Mo and Sognas’ goat

Mo is a friendly, kind and attentive person. Mo drops by our house every day for a little talk. He is 24 and he wants to join the army. He proudly demonstrates how well he is at sneaking, a skill that comes in handy in the Senegalese army. Mo is also a poor man. He doesn’t have a dime, fails to find a job and passes his days by chit-chatting here and there. He would love to have a fiancée. But they ask for clothes, mobile phones and he doesn’t have the money to pay for that.

He lives like a stranger amongst a large family. Many women, aunts, cousins, children and 4 goats. These belong to Sogna and stroll around on the little yard.

We are just returning from a long warm tour from Ziguinchor. We are tired and a bit grumpy because of the heat and the large number of people travelling in too small a bus. The last passenger to enter is Mo, holding a large plastic bag with smelling fish. The stench doesn’t improve our mood and maybe it is because of this that we don’t notice at first that Mo is very quiet.

Once we arrive in the village we go to Sognas’ café to have a cup of coffee. When she hears that Mo was in the small bus she immediately jumps up from her chair, grabs her phone and has a short conversation in Wolof, the local language. Then she rushes outside without even asking us to look after her business.

Sogna in front of her café

After quite some time she finally returns, with a goat that she ties up outside. Warm and with a militant attitude she plops down on one of the wobbly stools. With a fierce look in her eyes she tells us: Do you  know what happened? And then follows her report.

That morning her cousin Janté walked through the village. Outside at the butchers’ there was a goat. “Hm”, she thought,”this goat looks exactly like Sognas’. And when she approached, she discovered it was. She hurried to Sognas’ café to tell her the news. Together they head for the butchers’, going like two frigates through the main road. Upon arrival the butcher tells them he bought the goat just this morning from a young bloke for 12.000 CFA (18 euros). At that moment the butcher had only 10.000 CFA to hand so the young man would return later that day to collect the remaining 2.000 CFA.

Infuriated they tell him that this goat belongs to Sogna. That this gorgeous goat is worth at least 18.000 CFA. That he should have known that something was wrong when the young man agreed to the low price. And that this actually makes a thief of the butcher as well so they will report him to the gendarmerie (police) if he as much as sells one single hair of this goat!

The butcher, overwhelmed by so much verbal violence quickly comes up with a proposal. As soon as the young man returns for the remainder of the money, he will tell him to wait a while so he can go and get the money. Instead he will secretly call Sogna who can then come over immediately to settle the matter.

The butcher

“And who do you think I spot at the butcher? Mo!  It was Mo!! Mo has stolen the goat.” She looks enraged. “Would you have thought that of him?”

The next day we hear that Mo, before going to the butcher, first went home to give the fish to the family.

He vanished that same night. He used his sneaking talent to fetch his belongings at night, without someone noticing him. Nobody has heard from him again ever since. Why he did what he did will never be clear. And me? I was left in complete confusion. That Mo!! I was really fond of him. Had I been so mistaken about his intentions? I comfort myself with the thought that even though he was a thief, still he was friendly, kind and attentive enough to buy his family fish.

Africans ….will I ever understand them?


African medicine

For as long as I have been aware of my body I remember having an aching belly every now and then. It responds to the magnitude of impressions by just refusing to play along any longer and demands immediate rest. The same happens to me in Africa. I need to catch my breath for a few days. The Dutch pace I was trying to maintain is now turning itself against me. I decide to take some rest and to stay in bed for a day.

Being ill = being on your deathbed!
Azou is crazy with worry. In Africa being ill is nearly equal to dying. Not so strange a thought if you know that there is no money to pay for a reassuring visit to the doctor’s. Many people die just out of the blue without anyone knowing what was wrong with them. Now Azou is afraid I am dying. No matter how I try telling him about how I know my body and that this will all be over within a few days, still I fail to convince him. Shouldn’t you be going to hospital, let me order a taxi, shall I call for the Marabout (medicine man).  I answer ‘no’ to all his questions which only drives him to deeper despair. He sits by the side of my bed with a sad face. Every time I open my eyes he still sits there in the same position. He doesn’t leave my side for a minute. He refuses to eat – how can I eat if my guest can’t join me – is his logic. At night he lies on the cold stone floor next to my bed and regularly shines a flashlight in my face to check whether I’m still alive. The next day my belly doesn’t feel much better yet. I tell him and his face becomes even more sad.  Again he asks questions about hospitals, taxis and so on. Again I respond that is really not necessary. To comfort him I guarantee that I will go to hospital if the situation has not improved in three days. I know from experience that my illness will not take that long anyway.

Unstoppable compassion
Then hell brakes loose. Apparently the word has spread in the village that I do not feel well and one visitor after the other comes to sit by my side.  Chairs are being dragged along since hardly anyone pays a visit without bringing the whole family. Everyone wears a serious expression on their face. Being ill is only the messenger of death. They stroke my feet and mumble prayers. In the afternoon I feel worn out with all the talking and I really don’t want to see anyone for a while. It is all very well intended but also incredibly tiring.  Even if you are not ill it would be exhausting. The majority of the visitors hardly speak any French and all I can do to express my gratitude for their compassion is showing a faint smile.

African medicine
At the end of the afternoon Azou allows visitors to come in again though. This time it is the sweet people who have gone into the bush to fetch medicine. After accepting about a dozen of different leaves, twigs, barks of trees and a number of undefined substances – all with lengthy explanations about preparation and use and that at least twice since you never know if the Dutch lady gets it the first time –  I ask Azou to keep the visitors outside. Being ill in Africa is no joy, I am aware now, but the compassion is unprecedented.

Azou has a miracle cure
When all is quiet again I start to think about how to prevent such a day from happening again. The only solution I can think of is to no longer be ill. I decide to take a mega dosis of laxative. Belly empty, owner healthy, was my thought. Azou finds proof in my being seriously ill when witnessing the number of pills I am about to take. Again he starts his plea for hospital, taxis etc. As I explain what the pills are for he argues that there is an African medicine that surely is a better option and moreover it is only the size of a pin head and not such an alarming quantity that I am about to take now and that he will go get it immediately and that I must be patient and how he’s sure about it is the best medicine ever and that so many people have benefitted from it before so I just need to be patient for a while, why haven’t I mentioned this before anyway and…. and…

He is just so happy that the problem is clear, that he has the solution and that he can finally do something. All of a sudden he’s no longer the gloomy man who has been clenched to my bed for days but the energetic Diola medicine man who will sort that one out. After two hours he returns with a putty-like ball, the size of a baby’s pink nail. He takes half of it, stirrs it through a glass of water of which I am allowed to take one gulp. With radiant hopeful eyes he tells me to wait for five minutes. He quickly runs out to get a plate of food – his guest is now recovering after all – and takes his position next to my bed. I don’t notice a thing after five minutes. No change after ten minutes, half an hour or even after three quarters of an hour. I’ve already stopped believing in this miracle medicine and I’m not particularly looking forward to tomorrow. Europeans have a watch and Africans have time so Azou is just as full of hope as an hour before. Time seems a flexible concept. Five minutes for him equals an hour for us Dutch. After that 1 hour I have quite a busy night. I keep going from bed to bathroom and back, being watched cheerfully by Azou who is only a step away from encouraging me. The next morning I feel all cheered up again.

Miraculous healing
Ousenou is running errands in the village and apparently he informs everyone about the miraculous cure since there aren’t any visitors today. That is – Azou’s family does come by to check and families in Africa tend to be fairly large and in addition his best friends do need to know how the Dutch lady is really doing. So after this last group of visitors leave – the size of which that fits a small wedding – tranquillity returns in our home and in the village. Still for days I am being pursued by the cheerful question if I am really well again. When replying with an equally cheerful ‘yes’, people all answer with a meaningful smile: Medicin Africain, c’est bon n’est ce pas? There are no secrets in this community.

History of Maye Meye

In 2005 I travelled to Abéné for the first time. Together with my daughter Elya I discovered the wonderful nature of this place. Sun, sea, beaches, kind and joyful people, delicious food and most of all… different customs.

Journey to myself
At the time I was suffering from a major burn-out after having been a therapist for a long time and a teacher at a democratic school for some years after that. I noticed that Africa healed me. It seemed like a soothing hot bath that fed me and woke me up to myself. In the relaxed atmosphere and pace of living from Africa I came back to who I was, something that had been elusive in Holland. It wasn’t until much later that this proved to be the first step towards founding Maye Meye Africa.

Contact with the locals in Africa
Three years later, after a difficult divorce, I returned to Africa. Again to Abéné.
Again I experienced it as a journey back to my self, my own strength and my desires. The impressions of Africa weren’t as new and overpowering as they were the first time, so I was able to look around more and talk to the people in Abéné. After every conversation my admiration for their determination, their optimism and their joy grew. I was given a close look into life in Afrika, which to our standards is very impoverished. I felt a need to support them in a way that would have a lasting effect.

Back in Holland
Once I was back in Holland this kept popping up in my mind until I got the following idea:

I’ll start a guesthouse where people can go who really need to get away from it all and re-evaluate their life, a place for contemplation. For many people Africa is just the place to do that, just as I had experienced myself. If they need assistance I can help with that. After all, I am a licenced therapist. In addition the guesthouse will be open to people who want to experience the real Africa from the inside during their holidays: getting to know Africa by exclusive holiday offers.

Helping Africa by holidaying – Guests
The profit from the holiday guesthouse I can spend on microcredit or microfinancing and local projects. Also, I can offer people jobs. Something that is hard to find in Africa, especially in Senegal. That way both the visitors and the locals get what the other has to offer. The guests have an exclusive holiday in Africa, Africa gets the financial support.

This is what Maye Meye means. In the Wolof language both words mean to give or offer: Both cultures offer that which they have in riches to the other.