I realize I'm a little late to the party. I'm getting ready to leave my compound and move to the city, and I realized I never introduced my people. So without further ado, may I present to you… Jammeh Kunda!
Many of the pictures were taken on Koriteh, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting from sun-up the sun-down. They're in their "salibayo" or "prayer fabric," their fancy new clothes to add to the festivities.
Ousman - host dad
This man is about as good as they come. Highly welcoming, ultra kind, generous and hospitable, Ousman has made my stay in his compound second to none. He is a timber businessman in the city, so he's frequently traveling and not around as much as I, or his family, would like. But when he does come home, the kids are overjoyed. Unfortunately, his business is one of the many that are contributing to the worrisome deforestation - large mahogany trees are cut down and sold to foreign dealers at an alarming rate. But I cannot hold that against him - many people are unaware of the long-term effects of their actions. Logs mean money, money means food for the family. Anyway, Ousman's a great man and respected by the entire village.
Jahnke - Grandma
Grandma is a sweet lady with a stern side - perfect for a family matriarch, I think. I've seen her advise younger folks before, and it's probably one of my favorite things about this culture. The young folks always listen to her. Always! Unfortunately for Grandma, her hips have pretty much gone out, and she's been able to do little more than shuffle since I've been here, and it's only gotten worse. Decades spent bent over in the rice fields will do that to a woman. But friends and family are constantly dropping in to chat and see how she's doing - another favorite thing about village life.
Fayi - Jahnke's sister
Though she lives in a different compound, Fayi is considered one of ours. Whenever I bring "silafando" (gifts from my travels, even when I just go to town), Fayi is considered part of the beneficiaries. Confident and businesslike, Fayi's one of those ladies who would have been running a business or sitting on boards if she'd only gotten an education. In any case, she's a village voice and definitely a force to be reckoned with here in Jammeh Kunda. [This photo perfectly exemplifies a typical reaction to a photographic portrait.]
Jilan - First wife
In other families, I would probably call her "mom," but since she's younger than me, I just use her first name and we joke about how we're sisters instead. Jilan is feisty yet friendly, and we get along fine. I'm not a huge fan of how she deals with her kids sometimes, but it's something I just have to bear. Jilan is tough to understand, as she speaks quickly and rarely attempts to slow down for me, but we've been able to communicate once we figured each other out a bit better.
Fatou - Second wife
It's common, and often expected, for Muslim families to consist of a man and multiple wives - up to four, per the Koran. Fatou is lucky number two, but she and Jilan co-exist very peacefully. And as you can see, she's stunning. Fatou and I tend to get along better than me and Jilan, and that comes from Fatou's ability to speak clearly to me from early on. Beautiful and stoic, Fatou is a dutiful wife who isn't too afraid to tell Ousman when he's being unreasonable.
Lamin - adopted son
Lamin's parents died when he was just a little kid, so Jahnke took him in as her own, and he's been with them ever since. He's a little rough around the edges, having dropped out of school, but he's working in the fields and has an apprenticeship with the local carpenter. Lamin's good with the kids, especially the little ones, when he's not too busy being cool with his cronies. Jahnke and him have a touch-and-go relationship, which just goes to show you that mothers look out for their sons the same the world over.
Fatou, aka "Effo" - Ousman's daughter from a previous marriage
Effo's about 14 and way more respectful than I was at her age. She likes her glam, but she's sweet tempered and not show-offy. Most of the time she stays at Fayi's compound, but makes frequent appearances at Jammeh Kunda, especially when one of the wives is out of town. Effo's not the greatest student in the world, but she's certainly not the worst, and I speak almost exclusive English to her. I hope beyond hope that she continues her education and makes the big leap from Grade 6 to Grade 7.
Molamin - Ousman's son from a previous marriage
He's definitely a looker - parents should lock up their daughters in a few years! He's excellent with his little sisters, and I definitely see Ousman in him. Molamin's not a very good student, but honestly, most kids aren't good students, and it's not for lack of trying. I'm hoping he doesn't fall by the wayside, because he's a good kid that just needs to find something he's really good at. And it may not be found in school.
Bubacarr - Ousman's son from a previous marriage
Bubacarr's probably 12 years old, and he's definitely the sweetheart of the family. Rambunctious like a typical 12-year-old boy, but obedient and sensitive, Bubacarr claims math as his best subject. I speak as much English with him as I can too, and he loves playing Mahjong on my iPod. And dang it all if he's not getting pretty good at it!
Binta, aka "B-Girl" - Ousman's daughter from a previous marriage
It took me over a year to realize that this girl's name is Binta. You see, Ousman calls her "Mariama," which is Jahnke's second name, and everyone else calls her B-Girl, which I thought they were saying Biga. That's not a name. Anyway, I got it straightened out. She doesn't often stay in our compound - she generally lives with an older female relative - but she's over constantly and making her presence known with her reedy shouts and laughter. This one needs some guidance in terms of appropriate and safe behavior, but I've perfected my "look" and she shapes up instantly.
Ousman, Jr. - Jilan's son
This kid. Oy. He can be sweet as pie one second and throwing rocks at animals the next. If you want my opinion, I think Ousman, Jr. could do with some hardcore guidance from the men in his life. He's at least better behaved when Ousman, Sr. is around. He's a very poor student, but he's good at art. Maybe he'll make a good tailor when he grows up.
Kaddy - Jilan's daughter
Another sweetie pie with an infectious giggle, Kaddy is my little buddy. I love tickling her and playing with her braids, and she can't keep a straight face EVER. I wager she's 8 years old, and she'll have to repeat 2nd grade, which isn't a bad thing. I think she's got potential. She just needs a decent teacher.
Alimatou, aka "Li" - Jilan's daughter
This little pudger is like Amie's dopey sidekick. She turned 2 in April, and she's active and playful when Amie's around. Li and I get along fine, but she prefers the company of her brothers and sisters. I will say, however, that I am often the only one who can get her to stop crying when she's had a tough time of it. Win!
Kaddy - a cousin
This little girl finds the light out of every dark situation. She's worked hard in the compound, being about 9 years old and just the age to start learning the womanly ways of this society. No matter how many pots she's washed, floors she's swept, or buckets of water she's hauled, I can always eek a smile out of her. She's eager to help me whenever I need it, but I usually seek the help of the other Kaddy, since she's less busy. This "big Kaddy" as we call her does get her fun, and the family treats her as one of their own.
Sarjo - a friend's daughter
Sarjo came to us last year after the rainy season, though I'm not sure exactly why. Except instead of a plentiful harvest, she brought more storm clouds with her. She was always causing drama in the compound, fighting and wailing about who knows what. I assume she was causing too much trouble at home, so her parents sent her from the city to the village to sort her out. After awhile though, she calmed down and has grown to be a courteous teenager of around 13. Sarjo entered school at Grade 2 and placed first. This year as a 3rd grader, she placed third. Here's hoping she keeps going, despite her older age.
Aminata, aka "Amie" - Fatou's daughter
Amie's probably the most temperamental kid I've ever met. One minute she's giggling and agreeable, the next she's stoney and stubborn. But she's mine :) Amie's gonna be 3 in September, and she is every bit a terrible two. We enjoy lots of snuggles, when she lets me, and I taught her how to kiss me on the check, again when she agrees. Definitely the leader of the Amie and Li duo, Li follows her around like a puppy dog, it's pretty funny. I think the word "twerp" perfectly sums up Amie.
Sali - Fatou's daughter
This one is so uber special to me, and it's going to be heart wrenching to leave her. I'm not really a baby person, but I love this baby. She's got a huge smile, especially when she sees her mom, and she's turning into a little chatterbox. At just over 6 months, she can't crawl yet, but she recently learned to roll over, and she's getting better at grasping, which is dangerous because she puts EVERYTHING into her mouth. I'd say she's a perfectly lovely and normal baby. Which, in West Africa, is a very very very good thing. We're lucky.
Ninja - the watchdog
No, we didn't rename Bo the Wonder Dog. Rather, Bo, who was very unpredictable and often inexplicably vicious, was poisoned by some punk thugs who'd had their masculinity challenged too many times (seriously - they'd scream like little girls, and they didn't appreciate my laughter). Yeah, not cool. But our family took in Ninja as a puppy and he's been nothing but sweet and unassuming, causing zero problems and fitting in just fine.
And this is me, the other Sali, in my own salibayo. I tend to stay in the compound, especially since little Sali was born, and don't venture out into the community too much. My family, or my solitude in my house, suits me fine. Guess I'm more of a homebody than I thought. I like doing yoga or rudimentary gymnastics with the kiddos, stumbling through Mandinka conversations, and rocking little ones to sleep. Jammeh Kunda is a good thing for me.