Although California is a single American state, it is hardly homogeneous, both with respect to culture and topography. Senegal is no different. There are a great many Senegals. and we have plans to visit two of the more lush and exotic areas over our winter break, coming up in two weeks.
We have invited Almamy to join us for a two-week driving trip, heading first to SW Senegal, to a region known as the Casamance, the coastal strip located between Gambia and Guinea Bissau, then to the Bissari Country in SE Senegal. The two destinations are distinct both in culture and geography. Casamance is lush and green, with the country’s most beautiful beaches; Bissari Country is mountainous and remote. One of West Africa’s largest national parks, Niokolo Koba, is located in SE Senegal. Many of the game animals found in East Africa can be found here, such as leopards, lions, crocs, hippotami, hyenas, baboons, chimpanzees, and elephants.
In the moment, we are arranging lodging in campements (located in and generally operated by villages/villagers), guides, and transport. This trip will be our big excursion through Senegal. Before leaving Africa, there will be other must-excursions, as to Dogon Country in Mali, the Cape Verde Islands, and the new national parks of Gabon.
Six of us drove down to visit the traditional marabout Yorro and his family yesterday in his village of Koumbal, located some four hours south of Dakar.
Note previous blog entries regarding Yorro and Koumbal:
It was a very pleasant visit. I delivered color photographs of the local kids taken late last spring, and, of course, Almamy distributed cookies.
We visited with Yorro for a couple of hours, during which time he consulted with each of the six of us, and fielded questions regarding his practice, and his views of health, illness, and the human body.
I came away with several noteworthy impressions.
There is a struggle to communicate, and to accurately understand one another. It is, for me, an interesting and rich aspect of being with Yorro, that of appreciating the degree to which our questions and interpretation of his responses are filtered through our particular world view.
Yorro uses the word blood, and the color of blood as being red. J and I speculated that his conception of blood, however, is different that our western view. We wondered if blood is taken as more than the liquid in veins and arteries, broadened to include life force, as a Chinese view of chi. We are not sure. Phrasing questions free of cultural bias or assumption is difficult.
Yorro explained that his medicine is a blood medicine, implying that it works systematically, affecting a seemingly unrelated constellation of symptoms. For Yorro, symptoms such as back pain and insomnia are traced to a single cause, emanating from the heart, viewed as the core of the body.
He spoke further about the inheritance of malady from ones parents, and the deep connection between parent and child. Again, he mentioned that my disposition toward upper respiratory illness was inherited from my father.
I wondered how Yorro’s life in the simplicity of a rural village, surrounded by his extended family, in the context of the Peul culture, informs his perception of health and illness. It’s not a question of if our culture shapes of perceptions, but how.
It was a privilege to observe Yorro work with several local women, most with infants, who came to consult with the doctor during our visit. Yorro did not ask us to leave; patient privacy and anonymity seemed to be of no consequence. We posed questions, always through Almamy, and Yorro responded, even during his consultations. Whether with us, or consulting with a young mother and baby, he is gentle, present, and pragmatic. He’s been treating patients for many years, and is clearly confident of his ability.
I expect to visit with Yorro several more times in the new year, with J in January, when Steve visits in February, and with Tim and the girls in March.
I am interested in bringing sketch paper down next time, to try and capture his view of the human body graphically, then share both a Western and traditional Chinese view of the same.
Yorro’s son, Ousmane, who has been apprenticing with his father, has agreed to take me out collecting the barks and leaves used in the medicine bundles Yorro dispenses. This would be a wonderful opportunity, either this year or next.