Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two worlds one love

Since being back in the US, I have had to deal with living in two worlds, physically I can only be in one, but mentally and spiritually I have been in two.  My children were all born in the US, had never spoken a day of Wolof, their father while being americanized couldn't fathom speaking to them in his native language because he was the minority Wolof speaker in the house.  He would only speak it when he was around other Gambians or Senegalese.  Wolof is the dominant ethnic group in the Senegamiba region.  Their language is spoken by everyone else, Mandikas, Fulas, Jolas etc. 

When we finally landed our feet in the great Gambia, its was only a matter of time before my children had picked up the language and were conversing with their playmates.  I was amazed.  I didn't have any playmates, and my brain I thought, was too old to learn a new language.  I found Wolof to be difficult, but like any language you have to learn the basics to get around, and people will respect you more when you try.
In my 1 + years of living in The Gambia, I never became a Wolof expert.  But I was able to understand and was just starting to feel confident when I went to the market and haggled with the sellers.  It was always fun to do that and to speak to them in Wolof "dafa sale" too expensive!

There are many small pleasures that I deeply miss about living in the Gambia, hearing the call to prayer at 5am, and listening to the donkeys hawnky hawnky hawnky at the crack of dawn, as well the cuckadoodle doo of roosters.  Its a sound that never leaves your mind when you have to wake up to it every day.  You get used to it over time, the roosters are not just alarm clocks but a part of the african day.

I missed seeing people in the streets with cars, donkeys, horses, sheep and whatever else had legs to walk.  Its an interesting palette of humanity all trying to get along, the ladies walking in their slippers or flip flops who never seem to pick up their feet...but one thing that is always a sonic reality in the streets of The Gambia is the music.  Everywhere you go especially in the markets is the sound of mbalaxh (m-bah-lah) music, the thunderous, infectious sounds of the Senegambia region, whose biggest star is Youssou N'dour, but there are so many more, so so many.  I fell completely in love with the music that is mbalaxh, a music that no matter how bad it gets, once you turn it on, it is inviting to you dance your troubles away.  The music sort of encapsulates everything you see around you, palm trees, red dirt, concrete structures, development, sport utitlity vehicles and fresh fruit on market stands.  There's this constant edge of talking and drumming that is always fueling a rhythm in the people.  I found it endemic, and while I'm in america, I have no choice but to tune in to my favorite Senegalese or Gambian radio stations on line.  Because after all I'm still in two worlds, one body, two minds, two spirits, just trying to find a balance in it all.

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