Bassari Village Stay

Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
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Trip End Dec 15, 2006


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Thursday, October 26, 2006

I climbed off of the SIT bus early in the morning, my NorthFace pack on my back filled with the necessary items for my four-day village stay. I walked down a red dirt road with my friend, Ruby, and our assistant program director, Bouna, to meet my new Bassari family. The Bassari are an ethnic minority group who live in southeastern Senegal as well as parts of Guinea, and as I learned from my short stay in the village, the Bassari truly live off the land in every way possible.

Ruby and I were greeted by our Bassari father, Tama, and our brother, Noel (Noel = Christmas and he was born on Christmas... they're not very creative with names). Ruby and I were taken immediately to our room (or hut, if you will) to lay down our bags on our beds of straw. We returned to "la maison" or "the house" which consisted of a lean-to constructed entirely with bamboo, a small cooking area, and mats laid out on the ground. We waited a few hours for lunch, ate two full meals, and then were told to take a nap for the rest of the afternoon since it was hot. We woke up in the late afternoon and sat around with our family for a little while. Our mother was away for a woman's conference in a near-by city and our older sister is studying in Dakar at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, so we stayed with all males besides our younger sister, Marina. When the sun set and the stars were becoming visible, Ruby and I helped Noel to draw water from the well for us to take bucket baths behind the bamboo wall. It was really a relaxing experience to shower outside under the stars (although a bit awkward if people walked by the other side of the bamboo wall).

After "showers" and dinner, Ruby and I sat and talked to our Bassari father. Tama told us stories about the history of the Bassari and some traditional fables of the Bassari. We drank palm wine recently collected from the palm trees beyond the peanut fields. We chewed on sugar cane freshly cut from the garden next to our home. We ate roasted peanuts that were collected that very morning. We waited until the moon fell behind the mountain of Iwol before we walked up the rocky trail to our hut. The next day, after taking another bucket bath and enjoying some great "tappalappa" bread (really, it's delicious), Tama informed us that we would be having rabbit for lunch that he caught while hunting after we went to bed the night before. The rabbit still had some hair on it, but it was good nonetheless.

The following days passed similarly, and Ruby and I definitely enjoyed our time with our calm, peaceful, kind Bassari family. We were entertained by our little brothers and sister, or perhaps it was Ruby and I who were the entertainment. We wrote in our field journals and we created lovely sketches of bissap plants and Bassari huts with charcoal from the ground. We drank tea with our brother and his friends while they played cards. We went out to a CLUB... yes, clubs exist even in villages... and we danced the night away with our brother and another SIT student, Marian. We went to a very interesting Catholic mass with an amazing choir and women wearing beautiful Senegalese boubous. All of this was incredible, but nothing tops the memory of sitting on a hill in a peanut field behind our village, watching the sunset, and playing catch with a cob of corn with my Bassari brothers. When we left after our four days, Ruby and I both felt like we would start crying, and we will both surely miss our Bassari family.
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