Hospitality in the mangroves

The landscape of red and green. We walk under the burning sun bypassing the villages where people are gathering under the rich treetops. We greet in Diola, afterwards, walk through the tropical forest and stop in the mud by the mangroves. It is low tide. In the distance we can see cattle on the dry rice fields.

We stop and admire the scenery that just doesn’t end. Baobabs are reaching high to the sky trying to hide the impluvium houses that grow behind the road. We arrive to the village Seleky and walk among the high palms, encountering termites’ nests in size of a human. The heat is increasing but I want to keep on going. There is a special charm in this lasting, reddish macadam road. My eyes are sharp to find a fetish, animist shrine made of animal bones or tied dry fruits.

I can sense and feel the complete difference between the northern and southern part of Senegal. Casamance. It makes sense why they want to be independent. It’s like you would arrive into a different country, abundant with greenery and kindness of people. A middle aged man frowns when I start a conversation in Wolof and I realize how important it is for them to maintain their own culture and customs.

The arrival to Ziguinchor, the major city of Casamance, was rather intense. Among a punk family and a young couple we were the only toubabs on the overnight boat from Dakar. It was an experience squeezing with the locals on the deck of the boat, covered with a warm blanket, surviving the night of blowing wind and high waves of the Atlantic.

Arriving in the morning, we took a taxi to meet our couchsurfing host, Moussa. He lives in a traditional house with his extended family. Firstly he invited us to take a shower with a bucket of water, and afterwards, eat thieboudienne – fish and rice everybody eats from a big plate, with a spoon. Moussa showed us around the city and I was, again, surprised by Senegalese hospitality, teranga. We sat on the courtyard and, together with the women taking care of children and braiding each other’s hair, ate watermelon and oranges. It is such a pleasure having a meal in Senegalese way, all together.

There is an overwhelming feeling in waking up and being with people who are used to living in modesty, taking care of each other, teasing each other with a sense of humor, standing for themselves and spending time with family under a big tree. The place of motherhood.

I look through the window and see a woman carrying a baby on her back, returning from the common fountain with a huge bucket on her head. There are more women doing the same thing and toddlers playing in the sand. I make my way out of the mosquito net and enjoy the morning  liveliness of the waking up community. While looking at this mother and her son, thinking how beautiful and instinctive they are, I wonder to which point I idealize the African life.

We managed to visit an especially distinctive part, Elubalin. It is an animist community living on a tiny island in mangroves, a 20 minute pirogue ride from the nearest village.

We receive a warm welcome from a local that takes us through the island. The most special are the impluvium houses having a hole in the middle of the roof for storing drinking water. Inhabitants get help from the government to have sufficient supplies of water.

Stepping into these houses and meeting the people fills me with excitement. They offer us palm wine and we can’t get out without drinking two glasses each. They are in the middle of a loud conversation. Women are turning to me, mimicking they like my pants, offering me more wine. The only man in the room is trying to explain today is their Valentine’s day and we should stay over night to dance with them. Such a pity we couldn’t.

Us and 8 other people cought a ‘7-places taxi’ taking us to Elinkin, another fishermen village. The smell of dryed fish made us feel at home. We embraced the last moments of Senegalese adventure, communicating in French almost fluently and connecting to the people more and more.

I think I should spend a few months more here to understand. To understand the culture, people, the way they think and, moreover, the way I think.

Text: Eva

Photo: Uroš and Eva