SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)–Pitching a tent in the backyard of a traditional African compound will bring untold adventure right to you. Trust me.
I am a writer with the media team for the International Mission Board’s Hands On program. I was sent to the Senegal bush to write about the rugged research work of my fellow Hands On workers. By day, I was an observer as we biked and they researched. By night, though, I could no longer remain a bystander as the local culture simply swallowed us up.
We arrived at the home where we’d been invited to stay, only to find a traditional African wedding in full swing. Music blared from the speakers. Dozens of Senegalese women sat outside the house, fabulously arrayed in colorful clothes. Their hair was exquisite.
Exhausted, none of us was looking forward to trying to sleep in the midst of the celebration. However, later that evening we managed to find a quieter place to set up our tents. As I was arranging my tent, a woman with a baby approached me.
“Do you want my baby?” she asked.
“I … I … that’s your baby,” I said awkwardly. The woman went on to say that the child was sick.
“She’s hot,” the woman kept saying. She asked me for money to buy the baby medicine. I gave the woman what I could and said a prayer while walking away.
Later, I walked by the marriage festivities as the entire crowd of women erupted in dancing; our host grandmother pulled me into the frenzy. Three women later drew me aside. One asked if I wanted to marry her brother because I was getting too old to still be single.
I declined and said that at age 22 I could stand to wait a few more years.
We finally bedded down around 11 p.m. I crammed my backpack under my head and shoved in my one earplug -– I’d lost the other one somewhere on the trail. I prayed and went to sleep.
As we packed the next morning, the grandmother who had invited me to dance sidled up to me. She slipped a brilliant blue and gold skirt into my hands and gave me a kiss on both cheeks.
“Thank you for dancing,” she said. “You are always welcome here.”
That’s another thing about Africa. The deep love of these people never leaves you. At some point, you realize it’s not “us and them.” At some point, you realize it’s “we.”
Jeslyn Lemke is a writer with the International Mission Board’s Hands On media team.