Safiétou Goudiaby: “the land dries up”

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Safiétou Goudiaby: “the land dries up”

Safiétou Goudiaby, who is about 70, lives in Kagnarou, Casamance province in Senegal. She is still farming, as she has done all her life, growing mainly subsistence crops such as rice, groundnuts and millet. "I may be an old woman," she says, "but I have to plough with the kadiandou (traditional Jola tilling tool), and use the machete to clear bushes… and if you see me using the machete, you will not believe that I am a woman."

Safiétou's first husband died of a respiratory condition and her second husband is ill. "So I have to do everything myself," she says, "unless if I have a little bit of money to pay an association to do it… And his second wife is too young. She can't really work efficiently." A major problem for the community is the increasingly severe water shortage, "so when you work the land it dries up before your crops mature… You can't even grow vegetables. I don't have the strength any more to draw water from the well." Safiétou says that nowadays there is "nothing – no rain", whereas "before, there was a lot of water. It would even spring out of the soil. And there was water all year round. Whatever you sowed, you would get something out of it."

Safiétou talks about the community's survival strategies in times of hardship, including their reliance on wild plants and roots. She admits that some of their coping mechanisms, such as cutting down trees to produce and sell charcoal, are harmful to the environment, but comments: "We are short of solutions. We are well aware that if there are no trees, there won't be any rain. But what can we do? We need to survive." Her own situation is slightly eased by remittances from her children working in Saudi Arabia and in Dakar.

The challenges faced by the elderly, widows and women in general in a rural community are prominent throughout Safiétou's testimony. Issues of land ownership, inheritance practices and gender roles are shown to be central to the organization of labour between men and women and the control and use of production assets. Her testimony also demonstrates that the community views both modern medicine and traditional healing practice as complementary.

Changing attitudes towards education are mentioned. Safiétou herself did not go to school as she heard that children were beaten there. "I would run and hide every day…," she recalls. "My [stepfather] did everything to get me to school. In the end he gave up. School was not a big thing in our days." Subsequently, she came to regret her lack of education: "I would have liked to study, but it is too late."

Asked what would improve her life in the future, Safiétou says: "Apart from charcoal, we need a water tap to grow vegetables… Please help us with the dykes here – then we will produce more rice… [And I need] equipment for the rice fields, because I am too old to till the soil now."