Friday, August 17, 2012

Burying Story Tellers

I spent the better part of July in Senegal Africa for my National Guard summer training.  It’s taken me this long to blog about it, but since I’m still on anti-malaria pills for another two weeks, I feel like the trip isn’t quite over yet and there was no need to rush.    

On a side note, if you ever get a chance to look at one of those maps that puts dots or colors for the number of malaria cases per 100,000 people, make sure you look for the country just north of the Most Infested Location In The World.  That would be Senegal. 

Mosquitos and their microorganisms aside, I must say even with the Marines (God love ‘em) in charge, I really enjoyed the trip.  The African officers and enlisted soldiers were awesome, yes, but I’m talking bigger than that.  They had a $23M statue bigger than the Statue of Liberty made from metal donated from Korea.  The Guns of Navarone?  Well, the ones used in the movie were French guns left behind in Senegal.  The people spoke French, and English, and their tribal languages, and occasionally German, and when they went to sell you hand carved wooden animals they did it with smiles and attitudes that somehow made you feel like you’d gotten a ludicrously great deal and made a lifetime friend in the process.  The country is 95% Muslim and they elected a Christian president, plus they have over 200 political parties. 

I mention all those things, and that just barely scrapes the surface, because I thought you might find them interesting.  I thought you might find them interesting, because they are real, and different.  See where I’m going with this? 

I know when I’m writing, I’ve more than once realized that my fantastical new race or alien species or exotic location sounded very recognizable to me.  And they were.  They felt recognizable because they were familiar, which is fine, but they were also neither real, nor different, which also makes them boring.    

It’s been a few years since I walked around with my notebook writing down everything I saw, but I found myself doing it almost as soon as I got off the plane.  I wrote down what the people on the street were doing, and the dynamics of a nearby village, and how the officers acted with their enlisted.  I did this because, in my opinion, what human beings actually do is always more interesting than what I could make up.  My part comes in putting it into a little more structured order with some pacing and a dash of dramatic license and hopefully a riveting opening first sentence that gets into your system like some super pathogen from a small parasitic blood sucking insect. 

Sorry, it’s just been 30+ days already and those pills make me queasy every time.  Anyway, here’s a thought to leave you with.  See this picture? 

It turns out that the Senegalese people at one time believed that since story-tellers and intellectuals never worked in soil, like farmers and most of the rest of their villages, that they couldn’t be buried in the dirt, or the Earth would become greedy for more than what it was due.  To compensate for this, they buried all their story-tellers in the trunks of the mighty Baobab trees.  Actually that sounds pretty cool. 

However, in 1960 the law changed, and the Senegalese were no longer allowed to toss their bards, narrators, poets, chroniclers and authors under the nearest aesthetically pleasing sapling.  AND, so the legend goes, that year, when they started burying their story-tellers in the ground, they had one of the worst draughts in history, because the Earth was thirsty for more. 

Real, and different. 


  1. Great post, Steve! Loved the tale at the end. Maybe I'll request a tree burial when my time comes.

  2. I'm VERY glad I'm a story teller in America!