Friday, February 24, 2012
On the front porch of the yellow trimmed hut, Adama and her 6-day-old baby boy, sit on a blue plastic chair, studying each other’s faces. The baby has one day to go before it is named at the traditional baptism ceremony. I have no idea what his parents will call him, but I do have a hope for one name in particular…
I met Alieu Camara a few weeks after he married for a second time to a girl named Hadia (Hadja) Ba after his first marriage disintegrated. He was always very friendly toward me, greeting me whenever I passed by, which was often, and made sure to include me when drinking tea or snacking on cassava roots. Though a deeper look into his behavior, especially toward his first wife, would cause me to wince, he was a well-respected member of the community and regarded as a leader, often time a de facto chief and councilor when my dad (Chief Amadou Camara) was not around.
Alieu was my father’s youngest brother, the youngest of 11 children in the Camara family, and my uncle in Coumba Diouma. He was fairer and very different looking from the rest of his brothers, which struck me as odd until I found out that grandma had been fooling around with another man in the village and out popped Alieu.
He and my dad’s oldest son, Moussa, were very close – in age and in friendship. They often drank tea, joking the hot afternoons away when taking a break from working in the peanut and cassava fields. When seasonally free from farming, Alieu worked as the middleman for a well to do man, named Malik, buying peanuts from local farmers and selling them to people in Dakar or other main cities. Consequently, he traveled a lot for his job and spent many nights away from his newly pregnant wife. A tenacious hustler, his boss was so impressed with him that they became good friends. In fact, upon hearing that his wife was pregnant, Malik bought Alieu a motorcycle to commute to work everyday from Coumba Diouma so he could spend more time with her and his family. When Alieu’s son was born last April, he was, without hesitation, named Malik.
Alieu became sick in August during the last remaining days of Ramadan. He thought it was malaria, but a trip to the health post and a rapid diagnostic test confirmed nothing. The Senegalese health system is in shambles and is often neglected by the government, particularly in Kolda, the poorest region in Senegal. He came home from the health post with the standard issued Tylenol syrup and no diagnosis.
As the weeks passed, Alieu did not get better. He wasn’t showing up for work and only hand enough energy to lie in bed inside his hut while his wife tended to him and to their new baby. Family members grew concerned as months passed and he showed no signs of improvement. But due to monetary constraints, he had little other option than to wait it out and hope his illness would fade on its own. His boss, Malik, finally took him to Dakar in November, and paid for his medical treatment in a proper hospital with qualified doctors. Unfortunately, it was too late. Alieu died two weeks after being admitted to hospital in Dakar.
It came as a shock to the entire family, sudden and tragic. As is often the case in Senegal, Alieu’s illness was never discovered. I believe it may have been pneumonia or a relation of the virus. No one saw it coming and it hit the family and the community of Coumba Diouma deeply. None more than Moussa. He had lost one of his best friends and closest family member.
A month later, Moussa’s pregnant wife, Adama, gave birth to their second child, a baby boy. As they prep for the baptism, neighbors and friends speculate about the name of the child. But I know it can only be one.
The day of the baptism arrives. Adama is wearing her best complet (traditional Senegalese dress) and has her hair done specially for the occasion. The imam (religious leader) starts to chant his blessings for the new baby, praying that Allah will take care of the child and bring it luck and wealth. The imam walks over to Moussa to confirm the baby’s name. All eyes are on Moussa as he whispers the name to the imam. The imam turns to the crowd gathered in the compound to announce the name of the baby boy. “May Allah bless Alieu Camara,” he says.