Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Saturday, in preparation for my baptism that evening, my sisters and I spent the morning making beignets (fried dough balls), spicy onion sauce, monkey bread juice (bohe—a kind of fruit that comes from baobab trees), and chatting. So that you can all imagine, I always have a notebook and pen in hand, my cell phone, keys, and a water bottle. So there I am, sweating all the time, laughing, and furiously writing and creating long pulaar vocab lists. They are all so tolerant and have endless patience for my pathetic pronunciation. It has become a kind of exchange where they teach me words in pulaar and I give them the english equivalent and we giggle at eachother’s horrible pronunciation. We must have made several hundred beignets, and as the day wore on more and more women came to help out. Around 6pm people started showing up and it quickly got very overwhelming much the same way that my sister’s wedding in Thies was. While there were not nearly as many people, everyone was still staring at me, asking me tons of questions and ordering me around… “Binta, go get your mattress, and your mat, and now a bucket, and a sheet, and we need a spoon, and where’s your camera? You are going to take pictures aren’t you?” (I was probably asked about my camera 20 times that day.) But I obliged, and I wore my bridesmaid get-up from the wedding, and I was determined not to let this event get the better of me. And I did I fairly good job until I brought out my camera.

*I think it’s important for you all to remember that people are shouting at me in Pulaar this whole time and not slowing the pace of their speech and expecting me to understand*

Unless you have been to a developing country where people do not have cameras and do not see themselves in mirrors regularly, it is nearly impossible to explain what happens when the ‘toubak’ brings out the camera…

Everyone…and I mean EVERYONE wants a picture of themselves. They want one by themselves, with their baby, with their friends, another group one, another one of themselves, and all the while the little kids are running around and jumping into every picture possible. That part isn’t so horrible, (though I now have about 30 pictures of people who I most likely won’t ever see again, or remember—gotta love digital), but as soon as the picture is taken, what can only be described as ‘camera diving’ starts happening. Everyone standing nearby, and everyone in that same picture just start grabbing…at the camera, at my arms, at the camera case—at everything and anything just to get a glimpse of themselves and their friends. It is loud and stressful and totally overwhelming and of course I keep pleading with people not to grab at the camera and to “please please….just DON’T TOUCH THE LENSE!!!”


After picture 40 I got fed up and made sure I had a few pictures with my actual family, and then lied and told the crowd that it had run out of batteries and tucked it safely back in my room.

It is not that I blame people for being so camera crazed….but there is only so much shouting and grabbing and harrassing that one toubak can take. I’m sure that I would be the same way, but man is it stressful.

One of the girls in the crowd really got under my skin for some reason though. Maybe it’s because I was feeling especially exhausted having barely slept the night before (due to the heat), but I just could not take her attitude and she would not let up. For one thing, she kept shouting “toubak” at me, despite my pleas for her to call me by my new name, as everyone else was thankfully doing. Then she began demanding candy from me, so I asked why she thought that all toubak’s have candy (a constant request from people of all ages), and she came back with some comment that I should know that at baptisms people give out candy and so I should have been giving them out. So I got up and walked away amidst sympathetic looks from some of the older women.
But she followed me as I greeted the three male school teachers who my sisters had the foresight to invite (I’m hoping to collaborate with them on health topics when the new school year starts in October).

Then my sister’s started demanding that I dance in front of everyone. I adamantly refused. It is one thing if other people are dancing, but parading around like a circus freak for everyone’s enjoyment in 115 degree weather was not something I was about to tolerate. When my sister saw that I was really embarassed and that this was not okay with me, she quickly relented.

Then she and the teachers started teasing me about not shaving my head (because that’s what happens to babies at baptisms). That I took in stride because you really do just have to have a tough skin and the joking doesn’t bother me as much. But then one of the teachers got on me for not giving a curtsy (sp?) when I gave him water. That was enough humiliation and teasing for one tired, sweaty, toubak! I sought refuge inside where my sister’s were dishing out the food to take to people…but as it was hotter inside and they were all screaming at eachother about who to take what (it is a very complicated hierarchy as far as I could tell), I just gave up trying to be involved and went and hid out with the teachers who were now being served in a private room and had a lovely chat with them (in french—my relief language) about collaborating on health related subjects next year. They were very open to my participation and I feel confident that they will be helpful people to know next year. Fingers crossed that the fact that they are all young, male, and single from Thies (so less conservative) will not become a problem…inchallah!

Thankfully by the time I came out, it was dark and people had all gone home. My family was thrilled with how it all turned out and I was happy that no one seemed to notice how little fun I was having. Probably for the best. At least now I know that most of these events seem to just be overwhelming. Again, this is not unique to Senegal. I think that it’s universal, but my frustrations are exasperated by my exhaustion, the heat, and my lack of language comprehension. All that will get better with time, but I am determined that those of you at home are getting the full experience and not only the ‘romantic’ side of life as a toubak in Senegal.

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