I’m going back to December, to the Northern border of Senegal where I did an agricultural shoot for AgDevCo. While I mostly photographed rice crops and smallholder farmers, I also got to see and experience snippets of the Senegalese life. On my second day of shooting I was lucky to come across a herd of cattle and their feisty young Fulani herdsman who guarded them like they were worth his life! (And they probably are!) I’ve been thinking about what I should write about – other than meeting a young Fulani herdsman on a dusty hot day somewhere in Senegal. What topic would match this fiery, passionate soul, so sure of himself and his life purpose, of mostly spending his days in the company of cows, guarding and herding them and with no people in sight for the most part.
As I approached him, he flicked out his sword and began to do a dance of sort. At this point I was undecided! Should I run or should I stay? This little guy was about the age of 8 but his presence and energy was abounding … and he had a sword. He was very protective of his cattle and cautioned me with loud clicks and words of which I did not understand nevertheless, understood without a shadow of a doubt that this interaction that was about to take place, was going to be on his terms. I did not disagree and proceeded with the utmost caution and respect. He wanted to know why I wanted to take photos of his cows??? Thank goodness I had an interpreter. My interpreter, Cherif, explained to the herdsman that I love cows and that I love to take photos of cows. Which is the absolute truth. On that, I was immediately accepted into the inner circle of trust. Despite our age difference, culture difference, race, nationality, you name it -so many differences – we connected because of one important similarity; we both love cows.
He proudly told me that he has recently ‘left’ school for good. That school was a waste of time and that ‘this’ is what he was born to do, that this is the life he wants and loves. He showed me his sword and demanded I take photos of him posing with it. And the more images he saw of himself on my camera screen, the more he wanted me to take! He was also the first person on this trip to ask what I was going to do with these photos? I told him truthfully, that these photos are merely because I am interested in his life and his cows and that I think that his cows crossing the canal would make a good photo. He agreed.
It was a brief interaction, but one that represents Senegal for me and that sits with me, even now…in worlds apart, and since so much has happened. Right now, we are 3 hours away from a Corona virus Lock down in South Africa. We’re about to embark on a seemingly lonely journey of isolation and maximum social distancing. Yet never before have I felt so much interconnectedness and unity despite our differences, our distance, our history, our politics and our current state of affairs. Though this Corona Virus comes with a heap of tragedy and fear, it’s also bringing us together and highlighting our similarities, our togetherness – despite our physical distance. Our ‘togetherness’ is our humanity. This Corona Virus thrives on everything negative about us as a species. It thrives on selfishness, it thrives on greed, it thrives on ignorance and narrow-mindedness, it thrives on racial issues and political ploys – but we get to beat it with our humanity. We beat it when we are connected, when we are compassionate, when we are selfless, when we are mindful and when we are in unity.
We’re only just beginning this Corona Virus journey here in Africa and our continent is about to be tested like it’s never been tested before. Today I think of the young Fulani herdsman in Senegal and I think of how though we are worlds apart, we managed to connect. That focusing on our similarities and our humanity is what connects us and what makes us strong at a time like now.
Hold tight Africa, we’re in this together!
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
― J.K. Rowling