Day Twenty-Two: The Tree

We went riding on motos yesterday – onto the dirt roads, out into the country. Women carrying loads on their heads, kids running after us, a few individual men strolling along – many of them waved. So did we. Through the dryness of it all, under the beaming sun, we rode beside fields spotted with African trees and goats. Past a couple of turquoise mosques surrounded by walls … and finally to the edge of Missirah.

We pulled over in the centre of downtown. In a shop, I lusted over a green, yellow and red Senegalese soccer jersey. Sadly the only sizes in stock started at XXL and went up from there.

A smiling old fellow was to be our guide this morning. He was a fishmonger who recognized me from a week ago. I felt badly that I didn’t recognize him. It makes me pause to realize that I have far more distinctions about the facial structure of white people than I do about black folks.

The gentleman led us to the fish farm he tends – three rectangular pools covered with netting. As he continued along, I moved away from the group to linger with several cows on a large expanse of dusty land. Then there were mangrove trees to visit, with their exposed roots reaching down under the water. A quiet time, as I renewed my wondering about whether I could live in Senegal.

It felt like time again to be with my friends. The glom of us returned to village streets. A twist here and a turn there began to reveal a hugeness ahead.

I stopped. I stared. Before me was a gigantic tree … in height, in the circumference of its trunk, in the massive biceps of its main branches. Our leader said don’t go close: the bees will attack you. So I kept the distance in my body. My soul, however, was reaching towards the immense one.

The group was moving on and I was standing still. I was in the presence of vibrant life, a wooden symbol of transcendence, of gathering in, of coming together.

We returned soon to the other side of the tree, where apparently there were no bees, since we were invited to come close. The tree is a fromager, so named because its soft wood made perfect boxes for the transport of cheese. Facing me was the largest fromager in West Africa, approximately 1000 years old. Its bark folded in marvelous ways. One exposed root many metres from the trunk was named Croco by the residents, due to it resembling a crocodile.

As our guide spoke in French, the reverence in his voice was clear. Lydia sidled over to me and began translating. This fromager is the mother of Missirah. Its leaves speak of the turning of the seasons. Crops are planted when the fromager says yes. When there’s a problem in the village, the women dress up as men, and the men as women. Sacred milk is poured on the roots and the fromager receives the supplication, offering its wisdom in turn. Infertile women visit the trunk, asking for a child. Lovers are married within the folds of the sacred one. Anyone and perhaps everyone touches the wood and feels the communion.

I take the dear fromager with me, not only in photos but also in my travelling being. Perhaps the next person I meet will have an inner fromager … to be honoured, to be loved, and to receive love from.