Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Desire to Understand

     My curtains are up, my mat is on the floor, and my pictures of the home people (meaning you all in the good ol’ U.S. of A.) are hung.  I’m all settled into my thatch roof hut, and oddly enough, it feels like home.  With only a little over a week under my belt, I’ve already made a few trips to the school, visited the hospital, attended 4 football matches, traveled to Basse multiple times, and done my best to become a part of the Sahoneh family.

     In attempt to understand my overwhelmingly large family better, I started to create a family tree.  I know that I still have family members missing from my tree, because I’ll see someone and have no idea who they are, but from the 60 that are accounted for I have found out many interesting things.  For instance, my host mother, Chao has 8 children, 5 whom live in the compound.  I also was informed that she and her co-wife, Binta, are widows.  When I asked the name of their husband, I was barked at by a 20 some year old boy in the compound who told me not to write down his name.  With my head nearly bitten off, I didn’t ask any more questions about their deceased husband, so I have no idea how he passed, and I imagine it will remain that way for a while because my Sarahule is fairly limited.

     I also learned that many family members, at least 18 that I know of, live outside of the compound, which is relayed with a pointing finger and a word that starts with s.  These members range from husbands to wives to children.  Again, with limited Sarahule I’m not sure if this means they live around the corner, in another village, or another country. 

     For the most part, I take the language barrier with a grain of salt.  I’m able to express my basic needs such as n laahi jii, translated I need water, and I can tell my family where I’m going and when I’ll be back, but there was one day that I found it particularly frustrating that I couldn’t understand.

     After I had made my round of morning greetings to all 60 some members saying, “An wujam (Good morning). Hotora ma wuyi (How did you sleep)? Hotora sun tiya (Hope there is no trouble). Maajam (Peace only),” repetitively, my host-mother and sister, Fatoumata came to my door to say they were going to the hospital.  As they stood there, I realized this meant I was going too.  Locking up, I didn’t know if we were just going to see the hospital, but noticing Fatoumata was carrying a bowl of food on her head, I could only assume we were going to visit someone.

     The hospital was like many depicted on tv… crowded rooms, flies buzzing all over, no doctors to be seen.  As my heart started to sink, it full on plummeted when we made our way to the back room to find a 10 month old baby boy, the reason for our visit.  His eyes were sunken in, the skin was sagging off his tiny legs, and his spine jetted out from his back.  His baby belly poked out displaying his malnutrition, as I read the doctor’s chart, “Severe anorexia, high fever, lesions in mouth.”  It was followed by a list of medical terms, foreign to me, and that’s when the wish to understand washed over me.  I sat quietly for most of our hour visit, taking in as much as I could.  Chao made an attempt to explain to me what had happened to the child.  I heard the words “kombo,” meaning breast, and “suggu” meaning to suck, so I inferred that for one reason or another the little guy was suffering because his mother was unable to breast feed him.  BUT WHY!?!?!

     I asked Hawa, a 16 year old identical twin who was moved from the Bronx by her parents when she was 14 (their story is a blog post in itself that I will have to okay with them first), if she could ask Fatoumata about the boy, but she was unable to relay any new information to me.

     The desire to understand is what drives me each day.  From education, to the dynamics of the family, to football, to the language, to the American girls, to the health care, I want to understand!!!  As I learn more, I will be sure to share my findings.  If there is anything you are interested in learning, please don’t hesitate to ask.  After all, we're in this together.


  1. An do hamayee. I think of you all of the time. I'm so glad to hear your voice in the stories that you tell of Africa. I have a book that must read.

  2. I have a book that you must read.