Soda, my sister

**An open letter to my baby sister (who’s not much of a baby anymore)**

Hey girl,

I want to share some life lessons with you today. Not because I know it all. And certainly not because I have got this life figured out. But because I want to shed some light on a few things so you can have a few more things in your toolbox as you figure out what life is FOR YOU.

I’ll start there – FOR YOU. Everything I am saying in this letter is just s preface to what’s really out there. We’re barely scratching the surface girl because let me tell you, it’s hard and will only get harder the older you grow. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer or live a “hard” life. It just means you have to figure out how to live your life the way that works for you, without stepping on others’ toes or your own. I’m going to give you a few secrets I’ve learned along the way that have worked FOR ME. Reflect on them and see how they apply, or don’t apply, TO YOU.

  1. Be kind: That goes for others and for yourself. There’s a lot of ugly in this world and sometimes, we just have to stop, humble ourselves, and realize we don’t know the full story for anything! When faced with the option to be hard, be soft. This won’t always be easy – and sometimes, it actually may seem impossible. But try. Try to put yourself in the shoes of others and see if you can’t change your perspective. That goes for you too. Be kind and patient with yourself.
  2. Stand up for yourself: Life is full of bullies. People. Work. School. Family. Circumstances. Situations. Obstacles. There will always be something to make you pause and think “am I good enough”? But don’t let that deter you from going after what you want. Stand up and show up for yourself. Go after what you want!
  3. Have respect: for everyone.
  4. Be smart: If there is anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s that you are free to do what you want, but you are not free from the consequences of your actions. Every. single. thing you do has consequences. Take the time to analyze situations and weigh out the pros and cons. Make smart decisions and be ready to confront the outcomes they yield. Don’t be naive, and especially don’t forget to take accountability for your actions.
  5. No one owes you anything: This may be hard to accept or believe but it’s true. The good news is that most people are well-intended and aren’t set out to make your life miserable. But not everyone. Remember the bullies? Yeah, get comfortable with that and don’t take everything seriously. At the end of the day, you owe yourself the happiness, success, respect, and whatever else you desire, that you think you deserve.
  6. Have a plan: Life will throw many things at you. Have a plan. A plan that is structured and realistic but also responsive. Not everything will always go according to plan but a guide is always good. Follow your dreams.
  7. Family first: Ironic that I say family first yet it’s the last statement. It’s intentional. I am putting this at the bottom so it’s fresh in your memory as you finish off this letter. I am not sure about other families but the one you’ve got, yeah, it’s a good one. Not perfect but they love you and want the best for you. Even when the lesson may seem hard and the test may seem impossible, the final grade is always an A. Remember that.

I can ramble on and on about life lessons but the bottom line is…well, I’m your big sister so I can always send more via text message or over a phone call! And that’s exactly the point I want to drive home. Use me, and others who have been a positive addition to your life, as much or as little as you’d like as you figure out what you want your life to look like. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be quick to recognize what isn’t going well and aim to fix it.

The truth is, none of us really know what’s going on. We’re figuring it out day by day. Don’t let the Internet fool you. There is no filter for life. No song you can really add to set the mood. And certainly not enough scrolling in the world to make bad things go away. But you can tag your loved ones to go on the journey with you, slide in the DMs of those who will give you sound advice to overcome anything, and best of all, pin the beautiful moments you’ll take into adulthood with you so you can reflect, and hopefully, be proud of the life you’ve built.

One of my favorite quotes is from a book called Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed. It goes: How do we become strong, without being hard, and remain soft, without being weak? While not easy, I try to make this my goal in life. I recommend the book, it’s available online 🙂

Xoxo,

Aissatou ❀

P.S. Don’t be afraid to cry.

Notre “DiinĂ©â€ (religion): Oustaz Pape Hane

**Qui est Pape Hane?**

Je m’appelle Macoumba Hane, mais on m’appelle Pape Hane. Je suis nĂ© Ă  ThiĂšs, au SĂ©nĂ©gal. Je vais rĂ©sumer mon enfance en disant que j’ai appris le Coran Ă  un jeune Ăąge – mon maitre coranique s’appelait Makhtar Cisse. J’ai terminĂ© le Coran, puis j’ai dĂ©mĂ©nagĂ© Ă  Kaolack pour apprendre le “xam-xam” ou la connaissance au-delĂ  du Coran.

**Pouvez-vous nous parler un peu de votre parcours pour devenir un Oustaz?**

Quand j’avais 12 ans, je faisais partie d’un dahira (congrĂ©gation). J’étais le plus jeune dans le dahira et souvent jouĂ© avec des discours et Ă©coutĂ© Ibou Sakho (Googlez le). J’ai donnĂ© des sermons Ă  mes camarades et je leur ai enseignĂ© ce que j’apprenais. C’était avant que je ne sois allĂ© au daara (Ă©cole coranique) pour apprendre le xam-xam. Donc dĂšs mon plus jeune Ăąge, j’ai eu l’envie et je l’ai juste poursuivie avec les apprentissages supplĂ©mentaires requis.

**En parlant d’apprentissages supplĂ©mentaires, qu’est-ce qu’il faut pour devenir un Oustaz?

On doit Ă©tudier diffĂ©rents livres aprĂšs avoir appris le Coran, comme Fiqh. Une fois les nombreux livres Ă©tudiĂ©s, on doit alors apprendre Ă  interprĂ©ter (firi en wolof) afin qu’on ne puisse relayer le message Ă  quelqu’un qui ne parle pas arabe ou n’a pas appris ces livres. Le processus est difficile, mais Masha’Allah quand on a l’amour pour ça et l’amour pour le ProphĂšte (PSL), ça devient facile.

**Dans la sociĂ©tĂ© d’aujourd’hui, nous entendons dire qu’il y a une « crise des valeurs » au SĂ©nĂ©gal, en particulier chez les jeunes. Quel est votre position Ă  ce sujet ?**

Oui, c’est une rĂ©alitĂ© grave et triste. La façon dont les gens Ă©duquent leurs enfants n’est pas la mĂȘme. Les valeurs ont changĂ© et les gens se soucient de moins en moins du bien-ĂȘtre de toute la communautĂ©, de sorte que tout le monde agisse juste en leur propre faveur. Personne ne semble s’inquiĂ©ter des prochaines gĂ©nĂ©rations Ă  venir.

Kersa (mot Wolof qui signifie une certaine modestie) n’existe plus. Pas dans la façon dont les gens parlent, s’habillent ou se comportent. Autrefois, quand un homme dit Ă  une femme qu’il l’aime, elle est timide ou peut sourire timidement pour dire “Je t’aime de retour” mais aujourd’hui, tout le monde est audacieux et regarde directement les yeux des autres et dit ce qu’ils ressentent. On pouvait compter le nombre de personnes qui boivent ou fument dans un quartier, mais aujourd’hui, c’est rĂ©pandu. La liste des choses continue encore et encore.

Une autre chose est qu’il y a de la pression aujourd’hui avec le temps. Tout le monde se prĂ©cipite et veut s’en sortir du jour au lendemain, il y a beaucoup de fraude en cours pour gagner de l’argent facile. Les gens avec des valeurs qui travaillent dur diminuent et le pire de tout ça, personne ne fait rien au nom d’Allah les autres, semble-t-il. Il y a toujours du bien, mais beaucoup de mauvais vraiment.

** Comment inverser cette tendance négative alors ?**

Nous devons revenir Ă  l’essentiel. Le Coran et la Sunna (enseignements du ProphĂšte (PSL)) nous ont Ă©tĂ© donnĂ©s en tant que guide et nous devons nous rappeler qu’Allah ne se soucie pas de la façon dont vous commencez, il se soucie de la façon dont vous finissez. Donc, nettoyons les cƓurs et aimons-nous les uns les autres.

** Oustaz, je dois vous demander parce que les gens continuent d’en parler. Qu’est-ce que c’est que Akhirou Zamane (fin du monde) ?**

Le prophĂšte a dit: Je ne serai pas couche 2000 ans dans le sol.
1 441 ans depuis son décÚs.

Fais le calcul.

Maintenant, au-delĂ  de l’aspect chronomĂ©trage de celle-ci, il y a beaucoup de signes de « Akhirou Zamane ». La diminution des valeurs que j’ai mentionnĂ©es prĂ©cĂ©demment est un signe, les catastrophes naturelles en sont une autre, beaucoup de divergences en sont une autre aussi, et la liste continue. C’est essentiellement une Ă©poque oĂč les choses seront trĂšs complexes et dĂ©sordonnĂ©es et cela nous mĂšnera Ă  la fin du monde telle que nous la connaissons. Ce n’est pas un processus de dix ans – ce sont des siĂšcles et des siĂšcles de signes qui culminent tous Ă  ce jour fatidique oĂč nous sortirons de nos tombes et rĂ©pondrons Ă  notre CrĂ©ateur.

Aissatou s’exprimant principalement par urgence LOL : Je suppose que cela signifie n’importe quel jour maintenant peut ĂȘtre la fin du monde. Qu’Allah (Dieu) nous guide tous de retour vers lui !

**Ok, donc maintenant, je dois vous poser quelques questions brĂ»lantes sur le sujet trĂšs controversĂ© de la polygamie qui fait l’objet de discussions intenses. Que dit le Coran ? **

Tout d’abord, le Coran dit que vous devez ĂȘtre en mesure de le faire. Cela signifie financiĂšrement et ĂȘtre assez responsable pour garder votre mĂ©nage dans l’ordre. Vous devez yamale (garder les choses Ă©gales). Si vous ne pouvez pas garder les choses Ă©gales, alors l’Islam vous a libĂ©rĂ© du fardeau d’avoir plusieurs Ă©pouses.

Il y a un moyen de le faire et chaque situation est diffĂ©rente de sorte qu’il soit important de chercher des connaissances et des conseils de ceux qui ont appris ce que les livres disent. L’ignorance de toute orientation n’est pas une excuse.

** Que devons-nous faire pour maintenir notre « diinĂ© » (religion) tout en vivant Ă  l’étranger? **

Travailler dur. Et pas seulement dans le sens professionnel, mais investir du temps dans votre diinĂ© (foi) pour en apprendre davantage et vivre les choses que vous apprenez. C’est votre responsabilitĂ© ultime et vous serez interrogĂ© le Jour du Jugement.

———

Un MERCI trĂšs spĂ©cial Ă  Oustaz Pape Hane pour cette interview rafraĂźchissante. Je suis honorĂ©e et profondĂ©ment motivĂ©e chaque fois que je vous entends parler de la belle religion qu’est l’Islam et votre amour profond pour notre prophĂšte Mahomet (SAW). Yallah na sa jam yagg Oustaz. JĂ«rĂ«jĂ«f !

Maguette, on behalf of all the women holding it together during Ramadan

Reading time: ~4 mins

File:Alarm Clock Vector.svg - Wikimedia Commons
4:45 AM

I feel like I just laid my head down no more than an hour ago! I swear that alarm clock races with my sanity sometimes.

It was time to get up and prepare a meal before sunrise. Ramadan had begun and it was going to be a long month of waking up early and preparing the household for extended days of not eating, not drinking, and not jumping down each other’s throats. In order for this to happen, the suhoor has to be hefty! I go into the bathroom first to make wudu (ablution) before going into the kitchen to prepare today’s meal.

Mix dried fruits (date palm fruits, prunes, dried apricots, raisins) and nuts, and traditional arabic tea. ramadan (ramazan) food. Premium Photo
4:55 AM

My kids (including my husband, yes he’s my child too) love vermicelle so I thought why not start this blessed month off with one of their favorite meals! I steamed a batch just before bed so all I would have to do is cook the onion sauce it goes with and warm up the chicken. I’m not the biggest fan of reheating food but during Ramadan, when you’re rushing against time, you have no choice! I’d need to wake up at 2AM to prepare a meal for 5AM and that’s just not realistic considering we go to bed around 1AM. Oh, and did I mention the challenge that is waking up my family for suhoor? Just wait for it.

With the chicken warming up in the oven, I chop up a few onions and quickly marinate it before setting it on the stove to simmer. It’s 5:05 at this point. I move to set the table. I lay everything out, including my favorite part, the dates. I set out utensils, fruits that I prepared the night before, and plenty of water. As the onions simmered away, I began the journey to waking up my children.

5:15 AM (actual size of the stairs at my house)

The first round of running up the stairs to grab my baby boy, who inevitably wakes up from the noise, and daughter is usually successful. There’s one defeat as my older son says he hears me but wasn’t actually listening in the first place. I finish that round by stopping in my own bedroom to wake my husband up. He sits up, looks me in the eyes, and says “I’ll be right there” ever single time. It’s incredulous because it feels like a zombie talking to you. The second he’s done speaking, he rolls over and goes right back to sleep. I just roll my eyes and head back into the kitchen to check on whatever I was warming up and prepare for round 2.

5:25 AM

My daughter wakes up to eat even though she doesn’t fast all day. Since she’s not 18 yet, she will fast half days in solidarity with everyone else. It’s also good practice as she gets older to get used to the fasting rhythms. My younger son is just there for company. The two men of the house are different stories. I send my daughter back upstairs to wake her brother up while I go get her father.

I use different tactics to wake him up, and since today I am in a good mood, I head straight for the bathroom in our bedroom and start making a lot of noise. When he wakes up, I tell him suhoor is over and everybody has gone back to bed. I’m just preparing to do the same. He jumps out of bed so fast, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Nieuwal kheud balaa heure bi diol, mo guen si yaw.”

Ramadan Islamic Art Muslim - Free vector graphic on Pixabay
5:35 AM

As we sit down to eat, as a family, I can’t help but smile. It’s not easy waking up to prepare the meals when sleep is the only thing on my mind. Running up and down the stairs is not fun either. But I know Allah will repay all of us who take on these tasks for his sake. I know the blessings available to Muslims in the month of Ramadan far surpass the seemingly annoying things we go through. The hunger, the thirst, the lack of sleep, the migraines, etc…. nothing compares to the beauty that is Ramadan. It is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar – it’s also the month that the Quran was revealed to our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Every country observes this with a twist but the premise is the same: abstain from food, drink, sex, smoking, and all other forbidden acts from dawn to sunset (forbidden acts are still forbidden beyond the dawn to sunset limits). It’s a time for families to reconnect. It’s also a time to get closer to our creator and do some self-reflection. For many Muslims, it’s their favorite time of the year.

We’re going to finish eating here and prepare for the morning prayer. I’d like to wish you and your families RAMADAN MUBARAK. May Allah grant us a healthy, blessed month and may Allah grant us the honor to die as Muslims.

NitDoffKillah – Challenges to Development in Senegal

AG: Tell us a little bit about you.

NDK: My real name is Mor Talla Gueye. I grew up in Louga, Senegal and spent my entire childhood and adolescent years there. I got into Hip Hop as an adolescent and used to break dance with a group of friends. We went by the name BMG (Bokk Mboloo di Gestu). That was the time RapGalsen was starting to gain momentum and most breakdancers started rapping, myself included. We used to participate in national competitions and even won a couple of them. Over time, we dispersed and in 1999, I traveled to France to join my father (my father and brothers were all pretty much abroad).

I spent 14 years in Paris. There was a period of time I traveled back and forth from Paris to Senegal but officially decided to launch my rap career with my first album in 2007. I kept up the momentum and released by second album in 2009 and started Show of the Year, which is an annual event for all hip-hoppers in Senegal. I released by third album in 2013 and a double album (call it my fourth and fifth) in 2017. I went international in Europe and can always looking for ways to produce new music, increase my fan base, and do more for the community. With the current situation, a lot of things are stalled but we’re continuously working on additional projects. I stared a record label and am producing other rappers as well.

Outside of my music career, I use my voice in the political realm and in Pan-African conversations to share my humble point of view.

AG: If you had to summarize the challenges to development in Senegal, what would you say?

NDK: My opinion is we had a terrible start at independence. When we “got independence,” it was just a “flag independence” but we didn’t gain economic independence. We had a “faux depart.” When the French left, they left behind pro-colonial personnel who were supposed to basically continue the French agenda. Then you had folks like Mamadou Dia and Ousmane Blondin Diop who were discredited, imprisoned, fatally silenced because they spoke out against this behavior.

The first presidents (Senghor and Diouf) weren’t what we would call corrupt today but they didn’t have the vision, patriotism, Pan-African mentality, and wherewithal to remove colonial stains and implement their own, Senegalese agendas that benefited the Senegalese people. We lost about 20 years where we were just pleasing the French still – it showed in our contracts and economic engagements at every level.

Their replacements and their respective entourages were even worst. Liars. Thieves. Misappropriation of funds. Nothing moved us forward. They aren’t even political actors who have the knowledge and expertise. Some were former teachers who were just given posts by incumbents.

We missed the mark early on. There was no investment in research and development, fueling the youth to be prepared for a bright future and be autonomous, investing in engineers so they are the in-house producers in our country! Universite Cheikh Anta Diop was a great university but there wasn’t enough investment to maintain that excellence so that leads to students with diplomas not having jobs to show for it. There is no support of our people so that we can stand on our own and not depend on others.

We’ve had terrible leadership. We are a small country with a lot of richness but we didn’t invest and take advantage of that. 60% of the population is young! Water outages. Power outages. We should have been past this but leadership has failed us. Senegal today is a victim of all of that lumped together.

AG: Give one suggestion of a realistic solution that could be implemented in Senegal to get us one step closer to a more developed state.

NDK: It’s good leadership. We need a real leader with morals, ethics, good ideas, God-fearing characteristics, and conviction. We don’t have leaders with integrity. We need to get rid of corruption, of leaders who misappropriate funds, of throwing things under the rug. We can win back 50 years of loss with one solid, good, exemplary leader/presidential term. The population is easy to guide – we have religious leaders who have a voice and can influence the people. But for the right messages to go through, we need that leader. Someone who isn’t’ afraid to say no to external forces who try to take advantage of us. Someone who takes education and agriculture seriously! We can leverage our natural resources to benefit us, once and for all, before opening our doors to the rest of the world.

AG: Some observations about the COVID-19 situation?

NDK: It’s worrisome. There is fear. Not only because of the current situation but because of what it could grow into. Until we find a solution (cure, vaccine, sustainable method of preventing further spread, etc.), it’s going to be like we’re sitting on eggshells.

If another World War was to happen, it would be economic. There are different speculations but there are a lot of things going out and we don’t have all the answers. The world is surely overpopulated and with every crisis that comes up, we are left with two choices: (1) the naive approach where we just say this is a natural occurrence or (2) the more curious approach of asking “what’s really at play here?”

In Senegal, people are still out and about during the day. Giving out aid is a good initiative but it’s not enough to combat everything. During the day, people are out as if nothing is going on. We don’t have masks, antiseptic gel, etc. so it’s scary.

I salute our doctors, Minister of Health, and everybody working hard to fight this virus. Personally, I am scared it will spread even more and we as a nation cannot handle that. We don’t have the infrastructure but I pray we don’t even get to that.

AG: Responsibility of rappers/influencers/singers/public figures in informing the public?

NDK: That is God-given and it’s important to understand that and be humble about it. God will ask you how you used your voice and gift. Did you use it to do good? To educate others. To guide others who listen to you and are following you?

My opinion is that with a gift and a platform, our mission is to serve God and serve the people. And be aware of the impact we have so we can use our voice/gift to do good in the world.

Some people use it in a bad way to just get money. No matter the cost or sacrifice. Taking positions that they don’t believe in. Acting on behalf of others who aren’t courageous enough to do it themselves.

How we use our powers matter.

AG: Influence of Hip-Hop in our society?

NDK: Hip Hop Galsen is known for the messages we put out there. We are known to be “too Hip Hop, not commercial” and that’s a point of pride for us. We strive to send good messages out there that are relevant to our people. AIDS epidemic. Fighting corruption. Family relations. We talk about current events and educate people.

Students listening to Hip Hop reminiscence about how it helped them get through school by re-energizing them. Empowering them! That’s amazing.

We don’t talk about drugs, alcohol, trash talking or disrobing women in our videos. We pride ourselves on uplifting and not tearing down. It’s the soul of RapGalsen.

We are known for being honest beings. Even if it’s undervalued here in Senegal, RapGalsen has proven to be multi-dimensional. Rappers are generally well-traveled and very educated and use their voice to talk about issues that matter.

I respect the industry. The movements we have created. The education we’ve shared with the population. The positive changes we have imparted.

AG: Who is your role model?

NDK: There are many I could list. I look up to people like Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, and Malcolm X.

But my ultimate role model is my father. He influenced me the most in my life. Before he passed and up until today, he’s on my screensaver! He taught me a lot and helped me to know who and how I should be. He’s always been my point-of-reference, my superstar, and my role model. I know I can’t be like him but he’s someone I strive to be like. We had a powerful relationship. Hard-working, family-oriented, discreet, forgot about himself for the sake of his family, modest, honest, didn’t let his kids do whatever, he raised us with integrity. He’s a respected man. He never had a life because he was so focused on giving us a good life.

When I grew up and went to France with him, I saw how he was living just to maek sure we had a comfortable life back in Senegal, it reinforced my love and respect in him. I knew then that that’s how a man is supposed to be. If you want to be respected, you have to be this person of integrity!

While I can list many people today, I will say with pride that my father is the one. He’s my everything.

Codou, the street vendor

Reading time: ~8 minutes

Every day, I wake up a 5 AM. I have to prep everything at home so I can be out with my husband. He’s a clando driver and drops me off on his way to picking up whoever his first client is that day. For me, it’s best when I catch the early commuters coming from – or to – Dakar so I can make the most sales. I sell mangoes. I have been doing it for almost 8 years and it is my “soutoura.” I don’t ask anybody for anything. I work and bring what I make to the house. My husband does the same and we live a modest, but honest life.

Fallou: Have a good day today, sweetheart.

Codou: You too, cherie!

People laugh at my husband and I for maintaining our youthful spirits! We rarely call each other by our names, pet names only, even when we’re arguing – that’s a rule! I met him when I was 23 (I’m 46 now) and we’ve been inseparable since. Our families didn’t particularly like each other but we didn’t care. We knew it was just a matter of time but they would eventually support our decision to get married. He’s 2 years older than me and my sister tried to convince me he wasn’t “old older enough” for me.

Codou: How much older should he be?

Mada: At least 5 years! Men are immature and he needs to be more established so he can provide for you.

Codou: Hmm, okay. I hear you.

Mada: I don’t need you to hear me. I need you to do what I’m telling you. Let this go before you get deeper in. He doesn’t even have a steady job… what’s he going to do for you?

Codou: Maybe you can get a boyfriend first and then tell me how to pick ’em. Haha! Guenal si souniou diguantei [stay out of our relationship].

My mom had her own concerns but she wasn’t as crude about it as my sister. My dad is my friend so he stepped in to defend me.

Yacine: Codou, have you really stopped to think about what you want to do? Garap boula soutoul doula may kerr [if a tree is not taller than you, it cannot provide you shade].

Codou: I know what you’re worried about but he is ambitious! As long as I’ve known him, he’s never been jobless. Okay, maybe he doesn’t have the most glamorous of jobs but we have time ahead of us! Don’t complicate this please.

Alhadji Modou: Yacine, you know she’s always been hard-headed but never stupid. Listen to the girl.

Codou: Thank you, Papa! I’m not a little girl anymore. Trust my judgment on this.

Yacine: Hmm, wakhou mak dafay goudei rek mais dou fanane alleu [It might be long time but you’ll eventually see what I’m telling you. An elder’s word might be late but never lost].

Alhadji Modou: Don’t say that, Yacine. Your prayers hit her directly so just pray for her.

I knew they all wanted what was best for me but at the end of the day, the happiness I feel when I’m with him is indescribable. So I didn’t care what anybody had to say around me. I had my mind made up. We got married.

The first couple of years in our marriage was tough – much like our dating experience. Just trying to make it work. We’ve tried all kinds of jobs – I’ve been a maid, a vendor at the local market, even a laundry woman for a few families. He’s always done odd jobs here and there on top of being a taxi driver to provide for us. About 5 years ago, he saved up enough to get a small car that he owns and has been driving clando ever since. This allowed him to have more freedom and make his own schedules instead of paying commission to any boss.

We have 3 beautiful children. Serigne Modou is 15, Sokhna is 11, and Anta is 10 (she was a surprise HA). They are children of love. We can’t provide them the material world and that will forever leave a gap in my heart. As a parent, you want to provide them every comfort of life. But, and this is a big BUT, we have provided them with a good education and a strong base. No matter where they end up in life, they will be successful. In today’s society, success has a narrow definition but there’s so much more to it. It’s important to remember that. Fallou and I have inculcated a strong moral code within each of them and that alone is priceless. My mom always has a little reservation left given that she was “right” about how he couldn’t provide me the material world either. I don’t see our relationship as a failure for a split second. He’s been the best husband and father anyone could pray for and that’s enough for me.

I could mushy on and on about my family and my background but I think when you see me in action, at work, you’ll get a clearer picture of who is Codou! Follow me!

Codou: Sokhna si, lo waxx si mango yi? [Sir, how about some mangoes?]

Buyer: They’re beautiful. Niata [How much]?

Codou: Dieuleul ma defal la prix bou baakh. [Take what you want and I’ll give you a good price].

Buyer: I’d like 4 of them.

Codou: Take 5! 4’s not a good number! That’s how many wives our husbands claim they can have, sis. Stay away from that number!

Her husband laughed at my comment and shook his head. They were a young couple. I laugh as I brush the sound of the word “four” off of my ears! It’s bad luck!

Buyer: Haha! You’re right deh! Wa okay, make it 5 then.

Codou. There you go. See, life isn’t so hard. Gimme 2.000 rek.

Buyer: Shiii sokhna si, that’s expensive deh!

Codou: I swear it’s a good price. They’re big mangoes and I guarantee you’ve never had a better mango!

Buyer: Hmm, that’s what you all say!

Codou: You have my word.

Buyer: And if they’re not good?

Codou: Like I said, you have nothing to worry about! Na ress ak diam [bon appetit]!

I kept this up with every customer I encountered throughout the day, just like every other day. 7 days a week, more than 12 hours a day. I keep a smile on my face and joke with every customer. In my 8 years of doing this, and even with previous jobs I had, I learned that there is reality and then there is fantasy. But when you learn to be grateful and gracious about the hand that you’ve been dealt, the two start to merge. No matter what I encounter in life, I accept it as part of Allah’s bigger plan for me and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Many look at me and feel sorry for me but I can’t tell you how many cars have pulled up next to me and I could just feel the tension between the husband that’s driving and the wife that’s picking out mangos. Something simple as picking out mangos becomes a point of conflict and I in turn feel sorry for them. This is why I joke and try to lighten the mood. I don’t know what battles my customers are facing but I try to be a reminder that there is a silver lining in every situation and life isn’t so serious.

Codou: Today was a good day baby!

Fallou: Oh yeah? Kone deh dangua mako walleu [You must have rubbed off on me then]!

Codou: Let’s check our progress.

Fallou: Before that, I have a surprise for you.

This wasn’t anything new coming from him. He always brought me little gifts and I still act surprised each time.

Fallou: Close your eyes hun.

I closed my eyes and smiled in anticipation of what the surprise would be. Just then, I felt Fallou’s hands hover over my head and a cold object touch my neck. He clasps it on and turns me around.

Fallou: Okay, open your eyes.

He held up a small mirror in front of me and I was greeted with a beautiful gold necklace around my neck.

Codou: Woah! What is this?

I couldn’t help but smile.

Fallou: Just a little something I picked up after work today.

As quickly as I was basking in my happiness, I remembered our plans to finish building a new, better house, and how we had been saving up for close to 2 years now for it.

Codou: GOLD!? Honey, I really appreciate this, I do, but you know we have other plans lined up. How can you afford this?

Fallou: Yaw do nopi? [You be quiet (jokingly)]. I have my ways.

Codou: Tell me.

Fallou: Listen, our plans are still intact and on track. And we’ve saved up enough to finish the house. All that’s left is furniture and we’ll get there. But you know we’ve both been working so hard, we need to enjoy a little.

Codou: Okay, you said WE. Not just ME!

Fallou: Cherie, I have been saving up for this for some time now. I didn’t take anything from the money we’ve been putting away. It’s my personal gift to you. l’Honneur ne se refuse pas!

Codou: Waw, lolou yepp deug la mais- [Yes, that’s true but-]

Fallou: Amoul mais. Damakay dello deh! [There’s no but. You want me to return it]?

I immediately shut up!

Codou: Haha, no! I just don’t want to add another burden to your already hectic work. You’re tired.

We both paused for a second and stared at each other. 23 years with this man and he still amazes me. He’s much more quiet than I am. So focused. So driven. And always keeps his word. I wasn’t as happy about the necklace as I was about my luck in having a life partner who could stop and enjoy life with me.

Fallou: Never tired.

Codou: Hmm, never tired huh?

I smiled slyly as I slowly walked towards him, licking my lips.

Codou: Door, fayou lasi kham 😉 [Now you know I believe in payback]!

Ahem, the rest of this, you’ll have to excuse us for. We’ll catch up another time… mais boulen fatei ni kou KOU KHEBOUL SA NOSS KENN DAKHOULA NOSS [If you don’t underestimate how blessed you are, nobody is more blessed than you].

The Brave Women fighting FGM

I remember in college I had a term-paper that I procrastinated on for weeks and weeks. The day before it was due, I started it… I know, bad decision-making. I knew what the topic would be and I met every deadline prior to the due date: topic submission, argument and main points, and even my sources to be used. I just didn’t do the actual essay until the night before and I ended up spilling out my passion about female genital mutilation (FGM). It’s a daunting topic and I was filled with rage when I read through my sources and did online research – the more I learned, the more upset I became. It’s a topic near and dear to me, even though I never experienced it or came face-to-face with it. To accompany my research and opinions, I wanted to interview someone who was a little more familiar with it. Keep on reading to hear about Bintou and her experience with FGM.

**Hey girl! Can you give us a little intro… who is Bintou?**

I am recently married, living in Cincinnati, OH. My dad is from Mali and my mom is from Ivory Coast. I was born in the Bronx, NY, raised in Cincinnati. I’ve been to Mali once in 2014 (I’ll talk a little bit more about that experience later on). I am the oldest of 7, with another on the way (welcome to African households haha). Currently, I am going to school for International Relations and running own lip care brand.

A little bit about my family’s background, specifically my mom. She was the youngest and none of the girls in her family went to school because they were told being educated is not good. When she could actually go to school, she was 11 in the midst of a lot of little kids so she just stopped going. That kind of dynamic, not just restricted to my mother but Africans overall, contributes to a lot of the beliefs they grow up with.

**What was your first introduction to FGM?**

The topic first came in 2014 when I went to Mali with my mom. One of oldest cousins asked my mom if she had circumcised her girls. She tried to convince her that she could do it but my mom refused (logical reasons as we were too old, check ups with doctors when we’re back in the US, etc.). This made me upset because I was 15 – imagine someone cutting your clitoris off at 15! The sad thing is a lot my fiends that grew up in Africa underwent this procedure and they tell me about how terrible it is and it was against their will. It was nothing new to me but I put it in the back of my mind. It’s just a reality – like my friends tell me about their experiences and how they can’t feel pleasure during intercourse.

**What do you think some of the negative impacts of this practice are?**

This practice is generally against your will (violation of human rights). There is psychological trauma associated; a friend of mine was cut at age 10 even though she was born here and when she came back from Mali, it just impacted her negatively, she was having trouble using the bathroom and other hygienic issues. Overall, the consequences of FGM are life-long and far-reaching. It’s a practice imposed on young girls and the decision of someone else is what they have to live with for the rest of their lives.

**What can we do to educate folks and eradicate this transition?**

A lot of the women back home are not properly educated – they’re not going out to look for their own information – even religion, they were just taught and it usually came from men – the narrative is like "you do this or you go to hell." – they don’t know their rights or their worth. There is a lack of education.

FGM is a practice that’s still very prevalent back home. There are groups trying to eradicate, mainly feminists and non-profit organizations fighting for regulations around it are making it stricter – but it’s definitely still happening in the villages – women in villages only really go to hospital during childbirth so it’s hard to know what they’re up to.

I think the First Ladies of our countries should take a stance as women are primarily the victims. The problem is that the policies are not there for the people, they only serve the interest of the people in positions of power. In my opinion, one way to reach people could be through commercials; they are a good way to get information to people. What’s needed is education and awareness. This might seem trivial but Whatsapp is huge and a great tool we could leverage. A lot of our African parents use this application and the same way people stopped using Maggi/Jumbo spices due to alerts and warnings, we can do the same for FGM.

————-

I want to thank Bintou for her time and for sharing her experience with us! FGM is not an easy subject to talk about and there’s always another story to be heard, unfortunately. Below, are the stories of women fighting against FGM as well as some facts about FGM. Happy Reading!

Their Stories

Mariama Djarama Jo: Senegal

Mariama is a community social worker and activist. She comes from a family of circumcisers, and is a victim of FGM herself. She has decided to not cut her daughters and is convincing others in her community to do the same. FGM is banned in Senegal but is still practiced in Senegal, particularly in the South (Up to 85 percent of women and girls have undergone FGM).

Purity Soinato Oiyie,”The First of Her Kind”: Kenya

Purity was set to be circumcised at the age of 10/11, a decision made by her father. She was also set to become a fifth wive to a 70 year old man. After informing her teacher, who informed the policy, Purity was taken away just hours before her ceremony. She was the first girl in her village to say no to this dangerous practice. During her 8 year stay at a rescue center in Narok Town, Kenya, her mother suffered abuse at the hands of her father, who blamed her for the escape of their daughter. She has since set up a foundation called Silan, aimed at educating young girls, and boys, about the dangers of FGM and empowering everyone to say “NO!” Purity says that women “do not have to beg for women’s rights. Being women, we deserve this right. It’s ours.”

Jaha Dukureh: The Gambia

Renowned activist, UN Women Ambassador for Africa, a mother and a survivor of FGM. Jaha traveled to NYC at the age of 15 to marry a man she had never met before. She went through Type 3 FGM (see the types in the facts section). Jaha has had a long journey of speaking out against FGM, taking a stance to not cut her daughters, and even contributing to the legislation passed by her birth country to ban FGM practices.

Elizabeth Thomas Mniko, Safe in Serengeti: Tanzania

“After the December rains on even numbered years, traditional leaders and village elders gather to consult traditional circumcisers called Ngaribas and their gods on the best date to do the cuts.” At the tender age of 17, Elizabeth takes extra classes and serves as the Head Girl at the safe house in Serengeti, Tanzania, where she fled to escape FGM. She wishes to become a lawyer one day so she can speak on behalf of all victims of FGM and prevent new cases. She recognizes the immense strength and bravery it takes to “leave your entire world behind” and that is what fuels her every day to make a difference in the lives of young girls just like her.

Go Elizabeth!!

———

Facts about FGM

Prevalence:

  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.
  • An estimated 3 million girls are still at risk, every single year.
  • The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old.

Types:

The type of procedure performed also varies, mainly with ethnicity. Current estimates (from surveys of women older than 15 years old) indicate that around 90% of female genital mutilation cases include either

  • Types I: mainly clitoridectomy (surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris)
  • Type II: Excision
  • Type III: Infibulation (makes up about 10% or 8 million women). This is the most severe form of FGM and is mostly practiced in the north-eastern region of Africa.
  • Type IV: Nicking without flesh removed

Repercussions:

No health benefits, only harm!!!

It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Immediate complications can include: 

  • severe pain
  • excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
  • genital tissue swelling
  • fever
  • infections e.g., tetanus
  • urinary problems
  • wound healing problems
  • injury to surrounding genital tissue
  • shock
  • death.

Long-term consequences can include:

  • urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
  • vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
  • menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.);
  • scar tissue and keloid;
  • sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.);
  • increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; 
  • need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks;
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.);
  • health complications of female genital mutilation.

Cultural and social factors for performing FGM

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are:

  • The fear of not conforming – these are cases where FGM is considered the social norm. In these communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned. 
  • FGM being considered one of the paths to womanhood and preparation for marriage.
  • Ensuring premarital virginity and marital fidelity. Reduce libido!
  • Increases marriageability.
  • FGM associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male. 
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. 

Sources

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/

Survivors speak: Women leading the movement to end FGM https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/2/compilation-women-leading-the-movement-to-end-female-genital-mutilation

Beauty & Brains: NDÉYE <3

Shameless plug, she’s my little sister!!! 🙂

**Who is Ndeye?**

Ah, I really hate this question. I usually have to answer it in this formatted elaborate elevator pitch so I’m going to take this chance to just freestyle. I’m a 24-year old Senegalese woman who has an immense hunger for human interaction and a thirst for success. I was born and raised in a small town in Senegal called Ngaaye, Meckhe until the age of 7 when we moved to the U.S. My dad was a Calculus professor at the time and my mom was the quinsecental housewife and mother extraordinaire. We started in Florence, Kentucky and soon ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where I spent my teen and early adult years. I’m currently in medical school in Atlanta, GA. I like to think I’m the type of person who puts my mind to something and doesn’t stop until it manifests for me. This has lead me to be where I am today but also serves as one of my greatest weaknesses and entering my 20s was the slap in the face I needed. Having spent literally my whole
entire
life
 in school, I reached a point where I began to have better discernment in what I place value in and what really makes me feel good. This explains my need for human interaction, for meaningful relationships and experiences, for meaningless activities, for a closer relationship with Allah, for the need to just lay down and do nothing. So yeah, thats me.  I just be chilling, though 🙂

**Who is your role model?**

My mother. She embodies strength in every fashion and form. She’s become my best friend in my adult years and I see myself in her in so many ways it’s actually funny to me now how much we argued when I was younger. She works harder than anyone I know and would do anything for her family. 

**What do you do currently?**

I’m currently in my third year of medical school wrapping up my clinical rotations. Essentially this means I’ve gotten a snippet of some of the major fields in medicine including surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, to name a few. I have been able to participate in the care of patients in inpatient units, in the OR, and in clinic. A little over a year from now I can call myself Dr. Guisse!

**How did you become passionate about medicine?**

I was always good at math and science and I love to use my hands and stay busy (to a certain degree) so once I realized human beings are actually not so bad (lol), I found medicine to be the perfect fit. I think there’s something special about human interactions because they stick with us in a very memorable way. Medicine for me was where I felt I could both be challenged and stimulated by tough clinical decisions while forming relationships with patients. Additionally, traveling back to Senegal I saw opportunity to give back to my home which only strengthened my passion. 

**Scaling things back to Africa/Senegal, what’s your biggest qualm about how medicine is perceived/practiced?**

There’s a lot of mistrust in the medical system in Senegal, a lot of which is merited and based on anecdotal experiences. Healthcare is simply not a priority in the way that it should be and that coupled with all that comes with being a underdeveloped nation AND questionable government policies leads to an infrastructure that is not for the welfare of the people. It’s unfortunate but it’s a problem that won’t be solved overnight and I hope to contribute in my own small way to hopefully make an impact to even a small population.

**What practical advice do you have for anyone who wants to get into the medical field? Actual steps they can take and some non-negotiables like standardized tests, expected test scores, etc.**

When it comes to the medical field and medical school, there are so many things that are out of your control.The best advice I can give is to identify things that you can control and be excellent in them. For example, if you are studying for the MCAT or board exams, understand that it comes with sacrifice and it takes time to learn how to approach these tests. Give yourself the necessary 2-3 months to study for these exams and stay focused. It’s helpful to understand early on that there are just going to be things that you may want to do that you will have to miss out on but it will make your life easier down the road. For the Black prospects reading this, you will feel defeated often and it’s easy to beat yourself up or question if you’ve earned the merit to be in these spaces. The key is to recognize that it is okay to feel that and process that, but you have got to pick up and keep going. One of the best ways to do this is to identify mentors of all types and keep them a phone call away. I could go all day but every student is different so you all know where to find me!

**In leveraging your education, what do you want to be your contribution to the development of Senegal?**

I think about this almost every day. I think Senegal, like any developing nation, has a true need for tertiary care. I’ve seen in my own family and loved ones unfortunate outcomes due to the lack of adequate healthcare and resources. My goal is to aid in the alleviation of this through organizations and collaborations providing medical devices and excellent surgical care as I feel an inherent responsibility and desire to see my home country grow. First, I have to pass these boards though, lol. 

**When I think about medicine, I think of human life and the value attached to it. What does medicine mean to you?**

Medicine to me means opportunity to empower and to connect. There is an inherent power dynamic because of how vulnerable patients are with their physicians and this is why it’s important to build genuine rapport with your patients but the beauty in all of it is that you get to help a fellow human being get back to feeling like themselves. I’ve learned so much about human nature just through my few years as medical student and I can’t begin to think about all of the things I’ll learn from my future patients as a surgeon!

KBF said … your stepchild is not your child

“Doomu jiitle du doom”

**ATTENTION ALL PARENTS**

Friends. Social media. Television. Travel. iPhones. Androids. Google. Spotify. Apple Music. Hulu. HBO. Netflix. Disney. School. Prom. Homecoming. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. Detention. Starbucks.

That looks like a list of random but popular things that look familiar to all of us probably. But all of those things have something in common. They all play a role in raising kids today. You know the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child?” Well, Kocc Barma had his own saying and it went something like this – “Doomu jiitle du doom,”or in English, your stepchild is not your child. I’d like to take it one step further and inform you that even your child is not your child. What do I mean by that? Follow along.

We live in a world today where your precious little girl or your handsome little boy is being raised just as much outside of the home, if not more, than inside the home with you. The factors surrounding kids today are abundant and there’s no escaping the reality that the lessons you teach your kids today will surely be diluted by what he/she is taught out there. Yeah, out there. Out there is endless opportunity and possibility of all things. You will not be able to control everything your child comes in contact with and you certainly will not be able to completely influence how your child reacts to it.

I always have to bring it back to Senegalese society and I must say before I delve deeper into that analysis that the tendency to want to control everything isn’t a “Senegalese parent thing.” It’s all parents. The reason I will speak on Senegalese parents specifically is because that’s what I know. What I know is that Senegalese parents have this illusion of having everything under control and having definitive authority [see my previous post about Kocc Barma’s saying about elders]. It’s this illusion that they always know best and when they tell their children to jump, they’ll respond with “how high?”

I hate to break it to you but the world doesn’t function like that [anymore]. It’s important, now more than ever, to be a responsible, aware, realistic, and accountable parent. It’s imperative to become humble and accept that Kocc Barma may have been right when he said your stepchild isn’t your child and neither is your own child. In this day and age, your child is the world’s child and you better believe the world will have something to say about who your child becomes.

Who your child becomes – a great segue into the topic I want to talk about today: prostitution. The transition may not have been as smooth as I put on but it’s partly because there’s really no easy way to bring this up with African societies and the other part is because I think I’ve softened the crowd enough with my intro up top. Let’s get to it.

Again, I’m going to talk about Senegal because that’s what I know.

Prostitution is legal in Senegal. I’ll be honest that I didn’t explicitly know that. I was implicitly aware but I never gave it a second thought because honestly even though it’s legal, it’s so morally frowned upon that my subconscious decided to mute it. But today, we’re not going to be quiet about it; we’re going to confront it head on.

Prostitution is not only legal, its regulated. I, for one, think this is a positive thing. I don’t condone prostitution in the least bit. But I know that not condoning it, be it me or any one of the 16 million inhabitants of Senegal, isn’t going to make it go away. People will sell their bodies for sex irrespective of if it’s legal or not. So why not take a stance like Senegal did and put regulations around it? The Economist wrote a short article in April 2018 calling Senegal’s approach “innovative.” At first, I raised an eyebrow like “hmmm, where are they going with this?” But then I read on and learned that Senegal’s approach led to a drop in the HIV prevalence rate. Specifically, “between 2002 and 2016, the prevalence of HIV among sex workers fell by 21 percentage points to an impressive 7%.” Violence against women is a problem in Senegal (and worldwide). When this occupation is illegal, it puts sex workers at a higher risk for being victims of violence/discrimination. This is generally in the form of exploitation by corrupt officials (I’m talking about the corrupt police officers who take advantage of under-the-cover sex workers and expect “free services)!

Photo from The Economist article.

I’d like to say that Senegal is not the only Sub-Saharan country that has legalized prostitution but it is the only country to regulate it! You may be asking why I keep insisting on that. Let me tell you why. By regulating this occupation, sex workers are able to obtain an “identification card.” With this identification card, sex workers can:

  • Have monthly check-ups at one of the centers managed by social workers and nurses
  • Have access to free condoms (including education sessions on proper condom use)
  • Take advantage of the mandatory annual HIV screenings
  • Take advantage of mandatory bi-annual blood tests for syphilis
  • Take advantage of annual tests to assess HIV serologic status

In the midst of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, Senegal took a stance on vulnerable populations, including and especially sex workers. The steps this small country took bold steps to get ahead of the epidemic and those efforts paid off. Today, those efforts have contributed “to low HIV prevalence rate of 0.4%.” For context, “the average in Sub-Saharan Africa is 4.3%. In Washington, DC the rate is 1.9%.” Go Senegal!

Now, I’ve bombarded you all with facts and statistics. Let’s get back to the social aspect of this whole thing. In no way, shape, or form will prostitution ever be seen in a positive light and that’s not just for Senegal (or anywhere in the world really). It’s been seen as a disgraceful and lowly occupation for generations and generations and that’s not going to change. But at some point, we have to stop jumping to conclusions about things such as this legislation (which I’ve talked enough about for now) and the humans being the personas of “sex worker.” Let’s take a moment to meet some of these ladies (I do not personally know them. I am summarizing a few from the 2004 ResearchGate article linked below – for more women’s stories, check out the full article).

Never has a child been asked what they want to be when they grow up and they said “a prostitute.” The journey to becoming a prostitute is a long and painful one, usually catalyzed by a feeling a destitution after a series of events. Whether it is losing one’s job, being sex-trafficked, losing all family members, and/or feeling hopeless, it isn’t an easy decision one takes. Once in the milieu, it can be very hard to get out. So let’s not be so quick to point fingers or pass judgment. I could jump into the topic of “modern prostitution” with young girls and men who have sugar daddies and sugar mama, respectively but I will save that for my podcast ;).

Kocc Barma was talking about step-children when he said doomu jiitle du doom. I for one say this is a fact for all children, biological or otherwise. In today’s world, blood relations is just one of many ways a child can be linked to something or someone. There are so many factors impacting how a child is brought up and who/what they eventually become. Let’s be vigilant and mindful of these things. Because prostitution is just one example. But can you imagine if this article was about depression in Senegalese society (which could very well be relevant when talking about reasons why one might go into the prostitution business). I’ll stop here so I won’t digress but I think you get the point…

Sources

Disclaimers

  • I do not talk about male prostitutes in this article. But they exist.
  • I do not condone prostitution as a viable solution to life’s unfortunate series of events.
  • I look on the bright side of things…
  • This is a reminder that SENEGAL is not operating on Sharia, despite being a majority Muslim country. Laws are not on the grounds of the Quran or the Bible.

KBF said … An old man is needed in a country

“Mag mat naa bayyi ci’m reew”

Ahhh – the elders. “Respect” was the only word I ever associated with them growing up. It was like their word was law. If you ask my mother, she will still tell you that their word IS law. It may be because she’s one of them now … an elder.

I love the wisdom that they bring to our lives. They carry so many stories and intellectual artifacts that can be valuable in understanding some of the things we’re going through as the “younger generation.” I admire their resiliency and persistence. Because in my mind, being around after everything they’ve been through says a lot. And I want to get to that point where I can pass down this knowledge I’ve gained over the years to my “younger generation.” I want to be able to provide stimulation and provoke the minds of the youth so that, I too, may learn from what they have encountered. That last point is what I think is missing for our older generation, our Senegalese elders.

You see, in Senegalese society, there is no room for the youth to have opinions, thoughts, room for mistakes, and God forbid, the freedom to make their own choices. We are bound by sayings like “fii laniou ko fekk, tei fii laniou koy bayi” or “khale khamoul dara.” Loosely translated, it means “we leave things as we found them (generation-to-generation) and “kids don’t know anything.” The first one, I’m more lenient about because of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some things are broken but we’ll get to that later. The second saying that children don’t know anything bothers me to my core. Because what it should say is something along the lines of “children don’t know the same things we do.” That gives credit where credit is due.

As a child, respecting your elders in Senegalese society means the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • Don’t disagree with anything elders say.
  • Don’t challenge their decisions or thought processes.
  • Don’t disobey them.
  • Even if they are telling a blatant lie, agree with them.
  • Don’t turn down their unsolicited “barging in” in your life.
  • Don’t talk back, even if they ask you to answer them, because that counts as talking back.
  • Don’t make your own decisions. Always consult them and make your choice, their choice.

A quick glimpse into the hierarchy of elders-to-youth in Senegalese culture shows you that Kocc Barma’s saying that “an old man is necessary in a country” holds true in many ways. Not because it’s true. And not because it’s not true. But I want to challenge you to think about this differently. In this series, starting with this chapter, I want to invoke a new way of thinking about this and other historical sayings so that we can adopt new ways of understanding them. Allow me to elaborate.

If I start with the saying that adults are necessary in a country, I can’t help but agree. As I stated earlier, they bring wisdom, experience, knowledge, and tried-and-tested methods to surviving this life. After all, they did make it to old age. I don’t just give children credit where credit is due. The elders deserve it here too. So what exactly is my problem with this saying? Well, my problem is when the valid experiences, knowledge, wisdom, and rationale that the youth bring with them is invalided by feelings of hierarchy and/or dominance. The youth, in this saying, don’t have consideration or weight in “grown-up” discussions. No matter how old they become, they will always be seen as children in the eyes of their elders and thus, must succumb to the same treatment of children.

This becomes much more prominent and problematic when it becomes time for said youth to make not-so-youthful decisions, such as who to marriage, career choices, traveling (informing versus asking for permission), how to raise their kids, and even how to spend their money on large purchases. In each of these pivotal moments, an adult must be consulted. And more than consulted, their “advice” must be taken as final or else, the youth runs the risk of being called disobedient, hard-headed, and/or “too westernized.”

This leads me to a point I want to talk about – the theory of cultural modernization. This idea that the evolution of norms and traditions applies also to the cultural realm. I’ll spare you the technical details and boil it down to a Wolof saying I adore: su diamono di dox, danguay dox ande ak mome, loosely translated to as generations walk, you must walk along with them. I love this saying because it simplifies the theory of cultural modernization so well. As the world becomes smaller, as the displacement of people becomes more and more commonplace, and as tradition merge with modernization, we as a people must adapt. It’s not about throwing away our values. It’s not even about plagiarizing those of others. It’s about creating a cocktail of the old, plus the new, to have a more holistic view of the real, true world we live in today. It’s about integration and harmonization. It’s about the first generation 20 year old young woman who was born in Senegal and must find the balance between hanging on to her roots but assimilating to her known life in the US. It’s about the 6 year old bilingual boy who must instantaneously switch between English and Spanish during a parent-teacher meeting to translate for his mother whose English isn’t perfect. How about the 28 year old African-American man who must practice basic Japanese customs and phrases the weekend before he meets his future parents-in-law because he wants to impress them? Let’s not forget about the Muslim hijabi who has to educate men around her office that her not shaking their hand isn’t a sign of disrespect towards them – and not get side eyes for daring to step out of her “traditional role” as a house wife. Cultural modernization looks different everywhere we look… with one common denominator: the world as we know it is changing. Things are looking different, more interconnected and old sayings/traditions/norms are simply no longer a litmus test for “right.” Right looks different depending on who you ask and yes, it’s the youth that brought on this change. Whether it’s the youth of today or the youth of tomorrow, it really doesn’t matter. In every generation, the youth brought something that wasn’t there before and we, as humans, are forced to adapt.

If I pull the reins in a little, back on topic, I insist that yes, elders are necessary for a country. Because of the wisdom they bring and the experiences they share. But they must remember they were the youth to whatever was their older generation at some point. It’s a cycle and everyone must have their turn. So when I throw out the challenge for Senegalese elders to give a little more credit and dare I say respect to the younger generation, I say it with full acknowledgement that one day, I will be part of the older generation that must accept that things will look just a little bit different than from my time. But it’s just that: different.

As we journey through the remainder of Kocc Barma’s sayings, let’s keep this in mind: it’s hard to know what is better or worse – you’ll always get a different answer depending on who you ask. All we are certain of is that something is different. So let’s not punish the younger generation for having a fresh way of doing things, especially when forced to do so by their surroundings. I’m sure when Kocc Barma said mag mat naa bayyi ci’m reew, he didn’t mean at the expense of the youth.

TIDIANE

CLARA: “ ñaareel xaritu jĂ«kkĂ«ram” – deuxiĂšme Ă©pouse

Je sais qu’il m’aime plus. Il a quittĂ© sa maison tant de fois pour ĂȘtre avec moi et je n’ai jamais compris pourquoi il est restĂ© avec elle s’il disait qu’il m’aimait tant. Elle est essentiellement sa bonne ; elle fait tout dans la maison. Je dois le lui donner Ă  elle parce que je n’ai pas la patience.

Quand on sortait ensemble, il m’avait toujours dit comment elle le harcelait au point oĂč il se sentait comme s’il devait aller chercher la paix ailleurs. Il m’appelle son paradis, son al-jannah ! ❀

On est sorti ensemble pendant trois ans avant de nous marier. Il a fallu trois ans parce que j’Ă©tais Ă  l’Ă©cole et mes parents voulaient que je finisse mes Ă©tudes avant de rentrer dans le mariage. Je n’ai toujours pas attendu jusqu’Ă  ce que je sois fini ; tous mes amies se mariaient et je peux allier l’Ă©cole et la vie conjugale en mĂȘme temps. Ce n’est vraiment pas si grand problĂšme.

Je dirais que notre diffĂ©rence d’Ăąge porte beaucoup de gens Ă  rĂ©flexion. Il a 19 ans de plus que moi. J’ai 20 ans. Personnellement, je ne pense vraiment pas que ce soit un si grand Ă©cart d’Ăąge, il n’a pas encore 40 ans ! Nous sommes heureux ensemble et c’est tout ce qui compte.

Sa femme est tombĂ©e enceinte avant mĂȘme qu’ils ne se marient. Je ne peux jamais vraiment la respecter. Il m’en a parlĂ© pendant qu’on sortait ensemble et c’Ă©tait dans mon esprit chaque fois que je pensais Ă  la rejoindre dans cette maison. C’Ă©tait un avantage que j’avais sur elle. J’avais hĂąte de pouvoir l’utiliser comme arme un jour. 

En fin de compte, s’il Ă©tait vraiment heureux Ă  la maison, il ne serait pas venu me voir. Ces premiĂšres Ă©pouses pensent qu’elles ont une telle emprise sur leurs maris. Elles ne savent pas non plus ce qu’ils font quand ils quittent leurs maisons. Ma thĂ©orie est que je n’ai pas couru aprĂšs quelqu’un – il est venu vers moi et nous avons cliquĂ©. J’apporte un nouveau sens Ă  sa vie que sa femme ne pourrait jamais lui donner et si elle n’aime pas ça, ce n’est pas mon problĂšme. Nous sommes toutes les deux ses Ă©pouses maintenant de sorte que tout ce rĂ©cit de, “Je suis ici depuis plus de 15 ans”, est mort. J’ai autant de droits qu’elle et mes enfants auront autant accĂšs Ă  son hĂ©ritage qu’aux siens.

HENRIETTE: La mĂšre de Clara

Je voulais plus pour ma fille – des visions plus Ă©levĂ©es et des espoirs ! J’ai grandi dans une famille polygame et j’ai vu tous les ennuis qu’elle a apportĂ©s avec elle. Il n’y a jamais de vraie paix et de tranquillitĂ© Ă  l’intĂ©rieur de ces maisons ; quelqu’un est toujours contrariĂ© par quelque chose. Pour moi, c’Ă©tait de voir ma mĂšre dĂ©penser tous ces efforts pour plaire Ă  mon pĂšre, seulement pour que lui rince et de rĂ©pĂšte ce mĂȘme traitement avec ses autres Ă©pouses Ă  des jours diffĂ©rents. Rien de tout ça ne semblait rĂ©el.

Je voulais que Clara termine ses Ă©tudes et obtienne un excellent travail de sorte qu’elle puisse se prendre en charge elle-mĂȘme. Mais elle s’est prĂ©cipitĂ©e dans ce mariage malgrĂ© mes avertissements – surtout entrer dans une situation oĂč d’un, l’homme est tellement plus ĂągĂ© qu’elle et de deux, elle ne l’a pas pour elle seule. Tout le monde a cette idĂ©e que tous les hommes sont infidĂšles. J’aime Ă  penser que ce n’est pas vrai. J’ai Ă©pousĂ© mon mari aprĂšs 3 ans de frĂ©quentation et j’ai tenu fermement Ă  mes valeurs de respect et d’honnĂȘtetĂ©. J’ai imposĂ© cela Ă  notre relation dĂšs le dĂ©but et il savait exactement quel genre de traitement je voudrais et n’accepterais pas. Je ne dis pas qu’il ne me tromperait jamais. Je dis qu’il sait que s’il le faisait, je ne resterais jamais lĂ  pour ça. C’est la principale diffĂ©rence. Nous ne pouvons pas dire aux gens ce qu’ils ne peuvent pas faire, surtout les adultes. Mais vous pouvez vous dire comment vous allez rĂ©agir et j’ai passĂ© toute ma vie d’adulte Ă  souhaiter le scĂ©nario dans lequel j’ai grandi Ă  mes propres enfants. Je voulais mieux pour eux alors je suis allĂ©e Ă  l’Ă©cole et j’ai construit une carriĂšre pour moi-mĂȘme et leur ai montrĂ© que chacun d’eux doit ĂȘtre indĂ©pendant !

Je ne dis pas que j’ai Ă©chouĂ© avec Clara. C’est une adulte et elle doit faire ses propres choix. Je dis juste que j’aimerais qu’elle en fasse une autre.

ABIBATOU: “Aawo buuru kĂ«ram” – premiĂšre femme

Je l’ai rencontrĂ© quand j’avais 14 ans. Nous sommes allĂ©s Ă  l’Ă©cole ensemble et tout le monde savait que nous nous aimions. Vers l’Ăąge de 16 ans, nous avons commencĂ© Ă  sortir ensemble officiellement et nous sommes ensemble depuis.

Mes parents l’aimaient dĂšs le dĂ©part. Nos pĂšres Ă©taient des compagnons et ont Ă©tĂ© touchĂ©s par l’idĂ©e que leur lien allait encore Ă©tĂ© renforcĂ© si leurs enfants se retrouvaient ensemble. C’Ă©tait agrĂ©able … jusqu’Ă  ce que ça gĂšne chaque fois que je me plaignais Ă  mon pĂšre du comportement de Tidiane. Qu’il s’agisse de tricherie, de violence verbale, de violence physique, de m’ignorer pendant des jours ou de m’humilier devant d’autres femmes, la rĂ©ponse Ă©tait toujours la mĂȘme : « le divorce n’est pas une option. Retourne chez toi. Â» 

Le fait d’avoir eu notre premier enfant avant que nous ne nous soyons mariĂ©s officiellement n’a pas aidĂ© non plus … et ne me donne pas beaucoup de possibilitĂ©s pour une nĂ©gociation.

Ce n’est pas toujours mauvais. En fait, certains jours sont vraiment bons. Il peut ĂȘtre doux et gentil quand il veut l’ĂȘtre. C’est juste quand cette chemise n’est pas lavĂ©e correctement ou que ce plat n’est pas prĂ©parĂ© comme il aime qu’on se dispute. Et quand on le fait, c’est mauvais.

Je me souviens du jour oĂč il m’a dit qu’il avait Ă©pousĂ© Clara. Eh bien, pas vraiment beaucoup de choses Ă  dire ; juste que je l’ai dĂ©couvert et l’ai confrontĂ© Ă  ce sujet. Une de mes copines m’a appelĂ©e un soir et m’a annoncĂ© la nouvelle. Je n’ai toujours rien dit parce que je voulais l’entendre de lui directement. Il a plutĂŽt envoyĂ© son meilleur ami Pape quelques jours plus tard. Il y avait trĂšs peu de respect ou de considĂ©ration par rapport Ă  ce qu’il avait fait. “J’ai le droit d’avoir jusqu’Ă  quatre femmes Aby. Je n’ai pas signĂ© pour un mariage monogame avec toi ! Il n’y avait pas grand-chose que je pouvais dire Ă  cela et en parler Ă  mes parents serait une perte de temps. Mon pĂšre Ă©tait polygame.

Je ne sais plus du tout comment me sentir. Au fil des ans, j’ai appris Ă  censurer mes sentiments au point oĂč ils ont presque cessĂ© de compter. Il n’y a jamais rien que je puisse dire pour lui faire faire quelque chose qu’il ne voulait pas faire. Notre mariage est trĂšs unilatĂ©ral, je fais la plupart du travail, Ă©motionnellement et autrement, pour maintenir la paix.

SOKHNA: La fille d’Abibatou

Je sais que ma mĂšre souffre, mais je suis plus furieuse.

Clara a mon Ăąge. Elle ne peut pas ĂȘtre ma tante. Pas dans ces circonstances-lĂ . Et ce qui est plus frustrant c’est que les gens me regardent comme si j’avais 10 yeux quand j’exprime ma colĂšre – comme s’ils ne pouvaient pas concevoir pourquoi Diable je me fĂącherais.

Je suis l’aĂźnĂ© de mes frĂšres et sƓurs. J’ai deux frĂšres et trois sƓurs. Nous sommes Ă  l’Ă©cole et nous essayons de tout faire et de rendre nos parents fiers. Je suis dans ma 3Ăšme annĂ©e d’Uni et tellement en colĂšre que je reçois ces appels tĂ©lĂ©phoniques avec un nouveau problĂšme tous les jours. Ce serait une chose si Clara venait chez nous avec des dĂ©clarations de paix. Tout le monde est dĂ©jĂ  mĂ©content de la dĂ©cision de mon pĂšre et elle vient ajouter de l’huile au feu. Elle est irrespectueuse, mesquine et a un regard complice. Mon pĂšre ne peut voir aucun dĂ©faut en elle. Donc, gĂ©nĂ©ralement, si elle entre se dispute avec n’importe qui, elle est automatiquement protĂ©gĂ©e et pardonnĂ©e par mon pĂšre tandis que nous autres recevons des sermons comme « respecter et accepter la volontĂ© de Dieu. Â» C’est vraiment une excuse bidon.

Je dĂ©teste rentrer Ă  la maison lors des vacances ou des pauses scolaires ces jours-ci. C’est toujours de l’Ă©nergie nĂ©gative. Je dĂ©fends ma mĂšre, mais elle essaie de me faire taire aussi… elle ne veut pas que je sois impliquĂ©e d’aucune façon. Mais je m’en fiche. Tant que cette sorciĂšre continuera Ă  poursuivre ma famille, je serai sĂ»re de la mettre Ă  sa place Ă  chaque fois. Épargnez-moi du drame genre “C’est la femme de ton pĂšre”. C’est une salope et c’est tout ce qu’elle sera Ă  mes yeux.

PAPE – Le meilleur ami de Tidiane

J’ai dĂ» ĂȘtre celui qui a annoncĂ© la nouvelle Ă  Abibatou. Elle fait partie de ma vie depuis notre plus jeune Ăąge, on est tous les deux allĂ©s Ă  l’Ă©cole ensemble. C’Ă©tait un jour sombre en lui disant que Tidiane allait se marier. J’ai Ă©tĂ© entraĂźnĂ© dedans parce qu’apparemment, je devais ĂȘtre celui qui la console. Moi. Pas Tidiane. Dites-moi si cela a un sens !

J’ai dĂ©cidĂ© de ne jamais avoir de seconde femme. Pas aprĂšs avoir vu comment il a dĂ©chirĂ© Aby et surtout pas aprĂšs avoir vu comment la vie de Tidiane est devenue 10 fois plus difficile depuis qu’il a Ă©pousĂ© Clara. Nos conversations tournent autour de ses problĂšmes tous les jours. On ne peut pas parler d’autre chose. Cela a pris toute son Ă©nergie. 

Je ne veux pas de ça pour moi. Notre groupe d’amis est constituĂ© d’un mĂ©lange d’hommes qui ont plusieurs Ă©pouses et ceux qui n’en ont qu’une. Et je peux vous dire que ceux qui n’en ont juste une ont beaucoup moins de stress quand il s’agit de la vie conjugale. J’avais averti Tidiane de ne pas le faire, mais ces choses, une fois lancĂ©es, il y n’a que trĂšs peu de choses qui peuvent ĂȘtre rĂ©cupĂ©rĂ©es. Les espoirs de Clara Ă©taient au rendez-vous et il Ă©tait allĂ© trop loin, il ne pouvait rien reprendre.

J’ai de sympathie pour mon frĂšre. Il doit juste accepter les consĂ©quences de ses actes et les prendre au jour le jour, je suppose. Je veux dire que c’est littĂ©ralement quelque chose de nouveau tous les jours. Si les femmes ne se battent pas, ce sont ses enfants qui se rebellent. C’est fou Ă  quelle vitesse les choses peuvent changer.

TIDIANE: “ndĂ©yu mbill mi” – la cause de tout cela

Je les aime de diffĂ©rentes maniĂšres. Chacune d’entre elles signifie quelque chose de diffĂ©rent pour moi.

Abibatou est mon cƓur. Je l’ai rencontrĂ©e si jeune et on a grandi ensemble. Nous nous sommes appris tant de choses dans la vie et il n’y aura jamais une autre femme qui puisse la remplacer dans mon cƓur ou dans ma vie. Rien ne pourrait jamais me faire enlever l’amour que j’ai pour cette femme. Au cours des 18 derniĂšres annĂ©es de mariage, elle s’est un peu lĂąchĂ©e. Je sais que les enfants prennent beaucoup de son temps, mais elle n’essaie plus. Nous avons eu des disputes plus frĂ©quentes parce que tout a un retour – elle a une rĂ©ponse pour tout et je ne peux pas tolĂ©rer cela. Je ne vais jamais l’abandonner, mais elle a certainement ses dĂ©fauts.

Clara, ma douce Clara. Elle est ma fontaine de jouvence. De l’avoir rencontrĂ©e m’a donnĂ© un nouveau billet pour la vie quand j’ai pensĂ© que la mienne se dirigeait vers le bas. Elle a Ă©tĂ© si parfaite et comprĂ©hensive de ma situation. Beaucoup de gens me reprochent d’avoir “abandonnĂ©” sur mon mariage et “laissĂ© tomber Aby.” Je n’ai rien fait de ces choses-lĂ  ; Je viens de rĂ©cupĂ©rer un bonheur qui m’a Ă©chappĂ© depuis si longtemps. Et je ne pouvais pas laisser passer ça. Beaucoup ne seront pas d’accord, mais Clara signifie quelque chose de si spĂ©cial pour moi. C’est une fille douce avec tant d’ambitions. L’Ă©tincelle dans ses yeux enflamme mon Ăąme ! Je ne vois que de la grandeur dans notre avenir.

Je n’aurais jamais choisi entre elles deux. Elles occupent des places spĂ©ciales dans mon cƓur et je m’en tiens Ă  cela.

Les arguments et les combats, ils vont s’adoucir. Au fil du temps, le cƓur de chacune deviendra plus tolĂ©rant de la situation et ce sera plus facile. Mes poches n’y parviendront pas (cette affaire de polygamie est chĂšre !), mais nous y arriverons et tout cela en aurait valu la peine. Il faut observer !

Pour ma famille, sachez que je n’ai rien fait de tout cela avec de mauvaises intentions. Je vous aime tous tellement et j’espĂšre que nous pouvons faire ce travail ! Allah a dĂ©cidĂ© que ce serait mon destin et il n’y a rien que je puisse faire Ă  ce sujet.