Safiétou Goudiaby: interview transcript

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Safiétou Goudiaby: interview transcript

Safiétou Goudiaby is a farmer living in Kagnarou village, Casamance province, Senegal. She was about 70 years old when she was interviewed on 20 November 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 introduce yourself?                                                    
My name is Safiétou Goudiaby, but I am better known as "Kabakën" in this area.

Why that nickname?
It is because of the ritual called kanatoubac. I needed to undertake that ritual to have children. And thank God, I have children and they have survived.

Is this what you do here to have children?
It is not exactly to have children. You see, when a woman bears children and they die immediately afterwards, twice or three times in a row, they show you a person who can do something about it and they give you a nickname so that you can beg God for help. That's how I got the nickname "Kabakën", which means the local bucket with which we draw water.

You were born in this village of Kagnarou?
Yes I was born in this very village – in a different part of the village from where I got married.

So now how many children do you have?
Only two.

Only two?
The first three died.

How do you interpret the death of the first three? Is it due to [sudden] death or what?
Well, two were sick with fever; the last one was stillborn. The first child did walk before dying. The second one was still crawling when he died.

So what did you do when your children got sick? Did you take them to a health care centre?
In those days there were not many health care centres. You simply had to take your child to a traditional healer or a marabout (religious leader and teacher). They give you roots to boil and give to the child to drink or wash them with, or to mix with food. When you were pregnant you would do exactly the same thing yourself until the child is born. It is the same thing when you can't get pregnant.

Did you do all of that on your own or was your husband with you?
We took the decision together to go see those who have special powers

Was it costly to consult those people?
Not really.

Who would come up with the money?
If I have it, I give the money. If he has it he would give and we would go together. Sometimes he would give it to me and ask me to go on my own and see why I was not getting pregnant.

What is the practice today?
Well, today, if you are sick or your child is sick, you first go the marabout if you have the money. It's only when they can do nothing for you that you go to the hospital. There they will give you medicine, and you may get pregnant and have a child.

So you start with the marabouts?
Well you know there are more and more health centres. So, to have a child you go there. But still when your child is sick, you go to the marabout. He gives you roots for your child.

Can you tell me how you grew up in this village?
I never knew my father. I was brought up by his younger brother, Bakary. My father had died before I knew anything. At the time there was no rural exodus. So I grew up in the village until I reached the age of marriage. I met a young man from another part of the village. We loved each other so he asked to marry me. His family took care of the matter with my family and I was brought to his place in this part of the village.

What did you know about your father?
Not much. When he died I was still a baby.

But what did you feel when you realized that Bakary was not your father?
He took pity on me. He knew that if he did anything painful to me, it would be too hard on me.  So he really gave me affection until I grew up. My mother's name was Maïmouna Sagna. I got married in the part of the village where she was born.

What kind of relationship did you have with Bakary's children?
They were older than me. Well you know when you grow up with other children, sometimes they hit you. But my "father" Bakary would never let them do it. Unless he was away.

How did you feel about that?
Well I was very happy. Sometimes I used to think that maybe my own father would never have taken that good care of me.

What kind of activities were you involved in when you grew up?
I was ploughing. For that I used the kadiandou (traditional Jola tilling tool), normally used by men. The hoe is used in this part of the village only. So I started using it when I got married here.  But where I grew up, all of us boys and girls used the kadiandou, for peanut fields just as for rice fields.

You mean women plough here? Not just men?
Up to today; I may be an old woman but I have to plough with the kadiandou, and use the machete to clear bushes. I am left-handed and if you see me using the machete, you will not believe that I am a woman. I clear the rice field before it gets ploughed and then I plant the rice.

You mean you had your own rice fields or what?
Well it's when I got married. I can plough up to five rice fields and then plant the rice.  But now, you know, there is no rain, no water.

When you were young did you go to school?
Oh, I ran away. There was no school in our village but only in Sindian, the neighbouring village. We were told that they would take you and beat you at school. So I was enrolled here in Kagnarou so that I would go to Sindian. I refused. I would run and hide every day. So I never went to school.

So you were told that they beat children at school?
Oh yes! My "father" did everything to get me to school. In the end he gave up. School was not a big thing in our days

What about today?
Today? It's too late for me. I would have liked to study, but it is too late.

The rice field, you clear and plough and then plant rice, do you do it alone or with your husband?
Before, women used to do it with their husbands. But in my case my husband is ill. When my first husband died, I was married again to a relative of his. This one is ill and can't work. So I have to do everything myself – unless if I have a little bit of money to pay an association to do it.

Are you the only woman to do this in the village or are there others?
Other women plough their rice fields on their own. When your husband takes pity on you and has time, he may come to help you. In fact our association had work to do today. But when we heard that you were coming we postponed it. We thought that maybe help was coming for us. I was told that those coming needed me. I said all right I will be here. You know our rice fields are so far away from the village. But as old as I may be, I have to go every day and work till evening.

Do you have someone you work with on the rice fields?
Yes, I do. But she is young. We don't have the same working capacity. I have been doing this for years. So I am used to it. I know the work.

You said that your husband doesn't work because he is ill. Do other women's husbands work on the rice fields?
They do go to plough the rice fields. They plough the groundnuts fields and then they come to help us in the rice fields

So as for the rice fields, they help you there?
Yes, normally they plough only the groundnut and millet fields. Ploughing the rice fields is women's job. When I arrived here, no man was going to the rice fields. It's up to women to do everything there. If your husband is kind enough, he may give you some money to pay for labour.

You mean you don't work on groundnut and millet plots?
Oh yes we do. My problem is my husband is ill. And his second wife is too young. She can't really work efficiently. My children are in town. So I ask them to help with some money for the work in the rice fields. I am far too old now.

Where are your children?
One is in Saudi Arabia and one is in Dakar

And they send you money often?
They do. You know you don't get much out of land nowadays.

Does that money go far enough in helping sustain you?
Not really. You know there is nothing here. We don't have enough water, so when you work the land it dries up before your crops mature.

So what do you do?
We are helpless. You can't even grow vegetables. I don't have the strength any more to draw water from the well. If we had water you could grow vegetables – like onions, peppers. You could then use them for your cooking or sell them to have some money.

Did you grow vegetables when you were young?
Oh yes I did. I would organize a big garden and fence it. Then I would grow vegetables for the family. Those days were not difficult. These times are not good. There is only suffering.

Why do you say that?
Well it doesn't rain enough. You work for nothing. But of course you can't give up. However little you get out of it, you have to take it. You have to keep working. After all of your work it dries up and you get almost nothing out of your work. Last year was a little better. But this year? All our crops dried up before ripening. I don't know what we will do.

I believe there was a year when some women said they would not go to the rice fields. They were complaining about men letting their cattle loose on their rice fields. How did the community survive?
We have a fruit called éguilaye. You mix its powder with water.  And you give it to the children to eat. We also eat the leaves of ékangouley (a wild plant). That's for lunch. You can eat them with salt, and that's all. Do you know kourabaghac? It's a big wild root. Shortly after the rainy season, you go get it, boil it and dry it. And you keep it for difficult days. In fact it is a bit bitter. So when the time comes, you put it in a mortar, add water and crush it before pressing the water out. You keep washing it like that several times before you can cook it. This is how we survived.

Do you still have those roots in the bush?
Yes, they still exist

What about the rice plots you use, who do they belong to?
They belong to my husband's father. It is the fields he inherited from his father. The land is transmitted from father to son.

Only to a son?
You know, the girl will get married to a man who has inherited land from his father. She will work there. This is our way in our community.

The day there is nothing to eat in the house, do you ask your husband to find a solution or does he ask you to find a solution?
If you, the wife, has no solution, you just have to tell your husband. If he gets food and it is about to finish, you have to let him know in advance.  If he can't do anything, you look for ékangouley or kourabaghac. These are our livelihood in this community.

When there is absolutely nothing who is the most worried, the husband or the wife?
The wife. She is the one who has children and who cooks. So you are very worried. Some husbands worry also. But others don't care. They ask the wife to bring food.

You seem to have lived only in difficulties. Have you ever lived any happy times?
No, I don't remember any happy times since I was born. Or maybe when children send me some money. I feel better. When the money is spent, I start worrying again.

How does the community start work on the rice fields? Is there any ritual?
No, there isn't. When the neighbour starts, you can start. Or you may start first. Then the others join you.

So there is no ritual at all?
Well we have been several times to pray for more rain. But nothing – no rain. 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. But whenever it stops raining, the land dries up fast. We are even having sand in the rice fields.

Were there any places where you think prayers for the community's good were efficient?
There were. Under big trees

You are Muslims now?
Yes, all of us. But you can't give up traditional practices. They won't let you drop them.

Well sometimes when there is really no other solution to a problem, you resort to those practices, and it works. That's why although Islam says you should stop those practices, you just can't.

Today, we know that you rely on nothing else but the land. But you said yourself that it is more and more difficult. What will you do to survive?
Well, still the same recipe: kourabaghac, ékangouley. Let's hope they will keep growing. And we will be saved. That is our hope.

You've been doing these things and you keep living in difficulties. Don't you have any other idea to get out of that circle?
Well, you people from the modern world should help us get out of this situation.

What kind of help?
Equipment to work on the rice fields. If we are properly equipped, or we have water – imagine if we had water taps, we could grow vegetables and do other things. You can then get money and buy food. Children can make coal today. They cut trees and burn them to produce charcoal. And it sells well.

Is that what they are doing now?
Yes. What else can they do?

Aren't they destroying the forest? What do you think about that?
They do it for survival. 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.

Can we come back to solutions for rice fields? You talked about equipment…
And little dams to retain the water. Maybe before it dries up the crops will be ripe.

And your [ancestral?] spirits won't be chased away?
They left the place long ago. Without water, they left. So there is no obstacle to building a dyke to retain water.

But in other parts of the community some people have complained that dykes prevent them from having water. Won't they bring conflict in this community?
Certainly not. This is really what we want in this community. And we need people who can help us with that; and a through road as well with the village of Kaken.

When you go to the rice fields and stay there all day, who does the domestic work?
I cook myself.

I have to get up before dawn and start cooking. Depending on what you want to cook, you may have to prepare that food the night before you go to bed. When you finish cooking in the morning, you leave part of it at home for those who are staying there, and take the rest. At noon you stop for a while, you eat, and you resume work till the evening.

And who cooks in the evening then?
Still the wife. You start as soon as you get back home.

But what about the other domestic chores? When do you find the time to do them?
You just have to find time and do those. No one else will do them for you. It's your job.  In the week there is one day when we don't go to the fields, on Fridays. It's during that day that you do those things.

What is your relationship with your husband? Are there difficulties between you sometimes? Or never?
[Laughter] Well, for example, sometimes when you are short of solutions for food and you tell him, he gets angry. But all of this is due to poverty.

What about your husband's other wife? You said she is very young.
She has a lot of respect for me. I don't even cook nowadays. She does it all. I still do the pounding; I can clean the house, wash, but no more cooking. Sometimes I cook breakfast to help her.

Can you tell me more about your marriage, from when you were a young girl until today?
With my first husband, it was good. We were both young and lived together until we grew old. When he died, I went back to where I came from. But when my children grew up they asked me to come back here. And I did. That was five years ago.

Come back to whom here?
To Bocar.

Who is he?
Bocar Sagna, my current husband. He is my former husband's cousin.

Who told you to go and marry Bocar?
My own children. They said I should have a husband. And they themselves told their uncle Bocar about that.  They explained that they could not send enough money for me and for their uncle when we are living apart.

What about your former husband, how did you get married?
In fact we were related and we knew each other when we were young. And we liked each other. He told me he loved me. And I told him that I loved him. So his family sent cola nuts to my father to tell him. So he asked me if I agreed, and I said yes. That's how we got married.


What killed your husband? Was he ill?
He complained of pain in the chest. Something like asthma. Maybe because he was a lorry driver.

So he was a lorry driver? Did the lorry belong to him?
No. You know that Sindian, the neighbouring village, was a centre where they collected groundnuts. So he was employed by the lorry owner.

Did he die at home or in hospital?
At home.

Did you not take him to hospital?
Yes we did. We took him to hospital in Dakar. They kept him for a while and let him go. We thought he was cured and came back home to the village. That's when he died.

You said that children now burn charcoal to make money. For you, what is your future? Do you believe it will ever improve?
Apart from charcoal, we need a water tap to grow vegetables. We sometimes get wild fruits and sell them to get some money to improve our food. Please help us with the dykes here – then we will produce more rice. There used to be one before but now it is broken.

What are your ambitions for the future?
To have equipment for the rice fields, because I am too old to till the soil now. And a water tap.

How old do you think you are?
I don't really know. Maybe I am a hundred, I don't know.

Before or after what big event were you born?
I have now witnessed two male initiation events. My first son was born a year before the first one.

I believe the first initiation event was in 1956. So how old were you when you got married?
I don't really know. I am sure I wasn't yet 20. Somewhere between 15 and 17.

Thank you very much.