Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trip with Tomsir

Back in the middle of June I took a short trip with Tomsir, the guy I teach English to. He grew up in a village on the border of The Gambia; his father died when he was very young so he went to live with his uncle. He hadn’t been back there to see his uncle (and both his grandmothers, who also live there now, as well as other relatives and friends) in a long time, and since there are so many mango trees there and everyone (more or less) is a farmer, Tomsir thought I could go and gather mango seeds for my tree nursery as well as talk with the farmers.

So one Thursday in the middle of June, we took the alham (big white car) to a village about 25km from Kayemor whose weekly market is on Thursdays (so lots of cars from Kayemor go there). From there we took another alham to the town on the border of Senegal and The Gambia. Then we took a charette to the town in The Gambia, took a big bus to another town, and walked several kilometers to Tomsir’s village. The picture below is me standing essentially on the border between Senegal and The Gambia – it had been the first time I had entered The Gambia.

Once we got to Tomsir’s home we had to go around and greet all of his family members. Below are pictures are of his father’s mother (Tomsir thinks she’s over 100 years old – she’s outlived most of her children) with a girl (not sure how she was related – like most people I met), a woman with her baby, Tomsir’s uncle next to his son (and several curious girls looking on), and Tomsir’s mother’s mother.

This is a picture of the only picture Tomsir has of his dad.
Once it cooled off that evening, Tomsir’s uncle brought us on a tour of his fields and gardens – they were very nice, and there were so many trees it was almost as if we were walking through mango and cashew forests. There aren’t – unfortunately – nearly as many trees around Kayemor. After that Tomsir brought me on a mini-tour of the village and surrounding area. The sun was setting when we reached the start of a big salt flat leading up to a river. And then we reached a big termite mound, which Tomsir promptly decided he wanted to climb, leading to this ridiculous series of photos.

That night we had a special treat for dinner: millet with chicken! Hospitality is a huge thing in this culture, and it often seems that some of the poorest people are the most hospitable: killing a chicken is a rare occurrence throughout Senegal, especially so deep in the bush. My host family is slightly better off than most families in the area so we’ve had chicken numerous times since I’ve been here, but for Tomsir’s family to kill a chicken is a really big deal. They gave Tomsir and I a separate bowl (like they had for lunch) and gave us the vast majority of the chicken (bush chickens are really small compared to American chickens). Most of the rest of the family didn’t even have any chicken; they had millet with the common leaf sauce made from the moringa tree (which I like, mostly because I know how packed full of vitamins, minerals, and protein the leaves of the moringa tree are – things that are often missing in most other dishes). They even saved us some of the chicken and reheated it for breakfast – the leftovers from dinner is the standard breakfast for people in villages that don’t have mud bread ovens, which is the vast majority of villages (we do have bread in Kayemor because Kayemor is large for a village). I slept in Tomsir’s grandma’s room with her because she had an extra bed. She was so cute about making sure I was comfortable and everything – and even made me spray perfume on my clothes before I went to bed (and again when I woke up…not exactly sure why, but she insisted I do it).

The next morning we had breakfast and went around and said goodbye to everyone we had said hello to the previous day. Then one of Tomsir’s cousins hooked their horse up to the charette and he took us to the main road in The Gambia to get a car back to Kayemor. Along with hospitality, giving gifts is a very important part of this culture. Tomsir brought tea, sugar, and bread as gifts for his family (all standard village gifts), and I brought tree seeds and tree sacks to plant the seeds in to have a small tree nursery. They really liked the gifts, especially the tree sacks because they’re really hard to get (the tree sector of the Senegalese government is supposed to give farmers tree sacks, but that often doesn’t happen; Peace Corps gives them to all the PCVs that want them here). When we left, Tomsir’s family gave us lots of mango seeds, an enormous amount of peanuts (some already roasted, but most of them were raw), millet, and a chicken! They were so generous! We ended up giving them back some of the peanuts so we wouldn’t have to pay as much for baggage.

Back in Kayemor, we ate the millet in his friends’ garden (the Talibe garden I’ve written about before) and some of the peanuts. I am keeping the rest of the peanuts in my hut – Tomsir has peanuts all the time when he comes over (which he needs because he’s so skinny). I also kept the chicken at my house with my host dad’s chickens. It was kind of small and disheveled looking, especially after the car rides between there and here, but it quickly perked back up and clearly loved his new home (I think my host dad’s food, which is mostly just left over rice and millet, is better than the food Tomsir’s uncle can provide; or maybe the insects here are better than there…). I decided to name him Monsieur Barack Obama because he’s black and white – like the black president of a “white” nation (or so everyone here believes, regardless of how many times I tell them that there are tons of black people in America).

Tomsir wanted me to be able to keep Monsieur Obama until when my real parents come to visit me here so they could eat him, but when we did the math, we realized he probably wouldn’t live that long (these chickens get sick if they’re not killed when they’re at their prime). A few days ago my host mom said she wanted to cook “yassa ginarre” (which is the most common chicken dish here) for lunch the next day, so I told her should could kill Monsieur Obama, too (along with 2 other of my host dad’s chickens), as long as she made a separate bowl for Tomsir and I to eat – we both loved the special chicken lunch. Thanks Monsieur Obama. :)

When I got back to Kayemor I also sent Tomsir’s uncle 4 kilos of rice seed because I still had rice seed left over to give to farmers and because he has such a great field for growing rice. Now I have an excuse to go back, too – to check on the rice.

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