Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Visit to Astou's Village

Relaxing at Astou's house

Astou snuck off the compound with a bucket, went to the water pump down the alley, and hauled the bucket back filled nearly to the brim on her head. It was hot out and Laird and Dylan were working up a sweat, rolling around in the dust with their new friends Fatou and Awa – children from within Astou’s extended family.

“Bain moussant!” Laird screamed when he saw Astou pouring half the water into a second bucket and placing both buckets under the shade of a tree. (Bain moussant is French for bubble bath, though there were no bubbles here). Dylan immediately demanded that his clothes be taken off. “Enlever,” he said, tugging at his shirt. Within moments, the lads were splashing about, giggling, and drawing the attention of the village kids, who peered over the wall to catch a glimpse of the naked laughing ‘toubabs’.  (Some were in awe as they had never seen a 'white' person before, let alone two identical ones!)

Bain Moussant!

This was a highlight of a very nice day spent at Astou’s family home outside of Thies, a couple hours drive inland from Dakar in an area best described as a village. We arrived to the neighbourhood of narrow alleys between tin and cement houses at about mid-morning to a warm reception from Astou’s parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. They gave us a tour of the grounds – a walled-off yard with a huge shady tree, a house with a front patio and two large windowless rooms, and a kitchen outbuilding where a fire was being prepared to cook lunch.

The neighborhood

Laird and Dylan set to exploring, initially inside the walls, and then down the alley to a shade tree where carpenters were at work. They quickly made friends with Fatou and Awa – smiling, pudgy little girls who enjoyed running around, jumping and tackling as much as they did. They all got dirty and hot under the midday sun. After the bath – during which the entire Diaou family set up chairs in a semi-circle to watch the giggling twins – a big bowl of mangos arrived. Laird ate most of them, at least four.  Then it was lunch time.

After smelling the slow-cooked onion sauce warm over the wood fire outside, we were moved indoors to one of the big rooms. Astou lay out a cloth on the floor and put a large bowl of rice covered with the onion sauce, meat and vegetables in the center. We all sat around the bowl – boys included – and began eating. In Senegal , you are meant to eat these traditional dishes with your right hand – you take the rice and sauce, squeeze it so it more or less holds together, and then pop it into your mouth -- though Astou mercifully brought out some spoons for us.

Astou's sisters cooking in the kitchen

The delicious Yassa Beef

Full and happy, we chilled out under the tree for a while more while Laird, Dylan, Fatou and Awa continued to roll around. Then we said our goodbyes. “This isn’t like Dakar , is it,” said Mr. Diaou, a gentleman who wore a gleaming white traditional booboo and red fez for the occasion. “I hope you enjoyed your day in the village.”

We did, and we’ll remember the kindness of Astou’s family forever.

Astou's father and Dylan

Climbing the tree

The gang (minus Richard, the photographer)

Sleeping on the car trip home