A bus wizzes by in the dark of the morning, creating a strong breeze that picks up dust and with it, the thorn, which in Pulaar is called a ‘Giyel’. Giyel is swept a little ways away from the road by the wind, and comes to rest in the dip in the sand from a horse-drawn charrett wheel. The day brightens with the quiet glow of morning. A woman walks towards it, heading to the field to water the orchard that her husband owns. Giyel gets stuck in her foam flip-flop and stays there as she waters the orchard, one bucket at a time, throwing the water on the base of each tree, walking back and forth between the catchment basin filled by the spigot and the trees. She makes trip after trip until she and the other mothers and maybe a child or two have watered everything, including the mint and basil plots, grown to add to their tea. After all is watered, she goes to the outer part of the field and collects fodder for the animals back at the house: cows and sheep, and puts the pile, bigger than she is, on top of her head and heads for home, balancing it without hands.
Giyel rides along in her shoe back to her house, where she dutifully scrapes off all of the thorns from her shoe on a rock by the entryway of the fence. She does this without looking down, still balancing the huge load on her head. Giyel isn’t idle for long, as one of the other mothers marches out of the compound, huge laundry basin full of water balanced effortlessly on her head as she heads for the garden where the women of the village grow vegetables that they sell or cook. Giyel falls off of the shoe in the garden and is picked up by another woman, also watering her vegetable plot. He overhears all the gossip for the day; how much someone paid for her veggies that day, who is getting married next, what man didn’t go to the mosque yesterday and speculations about why that was, etc.
Then Giyel travels back to the woman’s house with her, but jabs through her shoe, puncturing her foot. The pain causes her to stop in her path and reach down to pull it out, still balancing the basin (now empty) on her head. A woman passes by, they greet each other and the other says, “Giyel?” sympathetically. “Yes,” she says, putting her foot skillfully back into her foam flip flop, ball and heel eroded so thin it is a wonder Giyel hadn’t punctured through it right away. “Pain…” the woman sympathizes, shaking her head as she walks into her compound. A man’s shoe steps on Giyel, a beautiful white shoe of leather and plastic – the slip-on type with a pointed toe, as he heads to the mosque. The shoe takes another step towards the mosque, unphased and unharmed by Giyel. The shoe is impervious to pain. Unaware.
It is midmorning and the children have a break from classes. They rush out of the school like a laughing, jumping, screaming wave, heading home or to each other’s homes for a snack or just to hang out. The boys find an old skin of what used to be a soccer ball, and they all chase after it. Two girls attempt to join in the game, running to get the ball, but one stops abruptly, hopping to a halt, her foot in the air. In her big toe is Giyel. She winces in pain and her friend stops to help her, holding her up while she balances to extract the thorn from her toe. The boys run off, now rounding a corner and out of site. “Giyel?” her friend asks, sympathetically. “Painful…” she acknowledges, and they walk together to her house for some rice porridge with milk, soon forgetting about the whole incident as it is all too common.
Giyel gets picked up by another woman on her way back from the market, heading home to cook lunch. It stays lodged in her shoe through the entire 4 hour process of cooking rice and fish, feeling the weight of her hunched back and the heat of the wood burning below the huge pot while she stirs the vegetables. Her baby begins to cry as he wakes up from his nap. She goes into get him, bringing him out to nurse him. Finished nursing, she bends over, gently tossing him onto her back and straps him in with a small blanket, hand embroidered unevenly with the words “Yes We Can,” and “Obama” in bright green yarn. Baby snugly secured, she continues to cook. She thinks about her husband, working in Dakar, and wonders what it is that he does. She thinks he sells things, maybe shoes or something. Or was it a boutique he worked at? She wasn’t sure. She wondered what it would be like to work in Dakar. She remembers she had once thought about studying at the university there, and she imagines herself sitting in an office with nice chairs. At that moment, stepping towards the pot, Giyel shoots through her shoe. She ignores the pain because the pot lid is hot and she must stir it quickly. Then, sitting to rinse the rice, she takes it out of her shoe and flicks it towards the house. She realizes she doesn’t have enough onions, so she calls out to her daughter Ramata, 14 years old, who just walked into the compound. “You aren’t at school?” her mother asks. “No, the teacher didn’t show up today,” she says. “Ok, go buy me two onions,” her mother says, unsurprised. Ramata goes inside to drop her backpack off, the side of it barely heald together with the same bright green yarn – she fixed it herself yesterday. Heading out the door, Giyel lodges itself into her shoe as she heads to the boutique where the owner and 2 other men are sitting outside, the owner with his prayer beads in his hand, eyes distant, mouth moving silently, fingers ticking off one bead at a time, while the others chat. She approaches the boutique, greets the men but does not look at them directly, then stands behind them, resting against the wall of the building waiting for the boutique owner to make it all the way around his prayer beads. She looks down idly and sees Giyel in her shoe. She takes it out and flicks it.
A car drives towards the village and Giyel gets caught in the tire tread. The car picks up the women heading to the neighboring village to sell their vegetables or shoes that they bought in Dakar in order to buy milk and bread for the next day. The car drives towards the next village, the pain of life in the Fuuta traveling with it. Inescapable.
A thorn in your shoe is a thorn in your life
Stop, must stop what you’re doing.
Must bend down, adjusting what you carry,
To take the thorn out of your foot.
It hurts. It slows you down. Keeps you from reaching where you were going.
It is something you have learned to accept.
Thorns happen. Every day. They are apart of life in the Fuuta.
Thorns are like poverty. You can’t avoid them, their hard to get out,.
They come with the territory and create a sense of acceptance and resolve in the pain of the situation.