This piece introduces what will become two new regular interview series at the Little Baobab blog, Africans and Toubabs.
“Africans” will feature interviews with Africans about their daily life and their impressions of the continent. The west is full of horrific images from Africa – war, poverty, genocide, starvation, corruption, Aids. That does of course exist, the vast majority of the population is getting on with life. Africa is not a country, it is 54 nations with countless ethnicities, languages and cultures and more than a billion people. So, my aim is to tell the stories of normal regular people and perhaps show a different side to the story.
The second series, “Toubabs”, will feature interviews with non-Africans such as myself, living and working on the continent. Part of my ethos is to inspire people and show there are different paths we can take in life. I constantly meet others following their dreams and here I will share their tales.
Today I open up Africans, with my favourite: Khady Mane.
What are you up to right now?
I am helping build our home and bringing up our son. I am growing onion, sweet potatoes, corn, beans and peanuts. I have a jakarta (motorbike) that I rent as a taxi and I’ve just processed a ton of fruit called nettey, to make a juice. I didn’t make much profit as rats ate a lot of the fruit. My favourite thing is to teach traditional dance.
Can you describe a typical day in Abene?
I go to the market to buy the days food, as without a fridge we have to buy fresh. It’s a good chance to meet my friends and blah blah. Today I made a soup with okra. I usually make all the meals on a fire and have to control Gulliver who’s a big wriggle-bum. After lunch it’s very hot and we rest in the shade and make traditional tea. I then clean the house and do any washing and tend to my garden. Sometimes I’ll go to visit a friend or some family or go to the beach to swim. After Gulliver’s bathed, we eat and sit by the fire drinking tea. We often watch something on the laptop – recently Breaking Bad. My favourite was Larry (curb your enthusiasm).
Tell me about your life to date
I don’t know when I was born or my age. My first memory is living with my Aunt in Albadar, a small village near Abene. When I was a toddler, I was a big bandit and lived in Dakar with my father. My aunt visited and said I needed a good education in the Casamance. My Dad agreed and I went to live with her. When I arrived she never sent me to school. As soon as I woke up I had to sweep the whole compound, then go to the market for food before making lunch for 20 people and wash up afterwards. Then I had to wash everyone’s clothes. This was from the age of about 8 until I was 18. In that time, without my Aunt knowing I taught myself six new languages on top of my native diola – french, peul, sera, wolof, mandinka and creole. I never saw my Father in this time, only my mother but she never told him I wasn’t going to school. He was very angry when he found out.
After all my work, I’d walk down the dark track for 2km to Abene and dance with a djembe group, Casadamance. I joined them when I was 9. When I was about 18 I left home and we went to Somone, Saly and Dakar in the north of Senegal, where we danced for tourists. When I was about 22, the group broke up because of internal politics. We’d just been invited to Europe and I was very upset as that fell through.
Instead, I went to Dakar and worked for a Colonel in the Senegalese military, as his house keeper, before returning to Abene. I started working for a guest house. I’d only been there a few months when you arrived…
My father believed in God and therefore so do I. I’m a muslim, but our family were Christians until a few generations ago. I believe in the mystic Africa.
What’s your favourite food?
Fish Pie! Supakandja (okra soup) is my favourite Senegalese food.
Any tips on good African music we should be listening to?
Europeans should listen to the bougarouba drum – I can sing along and make a cd, then they can listen to that.
Editors note: this video shows this drum, as played by Khady’s uncle, Bacary “Ole” Deidhiou
Do you want to go to Europe?
My Father died last year and I want to visit my new Daddy in England. I’ve never been anywhere apart from Senegal, and I’ve only been to Gambia since meeting you. I just want to visit to understand more about life. I want to understand the difference between Europe and Africa. Not to live there. Africa is our home.
What are your favourite places in Africa?
I’ve not travelled to many places. Boune was very nice – it’s a small island in the mangrove swamp. I like eating pizza at Pocoloco bar in Gambia.
What are your thoughts around African development?
Many people here don’t have a job. It’s better to give somebody a job opportunity than money. Many guys begging here just spend it on ganja. Most people want to go to Europe to become rich. Why can’t they learn from the Europeans and recreate the successful things here in their own culture and community?
What advice would you give someone who’s scared to visit Africa?
There’re very few security problems here – sometimes youths with nothing will try and steal but not with violence. I think this happens anywhere. I’ve been here all my life and never saw any problem. Just come – if you don’t like it you’ll learn how most of the world lives. And if you love it, maybe you’ll never leave.
What are your hopes and dreams?
My family. You and Gulliver. I want us to be happy and have a good business. I’m waiting for people to come so I can teach them to dance properly in the African way.