Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Village Wedding

My friend, Bana, finally had her pera Thursday night, the end of a long marriage process. There are a whole bunch of ceremonies throughout the marriage, but I'm still learning and don't quite get the whole thing yet. This final celebration is when the bride is taken to live at her husband's house. Bana is only 17 with a two year old son, not sure where he went during the wedding come to think of it. Her husband's family lives in the neighboring village, but he works in Dakar. They've been engaged or married for a while now, but the marriage ceremonies involve a lot of gift exchanges between the families, which means a lot of looking for money.
The evening of the pera Bana met with her friends and bride's maids in our family's compound to chat and take out braids. Weddings here are the opposite of American weddings - the Pulaar bride tries to look as humble and simple as possible the night she is taken away. I asked Bana if she was scared. She said she was and that she would miss Goundaga very much. Even though the village she is going to isn't far, the majority of the workload falls on the youngest bride in the household, so she won't get much time to visit.
Later we went to eat dinner at her father's hut. During the meal, older female relatives kept coming in to give her advice as a new bride, but not her mom. Most of the advice was on good housekeeping and obeying your husband. When the meal was finished, a female griot (praise-singer) came in with a dark liquid in a gourd spoon. She gave it to Bana's mother to pour on the ground at the bride's feet while she chanted something. Bana burst out crying after that, but no one came to comfort her or said anything; they just watched - it was awkward. Finally, one of her friend's and future sister-in-law told her to stop, that was enough.
Afterwards, Bana wrapped herself in a dark pagne (length of cloth) and went outside to be washed. All the women and children gathered around the stool she was sitting on. The griot said some prayers over the gourd full of water, then washed her in front of everyone. Again Bana started to cry, but no one comforted her; the women started to clap and drum and dance and sing, but not in a happy way. Actually, the whole thing was rather sad.
When she was washed, the griot wrapped her in a white pagne and white veil covering her whole face. The elders and her male relatives came to give advice: more about obeying your husband, taking care of his family, representing our village, and a lot about not sleeping with her husband's friends. It seemed a strange point to bring up, but they kept reitterating that Bana was marrying Hothia and not his friends. Maybe that's an issue here...
Finally, the Toyota pick up came to pick up the bride and all her possessions (not a whole lot) to her husband's village. People were piling into the car and climbing on the back to accompany her. There was hardly any room for the bride herself. It was crazy. More clapping, dancing, and singing as the car left.
The next day, I biked to Bana's new home to see the second half of the pera, the 3 day celebration at the groom's house. She was sitting on her husband's bed with her bride's maids still covered in white, while her husband and his friends greeted guests outside of the hut. Then, her mother-in-law called us into her hut. All of Bana's stuff was piled in the middle of the room along with gifts from the groom. It was oppressively hot in the hut, but all the women relatives on both sides of the family had gathered inside and were lazily fanning themselves with their veils. Two women counted out all the possessions. Another women divided them into piles. There were angry shouts from the crowd when the women didn't count loud enough, or they felt the stuff had been put in th wrong pile; the possesses were being counted for distribution amongst the guest. When the counting was done, Bana's in-laws came to give her more advice and their expectations of her; she started to cry again. Finally, it was over and we returned to her husband's hut. The other guests ate lunch and danced outside, but Bana and her friends waited to eat until everyone else had been served. And this goes on for three days. Then, after a week, Bana will be allowed to go back to Goundaga for one day to say her final goodbyes.
Riding out of her new village, I realized just how much there was to be scared of: it's further removed from road and the river, deeper water table, no school, and her husband will leave for Dakar in a few weeks. There is plenty to worry about for her own future and her kid's future. Most depressing wedding... and this is only the beginning of wedding season.

Project Updates.... not a witty title

Projects are stacking up and I'm starting to feel that I actually have a purpose in my community. The real big success story of the month was the Girls Leadership Conference that my nieghbors, Sam and Jenae, and I organized. We invited 60 middle school girls to talk about their dreams and ambitions. They learned about sexual health, HIV/AIDS, and STDs. 
We discused the many obstacles to continuing school and attaining their dreams: forced marriages, teenage pregnancy, rape, violence, domestic responsibilities, finnancial constaints, distance/accessibility to education, and unequal treatment when living at a relatives (to be closer to school). The second day the girls brought a parent to discussion their ambitions and challenges openly - this does not happen in the Fuladu. Awa Traore is an amazing facilitater and made this event possible, as did the working women in the community who shared their experiences with the girls and the local volunteers behind the scenes. As a volunteer it was really moving to see so many eager girls invested in their futures. A lot of times, the people here seem so withdrawn or indifferent to change and all out of hope. But our girls conference was all fire!
The foreboding sense of the inevitable gave the tree nursery training that my counterpart and I organized at the Master Farmer site a much different vibe. The training went well in general: the first morning my counterpart facilitated a discussion about the importance of trees, their uses, their propagation, and dabbled in agroforestry technologies a bit as well. The second day was hands-on review and set up of a tree nursery at the Master Farmer site: over 2000 tree sacks filled, mango bare root beds, 3 fruit trees planted, and a lot of advertising for live fencing. The training just got off to a 2 hour late start in good Senegalese fashion and was punctuated by tea breaks, cola nut breaks, and an hour pause to visit a baptism happening in the village.
And of course there was the usual peppering of complaints: I should have served breakfast; I should have bought more cola nuts; I should have given everyone money for participating. The latter is my personal favorite. Unfortunately, many organizations in Senegal pay their participants (a lot by village standards) to show up to causeries, trainings, and public information sessions. I can understand travel reimbursements and a per diem if the training is long enough and the participants are actually traveling to the event. But ours was a small, local affair consisting of just two 4 hour morning sessions followed by a free lunch. Try explaining that to a crowd of Senegalese though... It seems no matter how much work volunteers put into their projects in our region, there is always someone there to put them down and tear our work to shreds. If the criticism was actually constructive, that'd be alright. However, "give me money" is not at all constructive for anyone in my mind.

Besides these big events, the rains have finally come and I am busy clearing fields, baling hay, digging zai holes, the works. And then I am working with other volunteers to wrap up the essay proctoring and interviews with girl students at local middle schools for the Michelle Sylvester scholarship that covers tuition and school supplies for next year. Check it out here! Bunch of little projects on the back burner too, but not going to jinx them all yet... stay posted!
Cooking chili and polenta for Teneng (far left) my best friend's birthday, village style over the fire.