Monday, February 6, 2012

A trip to Bambey

Pape's mother and visiting toubab
Pape and his aunt

For the holiday of the prophet’s birthday, Pape and I went to Bambey, the village (now town) he group up in. The drive was a 4-5 hour slog through miserable traffic including a detour on the new tollway, opened in one direction for the holiday but still sand in other sections.  On the main road every available vehicle was pressed into service moving people from Dakar to the countryside- from bikes and three wheeled motorcycles w/ open containers on the back filled with 5 or 6 people, to mopeds and horse or donkey carts to all forms of public transportation pressed from local service in Dakar to distance service for the weekend.  Many large buses with roof racks were filled beyond capacity and had people hanging on the back and riding in the luggage racks above.  A few cargo and cattle trucks as well as dump trucks were filled, too.  The exodus looked a bit like a refugee evacuation at times.  

We arrived at the mosque where Pape's Mouride marabout was positioned in a back room meeting with people while a large group crowded the anteroom and more stood outside.  Marabout lead Islamic sects somewhat like Franciscans or Benedictines, except with charismatic leadership handed down from father to son.  Many people display affiliations on their cars or in murals or on the wildly painted buses. In many ways, the Marabouts operate as a second government, and their role in the current election was highlighted by the lists in the papers today of marabout who called for change and those who didn’t.

On these holidays, they take a specific local government roll settling disputes about money, or family or marriage.  Pape has a long history with this marabout, having first followed his father and now being part of the son's congregation, so we were ushered into the back room immediately where he was taking petitions and making subtle judgments on each.  Entering the room, I was shown a chair to sit in, but I noticed that everyone else was on the floor.  I signaled that I’d be fine on the floor, but my position as outsider seemed to exempt me from that deference.  I did, however, quickly adopt the downcast eyes and the open hand gestures that ended each petition.  It felt as close to approaching royalty as I’m likely to experience.  In what was apparently a remarkable gesture, he said Pape and I should go to his house.  We followed the assistants there, and waited in his bedroom which held but one chair and a bed.  After perhaps a half hour of uncertain waiting, a large platter of grain and beef was brought in and placed on a cloth on the floor, and Pape and I ate.  Yes, it was odd sitting on the floor between bed and wall eating lunch, and even Pape seemed uncertain about the protocol or implication.  Eventually, we were led back to the room for a brief interview with the Serigne, as marabout are called.  His top aid, a childhood friend of Pape’s, told us about the Koranic schools in America that they had created, and said that on their next trip to the US in July, he hoped to be able to meet with me to discuss possibilities.  The purpose of the conversation remained quite general, and I had to ask Pape what I had implicitly agreed to do in my deferential head nodding.  I’m still not quite sure, of course.  

Four nieces
I got up early on Sunday with the older women and the youngest kids.  Pape's mother at 70 still raises grandchildren and other relatives who continue to end up there for diverse familial reasons.  Two of these girls are daughters of Fahma, his sister who lives there, too.   As coffee didn't seem immanent, and I didn't quite know what to do without it, I walked up the stairwell to what would be the roof of the one story structure- if it had one.  That was enough to put me at the top of this world looking into several of the compounds/yards around.  Cats were waking lazily on nearby rooftops, roosters crowing and donkey's braying. A little kid next door looked up at me quite surprised. 

Sister and brother with a cousin in the middle
The chanting/singing that started the day before and went on all night long had finally stopped.  I had awoken every few hours to the sound, adjusted my bivy sack against mosquitos, and fell back asleep.  So the relative silence of the animals felt different. This cat's eye view (for they're the ones who take most advantage of the rooftops) felt sufficiently apart to see some things.  The yards were arranged in smaller, walled grid-like midwestern sections that divided up the sand.  It's all thick, yellow sand, sometimes several inches deep in the passage/road ways.  From the stairtop, it was also green, however, with low, fast growing trees that Leopold Senghore, founding father of Senegal had imported from India to fight the deforestation he recognized even in the 60's.  Pape said the people here had been farmers, but the land was worn out and now they had become mechanics and tradesmen.  

After coffee touba- better than nescafe, but just barely- Pape and I went for a walk. The mere idea of an agenda for the day seemed strange somehow.  Pape didn't want to fight the holiday traffic back into Dakar and suggested we wait until afternoon to leave.  We walked around the neighborhood, and Pape greeted many people who were very glad to see him again.  The deaf mute man was particularly enthusiastic.  He gestured and grunted with animated expressions and gestures that I couldn't make out.  Pape, who had grown up with him, understood that he was saying he hadn't visited in awhile and hadn't come to see him.  We walked past compounds of stuccoed block and of moulded, patterned blocks.  A couple were painted red and yellow earth tones and more than a few were made of corrugated metal, flattened metal drums or thatch fastened to thin sticks.  Unfortunately, my camera battery had already died, and I didn't get the photos this all certainly warranted. 

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