Walking to the ‘wallo’ or, recessional river fields, at a brisk pace… so fast it’s hard to catch my breath. The boys are miles ahead of us, it seems, yet we keep them within eyesight because I, at least, do not know the way. It makes no sense, the way we are walking. We walk diagonally away from the village towards Mauritania and the Senegal River that divides our countries, but we are also walking in the direction of the neighboring village, Diaba. The land we are crossing seems inhospitable, and yet there are people scattered on the edges of our village and fields off in the distance.
The ground looks and feels like cement… how is anything living here? Goats meander here and there, picking on whatever is clinging onto the ground to eat. Off in the distance I see camels foraging on the upper parts of the Acacia trees. But at our speed, I hardly have the breath to wonder out loud about the hilarity of these animals. Gogol Djeyneba and I are falling behind. The boys in front of us are carrying the tools for farming and our sleeping materials (blankets, mosquito nets, warmer clothes, plastic mats, etc) on their heads while the women are carrying the cooking supplies and food (on their heads too, of course). Even my little brother Adama (9 yrs old), the youngest of our group, had bags on his back and a bucket of yogurt in his hand.
We reach the channel crossing to find it swimmable. Later in the season, this will be dry and walkable, but today we need a boat. And our feet turn into brown socks of mud that clings to you so tightly like suction, it feels at times like you may never be able to extract yourself.
Walking barefoot now as our feet, clumped with mud, dry out a little, we continue… boys charging ahead. We reach many muddy ravines similar to this one by the river and are forced to keep our shoes off because they are impractical by this point. The only danger now are the hidden thorns inside of the mud…There’s no avoiding them. You can only hope that the mud has dried hard enough to create a barrier on your foot. If not, that thorn could be in your foot for weeks. We pass through many fields that have already been cultuvated after the water had succeeded from this area to where it is today.
We continue to where the river has recently receded and we set up camp. We are lucky to have our fields on this side of the river and not the other side… We watch people as they wait for the boat to come back so they can cross over to their side of the river to start their day/week in the fields.
The earth is cracked open with a huge crooked stick with a hoe end. Then the ‘lougal’ is used to poke a hole in the hard ground for the seeds to be dropped in. One man uses the huge stick to open the ground, the ‘lougal’ follows him, followed by the person with the bowl of seeds (beans, sorghum, wild watermelon) and then follows the person who fills up the holes with dirt. Then nature does the rest. The clay soil holds in water for long enough for the plants to come to maturity, and the nutrients from the flood waters feeds the plants.
Lunch is prepared by Thillo, my sister-in-law, who uses what she has and makes the best dried fish and rice meal I have never tasted.
Not sitting for long, we return to work after lunch and I cross the river to go check out some other farms. We worked until sundown and then bathed in the river, scrubbing our feet and clothes after a long day of work. Then we set up our sleeping arrangements – plastic mats with mosquito nets around them.
The night was so cold I was unable to sleep. We were up before the sun, the men picking open the ground before coffee was even heated up. Then the rest of us meandered out, shivering and groggy.
Another day of work ahead. I head back to my side of the river to find that we have finished our section. We will come back in a week or so to see if the water has receded enough to continue.
The thrill of the wallo makes us dance and sing with joy! Hayooo wallo! Hayoo wallo!