At the end of my most recent post, and probably several other times over the last year, I’ve mentioned Filijée. Recently, as I contemplate how deeply attached she and I have become I realize how strange it is that most of the people I care about in America will never have the chance to meet this wonderful woman and I wanted to introduce her to you.
This is Filijée Cisée, my person. She’s my host brother Mamadou’s second wife so I can’t really call her my host mom, but that’s how my heart knows her. When I came back to Saré Pathé after 4 months away she was the person I was most excited to see, but she had gone to visit relatives in Ziguenchor. I waited weeks. One afternoon Mamadou got a call from her and announced that she would be back the following Sunday, which was exciting enough news, but then he came over to where I was sitting and whispered “A be naala bii! She’s coming today!” My heart jumped right out of my chest and I tried to keep my cool the rest of the afternoon and evening, going about my routine with an eye on the entrance to our compound. Every time someone walked by I had butterflies in my stomach, but as night fell I began to wonder if I had heard Mamadou right, if Mamadou had heard Fili right, if she had somehow gotten delayed. It’s always hard to know how long you’re going to wait on somebody in this culture so I decided to go to bed. A couple hours later, half asleep in my backyard, I think I hear a familiar voice. Is that Fili? I wait. It is Fili! I scrambled out from under my mosquito net and into a pair of pants and yanked open the door to my hut with my heart pounding. I hadn’t even stepped out into the compound before she leapt up from the shade structure and was running at me with arms spread wide, clearly just as excited to see me as I was to see her (people in this country do NOT normally hug). We sat and went through the usual greetings, holding hands, trembling, holding back tears. I can’t explain why I got so worked up. I suppose partly it was the anticipation, not knowing when exactly she would be back, but it was very much like the feeling I get when I’m getting off a plane in Oakland or SFO, knowing that as soon as I make it through the terminal and get to the baggage claim someone I love will be waiting to put their arms around me. It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m so blessed to have it on two continents.
The next day at the well a neighbor woman, asking after Fili said “Ila moo naata? Your person came back?” I loved that. My person. It was the first time someone else had acknowledged what must be very obvious to most: that Filijée and I have a special kind of bond that I don’t really have with anyone else here. It has been that way since my first months at site and I’m not entirely sure why. Somehow we just understand each other, even with the chasm of a language gap that is between us; she can tell my mood, get my meaning with a look, guess at what I’m trying to say when my Mandinka vocabulary falls short. The other day we were hanging around the cooking area, watching Bouley’s new wife bungle the dinner she was working on (what kind of a Senegalese woman can’t cook rice?!) and I happened to glance up at her with a smirk, knowing she was thinking the same thing. It was all we could do to repress our giggles. Typical. Filijée and I share a similar sense of humor, or at least she thinks I’m funny which is endearing. And I think she’s funny… goofy in a way that is less common here I think. Exhibit A (Fili photobomb):
She also has a temper. Sometimes it’s hard to watch her discipline her children, two of whom are my favorites among Mamadou’s brood, but I try to remember that tough love is part of the culture. She expects a lot from her children, especially now that she is about to have another and needs help and cooperation from the others. I look at her huge belly and marvel at her strength; at a point in her pregnancy when most American women would be taking time away from the office and preparing for birth she is still carrying water on her head, stooping over her garden to pull weeds and washing laundry by hand every other day. I do what I can to give her some relief, but again, its part of the culture and she doesn’t have much choice but to keep up with the never-ending chores. I feel very protective of her and this baby and want to be there when it comes into the world. Sometimes I wish there was more I could do, that I could bring her to America and she’d never have to wash clothes by hand again, but I know I can’t do that.
She asks about my life there a lot and knows the most about Cibyl and my family than anyone else in Saré Pathé does. It’s nice to have someone acknowledge that there’s more to me than Nafi. She wants to know if my mom is coming to visit and the thought warms my heart because I know it would mean so much to her, and to me for that matter. My American mom and my village mom, face to face! I just feel so lucky to have this person around who gets it and who loves me as much as I love her. My village life would be so lonely without my Fili!