Continental Drift

August 5, 2010

Batoma is Fatigued

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 1:05 pm

How is she feeling today?

One day, baby Batoma was crying and crying.  Though she has not quite mastered the art of speech, she manages to make herself well understood.  Her main communication tools are, JI (water), MA (usually seems to just mean, HELP, although often refers to her mother, her grandmother, or Mama), followed recently by Mamooo (which hopefully means Maimouna, or is otherwise unfortunately an early form of the toubabou chant), and then of course crying.  She has mastered the art of introducing the wail at all particularly opportune moments.  To make someone give her back the stick she is playing with.  To make you give her some food from the bowl.  To tell you that the food was too hot.  To make Ma stop scaring her by saying the police are coming.  To make her mom, Fanta, let her run over and breastfeed.

But this one day, she was just crying more than ever.  Her dad, Adama, was home because it was Sunday evening and he hadn’t had to work all day at the artisanat.  She started crying every time he tried to put her down.  Usually, Batuma is a toddler who only likes to run around.  If you pick her up, even to fly her up in the air like an airplane, she often protests vehemently until she is free to speed away on her tiny legs (and then trip and fall flat on her face two seconds later).  So I asked, “Mun b’a la?” which means “What is wrong with her?”  To which I was told “Foshi!” which means “Nothing!”  At which point, I decided to exercise one of my key Bambara phrases “Batuma segenna,” I said, which means Batuma is tired.

Just as some background, segenna has been a great Bambara word for me.  When people want me to stay and drink another cup of tea, I can just say “N segenna, n be taa so,” and they have to accept that I am just tired and want to go home.  Usually I use this to avoid talking to people I don’t like, although sometimes it’s also a good excuse for why I’m sitting there and not talking.  It is also usually a good contribution to a conversation if everyone is speaking in Bambara and I need to change the topic to something my limited vocabulary can handle “N segenna,” I say, “I segenna wa?” (I’m tired, are you tired?).

So I thought I was on safe ground, labeling Batoma as tired.  Because clearly, that’s what the problem was.  I was met by a barrage of angry sounding words from Mama that seemed to include “Clinic, you go, tomorrow, twins, smart.”  I was lost.  What did this have to do with her being tired.  Maybe she hadn’t understood. Was Batoma sick and did we have to take her to the clinic? If it was urgent, should we really wait till tomorrow? I repeated my statement.  Met with the same results.  I tried asking Mama to explain why I was wrong to say what I’d said, she claimed not to be able to explain it in French. This was definitely a lie.  Finally, after another ten minutes of yelling at me, she explained in between bursts of laughter.   If I say Batoma is segenna, I am saying she is fatigued from pregnancy and is going to give birth to twins at the CSCOM tomorrow.

Excuse me?

As funny as it is to laugh at the toubabou for calling the baby pregnant, the most important question on my mind was, “have I been calling myself pregnant all this time?” I reminded Mama that I say that I am segenna all the time.  “Well of course you can be segenna, you are a grown up.  You work all day.  Batoma is a baby, she is sunogola.”  I was, as you may guess still slightly lost.  Sunogo is the verb to sleep, but is also often used as an adjective.  Which always seemed interchangeable to me with segenna.  But finally after many more minutes of laugh-at-Maimouna-and-yell-things-in-Bambara, I finally understood: segenna refers to physical fatigue.  Sunogo refers to the state of being sleepy.  Being pregnant fatigues you, as does working a long day.   The life of a toddler does not fatigue, but toddlers still get sleepy.

You might think my story ends there.  But there is never a dull moment here Chez Ballo.  After the hubbub died down and Batoma did, finally, go to bed, Mama and I were still chatting.  She looks at me and makes a sad face and says “I don’t know what to do, my husband is cheating on me with another woman.” I played along, despite her husband being dead for more than five years.  “Oh no, what will you do?” “I don’t know, he got Batoma pregnant and now she is going to give birth to twins tomorrow.  And he never even told me he was going to take a second wife!”


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