Ehidj is called the island of fetishists, with its sacred wood uniquely for men and their fetishes. Everyone comes here to pray that requests be granted.
We spent some very nice moments with the inhabitants of the village, which led us to choose to stay in Casamance through the Christmas holidays, instead of spending them in the Antilles…
We integrated ourselves a bit more each day into village life.
I spent lots of time with the women, in order to share in a bit of their daily lives.
The rice harvest had begun in early December. Each morning, after having prepared their children for school, as a group, the women would go into the rice fields on a neighbouring island by pirogue. Under the baking-hot sun, they would hand cut the stalks of rice, which they would tie together to form bouquets, without ever complaining of fatigue or of the pestering heat. They would sing, laugh and talk, all the while repeating the same motions again and again…. They wouldn’t stop until noon, to eat in the shade of a large baobab. The harvest continues this way for two and a half months, until February.
Once home again, at about 6:30 PM, they would take care of their children, now home from school, fetch the water for washing clothes, and light the fire for cooking dinner. During this time, the men would go fishing or harvest the “bounouk,” sap for making palm wine, from the tops of the palm trees.
I learned from Mamie, a young woman in the village, to harvest the hibiscus flowers that are used to make bissap juice.
I also learned to make batik. It is a wax-resist fabric dyeing technique, involving successive steps of applying wax, drying, soaking in dye, drying, soaking in boiling water to remove the wax, then drying... and if you would like to print several colours, you must repeat all these steps. The work is long and fastidious, but the result is impressive!
Laurent also learned something about village life here. He tried his hand at the favourite activity of all the men in Casamance: fishing. He improved each day, and finally he was able to catch some sunfish. With perseverance, perhaps he could wind up catching a barracuda or a captain?
In addition to developing his new passion for learning patience, and with the help of a Belgian friend, Laurent launched into the project of updating the electrical circuitry of certain homes in the village. They were able to re-establish the electrical courant, which had not worked for three years. Tutoring sessions, which had previously been conducted by candlelight, were able to resume normally for the children of the village.
Our daughter, Blanche, regularly attended the village school with her friends and was able to follow along with the class, which would correspond with CP in France. The children her age were learning French. There was only one teacher on the island for 15 students, who were split into two grade levels: the little ones and the older children, in CM1. The classroom was equipped with benches for the students and blackboards.
In class, the children were very studious. They all raised their hands to answer a question, even when they did not know the right answer. Blanche, a bit shy and reserved, would not yet participate out loud.
The youngest children, between two and five years old, spent their days playing and walking about the village unaccompanied, waiting for their mothers to return. Too young to attend school, Gabin always found friends for playtime. He was like a fish in water, happy to be able to walk about wherever he wanted.
We spent a lot of time with the villagers. Several times, we were invited to have dinner with local families. Seated outside, on the ground or on low stools, in a circle around a large plate of rice, generally served with an onion sauce and fish. Even if rice was always present on the menu, the preparation varied. They most often ate fish, sometimes chicken, and pork only on holidays. If the men went hunting, they could also eat monkey, crocodile or pelican!
On Christmas morning, we attended Mass at the village church. In the afternoon, the women prepared the holiday meal while the men drank bounouk. On the menu, there was spaghetti! Here, the festivities generally last three to four days, and every evening is punctuated by the rhythms of the djembe drums and dancing. We signed on for the challenge and happily endured this marathon of celebration!