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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Gonna get new shoes, come pickin' time....

My family here in Teyel has lots of fields.  The corn, rice, and millet are for eating, but the cotton is for selling.  For the last few months, my brother has been talking wistfully about all the luxuries he'll be able to afford when the cotton check comes in...things like eggs, meat, vegetables, and shoes for his kids.  Maybe even a new cow.

This year was my first experience as a cotton farmer.  It's a lot of work when you don't have machines to do any of it for you. I only went out to the fields a few times, whereas my aunts went every afternoon for weeks (after they had already finished an exhausting morning of pounding, cooking, sweeping, and washing).

It's a gorgeous 15-20 minute walk through the woods to get to the fields, but it is less gorgeous when you have to do the walk when the sun is hot and you're sweating profusely.  

My sister Asu, somehow looking like a model despite the beating sun.  Thankfully not pictured is me, a red sweaty mess of a toubab with flies all over her face.
After the soft pillowy cotton was picked, we put it in a bag, usually an old rice sack. When the rice sack was full, we shoved it down and fit more in, hoping we didn't inadvertently anger a blister beetle.  Cotton is sold by the kilo, so they try to fit as much of it into as little space as possible.  When the sack can't possibly hold any more cotton, they take it to a storage area, either in/near the field itself, like this:

Or in an extra hut in the family's compound, like this:

Unfortunately, there was an "accident" in Teyel a couple weeks ago, and all the cotton in one holding area got burned.  It was definitely arson, as nothing nearby was burned except the cotton, and it will probably always remain an unsolved mystery - the Law and Order: Teyel squad is not quite as efficient as their New York brethren.  The damage was not as bad as it could have been, because many people woke up during the commotion and pulled water from their wells, then ran over with buckets to drench the piles, so only the outside shell was ruined.  The cotton inside was still okay, though wet.

My neighbor Korka is one of those whose crop was burned.  He removed the damaged cotton, piece by piece, then carefully spread out the unburned remainder so it wouldn't mold.  All the others affected by the fire did the same.


The trucks came to weigh all the cotton just a couple days ago.  My family loaded up the donkey cart with this year's crop (it took several trips to get it all) and unloaded it at "Le Centre," where the cotton bigwigs were waiting with their scale and receipt books.

Since this is Senegal, the land of waiting, the process of weighing and loading Teyel's cotton took two full days to do.  Luckily, a huge pile of fluffy cotton makes a pretty comfortable chair while you're waiting for your turn at the scale, and attaya stoves are portable.  There were even a few enterprising teen boys selling popsicles they'd biked in in coolers from Velingara.


Some of my neighbors balancing their crop on the slide scale.

And just like that, the trucks drove away, the crop was gone, the work was over, and a check for an unfathomable amount of money ($600 US dollars) was in my brother's hand.