Abibatou Goudiaby: interview transcript

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Abibatou Goudiaby: interview transcript

Abibatou Goudiaby lives in Kagnarou, Casamance province, Senegal. She was aged 21 when she was interviewed on 26 April 2010 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Jola and carried out by a community radio resource person who had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.

Good morning, can you tell me your name?
My name is Abibatou Goudiaby

And where were you born?
I was born here in the village of Kagnarou, and I have always lived here

So you spent your childhood here, can you tell me about it?
I grew up in a family that wasn't big, compared to others. My parents had four children: three boys and I was the only girl. The elder brother was not brought up in the family. So there were only three of us, the brother before me, and the one after me. And only the brother before went to school. I didn't go far and the one after me didn't either.

You said that your father had only four children; how many wives did he have?
First, my father had only one wife. It was after his fourth child was born that he married a second wife, from a neighbouring village, while my mother was from this village, Kagnarou. As I saw it, the two wives got on well. The second wife took my mother as her elder sister. But in the end she left the house. It was not because of my mother; my father divorced her.

We all see that in the village families live in big compounds, with several houses built in a circle. In what environment did you grow up?
Yes, our compound had six houses. I remember that it was very well organized. Adults were disciplined behind the elders. It was hard to tell who was the brother of whom, and who was the wife of whom. As children we could never suspect that in one house they were experiencing difficulties for food. I discovered afterwards that when a man ran out of food, the others will wait till late night and bring him rice in a very discrete way. It was only in the early morning that the one who is given would discover the rice. He would take it without knowing who gave him the rice. It was a way of protecting the pride of whoever was poor.

How did they eat?
They grew a lot of millet and rice,..

We will come back to that; what I meant is when you say there was a lot of solidarity between people of the six houses of the compound, did they eat together, or did every household have their meals in their house?
Yes, they would eat together. There was a well in the middle of the compound. Men of these three houses on this side of the compound would bring their bowls of food together, and the other three houses would do the same.

How did women manage to have food ready at the same time?
Women had a lot of work and it still is the case today. They would get up very early in the morning and clean the houses as well as the common ground of the compound. And they would each go to cook breakfast. And they would finish at the same time and bring the food to the men's eating place. Wives also had their common eating place. Then they would go on with the rest of the domestic work including drawing water, washing, fetching dry wood for cooking, etc.

And what did they eat mainly?
They would eat essentially rice. I can't really say for the whole village. But I remember clearly that when I was a child the staple food in our compound was rice. You know they would produce a lot of rice. One harvest could last for two to three years. We didn't eat anything else but rice. Millet was only used to cook porridge for breakfast. It's only now that I see that people have to eat millet for lunch or dinner.

You said they produced a lot of rice. What equipment did they work in the rice fields with?
They used the kadiandou (traditional Jola tilling tool) to plough the rice fields. They would first start with groundnuts fields. Part of that crop would be sold, and the rest would be kept for consumption. But the bulk of the rainy season would be devoted to cultivating rice. That was why they produced a lot. And nothing would damage the crops. Everyone would hold their cattle to prevent them from going to the rice fields. 

Does that mean that they raised cattle as well as working the land?
Yes they did. Every household would have either cows, or sheep, or goats. Some had all three of them. Today people don't really raise cattle.

Why do you say that?
Well, people don't really take care of their livestock nowadays. Take goats. They don't like staying in wet places. You have to build a hut for them and keep it clean. Sheep can take rain, even where they sleep. But in the morning, you have to wash them clean. And in the dry season you have to provide food for them. In the rainy season they have a lot of grass, but in the dry season they suffer a lot. You have to help with food and water to drink. For goats you have to take them to where they can graze and move them from time to time. Nowadays people don't bother. They find it hard to draw water for cattle to drink, let alone washing their sheep and doing other chores. People devote themselves to activities that bring immediate money. They don't have the patience and the [commitment to] long term work of our fathers.

But still, a lot of people complain that loose cattle destroy their fields. Even when they are harvesting rice, they have to fend off loose cattle.
Still I say that animal husbandry is not practised today as much as it used to be. When I was a child our compound had so many cattle, we felt proud. I am not even mentioning sheep or goats. But despite those large numbers, it was unthinkable that one of the herds would stray into somebody's field. Never! As I said today people simply don't take care of their cattle.

Abibatou, are you married or not?
I am married.

In the same village, Kagnarou

How did you get to meet your husband?
I can tell you. I didn't go out before with my husband. It is my elder brother, the one born just before me, who was a friend of my future husband. They discussed and my brother helped arrange the marriage. I must say that I accepted because the man was my brother's friend. But it was not because it was somebody I loved or knew well. If I had to go through the process again, I would probably say no. Even today I don't understand how I came to accept to get married with the man. I am not sure I was fully myself when I agreed. Did he use some kind of witchcraft to get me? I can't tell.

You accepted immediately to marry him?
No. It was a long process. He had people with cola nuts come to my parents six times. At the sixth time the young man I loved was there. But as I said, my elder brother was pushing. It was family discipline. You know family life is very hierarchical.  It was difficult for me to antagonize my elder brother.

But what about your father? Did he ask what you thought about marrying that man? After all wasn't his voice the most important one?
Yes he did call me and talked to me. He said that the man had asked him but his reply was that it should be my decision. Because when he married my mother, her parents allowed her to decide for herself. So it was really my brother who was insisting I should marry the man.  He said as his younger sister I should obey him. He really made it some kind of cause for him to win. 

And your mother, what was her stand?
In fact my mother didn't want me to get married to this man. She said it openly. Everyone knew her feelings about the whole thing. Her own brother also opposed it.

Your mean your uncle? Why did he oppose it?
He knew the man very well. His own daughter had married the man, and died some time later. So it is a man who is a lot older than me. In this situation it was I, myself, who asked my mother and my uncle to agree. I told them I didn't want to be the cause of division in the family. I asked them to pray for me and that we should trust in God. It was not easy to get my mother to give up her stand. She said that she didn't like the man's ways and she was convinced he would not be a good husband for me. I had to beg her. I told her that her health wasn't good and that since the man's compound wasn't far from ours, I could continue looking after her. But believe me, my mother died afterwards and I didn't even attend the funerals.

Where were you?
I went to The Gambia.

What were you doing there?
I took some lemon juice to sell there.

So, what you said is first you married the man because you didn't want to divide the family, and secondly you didn't want to get married far away from your mother. Now how would you describe your marriage?
I would say it is difficult. Right from the beginning it has been difficult. Every day I thought of leaving. But as they say when you want to do something, an angel would say yes, do it, while another angel would say no, don't. That's how I got to have my three children here. And today it is difficult to go and leave the children behind.

Can you tell me what kind of difficulties you were experiencing?
Yes I will tell you. First, whenever I fell ill, he didn't care. And that was hard for me. My parents used to show a lot of affection. My father was poor but whenever my mother fell ill he used to be very concerned. And from that atmosphere I moved to a situation where my husband wouldn't even make the effort to simply ask how you were doing. I was pregnant and it was so hard on me. In the end I lost that pregnancy. Secondly he would disappear from the house for up to three weeks and come back without telling you where he was. Even when I was pregnant. I said to myself that if he behaves like that now, what will he do in the years ahead? And several times I nearly left the house. I made it clear to my brother that he had put me in that situation.

So you resented his attitude whenever you fell ill. What else did you not like?
Several other things. For instance whenever we needed something in the house he would not make the effort to look for ways of getting it. Things like soap or other commodities. And when people were bereaved in the compound where I came from he would not go there to express sympathy. But today things have changed.

We will come back to it later. How did you manage then, when you got ill and the husband was not helping?
His relatives would help. His uncle and other people in the compound would help. They lived like we used to live in my parents compound. You see in those circumstances I could not leave the house. His uncle really took care of me. He would spend his money for me.

Are you your husband's only wife, or does he have another one?
He already had a wife when I married him. When his first wife who was my cousin died, he married somebody from my father's family. Her father is my father's cousin.

How do you get on with her?
Now we get on well. But before, it was difficult. She obviously didn't like me coming into the household. I thought it was silly. The man was poor and life was difficult there. Why would she resent somebody sharing those difficulties?

If you were to become a girl again, how would you go about getting married?
Let's not even take my example. I have a daughter. When she grows up, I will want her to choose the man she wants. I will never push her into somebody's hands. So if I became a girl today no one will come and tell me which man to marry. I will choose myself and decide for myself. That way if things don't work out I will know that no one decided for me. I won't be saying: if only I hadn't listened to this person or that person. I won't care where the man is from. Provided I know him well and he knows me well.

If you had some advice to give to other women about marriage, what would it be?
I would tell them that if you have a daughter, let her marry the man she wants. You must wait till she tells you this is the man I want to marry. And don't look at whether he is rich or poor. It's God who gives wealth. You must remember that when you gave birth to her, you were not rich. So when your daughter says I want to marry this man, you must have faith. Give her your blessing and let her go. This is what I would say to my fellow women.

So you don't agree with parents who give away their daughters to men of their choice?
No, I don't agree. It's a bad thing. If she doesn't want to go, don't force her. Because she is probably in love with someone else, that's why she doesn't want to go. If she is forced to go she will spend the rest of her life regretting the fact that she didn't marry the man she loves. She will not have a good marriage. If she is too miserable in that marriage she may go to the extent of seeking ways of taking her husband's life, to be free. 

Let's talk about school. Did you go, and up to which level?     
I did go to school. When I went, I spent a few months there and..

Who sent you to school?
My father. But unfortunately I was a spoilt girl. As the only girl child my parents spoilt me. I was doing whatever I wanted to do. My mother tried to be severe with me but my father would not let her.

But what exactly made you leave school?
I wanted to go to Dakar. All girls wanted to go to Dakar. And also you know, there were other girls who were not enrolled. So you want to stay at home and play with them. After a while those girls went to Dakar to work as maids or babysitters. And I wanted to imitate them. I could not know that school was the right thing to do.

And did you go to Dakar?
No. My father would not let me.

What made you want to go to Dakar?
Well everyone wanted to see Dakar. We were all full of this idea and there was no way I could stay at school. We were hearing great things about that city. So I left school. But my father refused to let me go to Dakar and forced back to school.  And this time it was something else that drove me out of school: the teacher was hitting us very hard. I left school again, this time for good. And I stayed at home for a year. The second year, one of my aunts took me to the neighbouring village, to look after her child. That's how the prospect of going back to school ended.

Do you remember why the teacher would hit you?
Bad behaviour in the classroom. I was terrible.

What kind of behaviour?
When the teacher ordered me to do something I would refuse.

Do you have any regrets today?
Oh yes, I did regret misbehaving at school and leaving altogether.  But now I know there is nothing I can do about it. All the people who have studied a bit far have a better life. When you are educated you can understand and do certain things yourself. That's why I urge my children to study and do everything for them to do their homework, like buying kerosene for the lamp. Even when I don't have money myself, I will go out and look for some way of getting kerosene. It's for their future.

Do you believe being educated is useful to a peasant?
Yes, it can improve the life of a peasant. Any knowledge you have from your education can help you be more efficient in your work, be it agricultural production or cattle breeding. When they explain to you what you must do, you can understand better if you have been to school. For instance you can get to know what fertilizers or what seeds to use or how to use them.

What about cattle breeding?
It is the same thing. Suppose you want to raise sheep. If you are educated you can know what the best food for the sheep is. If a sheep falls ill and the vet prescribes a medicine, if you don't know how to give the medicine to the sheep you can kill it. But if you can read the prescription you will do the right thing.

In what way do you think not being educated has disadvantaged you?
In a lot of ways. For instance in this rural place of Kagnarou, there are things that partners bring and I can't take part in because of being illiterate. If you take the health post, I could have got a job there selling medicine or something else. You see when you are illiterate you have no prospects in this world. You are doomed to remain at the bottom of the ladder.

Suppose your child does what you did to your father about going to school, how would you react?
I would be patient with that child and take time to talk to him or her. I would do it so well I am sure the child would understand. Girls are always in a hurry to make some money by going to Dakar to work as maids. It's never too late to become a maid. The girl should first try hard at school, and if it doesn't work, then she can go to work as a maid. Girls should also have higher ambitions than being maids. Why can't they aim to work in offices like men? So I would never hit any child of mine who would not go or stay at school. I would be patient and talk the child into going to school. That way you stand a better of the child staying at school thereafter.

Now let's talk about subsistence. In what way do you contribute to the livelihood of your household?
Well, I work very hard, especially during the rainy season. I work in groundnut fields as well as in rice fields.

And what do you do outside the rainy season?
I do some market gardening or if I have some money I will buy and sell whatever is available. It may be sugar or something else. You just can't be idle, because there are children to provide for, and also they need support for school. They keep asking for notebooks, pens, etc. And then you want them to eat before going to school. You must also help the husband in keeping the house. You need to buy kerosene for the lamps in the house, and soap for washing clothes as well as the washing up,

How do you manage to get the money to do all of that?
I can buy flour to bake cakes to sell…

Where do you get the money to buy that flour?
I borrow, or ask for help from my brothers. If I get 1000 CFA (2.17 US$)1, I buy flour and oil, and I can get 2000CFA from selling the cakes. Then I can use 1000CFA for the expenses I mentioned.

Doesn't your husband mind when you go and ask for money from somebody else?
He doesn't. At least he doesn't show that he minds. Why should he? We don't have any, and I am doing it for the good of the house. If he can't provide for me, it's only normal that I ask for help from my brothers.

Why do you think he can't provide for you?
I won't say that he can't. You know now men have a lot of needs. For instance when he has money he smokes. How can you do that when you should have been putting your children first?

What does he smoke?
He smokes both tobacco and cigarettes. If you do that there is no way you can have money for your children's needs. I think women are more sensitive to that.

When did you start contributing to the running of the household?
Right from the beginning of my marriage. When I was living with my parents, I saw what my mother was doing. So it was only natural for me to come here and do it.

What can take you out of the difficult situation you are in?
If I can have good equipment to work in our fields…

What kind of equipment?
For instance if I had a cart with oxen, proper equipment to weed the grass, our lives would improve fast, and we can forget poverty. You will produce enough rice to last the whole year and beyond. Even when it doesn't rain enough, you can work fast and your produce will have time to ripen before the rain stops.

What exactly do you do during the rainy season?
When rain comes, we start with the rice nursery. It has to be really fertile ground. So it's usually thick bush you have to cut clear, and then burn. You plough it and throw your rice grains there. In the meantime your husband has cleared the millet field and will till it. You know when the nursery rice will grow enough to be planted in our rice fields. It takes 15 days. You need to hire associations to help plant fast because the rainy season is too short. So you tell them in advance while you are working on the groundnut fields, after millet. Then it is time to plough the rice fields and plant your rice. You have to plan your work very tightly otherwise you will have nothing.

Do you wish to continue working in agriculture, or will you do something else if given the chance?
Of course I would do something better if given the chance. But I can't see how I will have the possibility of doing something else. So I have to take farming seriously.

If given the possibility, what would you like to do?
Have a less tiring and better paid job.

Like what?
As I said earlier, if I had been to school, I could have had a good job in town. Of course I would still come to the village because there are so many fruits and other things to eat here. But it would be my decision. I would not be forced to stay here. I could be in a nice office writing down things for other people to do. But you see, I am illiterate and I got married too early.

You are still young. Being illiterate, you think you have no choice but to remain a peasant?
I don't know. That is precisely the problem of being illiterate. You have no way of knowing. What are the possibilities out there? I can't know. All I know is farming. If I had enough funds, I could have started a real trade. I could buy fish and sell, as well as cakes and many other things like baked peanuts, wild fruits, dried fish, etc. Then I can move on to manufactured products that I can retail here.

When your husband sells the produce from the farm, do you know how much he gets?
I never get to know. It is his business. I take care of rice for the family. Before, he used to tell me how much he got from the sale of peanuts. But now I have no idea what he gets.

Why is that?
Maybe he is afraid that once he tells me, I might want to know how he is spending the money. The other problem is now the government doesn't pay cash for the peanuts. They tell you to wait until this or that month. When that time comes, they still don't pay. The voucher they gave you can stay with you for a year or even two or three. This is what I know about what is going on.

What do you think peasants should do about this state of things?
I believe they should retail their peanuts. They should take their produce to town and either exchange it for rice, or retail it. They will get a lot more.

Abibatou, have you ever travelled outside Senegal?
Yes I did. I tried to go to France. I went up to Mauritania and came back.

How old were you then?
I was 13.

Tell me more about that.
I went to Mauritania because I had a cousin who was married there and was expecting a child. She asked my parents to let me go there to help her. I stayed there until she gave birth. But I had to come back because the village was preparing to organize the big initiation event called bukut. But it all boils down to the fact that I haven't been to school. If I was educated, I would not have come back. My cousin wanted me to go with her to France. She even had a passport made for me. But I refused because I wanted to come back for the bukut. I never imagined my life beyond the bukut. I couldn't think for a second that such an event could take place without me. I had not lived any time yet, since it happens about every 30 years. My cousin and her husband thought they could convince me to go with them. They insisted that I should go with them. But no way, I was determined to be part of the bukut.  So the husband brought me back to Dakar, and then to the village.

After the bukut, my cousin again urged me to go back to Mauritania so that we could go to France. I said no. I said what if my mother died while I was away? Same for my father. You see how stubborn I was. But I guess that it is destiny. God hasn't written that I would go to France.

Do you think your stubbornness was due to your young age or to illiteracy?
I would say that it was due to my young age. I was eager to see the bukut we heard so much about.

Was going to Mauritania useful to you?
Yes it was. My cousin liked me. She would take me to the market and ask me to show her the piece of cloth I liked most. Then she would get it for me. I also discovered the world, at an early age.

What do you remember about Mauritania?
The only difficult thing I remember is dust. But there is a lot of meat there because sheep are cheap.

Do you think that going outside Senegal can be a solution out of poverty?
Yes it can be. If you stay put, it means you don't get anything. There is a saying in Jola that states that your luck is with your feet.

Are you a member of any association or organized group of some sort?
Yes I belong to a number of associations: one is an NGO called Tostan, another one is about general development with a local NGO called CADEF…

Is being a member of CADEF useful?
Yes, very useful. I survived with my first child thanks to support from CADEF. They gave good rice seeds. And I got the best crop I have ever had, out of those seeds.

What about Tostan?
They taught us how to write in Jola our own language. They also taught us hygiene, health practices, taking care of your child, and many other things.

How do you get information here?
What information?

I mean information in general. For instance how do you know what is going on in the country, or how do you learn about new things?
Those who can read learn by reading and tell us. You can also learn things by listening to radio. We have local radio stations around.

You talked about poverty. What exactly is poverty to you?
It means the person is stuck.

Yes. You can go nowhere, can do nothing to get out of the situation. You are not in a mood
to rejoice. You can get rough with your children. You fear the future.

Do you think that around here, there are some people who are poorer than others?
Yes there are. I may be one of the poorest around.

How do you know that?
For instance I can see that other people have support from outside.

Since you got married do you think your compound is getting better off or poorer?
The compound has moved backwards. Before, there were elders and a lot of solidarity between households of the compound. To make things worse, our physical environment is degrading. You don't have as many fruits as you used to have. You don't get much out of the land either.

You talked about the changing environment, why do you think this is happening?
There is not enough rain. Fruits are smaller, rice plants don't behave the same way as before; they don't produce as much as they used to. The soil dries up faster.

In this situation, what should people do?
People should get ready to start working as soon as the first rain comes. We should adapt by reorganizing our seasonal activities. For instance there are a lot of cultural events as the rainy season comes nearer. We should make sure that the first rain doesn't take us by surprise. We should also adapt our working equipment. The kadiandou was ok before. But now that the rainy season is shorter, the kadiandou doesn't allow you to work fast enough.

Thanks very much, Abibatou.

1/ Average exchange rate (458.97 CFA franc = 1 US$), November 2009, Interbank rate,source: www.oanda.com