“Are you coming tonight?”
I looked at my friend, not sure what was happening tonight. The wedding was the next day. She must have seen my confusion, because she asked again, “Are you coming tonight? To work?”
I wanted to jump up and down.
“Yes! Yes I’ll come.”
“You show me what you want done and I’ll do the best I can do.”
She smiled and said she’d see me later then. I went into the house and told Michael (who encouraged me to go) and the kids (who all looked at me like I was crazy).
“Why are you so excited about working?”
“Because this is the first time I’ve ever gotten an invite to this part of the wedding.”
I’d been wanting to get this kind of invite for a long time, and it was finally here. I put on my head wrap, got ready and headed out. At my friend’s house, there was quite a group of women already assembled. I knew one of them, greeted her and the others nearby and was given a seat.
Big bags of onions were brought out, as well as platters and knives. There were other vegetables as well, but everyone started with the onions. I watched and then tried to copy what I saw happening around me as we first peeled onions, garlic, chopped carrots and green beans. It was mostly silent work for me at first, trying to catch the words that I could understand. There was a smattering of Wolof and Diola as well as other languages most likely, so I struggled to follow a lot. It didn’t bother me though. I was there. Partway through my work on the onions, my language helper walked in and sat down next to me. She picked up some vegetables, smiled and said, “It’s good that you came. Well done!”
I felt a little like a kid being praised by her mom for writing her ABC’s correctly, and had the same experience when she praised me for my carrot cutting skills. I smiled, because that’s basically what I am in this culture. A grown up kid, watching, mimicking and doing my best to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can.
I walked back to my house that night with my friends, thanking them profusely for the invite. They laughed and thanked me for coming.
The next day, we were told we were going to be more Senegalese about this wedding, meaning we wouldn’t leave in the afternoon and not come back. This time we would stay for the night party as well.
The day was full of memorable moments, one of the most memorable being when a little, old lady came over to where we were sitting, forced me to get up and dance with her, and danced me over to the main house where many of the older ladies were sitting, or laying down visiting.
When they saw us coming, dancing, cheers went up, along with laughter (probably because I’m no great dancer), and everyone wanted to know my name. When I shared my Senegalese name, one lady jumped up, grabbed my hand and thanked me, saying excitedly that she had the same name.
The other memorable moment was finding out that I had said “Amen” to a group of ladies who had given me a blessing of having more children. I’m sure it won’t be the last time that happens.
The next day we woke up, tired and trying to get back into our regular routine, while simultaneously working on birthday prep for our youngest when our language helper said, “Stacy, you should go back to ____’s house, she said they are doing a ceremony with the ladies and you need to go see it.”
I quickly dropped what I was doing, got presentable, and rushed back over to my friend’s house to see what was happening. It was a fascinating cultural glimpse and I was overwhelmed with gratitude to my friend for inviting me back. She even scolded me for not bringing my phone and filming it, although she got another daughter to record it. She said we could look at it and explain it on Monday in our language class.
I also got to meet more ladies who have the same family name as my Senegalese name. The woman that I had shaken hands with the day before wanted to introduce me to everyone.
Through those three days of wedding activities, even the small amount that I was involved with, one of the things I noticed was that community was everywhere. Practically every part of it seemed to be done in community and it was sweet to be included. It’s encouraging to see their delight when we show effort and interest in understanding how they do life. We don’t completely *fit* and most likely never will, but it’s humbling to see people making a place for us anyway.
Those who know us, see our desire to know them better and begin to respond, “Hey, come over, you need to see this.” And we go. And we each come to know the other just a little bit more.