This little face is why I came back to Senegal. Well, one big reason at least.
Shortly after Jana and I moved to Miname, there was a little blood shed. A little boy named Bamba hit his friend Lamine in the head with a rock. Lamine’s brother brought him to our house, blood all over the place. We piled into our truck and drove to the clinic in Sindou where Daouda patched him up and sent him home with instructions for us to bring him back the next day to change the bandages.
All this time, I was fuming. What kind of mother sends her bleeding-from-the-head son to the neighbor’s house?
I’ll tell you what kind: a 38-year old woman with eight kids who runs a business selling sandwiches out of her home while her husband works on a fishing boat at sea for for weeks at a time. Her name was Bintou and she became my closest friend in the village.
One of of our stops over at Bintou’s house to check on Lamine, she introduced us to her tiny baby girl – Astu. Each time we’d visit, I’d hold her and love her more. One day I asked Jana, in English, did she think Bintou would consider letting me take Astu over to our house to keep her for a few hours.
The next day, Astu was delivered to our door by her older sister (all of nine years old) who handed her to me and said, “Mom went to the market and I need to make dinner.” Then she turned around and walked back to her house.
Many, many times after that I kept baby Astu at our house, often accompanied by her older brother, Mame Moussa. I think at times he thought he lived at our house and just graced his mother’s house with his presence when he felt like it. One day when he was ready to go back home, he grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, sama toubab,” which means ‘my white person’. That kid was awesome. And I loved his sister Astu, her mother and the rest of the crew.
Fast-forward to 2010… Of course, I knew that the now seven-year-old ‘baby’ Astu would no longer be a baby, or even remember me. I even wondered if she’d be afraid of me since kids who don’t often see white people can be terrified of us. So I really tried not to get my hopes up. I just wanted to see her.
She is still just as beautiful and sweet. She shares with her siblings, stands up for herself but isn’t bossy, she laughs and smiles all the time… It took her a couple minutes to warm up to me – prodded a bit by the older kids saying, “Don’t you remember Khady? She used to carry you on her back and feed you from a toubab bottle.”
She sat by me on a bench and we drew in the sand with a little sticks. Then when we walked inside the compound, she reached for my hand. Sitting on the bed in Bintou’s room, Astu wiggled over next to me. As they say in Wolof, my heart was full.
Astu wasn’t the only one who had changed since I left. Bintou had two more baby girls in the five years I’d been gone – bringing her crew to a grand total of ten.
Bintou sends her greetings to my family, hopes you are in peace and prays fervently to Allah for me to have many, many children.