Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Gamou: Americans in Kaolack

This week there is a pilgrimage to one of the neighborhoods in Kaolack to celebrate the Gamou. Last year I stayed as far away from that quartier as possible but this year I decided to check it out with my friend Ndeye – she’s a mechanic. The quartier – Medina Baay, is home to a huge, Moroccan style mosque that was built by one of the Sufi Islam Brotherhoods that are centered in Senegal. This brotherhood is called the Baay Niass brotherhood, named after its founder but the unique thing about this brotherhood is that they have lots of American talibe (followers). I was told that there are several that have even moved here permanently to be close to their spiritual leader, but mostly the Americans visit Medina Baay for a couple weeks every year to partake in the pilgrimage.

So I started with dinner at Ndeye’s house (Ndeye’s family aren’t followers of Baay Niass but there is a lot of mutual respect between the brotherhoods so she wanted to take me to the festivities), after dinner, at about 10pm we took a mini-car to Medina. The roads were packed with people dressed to the nines, vendors selling just about anything you can think of including clothing and jewelry with Baay Niass’ likeness painted on it. We got out of the car and started walking and shoving our way toward the mosque which was also dressed up to the nines for the occasion – including strings of lights and a large fake palm tree perched on top of the mosque itself. We walked through the mosque, taking shoes off before we entered, where people were sitting, praying and sleeping on the carpeted floor. The walls were beautifully tiled with dozens of columns throughout the room. We stood in line to pay our respects to Baay Niass’ final resting spot and then we left to go find a host relative of mine who lives in the area, Pathe Thiam.

Well I never found Pathe but as soon as I entered the home of Imam Assane Cisse I heard “How ya doin’” – In that New York accent I haven’t heard in a year and a half. I turn around and see three Americans, dressed in their boubous, speaking Wolof to other people. We chatted and the told me that they come hear to replenish their souls every year. I was very interested in hearing their thoughts on things and unfortunately their views on polygamy and women’s rights fell right in line with those of the conservative Senegalese men I have met – Polygamy being natural and necessary because there are so many more women than men; 4:1. That and the “divine order,” – First there is God, then men and then women. Even though we didn’t see eye to eye on many things it was very interesting to meet them and I’m very glad that I made the pilgrimage this year… even if it was only to the other side of town.