Note: this one was originally published on 24th October, but I accidentally deleted it, so here you go again, slightly out of order.
Time for a name change for this column. I don’t always get round to writing up our little anecdotes every week, so “notes from the past week” wasn’t strictly true.
The heat has been fairly relentless lately and I think, although I’m not sure, that I’m suffering from prickly heat. It is like being stabbed in face by knitting needles as a dwarf tickles you – you know the feeling.
The past few evenings have felt like the greatest show on earth…as I recline on my traditional African chair, I stare up at the exquisite night sky and myriad of stars to see flashes of lightening every two or three seconds. It is magical.
Actually, the introduction of one of toubabs younger step brothers –there can only ever be one toubab. Whilst visiting Khadys village, we were introduced to an inquisitive flea ridden little fellow and were told he was ours. At first we thought we’d name him Toubab the Second, after our previous puppy, but after spending a few hours with him yapping, throwing up in Kermit and chasing some kids as I let him out to stretch his legs, I’m thinking Scrappy Doo may be more appropriate.
…I have been mostly planting papaya trees and a second, third and fourth little baobab. The baobabs are me playing it safe – having named our life project and home “the Little Baobab”, I’d be very unhappy if it died so I wanted more. I also nearly trod on this chap on my way to breakfast:
We spent much of Sunday morning pulling water from the well and drenching all the orange, banana and avocado trees. Exhausting work. It hadn’t rained in nearly two weeks and we thought the dry season was upon us. In the afternoon, as I was up to my neck digging, I felt spots. I looked up to see pitch black clouds which promptly opened and it proceeded to rain all afternoon and evening.
A good thrashing
We went to the forty day ceremony of the death of Khady’s father. Well, I say we went – we arrived, spent about 24 hours sitting in the heat, greeting everyone before realising there would be a few more hours to wait for the ceremony itself. By that point, Khady told me she must stay a few days for some mystical ceremonies and I went home as we had left some workers unattended and there’s only so much greeting of people and drinking African tea that I can do.
Before I left, there was a big family gathering and then I was beckoned over to look though a window of the mud brick house. I peered into the hazy gloom and saw Khady, two sisters and two brothers all sat, legs straight ahead and all topless. The rest of the room was filled with old ladies, two of whom brandished green branches and were talking very fast in the diola language. All of the brothers and sisters had agonised facial expressions and were crying, except Khady who smiled at me with a smirk on her face.
Each sibling in turn knelt on all fours and was whipped by the old ladies. I thought it was symbolic and gentle, but afterwards Khady had big welts across her back. She later told me this was part of the diola cleansing process after a father had died. Over the next day or two they’d be washed in various herbal medicines. The old lady caught my eye and I was invited in. Not yet realising it was a proper whipping, I thought this sounded like fun, went in and motioned to take my shirt off.
“No no, you’re not diola, we can’t whip you”.
“Oh no” I said disappointed, “in that case can I whip someone?”
That wasn’t on either, they just wanted to speak to me about some personal matters.
The Devil at the Cross Roads
We met one of Khady’s friends who told us the story of when she met the devil at the cross roads in the Gambia. Khady tells me we can never go there between 1am and 5am, not that I’m likely to.
This cross roads is known as the traffic light. That is because it has the Gambia’s traffic light. The girl told us about how she was working in a tourist bar and travelled home very late in a friend taxi. As they pulled up at the light, a man was stood by the side of the road. She looked close to see he had really odd big eyes, like a cat, and they glowed red. As he swung his arms, the shirt rode up revealing fur covered arms. She went to speak and he raised a finger to his lips shushing her.
Two months later, she woke up in a village where they were treating her with traditional medicine, and said she’d just been released from a hospital having been in a coma. She said she went back to the hospital and looked at the notes to see this was true. Sure enough, she’d been in the hospital in a coma and as they were unable to treat her they had released her to the witch doctor.
Although I wouldn’t have known it, the chap in white shaking hands is the King of the Casamance. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been to a king, except when I went to an Elvis fancy dress party, but strictly speaking I don’t think that counts.