The bottom billion. The starving children of Africa. The world's poor. They are collectively known as many such names, and it can be difficult to remember that these groupings based on economic status or their location on a distant continent are comprised of real people with real lives and individual stories of sorrow and joy and the daily grind. They have quirks and virtues and character flaws that constantly make me see every day, despite our vast cultural differences, our shared humanity.
The South African idea of Ubuntu has always resonated with me: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” I want to introduce you to some of the humans that made me human throughout the past two years, to share the little things about I will remember.
Sadio Tigana. My very own namesake and host-mom, Sadio is a very well-respected woman in Saraya. Her last name makes her a part of of the Niamakhalo caste group, and she is often called upon to lead ceremonies. Subsistence farming is a large part of her income and identity--her crops consist mostly of rice and peanuts. She hates monkeys--they destroyed her peanut crop this year. Sadio is very fashion conscious--a new outfit or piece of jewelry is what makes her happiest in the world. A necklace that I gave her broke, and she showed it to me sadly saying, "It happened because I loved it too much."
Seny Cissokho. Now here's a character. If you get up early enough and go out to the main road, you may be fortunate enough to see Seny's morning routine. He rides his bike down the street with one foot on the frame of the bike and the other up in the air, either for everyone's morning entertainment or his own, no one's really sure. Be careful when you shake his hand, or he will take it upon himself to crack every one of your knuckles.
Kharifa Danfakha. Rap Name: Numba One. He is a great case study of the nature vs. nurture debate. Was he born to be a child rapper or was it the influence of his cousin Sambaly (Rap Name: N** Zaky Blow. There was a bit of an awkward conversation in very limited Malinke when he asked us to call us by his rap name upon our arrival. I didn't yet know how to say "I can't and won't call you that," and he didn't understand my refusal. We settled on us calling him Zaky.) Regardless, little Kharifa always knows how to get a dance party started with a drum made out of a can or a Vitalait powdered milk commercial in the background. He's Pat's favorite of the kids in our family.
Seny Kanoute. Known to the Malinke community as Papi and the hospital community as "The King of the Court", this seventeen year old kid has become one of my best friends here. He is far and away the best basketball player of the regular crew--I really wonder how he would stack up in the states. With some coaching and some actual shoes (someone lent him the ones he's wearing in this picture), he could be so good. The thing that sets him apart though, is how he uses his talent and amazing smile to keep things going in the nightly basketball scene. As I've written about in another post, sportsmanship isn't something that kids are really taught here, and things can get ugly quick. Somehow Seny always manages to calm everyone down, bring out the talent in the worst among us, making it more fun for everyone.
Bintou Mady Danfakha. The chief of Saraya for the past 40 years, Bintou Mady has diabetes and has a hard time getting around. This doesn't pose a problem--people just come to him. He spends his days sitting behind his family's compound or in front of it, depending on where the best shade is. He speaks a little of a lot of languages and likes to whip out a few words of Russian when he's trying to impress people. Frank, our former sitemate, compared Bintou Mady to an African mafioso because of his gravelly voice, round face and ability to make anyone do anything for him.
I will leave Saraya in 6 weeks, and I haven't really allowed myself to really think about saying goodbye to these people that have made the past two years what they were. I realized something early on in Peace Corps, however, back when my primary job was to integrate into my new community. I want to continue to work in global health and development after this experience, which at times might mean that I sit in an office somewhere in the states. During Peace Corps, I have built relationships with the real people who benefit from the kind of work I want to do. These relationships have buoyed me through trying times of this experience, but I know that they will continue to buoy me throughout my career--that their faces will be with me at my desk as I look at the numbers that represent their stories. My humanity will always be wrapped up in theirs.