Bintou Sambou: interview transcript

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Bintou Sambou: interview transcript

Bintou Sambou lives in Bignona village, Casamance province, Senegal. She was aged 45 when she was interviewed on 5 December 2009 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.

Can you tell me your name?
I am Bintou Sambou.

And where are you from?
My father was originally from the village of Kartiack (15 km from Bignona). But I was born here, in Bignona.

Can you tell me about the years of your youth? How did you live then?
Yes, I will tell you about it. When I was young, I didn't meet any difficulties. Until my father died.

How old were you when your father died?
I was three years old.

So you never really knew your father?
No, not really.

So what kind of difficulties did you encounter when your father died?
You know, my brothers and I were then in the custody of my father's relatives. And there we had difficult times.

In what way?
They never really took us as their children. For instance we could have had a pension because my father was salaried. They confiscated the papers. You see it was difficult.

And what kind of job did your father have?
He was an employee at MTOA (a tobacco manufacturing company).

How do you think you should have been treated by your father's relatives?
It is difficult to say. You know yourself that when your father is not around, you suffer. What else can I tell you?

But you could at least tell me what you think they should have done. Did they give you food?
I can't give you details.

What killed your father?
He died from illness.

Was he taken to hospital when he fell ill?
Yes. You know my father was well known here in Bignona. He was running the only cinema
in the town.

What was his name?
Dembo Sambou - yes, Dembo Sambou.

So times were difficult for his children when he died. How many of you did he have?
Six of us. Six children.

And how many wives did he have?
Only my mother.  He had only one wife.

And where are your brothers?
They all live in Dakar.

After your father died, did you all live in the same house, with one of your uncles?
No, we were scattered between other relatives.

And what did your mother do?
She went and remarried somewhere else.

Where did each of the children go?
We were scattered. Some of us stayed with our uncles.

What about you?
Me, Bintou Sambou?

I went to another village called Djinaky, where I was enrolled at school.

With whom did you stay there?
Sorry Diallo.

Who is he?
He used to stay with my father here in Bignona.

So, in effect, you grew up in Djinaky?
Not really. I didn't stay long there. I left and followed my mother in Thiès (Senegal's second city, 70km north of Dakar).

So you lived in Thiès?

Did you go to school there?
No, I didn't continue my school. I went to learn sewing.

Why did you drop school?
Difficulties. I could not continue school.

At which level did you drop out of school?
I stopped in my fifth year of primary school in Djinaky.

So really why did you stop school?
There were too many problems. I just ran away and went to look for my mother.

So it was in Thiès that your mother remarried?

She was with her new husband when you arrived in Thiès?

How many wives did her new husband have when you arrived?
One. Only my mother.

And life was difficult there too for you?
Oh no! I was happy there.

So why didn't you carry on with school there?
As I told you, my father's relatives kept our birth certificates. Later we had to redo all those

Why did they keep your papers? They didn't want you to go to school?
They said that a girl child should not go to school. The problem was our father did enrol all his other children before he died. I was too young.

OK. Talking about your brothers, what kind of relationship do you have with them now?
We still get on very well. There is no division between us. In fact they were here and just left.

Left to go where?

Now that you have all grown up, what is your relationship with your uncles? I mean those who hid your papers so that you could not go to school?
We've tried to forget the past. Because today we can take care of ourselves. We cannot be guided by what they did to us. So we don't have any hatred.

What about their children?
We look at them as our brothers and sisters.

Have their children been to school?
All of their children went to school and some are still at school.

If you had problems and needed help, would you go to them?
No. No, we won't go to them.

If you think of what happened before, you can't have the courage to go to them.

So there are problems between you and them?
No. Nothing. We just don't have any relationship. So what we do is to try and settle any
difficulty between us. If we can't, we leave it.

But what about them, do they come to you when they need help?
Yes, we sit and discuss the problem.

Now you have grown up and are living in your place. Are you married?
Yes, I was married. But my husband died too.

When did he die?
The year of [the national] elections.

You mean 2007?
Yes, 2007.

Was he ill?
Well, no. It is the troubles in Casamance. He was caught up in the conflict.

So he died here, in the district of Bignona, how?
He was part of those killed by the army in the village of Belaye. The three "rebels" were on a motorbike and got killed.

What was his name?
Maurice Diatta.

And he was from where?
Boukitigho, near Oussouye.

Before he was killed, how did you live together?
We got on well. We loved each other.

How did you meet then? He was from Boukitigho, across the river Casamance, and you are from Kartiack.
We met in Ziguinchor.

So you also lived in Ziguinchor?
Not really. I came to visit an uncle. I was still living in Thiès. I met him and we got married later.

Do you have any children with him?
Yes, we had five children. But two of them died.

Do those still alive go to school?
Yes they do.

Now that your husband is no longer in this world, how do you keep your family?
By my own strength. I work, I do petty trading.

What kind of work do you do?
The age-old way of life for our community: I grow groundnuts. I also buy and sell moukirr (a bitter traditional healing ointment).

How do you grow your groundnuts?
I get people to plough for me and I pay them.

Whose land is it that you plough?
The land belongs to Lazarre Badji. He has lent it to me.

So you pay those who plough for you. Where do you get that money?
From my petty trading.

So you make some money from that trade?
I can say yes. I would have had a lot of money by now. But you know, I use that money to feed my children. So we just survive. And I must also send them to school. All three of them. So that's why I say that my trade brings some money.

So you never have any problems sending your children to school once it opens?
I plan carefully. I know that school is coming and that I have to put up the money to send the kids there. Sometimes I pay school fees in advance to avoid the risk of children not going to school because I couldn't pay. For the rest it is a constant struggle.

Bintou, from when you wake up in the morning, what do you do till the evening?
When I get up in the morning, I first do domestic chores – you are a woman like me, you know it. Then I go to the fields. When I get back from the fields, I finish my domestic work.

But if you go to the fields and your children go to school, who cooks then?
I cook. I do that before going to the fields.

Bintou, you said that your husband died nearly three years ago. Have you remarried?
No, Bintou Sambou has not remarried.

Why? In the Jola community, when your husband dies you remarry another man from within his extended family, or you may meet another man and remarry. Why haven't you done so?
You are right, that's what they do in the Jola community. But I wanted to take some time to recover. You know it is very hard. You get used to a man, and then you change. That is very hard to do.

Has someone from your late husband's family tried to marry you?
Oh yes, several of them. But I told them that I wanted to go and live in my father's compound, here in Bignona, and then we will see what happens.

You are alone with your children in your father's compound?
I live here only with my children.

What about your uncles and aunts, are they still alive?
Yes they are.

So do you get any help in feeding your children, or you are absolutely on your own?
I am on my own. I feed my children on my own.

Don't your father's other children help?
They could have helped me. But our mother is ill and they are taking care of her.

Do you sometimes run out of solutions to feed your children?
Oh believe me, sometimes I get stuck. I don't know what to do for food.

So what do you do in that type of situation?
If I don't have any solution, then I know that it is what God has decided.

And what do you do with your children?
I talk to them. I tell them that their father is no longer here and that I am alone to fend for them and that for that very day I don't have a solution.

Where do you sell your moukirr? Do people come here to buy it or do you go out?
I sell essentially here in Bignona. The odd person may come to my place to buy it, but for most of the customers I take it to them.

Do you prepare it yourself or do you buy it to resell?
I buy it. I go to those who prepare it and buy a good quantity. Then I bring it  here to Bignona and put it in small bottles. Each bottle is sold for a dollar. Then I start walking into houses to offer the product.

Boukitigho is far away. You pay for transport to get the moukirr and bring it back. Why don't you prepare it yourself?
The tree from whose fruit you produce the moukirr doesn't exist here in Bignona. Moreover, it's not everyone who can prepare the moukirr. You need to reach a certain age before you can prepare it.

You mean you haven't reached that age?
I don't even know how it is prepared!

And you're not thinking of learning how to do it?
Yes I am. But I haven't seen anyone doing it yet.

But surely you can ask somebody to show you?
I have asked. But they always say that it is not the time to make it. They ask you to order the finished product so that when the time comes they will make it for you.

Apart from the moukirr, you cultivate groundnuts, that's all?
And millet, that's all.

All year round do you get any help at all?
I don't have anyone to help me.

What do you think can change your situation?
I pray every day, but I can't tell the future.

What do you pray for then?
I pray to have some money to take care of my children. If I am still here it is because of them. Where can one go with three children? That's why I keep praying. And I also pray that they succeed at school and maybe they will remember that their mother suffered for them.

Bintou, you said that your husband died in 2007. You are carrying a baby on your back. Whose baby is it?
This baby? It is mine.

Who is the father?
A man from the area of Balantacounda.

What kind of relationship do you have with him?
What do you mean?

I mean are you think of marrying him?
When you are assaulted from every angle by difficulties, you can't avoid thinking of marriage.

Is the man helping in taking care of the child or are you alone with this one too?
He is helping. Otherwise I don't know what I would have done.

Really how do you see your future? What picture is in your mind when you think of your future?
This is the situation: I am growing in age. Ideally I should get married.

Do you have a good relationship with the father of your baby?
Yes I do.

How many wives does he have?

Where does his family live?
They live in Ziguninchor.

Does he come to visit you?
Yes he does.

So you don't have any ambition other than getting married?
Yes I have an ambition. I hope to have a good income-generating activity to protect my children and myself from hardship.

And what kind of activity could that be?
For instance, selling. It is a good activity. I wish I could increase the volume of the moukirr that I sell.

Do you really make money out of that?
I should. But some of my customers take the product and never pay.

Does it take time to sell or does it go fast?
It can go fast if you take it and walk around to look for potential customers. You know I sell it with a very small profit because this area is poor. And I can't leave my children to go somewhere else to sell it.

What about agriculture? From your own experience, do you see any benefit in it or not?
There is benefit in it. What I get from it helps in keeping my family. I grill groundnuts to sell in the street or make a stew.

So you will continue ploughing?
No I won't.

Well the land is not mine. They lend it to me.

What if you had your own land?
Then I would continue.

Do your children go to the fields to help you?
Yes they do. For instance the boy brought the nuts from the field today, because I told me I would not be able to go.

Bintou, how do you compare today's world to that of your mother?
Oh my mother's world was a much better one! I know my mother lost her first husband, but I don't think she suffered the way I am suffering now.

Bintou, do you belong to any association?
What kind of association?

Any kind of association really
I don't belong to any, here in Bignona.

And how many years have you been living in Bignona?
I came here when my husband died in 2007.

And what kind of relationship do you have with your neighbours?
We have a very good relationship.

You say that this is your father's compound, who built the hut where you are living?
Well, in fact I was born here. My father's house collapsed. You know it was a very old mud house. I couldn't live there with my children. It wasn't safe. So I had it knocked down and built this hut to live in.

Did you get help for this?
I paid people to put this hut up.

And do you believe this is safer than the old house?
Not really, but there is nothing I can do about it. You know we agreed with my brothers to knock down the old house so that we can build a good one where I would stay with my mother. But my mother fell seriously ill and they had to take her to Dakar.

Do they all have jobs in Dakar?
No, only one has.

Bintou, when your husband died, what made you decide to go and plough instead of doing something else?
I, Bintou Sambou, I believe that agriculture is good. Now why do I say that? Before coming back to Bignona, I was in Anambe where there is a small dam. My husband and I first worked at Nema Kadior hotel in Ziguinchor. From there we left for Anambe to work in agriculture. It is what I learnt there that I am applying here in the groundnut plot.

But in Anambe they cultivate essentially rice, not groundnuts.
Well, I did everything there: rice; groundnuts, maize.

And there, were you ploughing yourself, or did you pay others to do it?
There, a tractor was doing it.

But here you do it with your own hands, you do it with the kadiandou (traditional Jola tilling tool)?
Here we don't have marsh land, so I can't cultivate rice. So I do only groundnuts and millet.

Some borrow rice fields to work.
I won't do that. Because after you harvest, the owner of the land can claim part of your crop. So it's better to go and work on groundnut and millet fields.

What about the owners of those plots, don't they ask for something?
No, they don't. In fact Lazarre, who lent me that plot, is a very nice man.

Again if somebody wanted to help, what exactly should that person do?
That person should start by helping to build a house where we can live decently with my children. And maybe we can rent out part of the house. But if building the house is too much for the person then I think the next thing is my trade with moukirr.

Bintou, you live alone as a woman. Don't men harass you?
They come and tell me all sorts of tales; but it's up to the woman to distinguish truthful talk from lies.

How do you fend off all those men?
I tell them that my husband is somewhere else and will be coming soon. I tell them that I remarried one of my husband's brothers and that he will be coming to settle here with me.

You said that you don't belong to any association. But if you do, you can even get small loans. Why don't you try?
I am relatively new here. I need to observe first what is going on.

Bintou, thank you very much for your time.

[The first interview ends]

Follow up interview with Bintou Sambou, 12 January 2010

How is land allocated in your community?
The land is passed on from father to sons. The elder son is first to inherit. Girls do not inherit because the Jolas say that the girl has no right to the land.

Did your husband own land before he died?
Yes he did have land before he died. He inherited it from his father; but this land is in the Cassa area where he belongs to, whereas I am from the Blouf. He did have peanut fields as well as rice fields.

What happened to this land after his death?
After his death the land was given to his brothers. This is in line with the Jola tradition: the wife never gets the land. So they gave it to his brothers.

Did he have any title deeds?
No--nothing like that because he did not plan his death. No, he had no title deeds.

So you don't own that land?
Oh no, certainly not. I can't own any land here!

Surely your husband had some land, why don't you use it?
Yes, my husband had some land he got from his father after he married me. But in the Jola tradition land is inherited only by men. Daughters and widows cannot inherit. So when my husband died his plots were redistributed to his brothers.

Did they tell you why you could not inherit the land?
They said that a girl doesn't really belong to the family. She will go marry somewhere, and the wife is in the family because of marriage. But she can leave any time she wants and go marry somewhere else. If you give her the land she will go with it.

What do you think of that system?
I find it unfair. Look at me – if my father didn't have a house in Bignona, I wouldn't have anywhere to live with my children. After all they are also my husband's children. And for my late father, I couldn't hope to get his house in the village. It is taken by his brothers.

So you had to leave your husband's compound?
I was told to get up and go because everything belonged to his brothers. The only possibility for me to stay was if my children were big enough. They would have claimed their rights and defended me.

Some borrow rice fields to work.
I won't do that. Because after you harvest, the owner of the land can claim part of your crop. You plough the plot, get fertilizer, and work hard to get something out of it and in the end,  the owner of the land can claim up to 50% of the crop. So it's better to go and work on groundnut and millet fields.

How do you go about borrowing that type of land?
I go see an owner and ask him: "Do you have any plot you are not going to use this year?" Often they would say: "Go see such a parcel and if you are interested you can work on it." And what is interesting is sometimes you may use the plot for years. Of course the problem is you can never own it.

Can you tell us about the conflict in Casamance?
No. I know nothing about the conflict - I cannot say anything. But I can tell about the death of my husband.

What happened?
I, Bintou, I was sitting here, on that chair and somebody came in to inform me that my husband was part of those who were shot at on the road.

And who told you that?
My brother's wife. She came running here and told me that my husband was among the people who were attacked. She came several times and she didn't know how to start to tell me the bad news.

And how did she do it?
You know the first time she came in she asked me: "Bintou, what is going on?" I said: "Nothing, why?" She answered: "No, it's alright." Then she came back several times asking questions like that. Neighbours were even coming to greet me and whenever I asked "Where are you going to?" they would say we heard that somebody died in the neighbourhood and we are going to see who. In the end my brother's wife came in and asked me to call my husband because she heard that some people had been killed in a shootout. It was a shock to me and… [she sobs and can't continue for a while].

It was a difficult moment
You know - this conflict has disrupted life here. It has made it impossible for people
here. You cannot go to the fields without fear. Because I, Bintou, I am always worried about what can happen to my children. My mind is never at rest. I wonder what they are doing, because children are innocent you know. So this situation is really a burden for people, especially the poor.

Bintou, do you belong to any association?
What kind of association?

Any kind of association really
I don't belong to any, here in Bignona. I don't even know any. How can you get near them when you are experiencing so many difficulties? I don't even try to know who belongs to what association. It is because of my situation, with children. I prefer to do my own business. When you belong to an organization, if you can't pay then you're finished. You've made your life and that of your children difficult for a long time. That's why I am on my own.

Let's talk about health. What do you do when you fall ill?
There is a health post near here, that's where I go when I fall ill. I also take my children there.

What about when you're pregnant?
Vaccination is free when you are pregnant. And that also goes for the child who is breastfeeding. But when he falls ill they write a prescription and you have to pay. Surely they can stop making women pay for their health care. It is the best way to improve their health.

Do you have safe drinking water in your hut?

No water taps?
No; no such things. In fact I have to walk at least half a kilometre to get water from a well. It would be good if the government thought of providing safe drinking water for every household. We could have, for instance, public water taps.

What about sanitation?
We have a latrine. You know, a lot of households around here have built latrines. Some with a roof and others without.

You said that with the difficulties you are experiencing, you are thinking of marriage. Why? Can marriage solve your difficulties?
At least there are two of you. I believe it is a shelter against poverty. You know if I compare my situation today with that when I was married, it is different. For instance, when you are sick there is someone beside you; you can turn to someone for all the other problems: education, clothing, food, I can't list them all. Look at where I live. I need to build a house. I am going to have to do it alone, with my young boy when he doesn't go to school. I am building bricks myself.

Thank you Bintou for your time.