|Inside the van - note the falling apart ceiling on the right.|
|Another interior shot - note the photos of the driver's Marabou (spiritual adviser)|
|In front of Idy's father's home|
|A young boy in Thies|
|Another interior shot|
|Interior of Idy's father's house|
I explore the compound; there are several buildings creating a kind of circle, and in the center several women prepare what looks like a huge meal. On one side of the compound are a row of toilet stalls, which are comprised of a drain in a sunken hollow with foot-shaped indents on either side indicating where to squat. There is no flushing mechanism, instead a colorful object that looks like a kettle rests just outside the stalls. I've seen these kettles on the streets in Dakar and had misunderstood their functionality for several days; I thought they were pretty, and had considered trying to buy one to bring back with me. The bathroom stalls are clean and airy, a lot more pleasant than the ones at the Centre Blaise Senghor, or the ones I've encountered on the highway between Chicago and Michigan, for that matter.
There are goats tied to fence posts, and at least one donkey, which appears on the road bearing the weight of a young boy. I join my fellow travelers, who have found a place to sit just outside the main house, surrounded by children. One little girl has installed herself on a lap; she is shy, but very comfortable where she is. I find a spot to sit down, and momentarily I feel a strange sensation on my scalp, like I've backed up into some leaves. I turn to see what it could be, and half a dozen children scatter behind me, giggling. A boy who looks to be about seven or eight years old looks me in the eye and says: "Bic." "Pardon?" I ask him in French, "donne-moi un Bic," he repeats. He is serious in his request, no trace of humor on his face. We were prepared for this; back in Chicago, the women who'd been on this tour before told us to bring gifts for the children: chap stick; hair-ties; pens; paper. Idy collected them all and had distributed them from the van, where he held court like Santa Claus. I don't have any more pens on me - I turned them all over to Idy. "Desole," - sorry, I say to the boy. He looks at me dubiously. Later, Idy approaches me and asks if I have any more chap stick - I'd brought six with me as gifts and they were a big hit. I don't have any more, and I quietly curse the moment at Trader Joe's when I made the decision to buy just six instead of two or three dozen; they came in packages of three for $2.49 each, would it have killed me to spend another $10 or $20?
|Idy distributing gifts|
|Father and son posing|
We are called to dinner; our group gets a prime spot on the floor of Idy's father's house, outside the rest of the clan sits where they can. We eat, and I am extra careful not to use my left hand - at the house in Dakar I've slipped once or twice, but it's understood that as visitors we don't completely understand the gravity of this offense, although Malaal once corrected S with unusual sternness. S is a leftie, so this arrangement has been especially difficult for her to adapt to. Afterward we walk to a small hill about a hundred yards from the house where drummers have begun to practice. With light still left in the sky, the rest of the clan arrives, dressed to the nines. There is dancing, and we are pulled into the fray - the teenage girls who had been practicing earlier take me by the hand and there is no refusing them. A small child had planted herself on my lap and even this is no excuse; the woman next to me takes the toddler from me and I do my best to follow the dancing girl's lead; she stands across from me and looks me in the eye, I mimic her movements to the best of my ability, letting go of my inhibitions, and quite aware that all eyes are on me. Moments earlier A had slipped and fallen while dancing, which caused quite an uproar.
When there is no light left in the sky some men bring loudspeakers and a microphone into the circle and begin singing praises to Idy, who enters the circle and dances to his extended family's delight. I consider the fact that Idy is related to every single person in this village; I consider that this is where he came from, and that most of what he earns in Chicago is very likely sent back here. I think about how much of the year he spends away from his family. Entire villages, I've been told, have no grown men left - they've all gone to Europe or the United States to work, sending their earnings back home, some of them unable to return for years at a time. I am sad and amazed and in awe all at once. It is overwhelming, and beautiful, and exhausting.
On the ride back to Dakar several older women ride with us part of the way; they talk and laugh, and break into song spontaneously, singing praises to Idy.