Trip Start Mar 15, 2005
27Trip End Apr 01, 2007
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Though no great adventures have taken place in the last two months(that immediately come to mind) , i thought it was about time to post an update to let everyone know im still plugging along here in Kolda.
I think i'll use this update to explain some of the cultural differences that have been giving me the most interesting experiences of late. Im fairly certain i've mentioned the importance of traditional medicine and what i'll call 'alternative solutions' to social problems, but considering my recent dilemas in the work place i believe the topic deserves a return visit.
physical illness as well as social disputes, (family, community,even sports teams)are believed by many to be susceptible to the manipulation of 'lekki', which most closely corresponds to a mix between the english words 'medicine' and 'magic'. This lekki is made by a maribout or ceerno for a fee, and usually requires him to have a discussion with the requesting party, then lock himself in his hut anywhere from one night to several days creating the talisman. The talisman (gris gris) is often times a piece of paper with a scripture written in Arabic pertaining to the situation (as seen by the maribout). The scripture is then taken and given to a special tailor in the market place who specializes in wrapping it with leather and sewing it shut so that it can be strapped to the body, burried, or hidden depending on the prescription given with it.
I apologize if some of this is repeated information from my update concerning the egg i was told to throw into the street to protect my father's health (which as you remember..i did..better safe than sorry) but there is a reason im repeating some of it..im getting there.
My official job description here in Kolda is to help promote and deveolop gardening techniques with my Senegalese co workers. There has been a push to spread micro gardening technologies to larger cities in an attempt to aid local families without the space or proper soil types for traditional gardening. For those of you who dont know about micro gardening i'll give a quick description:
We build tables a meter by a meter using old wood salvaged from cargo pallets. they are about nine cm deep (which has proven to be enough for the root systems of most plants)and stand half a meter off the ground. These tables are then lined with plastic and a drain is installed to prevent flooding in the rainy season. They are then filled with a mixture of peanut shells and gravel (for aeration) and rice hulls if available. The peanut and rice hulls both hold water much more efficiently than soil alone.
As you can imagine, the plants grown in these tables require an outside source of nutrients. So far we have been using a combination of Micro and Macro nutrient solutions available in Dakar. Given daily these solutions contain all that plants need to thrive.(in theory)
My obstacles in the work place have been largely tied to finding a way to reduce cost because the micro and macro solutions are very expensive, and thus very hard to 'sell' as a new technique. Kolda gets plenty of rain fall. in fact, more so than most places in the entire country. People here know how to garden, and they have the space and soil to be very successful. Micro gardening isnt the most practical technique for this region.
Are you wondering where this ties in to traditional medicine?
I work every day with one Senegalese man in his fifties (we'll call him Lamine). He loves gardening, and despite his quirks..which im about to explain, is a very kind hearted and generous person. That said,
going to the garden has been a tension filled experience recently because Lamine is finacially dependent on our garden revenue which probably averages..two to three American dollars a month. He knows we could be making more money, but because we are a demonstration site for the technology of micro gardening we arent using our soil and space in the most efficient way...
It started with a midnight thief who entered our garden and stole a significant portion of lettuce. The next morning i assumed Lamine would be fairly upset by the loss however he strode slowly through the garden examining the holes in our tables where heads of lettuce had been hastily ripped out. I asked him what he was thinking. He was planning to correct the problem he replied. He picked up on my bewilderment and explained that by going to a ceerno he could have lekki made so that when the thief returned to the garden (either to steal again, or just passing by) he would be easily identifiable because the garden would grab him and not let him go. Im not sure exacly what that means..
But that night Lamine didnt go home after we had finished our watering. He stayed until dark and started a fire. Then he went to see the ceerno and while the ceerno worked on a gris gris he went home and ate supper. At about eleven thirty he got out of bed and made an excuse to his wife about being worried about the fire he set in the garden so that it wouldnt seem odd that he was going back. He stopped by the ceerno's home and carried his new gris gris to the garden to be burried at exactly midnight. I know this because Lamine enjoys telling me about these little excursions. I get the sense he wants me to understand that he, and all people have the potential to be more powerful than the limitations of their physical presence.
After the gris gris had been planted Lamine began doing strange things at the garden. I have a theory about why but suppose i will never know for certain. I think that the tension between the two of us made him suspicious of my motives and he feared that i would share with my boss the trouble we'd been having. In order to confuse me, or perhaps to frighten or frustrate me further he began pulling plants out because they werent growing fast enough, cutting all of the leaves off of certain plants to get rid of infestations (instead of treating them), laughing quietly to himself while watering or weeding..it was odd..(and the quiet laughter was quite disturbing). At the time i attributed these new behaviors (in addition to general grumpiness and resentment towards me for trying to get him to stop killing our garden with his strange new pruning methods) to complete loss of sanity. We started to argue daily, and i started avoiding the garden when i knew he'd be there to maintain my own mental health.
Looking back im sure the whole situation was a result of mutual frustration, and neither of us hold any hard feelings (we've discussed all of our differences and all of Lamines weird behaviors..minus the giggling..im letting that go) And have come to the conclusion that even though we're a demonstration site we need to be making money. I brought the issue up with my boss and we agreed that i could reduce the amount of tables and peanut shells to cut costs and use those resources to produce more efficient gardening space.
Before this tension was resolved however the threat of black magic being used against me was thrown out on the table.
One morning after being particularly testy with Lamine for making up some biological 'truths' about the egg plants he came over to me and began to explain in a very calm voice that the volunteer before me who he had worked with was also disagreeable, and Lamine had gone to a ceerno to resolve the situation. He assured me that the volunteer had terminated his service early and left this country becasue of the magic Lamine had invoked. It was implied that i was headed down that same path, and if one of us was going to leave the garden it would be me and not Lamine.
Its hard to explain the feelings this kind of threat brought out in me. I am a fairly logical person..i like rules, science, fact..etc. But when faced with someone elses complete faith that they can produce a medicine to cause the course of my life to change..
I decided to react to the situation in a way i knew many of my Senegalese friends would have reacted in order to learn a little more about the mystical side of this culture. I talked it over with my friend Hamady who lives in a village about 12 km from kolda and comes into town once in a while with the volunteer who lives near him. His grandfather knows how to write the protection and health scriptures for gris gris and agreed to prepare a protection talisman for me. Once the scripture was written it was given to Hamady with instructions..it wasnt to touch the hand of any woman before it was wrapped, not even me. Out of respect for his time and work I gave Hamady 500 cfa to give to his grandfather(about one dollar) with which he was very pleased. Hamady rode his bike into the market and found the tailor who was still at home and not planning on working that day. He was convinced to do Hamady a favor and had my gris gris bound in leather and attached to a small black cord the perfect size for my waist within the hour.
It is tied around my waist as i write this..
I cant say i feel the protection of the gris gris, but i can say i now have a better understanding of the emotions and fears that result when someone feels threatened, and when they take steps to protect themselves. Ceernos are very serious about their work and their strong belief in what they are doing is very convincing.
As for Lamine and the garden..things have settled down and we have both been working hard to bring some profit for his family.
Hope this update finds you all in good health and spirits!