Personal Journeys


March 02, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Visiting a daughter's other family

By Eva D. Savold


The oppressive heat, the cooking smells and the sounds were all strange. I expected that, being at the Bakau market in Gambia, West Africa.

What I did not expect was the person next to me bargaining with the merchant over the price of waxed cloth. I watched in amazement as she spoke in rapid-fire Pular, one of the many local languages, holding her ground for "Gambian price."

It was my daughter Alexia, a Peace Corps volunteer. During my two-week stay, she dealt with the constant need to bargain for taxis and purchases at local markets around Banjul, the capital.

Before bargaining, she would go through the traditional ritual of greeting, asking about merchants' health and family, and how the day was going. She would prompt me to respond jam-tan (peace only), when a greeting was directed at me.

We traveled 150 miles inland to Jamara, her village of mud huts and thatched roofs.

In her compound, my daughter answers to her Gambian name, Mama Jallow. She is an integral part of her extended family of about 30 people. Going to the village well with the women and carrying the bucket of water on her head, helping with meal preparations and with the crops are all part of her daily routine. Her guardian, also the village tailor, and her "mothers," Korde and Natu, treat her like a daughter.

The compound, which has no electricity, has a dozen huts facing each other across a yard shaded by mango trees. It's an idyllic setting for a visit, but for villagers it's a hard life of subsistence farming.

The men tend fields of corn, millet and peanuts. The women tend rice fields. Everything is done by hand. Seeds from vegetables we brought as gifts were carefully saved for planting.

My daughter is there to plant trees and to encourage continued planting after she leaves.

We all laughed when I tried to help prepare millet for cooking. The kernels are pounded with a huge wooden mortar and pestle. My feeble attempts led the young girls to show off by demonstrating how they clap their hands between each strike. As a guest, I was given my own food bowl, while my daughter took her usual place around the women's bowl.

During my visit, the women took time from their weekly laundry day to brew attaya tea, a treat of green tea, milk and sugar that is steeped a long time before serving. It was pleasant sitting in the shade, being shown the proper way to wear the fano, the traditional wrap skirt, and talking, mainly with gestures.

My time there was short, but the memories of the wonderful people who are my daughter's other family renewed my pride and admiration for what she is doing.

Eva D. Savold lives in Baltimore.

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Harold J. Handley,


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