Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Post: Dancing into the New Year in Nafadji

Written by Margo Goyette (Marielle's mom)

Host Mom Aissata and Margo

It felt so exciting to finally be in Senegal--to reunite with Marielle after so long and to be in Africa for the first time. Over the past year and a half, we had closely followed her blog, clicked through the many photos, listened to her stories and Skyped, but to experience it all firsthand with our whole family felt very special.

Even though we only had a week, we made the most of each day and took away some memorable impressions that will stay with us for a lifetime. We were very fortunate to wind up with a comedic driver named Pape (“Pop”) who crammed all five of us, plus our mountain of luggage into his modest Toyota pick up and patiently drove for nearly 13 hours from Dakar, all the way out to the southeastern corner of Kedougou. He somehow maintained a sense of humor while swerving down heavily pot holed dirt roads for hundreds of miles.

Pape and his truck

Senegalese humor was something we picked up on from Pape’s silly nicknames for a couple of our family members, to villagers who told us about “joking cousins” which apparently are people who have a “rival” family last name paired to their last name. So when you meet those folks you get to rib them by saying things like “You are my slave” or “I am your king”. We were given honorary Senegalese names by Marielle’s host families, however we did not have a chance to use the “You are my slave” lines on any of our “joking cousins”. We covered a lot of ground during our marathon drive. One of the highlights was visiting an animal preserve in Toubacouta where we observed rhinos, giraffes and warthogs up close from our truck. We also enjoyed a rare opportunity to walk with and pet a pair of adorable 9-month old lion cubs. 

Marc, Alex, Gabi, Marielle, and Margo

Marielle, Alex, and Gabi

Baby Margo and Margo
Getting a chance to learn about village culture and one of the dialects was also memorable. We put into practice the basic Malinke that Marielle taught us by greeting countless villagers and shaking many hands---her emphasis on the importance of greeting each and every person was not exaggerated. We were treated like honored guests and given a warm welcome by Marielle’s host families in both Saraya and Nafadji. In both villages we had a chance to sleep in thatched huts, eat native foods out of communal bowls and were treated like family members. I was especially thrilled to finally get a chance to meet my namesake, Baby Margo, in Nafadji. She is already over a year old now and mirrors the radiant smile and beautiful eyes of her mother Fily.

Helping Fily cook lunch

Our most memorable moment of the entire trip was a large dance party that was given in our honor on New Year’s Eve under the moonlight in Nafadji. Fily had organized the event and the dancing and singing were performed by the village women, while two male djembe drummers kept the lively beat going. The women sang in Malinke with beautiful harmony, substituting words to their familiar folk songs with words that honored and welcomed us--we had come from far, far away just to visit them, we were Marielle’s family, they were happy to greet us and our names were called one by one. As they poured their hearts out in song, each woman danced individually in the middle of the circle while everyone clapped to the drum beat.

Into the wee hours, feet were stomping furiously over the dirt, like a frenzied sprint with puffs of red dust wafting up into the night air. Arms flapped to the beat as if preparing to take flight. Other women would step in with their own spirited moves to challenge the dancer in the middle with hips swaying, feet pounding, and then they would step out and others would take the spotlight. Each of our family members were pulled in to take turns with our own dance moves and the women whooped with glee. At first I felt like a self conscious Toubab trying to catch the beat, but a spark finally caught and my feet just took off. Gabi and Alex added their own heat to the circle as they were pulled into the center and gyrated to the drum rhythms without reservation. The game changer happened when Marc began to swing dance and the women went wild. They had not seen this type of dancing before and many repeatedly pulled him back into the dance circle to try it. He spun each one around like tops and they thrilled to the unexpected speed and footwork. We learned that the men do not normally participate in dance parties, so it was probably a fun novelty for them to have Marc & Alex joining in. Both guys were pulled into the center of the circle frequently throughout the evening.

Marielle looked radiant and completely at home dancing and kicking up dust with these women. The bond that had grown between them over the past couple of years seemed clear. The singing and dancing were not just to celebrate our family’s visit, but it felt like their tribute to her and all that she’d done for the village. There was a surreal and visceral quality to the evening that transcended language and culture. We were deeply moved by it and the incredible love and warmth we felt from everyone in that circle. Long after we have returned home and gotten back to our routines, we are still talking about how that moment will always be remembered as one of our best.

Marc and the Nafadji Soccer Team

Gabi and Sira

Margo, Marielle, and Gabi with their red dirt tans