Thursday, July 26, 2007

Atouman's World

Hey everyone - first I'll update you on the good news, because apparently some of you are unnecessarily worried about me! Both my luggages have now arrived - the second one had been sent to Beirut if you can imagine, and was brought back by Air Italia - crazy ! And I am not malnourished! The food situation has stabilized, and I'm getting more than enough so don't worry...

Ok, onto the post:

Until recently, I had been a little disapointed that I wasn't getting as much access/exposure to Senegalese culture as I expected (and certainly not as much as when I was in Spain, where I was constantly running into interesting people and things). I attribute that largely to the fact that I don't have as much time (since I work five days a week) and I didn't know the right people....

Enter Atouman.

Atouman Gueye, 22 years old, djembe player. He lives next door to the hairdresser where I got my hair braided. He hangs around there a lot and the girls who work there know him well, so that's how I got to know him. Anyways, since then, he has introduced me to a whole new world.(Here's Ndieme on the left, who did my braids, and at the beach, Atouman and Maud (a French intern at work)

So last weekend, Atouman took me to a ceremony - well really a huge neighbhourhood party - where the young girls of the neighbourhood get dressed up in matching green sparkly dresses, do their hair and so on, and organize this big party. Chairs are set up in a huge rectangle right on the street, big speakers play music, lights are shining, etc. Then around 11pm, the WHOLE neighbourhood piles onto the street, crowding around this rectangle - it must have been like 500 people. I of course, was the only white person there. (Can you find Waldo in the picture?)

Atouman is part of a group of drummers who perform at ceremonies like these ones (this was just a fun party to celebrate summer time, but others, for example, celebrate the confirmation that a woman is a virgin after her first night with ther husband). Musicians are highly respected in Senegalese culture, going back I think to when there were (there still are to a large extent) social classes. Musicians/drummers/dancers/performers are part of the Grillo class I think. Anyways, Atouman's group wasn't performing that night, but another group asked him to play. It was about 8 guys, playing Sabars, which are like Djembes, only you play them with one hand, and the other using a little stick.
So the drummers drum for hours - and I'm talking serious drumming - to the point that sweat is just flowing from their faces. And then the girls - the dressed up ones as well as others from the neighbourhood, and some older women too - come up to the drummers, do a quick dance and run back to their seats. Their dancing is like nothing you've ever seen, and fascinating to watch. Their hands wave around and their legs are spread wide - it's almost like a gorilla jumping around, but faster and very intense! Often the dancer will match herself to the drumming, adding a little shake of the bum as a finale.

Then came the chanting and singing, because the drummers only get money by having women drop bills into their hands, so they chant to the women .... including me... All of a sudden I hear the word 'Toubab' which means foreigner... And they started chanting in Wolof/French 'Hey foreigner, give us money!' ... everyone was singing and looking at me and it was so funny !

So this was an incredible experience for me...

The next time I hung out with Atouman, he took me to meet his father's wife's family (not his own mother, but they are still close). Off the street, there are a number of clay buildings and alleywalls. When you go down those alleyways, little curtains in doorways lead directly into people's bedrooms. It's crazy. Imagine having your bedroom lead right onto the street! Anyways, so in one of these bedrooms, there were like 15 people crowded into the room watching a TV report about the big wrestling match over the weekend. Wrestling - or 'la lutte' - is the national sport in Senegal and a huge deal. This weekend was an important match, and featured our very own Gris-Bordeaux (from my neighbourhood of Dakar: Fass) against a big hot shot, Bombardier, from elsewhere in Senegal. So everyone was very excited. (Gris-Bordeaux won, but I think he just got lucky)... Anyways, as we're watching, people jump in from the alleyway to grap a peak, and everyone knows each other of course.

At one point, a girl handed me a plastic sack with some liquid inside and a knot at the top keeping it from leaking. I didn't know what she wanted me to do with it. It turned out it was some kind of food - like couscous in a sweet milky liquid - and she wanted me to try it. I had no idea how I was supposed to consume it. Atouman poked a whole in the bag, put it to his mouth and just sucked on it. I of course had to do the same, and then pass it around. Tasted pretty good, I guess!
Anywyas, so Atouman seems to be my key into a whole other world. He's determined he's going to teach me how to dance, drum and speak Wolof. A little too ambitious if you ask me, but we'll see...

1 comment:

Still.Searching said...

Trying to imagine you jumping like a gorilla..not a good image :-(( actually it is so frightening, I am having a hard time getting it out of my head.. Do not do it, girl!