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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

The Night Aminata Took My Purse

One night every weekend, my sisters Mimi and Diebalay go for a walk, usually accompanied by Diebalay’s one-year-old daughter, Aminata, along la rue de l’aeroport, one the main roads in Dakar. Our walks tend to look something like this:

  1. Mimi asks if I want to go for a walk, and I agree
  2. Aminata notices Mimi (accompanied by Diebalay and myself) heading out the door.
  3. Aminata runs after us and grabs Mimi’s leg.
  4. Diebalay holds Aminata’s hand as we leave the house and walk up the market road on which we live.
  5. Aminata breaks free and runs to grab Mimi’s hand
  6. Diebalay and I chuckle.
  7. Aminata demands to hold Mimi’s purse, and Mimi acquiesces because Ami is just too adorable.
  8. Repeat step 6.

The past three walks have followed this model. Last night, however, the pattern broke.

As I sit on the floor in the living room, letting the cool nighttime breeze flow over me, drying up the day’s sweat, I am interrupted from my book by a tiny voice calling “S’fitou! S’fitou!” I look up to see Aminata, attempting to pronounce my Senegalese name, Safiatou, and holding a shoe. She gives me the shoe, wanting me to put it on her, and although she first offers me the wrong foot, I manage to get both of her shoes on their proper feet. She then grabs my hand and tries to pull me out the door, and I have to laughingly tell her “Xaaral, Xaaral!” (wait, wait!), as Mimi and Diebalay put on the finishing touches of their lipstick and tie up their mussor (headscarves). Finally the four of us – five, if you count Ami’s baby brother Amadou tied up on his mother’s back – head out, but we only make it about six steps before Aminata grabs the purse slung across my waist and coos for me to give it to her.

My heart leaps. I can see how much Aminata loves Mimi, and for her to imitate me in the same way, wanting to carry my purse and hold my hand feels like a huge honor. I start to feel that Ami loves her tubaab (foreigner) aunt the same she loves my sister, whom she has known all her life. Joyfully, I take off my cross-strap and sling it over her shoulder and chest so she can wear if the same way I do.

Now, this may not be obvious to everyone, but I am just a bit taller than my one-year-old niece, so my purse drags in the sand. However, when Diebalay tries to take it back from her, she shrieks “bay ma! bay ma!” (let me go!) and refuses to move until her mother allows her to carry on wearing the purse. Finally, I am able to reclaim it and enough to shorten the straps for her before giving it back to her, and she grabs my hand and proudly tugs me along, her heartbreaking baby grin plastered to her face.

By the time we return home, almost two hours later, Ami is worn out and Diebalay is carrying her tied up in a piece of fabric on her back, Mimi is carrying Amadou, and I am carrying my purse again as well as the baby food we have purchased along our way. Even so, Aminata and I carry out our nighttime routine, which has developed over the past week. As I say goodnight, I blow her a kiss, which she returns. I catch the kiss in midair and place it on my cheek, and she imitates me, and I head upstairs, tired but content.