Lydia met an old friend of hers in the market yesterday. Nabou is married to Ja Ja and they own a restaurant in Toubacouta. We were invited there for an early afternoon drink of bissap, a pure sweetness made from the flowers we picked a few days ago. It went down just fine in the shade.
Lydia wanted us to experience another village in the afternoon, where people don’t speak French and kids don’t go to school. Unless things change, the children will not leave the walls of their compound to live. How sad. Lydia often says that she can only do so much, can only help so many people. It’s time for other people to step up … such as me.
I was on the back of Yusefa’s moto as we rolled over the dirt roads. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up some suckers for the kids we’d meet along the way. Lydia packed them in a plastic jar and we were off again.
Soon we were off-road on a sandy track across the dry land. The sand became deep in places, at least to my eyes. Yusefa clearly was confident on the moto, so much so that he was tailgating Mamadou ahead. I froze. All that basic trust went out the window as I imagined falling off the bike and recovering in a Senegalese hospital for a year or so.
At a rest stop, I asked Lydia how much farther. “What’s wrong?” she replied. And then … I lied. “I’m tired.” Lydia looked at me like she knew I was telling tales. So now the truth: “I’m scared.” Ahh, the truth works. We talked about how everyone is afraid of something. For her, it’s flying. For me, right now in general, it’s riding my bicycle. Right now in specific, it’s little mounds of sand, and Yusefa often putting his feet down to keep us upright. Yikes!
After we walked for a bit, I felt better. On the moto again, I was able once more to look around, to drink in the parched land and its goats and cows.
At the edge of one village out in the middle of nowhere, we stopped. Kids came running. Lydia pulled out the jar and was quickly surrounded. Such happy faces and full mouths.
We came to an extended family’s homes, surrounded by a fence of long vertical sticks. Cement houses and, according to Lydia, a bleak future. Many eyes met mine, and many smiles. The queen of them all was a tiny girl, all dressed up in orange and red. What a sweetie, and we spent a few moments with each other’s eyes.
Farther on, we came to the highway. Our convoy stopped for awhile, and I never did find out why. I looked across the street and saw a little girl in a pink dress gazing at me from her yard. I raised both arms high above my head … and so did she. I swept my hands to the right and she mirrored me. To the left. Arm circles. Hanging from a tree. Twisting and shouting. All repeated by the girl and soon five or six of her friends. I couldn’t read their faces from our distance but I bet everyone was smiling.
And now, next. I crossed the road and walked up to the barbed wire fence. The kids stayed back some but they were curious. And I just loved the beaming smile of my young pink friend. One of the kids threw an empty jar at me and I tossed it right back, to a flurry of giggles. Then it was an old rubber strap. I wore it around me like a necklace. More giggles. Hands came closer and fingertips touched. Two women in the background smiled.
Then it was time to go. Motos revved up. The young ones smiled at me and I returned the favour. I bowed in my best Buddhist manner and they bowed back. We waved goodbye and the asphalt took me away.
It was of the most remarkable times of my life. I was in love. Sadly, I forgot to take their picture. Lydia said we’ll go back into the area again and I hope to see the kids, this time with my phone at the ready.
Goodnight, dear ones.