Aminata’s task following the wedding itself (when, as you might remember, her main role was to sit in various huts with a blanket over her head) was… to sit in a hut with a blanket over her head. For a week. Then on Friday, when the week was up, she went to the well to officially wash her first batch of laundry for her new household.
And you thought you had it tough deciding what shade of pastel to make your bridesmaids wear.
So while Ami has gone from oldest child in my galle to youngest wife in Abdul’s galle, she seems to be happy enough. Since Saturday, when she could leave her hut, she’s been making the village rounds with the other teenage girls. She’s still bedecked with jewelry—anklets and earrings and necklaces, the bell that was around her wrist now on a string around her neck. She’s also constantly fussing with her head wrap (worn once a woman is married, it’s used for everything from taking hot lids off of pots to holding change), arranging and rearranging it like a teenage girl with a new haircut.
Village life chugs on. Or, if it’s a goat, it sneezes and hacks before taking a crap outside your front door.
I live in a barnyard.
Except there’s no barn, so really it’s more just a yard overrun with livestock where people attempt to reside. Cohabiting with animals—bleating, snorting, snotting, shitting animals—has not increased my love for them. They’re everywhere, all the time: on beds, underfoot, snouts buried in my supper. Sheep, goats, cows, chickens, donkeys, horses, lambs, kids, calves, chicks… if you saw it in Babe, I have to chase it out of my hut. (With the perhaps noteworthy exception of the title character: it’s a Muslim village. And the mice I live with don’t sing “Blue Moon.” They eat holes in my clothes.)
I had no idea about the range of noises that your standard livestock is capable of since I’d only ever been told that the cow goes “moo,” the sheep goes “baa,” and so on. Not so, my city-dwelling friends. Sheep wander in circles through the compound, hollering for their lambs, who answer with plaintive cries that sound eerily like human children. The old rams rumble, gravelly and lecherous, testes flexing upwards with the effort of every prolonged “MEHHHHHHH.” Goats have a piercing yell that changes to a strangled “bleeaaah!” when they’re tied up at night. Roosters flap to the tops of thatched roofs and broadcast their masculinity at top volume to the world at large. And none of this crowing at sunrise nonsense—they’re up there an hour before dawn straight through to midnight. That’s if they’re not chasing down hens to copulate with, which is a whole other series of sounds.
The only ones I don’t automatically envision steaming on a plate between buttered asparagus and hot garlic bread are the donkeys. The donkeys are terrific. Identical Eeyores in their sorrowful eyes, the droop of their oversized ears, their air of resignation. Donkeys do more work and receive more abuse than any other animal, yet they never strike back. A boy can stand behind a donkey and viciously beat it with a stick all day (and they do), but the donkey will never give the obvious response: a swift kick to the gut. Hell, it could aim a bit lower and take out multiple generations of donkey beaters. But, no, donkeys seem to accept constant thrashings as an inevitable part of being attached to a cart or a rope with a little boy at the other end.
However, the best thing about a donkey is the noise a donkey makes. One minute he’s standing there, looking half asleep, and the next he’s letting loose with a wheezing, snorting, trumpeting racket, neck stretched out, lips curled back, sometimes accompanied by a charge at no one to nowhere, that echoes across the village and sets off all the other donkeys within range. A few visitors and long-distance callers have been lucky enough to hear for themselves, but the rest of you need fear not, for I’ve made it one of my personal goals to capture the song of the donkey on video before I leave Senegal.
See? My film degree is totally relevant here.
On the subject of animals, my afternoon walk a few days ago was cut short when a full-grown warthog came charging out of the bushes and across the path about twenty yards ahead of me. He (she?) was built like a bulldog, all chest and shoulders, but the huge white tusks on either side of its mouth were what I fixated on as I froze in my tracks, my mind doing a frantic search for any facts I may have ever heard about warthogs: Aren’t they especially aggressive? Or is that only when they’re protecting their young? If he comes this way, should I make myself look big and threatening or small and harmless? I forget—which is it for bears and which for mountain lions?
The only warthog I could remember anything about was Pumba from The Lion King, and his distinguishing trait was a flatulence problem, so it was fortunate that the warthog kept going, disappearing into the scrub as I grabbed hold of Bandi and decided to turn back for the village. After all, for all I know warthogs run in vicious man-eating packs instead of doing song and dance numbers with meerkats.