The alluring perfume of Senegal

When you are in love with a country, you attribute magical qualities to it. That's what happened to me in Senegal. I was thirteen years old. It was our first trip on our own to our father's country. Growing up in the United States there was always a certain spicy smell that we associated with Senegal. My brother once told me, on a trip to visit him and his family in Los Angeles, years later, that I smelled like Senegal. What he meant is that I smelled like churay. Churay also means something more. A new bride will pride herself on her use of churay to perfume the house, and the bedroom. My house cleaner Ngone, also took care of my cousin's niece when she was growing up. I always liked it when she came with Ngone to my house because she would always be nicely perfumed with Churay. I asked Ngone to prepare Churay for me, so that my house would smell nice of lavender and Frankencense, but she only did it occasionally, most often running out of the two hundred francs it costs to buy the charbon onto which the churay is sprinkled. So I came to understand that churay was associated with intimacy, reserved for people from home, who you love. I was therefore pleased that my brother said I smelled like churay because it meant that someone cared about me enough to sprinkle a little of it in my dresser drawer. Driving up to my grandmother's house at Usine Niary Tally, which I came to know is the address once associated with the now defunct factory, "usine" near the two (niary) roads (tally). It meant my Grandfather, who passed away in 1953 and who owned many properties throughout Dakar, in particular the site of the current Radio Television Senegalaise; the government had taken over the land through imminent domain and paid out an indemnity, and another site downtown, where as the griots tell me, he would host anyone who showed up from Fuuta and in the sprit of his grandfather Demba Hirto, lavish them with hospitality. But the Niary Tally site was the one that we managed to hold onto after his death and subsequent inheritance squabbles. Niary Tally back then was far from the urban center it has become, mostly a sparsely inhabited suburb of downtown Dakar. The original house was a shack. I think my brother has a picture of Tano standing in front of the wood slats that used to be her house. My Dad and his younger brother Kaw Demba built the modern two story house painted with sand filled ocre or red that stands today with the neem tree in front with a few sheep tied to posts next to the tree. My grandmother greeted me in the way of European dignitaries with a kiss on each cheek three times and i remember she was perfumed with churay. Although I only ever saw her at the house in Niary Tally, in her old age, she rarely left the house except to go the the mosque on Fridays and the market down and across the street from time to time, Tano lived a rich and varied life, moving from the village to the main town, as a young mother with 9 children. Tano really means grandparent, no gender is attached to the word. We came to use it as the name for our grandmother, although technically it applies equally to our grand father as well. Kadiata Moussa Diallo was her real name. Traditionally, women keep their last names and identities after marriage. In modern times people have come to adopt the western approach of being Madame so and so, but really the culture is to keep your own name. Moussa was the name of her father, and it was a part of her name, also by convention. Tano would be Kadiata Moussa Diallo Madame Watt. Tano was married at the age of 15 or so to my grandfather. Visiting Fuuta, I often lie down on a mat that they set up on the former foundation of my grandmother's hut, which though fallen down the foundation remains. We lie on the mats under the stars and when people come up to see us we cannot see them, but just say long time no see! My grandmother recalled receiving President Senghor on the floor of our home at Niary Tally. She would point to the ground between the couches saying Senghor sat right there. A sign of the dignity and humility and political deftness of Senghor, lowering himself in the home of his political allies. After my grandfather died young, she, with several small children of which my father, remarried as the second or third wife into the Wane family of Mboumba, a neighboring village, and an important family in Fuuta. Her husband, Mamadou Ibra Wane, was the son of the last Almamy Ibra Amadou Moctar Wane, who is the son of my name sake, Amadou Moctar Wane, another powerful historical figure in Fuuta. Needless to say the Wane are fairly numerous in our family, and without counting, certainly are in the dozens. Visiting Galle Bureau, which was the seat of control of Mboumba, and during the Almamya of Ibra, the seat of control of the Fuuta region. Bureau, the adopted french word for office, meaning office, was their home. My grandmother's other crumbling hut was a few steps away from Galle bureau, where we passed the cold night under the central shady area called a Chali my first night in Fuuta. Over seventy years later she still recalled vividly the layout of both Thioubalel, her birth village and Mboumba her adoptive village, not having returned since leaving for the last time after the death of her second husband. So Niary Tally, although it is technically the ghetto, as for many ghettos, has many old families. The old families of Niary Tally know each other. They get married sometimes to each other. One of my favorite uncles, Tonton Cheikhou Ly, who married one of my favorite aunts, Gorgol Thiapatel, was from the house around the corner. The family of the third Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade is also from this two street neighborhood near the biscuit factory. Driving up to Niary Tally, I see the sand accumulating at the edge of the street, all manner of trucks and cars are parked chaotically wherever in the ten meter or so median separating the two streets, making a left we come to the sandy field where the kids play soccer, and where I learned that after having played all my childhood, I really didn't know how to play soccer. Arriving at the neem tree, we stopped and greeted my Tano.