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Published: December 4th 2008
If you want to integrate into the culture of Senegal I recommend you coupent les herbes with your community. In the days before I arrived the village counsel sold off a five acre plot of land south of Diakhanor to a French investor intending to build a campament, or rustic lodge for tourists, at the site. Part of the negotiations as I understand them was to mow down the grass in the field and the easement to the area from the road.
A little bit about cutting grass in rural Senegal. I have yet to see a single tractor or lawn mower in the two months plus I have lived here. Plows are driven by horses or donkey and grass is cut by hand. To cut the grass a farmer or more likely a farmer’s son uses a machete for which he slices at the roots rolling back the vegetation one swipe at a time. This is surprisingly effective albeit back breaking. Another tool commonly used is a long wooden shaft with a metal v shaped instrument approximately four inches in diameter affixed to the end. This is what I used. The technique looks something like vacuuming the floor except you use both hands, a large amount of pressure, and several million quick thrusts at the root system of your field. It doesn’t seem to work nearly as well as the machete but on the bright side there is no danger of loosing a finger.
I joined sixty or so of the village men from 8:00am to 1:00pm and we accomplished about a third of the task leaving the remaining bit for another day. Since that day my stature in the village has changed. Now the village and I share a commonality, we are workers. Men who before only gave a lackluster although extensive greetings as I passed now stop me in the pathways of the village. We share our opinions of how hard the work was and the pain in our hands afterwards, smiling the whole time as we talk.
Today, Saturday is the day the village decided to resume cutting the grass. Last night; however, in moving my belongings to install flooring (checkerboard plastic matting, very attractive) I threw out my back. A night’s sleep on my concave foam mattress didn’t help things and this morning I decided to sleep in the best I could and skip the grass cutting. I hope the good will I made the first day is not wiped out by my skipping the second. There is a small party to celebrate the jobs completion this afternoon and I it will be an opportunity to determine my decisions outcome as I will have no pain in my hands to share. I am hesitant talking about the pain in my back either, as I don’t think people here generally stop and take it easy when aches and pains hit. Fever for example is no excuse to skip the regiment of chores or field work and is pretty much ignored.
One last thing to help you understand Senegal and perhaps all of Africa a little better. The three acres of land we cut took 60 men five hours to cut or 300 man hours. It would have taken a properly equipped tractor less than thirty minutes.
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