi (without the funky b), meaning “number of times;” and finally there is labi (with a funky b), meaning “knife.” The only differences are how long the a is stressed, and if there is a short b. The funky b has a bit of a pop to it, whereas the regular b drags a little. I can barely hear the difference. If it weren’t for context, this language would be absolutely impossible. Another challenge is how the first consonant of verbs changes. When the subject pronoun comes after the verb or is plural, the first letter of the verb changes. For instance mi soodii (I bought) will morph into min coodii (we bought). Or o wiyete ko Samba (he is called Samba) becomes mbiyete mi ko Kumba (I am called Kumba) because the subject pronoun mi comes after the verb instead of before.
I am starting a list of items here that have Obama on them (they love him out here!):
-a lighter with his face
-a school notebook with his face + name
-a textile company named after him
-a rice company also