afela: (Sereer) good

Sangako, afela! Sangako, afela! sing and chant the women of the village as Madeleine and I get in the sept-place to drive away. I cannot help my heart feeling wrenched. In three days I have fallen in love with this place. With the spontaneous dancing that breaks out in the shade of the trees, in the kitchen, with the mother with a friendly face and pink scarf brings her speaker to the compound and dances her way through life, inviting us to join her.

I have fallen in love with the many, many children who live in the compound, spending their days playing, enormously loved by the adults in the village. Little Sofi, the treasured daughter of Sofi Senghor, the leader of the village’s women. Little Sofi who has big eyes and crawls over our laps and is clearly given preferential treatment. Baby Abdoulaye, the fattest of them all, whose mother Binta Ndiaye puts him in several new outfits a day to show him off. Everybody in the village loves Baby Abdoulaye, even the wizened old men, who will hold out their hands for him and take him to the mats in the shade, where they recline and bounce Baby Abdoulaye on their stomachs. Aïssatou and Mboye, two little ones, and Omo and Maïmouna, the preteen girls with long, skinny limbs and shy smiles. The children who gnaw on hard, tangy green mangoes and share them with us.

I have fallen in love with the women. Sofi Senghor, the leader with the loud voice and big laugh. Nafi Thior, another mother, whose baby Modou is afraid of us, and spends hours making the most amazing àttaya with precision, a task that I have not yet seen a woman do. Many mothers sit in the kitchen, laughing and talking and they slice fish, peel vegetables, and talk to us, their guests.

I have fallen in love with the landscape, hot and parched, with the strange shapes of baobabs and alien nebeday rising above the thatched huts. The peace and quiet of the compound, shaded by mango trees dripping with unripe mangoes, where chickens and goats run around, where the entire community can be found in the hottest part of the day, relaxing on the steps of a hut or on a chair in the shade.

I have fallen in love with the slow pace of life, with the way that there never seems to be any rush. Like the whole village is waiting, but without the urgency or desire of waiting, like the day is one long stretch of timelessness with the morning blending into the afternoon blending into the night. With the way the nights are so quiet, so peaceful.

I have fallen in love with the people, the community who spends their time sitting around, loving their children, talking to us. We spend hours sitting with them in the shade, learning Sereer, the local language, or sometimes just sitting in silence and being.

When I leave Sangako, I cannot believe the connection I feel I have made there in just three short days. Already I can hold short conversations in Sereer, already we know the names of nearly everybody in the village. As they sing and chant our departure, I cannot help singing as well. Sangako, afela! Sangako, afela!


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