Ngoundiane Dior [n-goon-john-jor] is one of fifteen small villages located in the rural community of Ngoundiane, in the arrondisement of Thies [chess] in Senegal. It sits just off the only paved road connecting the 30,000 people in the Ngoundiane community to Route Nationale, the main artery into major cities like Thies and Dakar. With the exception of the paved road, to get around one must walk along thick pathways of sand covering nearly every square inch of arable land. Used as both multipurpose tool and multipurpose weapon the sand is an inextricable part of everyday life. It is as much a part of an interior space as a chair or a bed; can become a makeshift notepad, public toilet and soft pad to break a fall; and when whipped off the ground and strewn about, burns the eyes and suffocates the mouth. The lack of greenery makes the village look like one large litter box. Cut out by concrete walls enclosing large family compounds (collection of huts and homes called mbinds bearing the oldest living patriarch’s name), the village is lightly sprinkled with various trees, pile of plastic garbage, and feces of farm animals roaming about.
Ngoundiane Dior’s population is roughly 2,100 but there are really only a handful of different family names. Through polygamy and endless child rearing, family trees are really more like forests that can be traced back hundreds of years, within this area alone. Thus, privacy is a foreign concept, everyday a family reunion and because there are always people coming and going, one can never be sure who is actually related to whom. Numerous, multi-generational relatives are living together either in the same mbind, or near each other in the same village and there is never a shortage of babies, or babies carrying babies on their backs. It gets complicated when, say you decide you want to visit a particular Mareme Faye in the village of Ngoundiane Dior; there are no street signs or house numbers to direct you. Ask a local and you’d be led to at least 20 different compounds, each with 10 different people of the same namesake. Tell a local she lives in “Mbind Jogie” and, no matter where you are; they’ll likely lead you to Jogie’s compound themselves. Once there you’d need to clarify how old she is and whether she’s married, as there will likely be one Mareme Faye for every age group in the compound. This may be more confusing to those visiting from places where uncommon names are a la mode, but here it is an accepted confusion. Both the first and last name is considered an important reflection of one’s lineage; even if that means several people share the same namesake.
Most families in Ngoundiane Dior have classic gender roles, with the men being the breadwinners and the women doing domestic and childcare duties. Nearly 70% of Senegal’s labor force is in agriculture and the majority of Ngoundiane’s agricultural labor force is men. Those who don’t own a boutique or have a specific technical vocation keeping them in village, work the fields farming crops during the rainy season. It varies year to year as this is less of a set time and more a time frame, but generally it begins end of June or early July and lasts until December. Because income or goods earned that season provide for their families until the following rainy season, many rely on the bounty of this short time period. In the off-season most men rest, but some will go to Dakar to find more work if the opportunity presents itself. Generally, women are the first to rise and last to go to bed, getting water from the well early in the morning, cleaning a compound of and cooking for at least 15-20 people, caring for the children and, should they misbehave, making sure they get a good beating.
The village is predominantly Sereer, a minor ethnic group in Senegal but acknowledged as one of the oldest inhabitants in the Sine and Saloum regions of West Africa. Several different dialects of Sereer are spoken in Senegal and Ngoundiane speaks its own particular type as well. A mélange of Wolof (predominant ethnic group and language in Senegal) and French (national language brought by colonization) has seeped its way into the villager’s vernacular over the years. This is likely a result of the many outsiders stopping through via the paved road and a satellite university campus bringing young students, far and wide. The combination of the two has given the Sereer of Ngoundiane a hybrid breed of a language, which is somewhat difficult to comprehend for the classic Sereer speakers.
Though nearly all Sereer people speak Wolof and virtually none of the Wolof people speak Sereer, the Sereer are known for having preserved more of their cultural traditions and as a whole, embodying the kind hospitality Senegal is known for. Ngoundiane is no exception. Everything from rites of passage for men; customs around weddings, baptisms, and funerals; and the different type of music infused into it all, are just some of the ways the Sereer of Ngoundiane continue to distinguish themselves. It may be a rural village, but with the constant laughter, smiles and light-hearted disposition of the people one gets the feeling Ngoundiane has more than it lacks.