Monday, December 11, 2006

A First

Last week, Théo and Marie Suzanne’s cousin, Juliet, had a baby.

This family is as close as it comes for me to having a family of my own here. I still have only met a fraction of the extended family (African families are BIG, y’all) but the fraction I’ve met have been wonderfully welcoming to me. I’ve spent holidays in their village and accompanied them of a pilgrimage. They stop by (thanksfully not very often, says the toubab in me) when they’re in the neighborhood, and invite me to parties.

And, on this baby’s eighth day of life, I got to introduce it to the world.

If this were a Muslim family, I think this would have been called the baptism (I haven’t actually been to a Muslim baptism yet, so I could be making that up) and been a much bigger deal. And they, I’m sure, would have had it’s own customs and traditions.

But for Christians, baptism means something different, so this was just… kind of a coming out party, really.

I got to Juliet’s house at about 4 pm. She was there with her sisters, her mother, and her best friend—the baby’s godmother.

I sat down and started watching. The conversation was flowing fast, but it was in Wolof and Serrer and I didn’t really catch any of it. It didn’t help that I had no idea what to expect, and everybody else knew all the steps without question.

Juliet’s two sisters put a kola nut, water, and some millet couscous in a large gourd. They unwrapped a brand new bar of soap, and Juliet handed the baby to her older sister. Her younger sister held the gourd and the bar of soap, and the older sister began shaving the baby’s head.


It took a while, and was interrupted briefly when the head-shaving sister (whose name I’m mostly, but not 100%, sure I know, so I’m not going to use it here) got a call on her cell. And while all this was going on, all the boy cousins showed up.

Then it was my turn.

They cut up the kola nut, sharing it to everyone around.

As I was leaving the office today, I told everyone that I’d be carrying a baby on its first trip outside, and joked that, anyway, at least I’m pretty sure I know how to carry a baby.

What I forgot, of course, is that we’re not in Kansas anymore.


In Africa, baby’s are carried on your back. Which I’d never done before, let alone with a teeny, tiny, one week old baby, in front of the entire damn family.

But in the end, with help, the baby was strapped on, and I headed outside.

“You have to show her what’s around,” Juliet told me. “She’s never been outside, so you have to explain what everything is.”

“What should I show her?”

“Whatever you want,” she said. “Show her where America is,” she joked.


And so, trailed by kids and friends, I walked up and down the street in front of the house. I was feeling bashful, so I don’t think I put on a very good show of giving the grand tour, but I’ll be ready next time (if it comes up).

Welcome to the world, little Orella.



Blogger Laurie said...

What an honor! It is so very cool that they entrusted you, an outsider, to participate in this ritual.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...


10:56 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Well, that 'splains the lack of posts. And that was some gourd!

12:01 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...


I've been reading your blog for a while, looking at your great pictures and longing for a life by the beach instead of in cold Montreal, Strasbourg, and Washington! I just wanted to say hello... I am moving to Dakar from Barcelona in early January, and your blog makes everything there sound so exciting, I can't wait to be there!


7:08 AM  
Blogger jeanne said...

wow. that is the coolest thing! Such a smart way to carry babies! btw, i don't think having been to a christian baptism before would have helped you any...

11:58 PM  
Blogger Ashley C aka Kitten said...

Very cool traditional babywearing. And what an honor for you! I have enjoyed your blog tremendously and look forward to reading future posts about your adventures!

10:56 AM  

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