Reconnecting with my family was a joyous occasion. Over the past ten years, since I was there last with my wife, it was evident that my family had acquired a substantial amount of wealth, and more importantly, they were healthy which was not only a great relief, it was an occasion to celebrate. After our initial greetings, I took our crew to tour the village which included six other families. As is the custom, we greeted each and every one of the family members, including the new Chief, who took over for his father who passed away five years earlier. We then toured the fields with my ‘brother,’ Omarou, spent a considerable amount of time in their newly planted cashew orchard which is becoming a very lucrative cash crop, and then meandered down to the Cassamance River which flanks Sarre Yero Diao to the north and west for a dip with dozens of boys who rejoiced at the novel experience of swimming with their visitors.
That evening, my host mother, Yorba, created two amazing rice and meat dishes complete with an array of vegetables which we had procured from the market earlier that afternoon, and in savoring these creations which were served in large bowls around which we squatted and ate, I marveled at the fact that this feast was all prepared over two small fires in two great pots. Truly difficult to imagine how this was all made possible, even though I had been watching and chatting with the elderly women and others who I knew as girls, but were now mothers with their babies tied on their backs with sarongs.
Over the next several hours and late into the evening I chatted and translated our dialogue to our crew while we took turns drawing water from a new well which was located in our family’s compound so that we could take ‘bucket baths’ which cooled down our sweaty travel-weary bodies. Next we bedded down on the bamboo structures situated under the mango trees that filtered the bright light of the moon, which like the sun, seemed more omnipresent and alive as its hunger for attention burned through our eyelids while the children’s laughter and play could be heard all around us. Eventually, all at once, the village became a muffled silence as the stars morphed into an ever-familiar tapestry of light.
Sadly, this was a quick visit. My family was confused and upset that they did not know I was coming, but this was to be expected as they have never received any of my letters over the years, however, explaining to them in the best Pulaar I could muster that we were leaving the following morning was a difficult ‘concept’ for them to comprehend. And, knowingly how bizarre this immediate departure seemed to them in that I had travelled so far and to only stay one night is simply not an aspect of their culture as one visits for many nights after having travelled any great distance, my family was thankful that I had come so far for the sole purpose of visiting them. That said, and with mutual adoration, we were all loaded up, and with the children sending us off with a song and a dance, we continued northwest toward The Gambian border over a crumbled cement and potholed dirt ‘road’ that is still unimproved and is just as unforgettable as it was when I last travelled this route some 20 plus years ago.
While we waited to ferry across the Gambia River, I was surprised to learn that the four ‘Malika Monkeys’ who were with us and had grown up in the suburbs of Dakar, had not only never been to that region of Senegal, or for that matter, never been that far from their home, they had also never spent the night in such a rural village. I was filled with a calm satisfaction in having successfully entertained these ‘city-dwelling’ Senegalese, who for the most part did not speak or understand Pulaar, in such a remote setting that was still all too familiar to me.
Although we all enjoyed different aspects of the sights and adventures we experienced, a common highlight was the evening spent in my former host village, Sarre Yero Djiao. All agreed that not only did my host family epitomize the welcoming and easygoing nature of the Pulaar people, my host family’s desire to reconnect with me and meet the needs of my group, was a gracious experience none of us will forget.