The call to prayer wakes me up at 5 in the morning. Mariama, my eleven year old sister still breaths softly beside me, her head almost touching my shoulder, curled under her towel. I roll out from under the mosquito net, pick up my shoes and quietly make my way down the dirt floor hallway to the back of the house. The metal door squeaks loudly as I open it and enter into the thatched fence enclosure where the toilet hole is. The cool air is extremely welcome–a break from the usual heat. The fields behind my house are partially covered by mist and I can still see the crescent moon in the sky. This particular field looks unremarkable but it holds the bodies of people who lived here, a graveyard without stones. In the evenings when I come out here I can see the stars clear and bright. My family lies on a mattress in the front of the house before bed and looks at the stars until the children fall asleep and one by one, my host mom, (Nene), whisks them off to bed. Nene asked me if there are stars in America. I told her yes but sometimes there is too much light to see them. I slip back into bed and listen to the dogs fighting outside.
Some amount of time later a rooster call sounds loudly outside the open window. I see Mariama’s eyes flutter open and after a few moments we both pick ourselves up off the bed. Leaving the house into the bright light gives me a strange feeling. I see my neighbors sitting across from our house under a mango tree sipping coffee. I step out into the large area surrounded by round houses with thatched roofs, dotted with dogs lounging in the dust. It calls me to the reality of where I am– a small village, Temento Samba, in west Africa–because sometimes life here feels almost dream-like. Nene sits on a stool next to the fire, stirring a pot that rests on the little structure of rocks around it. She looks up at me somewhat expressionless. “A fini” (good morning) she says. “Jam tan. Tana finanni?” (Peace only. Is there anything wrong this morning?) I respond. “Jam tan.” She smiles and watches as Mariama tosses a bucket attached to a rope and pulley down into the well. Once the bucket is full she pulls on the rope, hand over hand, swaying back and forth. She looks at me from the corner of her eye every now and then to see if I am watching her. Then she pulls down with two hands and I do the same and we alternate pulls until the bucket reappears. I go back through the house and poor buckets of water over my head. The water in the cold air makes me gasp.
Out by the cooking fire I greet my grandma and my older sister. My grandma gestures to me to sit and my two youngest siblings– a mischievous 4 year old named Ebraima and a giggly 2 year old named Sania– run to me and hug my legs. Nene brings me coffee–more like warm milk with a lot of sugar and a coffee-like taste. Some days there is bread too. My three brothers and Mariama go off to school and I sit and watch my older sister pound millet in what looks like a large mortar and pestle.
Nene brings out two large tubs, dirty dishes, and soap. As I scrub the coffee cups, chickens and goats nibble the millet off of the dishes from our dinner the night before. Adama Kande, a woman who lives in the house across from mine, and who also has the same name as me, comes over to say good morning to the family. Many days she brings me a small bowl of whatever she had made for lunch.
At 9:30 I tell Nene I have to go to Samba’s house for the daily meeting but as I make to leave Nene tells me to wait a little as she stirs a pot of peanuts on the fire. I sit back down, resigned to the fact that she won’t let me leave until I’ve eaten enough to convince her I won’t starve during my Pular lesson. My little sister begins to sob over some injustice but no one pays attention. Nene fills a bowl with peanut porridge and pours a milky substance over it. “Nammi” (eat) she says. Already late, I eat huge spoonfuls of the warm porridge and after making a sufficient dent in it I bring the bowl back to her. “Nam!” (eat!) she insists. I take a few more bites as she watches me then say that I am full and finally say goodbye.
My shoes kick up dust as I walk through the complexes of round houses. First I pass the other Adama Kande (my Senegalese name) and her elderly pinch-faced mother who sings “Aaadamaa!” In the next cluster of houses five or so kids run at me calling “Adama! Adama!” The mother of these children always wears a yellow head scarf. During my first few days, every time I passed her I forgot her name and she would tell me what it was and then I would promptly forget again. But those days are over. “Candi!” I call to her. She laughs because I am pronouncing it wrong but says hello. I trudge by two other women making breakfast. One is also named Adama, the other is Fatu. Within two days of us being here most people in the village knew all of us by name. Finally Samba’s house appears between trees and thatched roofs and even as I approach it, and I look forward my walk home.