(Photo credit, Dade Cariaga via Fb)
The world lost a real gentleman last night. I was on my way back from choir practice last night when I got the message from my friend Djibi Thiam. His brother-in-law Pape Diop, the brother of my good friend Maty Cariaga, died in Senegal. He had been ill for some time, indeed he was ill when I first came, but we had thought or hoped that he was making a recovery. I don’t know all the details, but he got much sicker very quickly and died at his family home in Senegal. He was 50 years old and is survived by his wife and four children. He had a small workshop manufacturing jewelry, which was sold in a shop downtown and, I believe, exported to Europe. He was a respected member of his community and had many friends.
That’s me and Djibi in front of Pape’s workshop downtown.
This morning, bright and early, I hit the road for la Patte d’Oie, the neighborhood where the Thiams and Diops live, to convey my condolences to his family. When Djibi and I arrived, there were a bunch of chairs lined up outside and the house was buzzing with the women of the family preparing breakfast for a cast of thousands. We were the first to arrive, so we went right in to greet the widow. The kids were there, the little daughter tripping around greeting everyone solemnly, the older kids obviously somewhat shocked but trying to be helpful.
As always on these occasions, I had no idea what to say. Luckily, since I don’t speak Peuhl and my French is merely passable, I wasn’t expected to be too articulate. I managed to stammer out a few phrases expressing how sad I was at Pape’s passing. Then, I sat with the men – men and women sit separately – and shared reminiscences of Pape with a couple of neighbors. After a while, Pape’s sister Mariatou made some super-sweet café au lait and bread with butter for me. Hospitality in this way is apparently an important part of the ritual. Out in the courtyard there was a white sheep tied up, whose days, I suspect, were numbered. After an hour or so, I bid farewell to the, now substantial, crowd of fellow mourners and went on my way with a heavy heart to teach for four hours about Reconstruction after the Civil War – also a depressing subject.
Pape was younger than me and so by definition a young man. It’s always somewhat of a shock when someone you know as a contemporary dies. In addition, I at least did not know that his condition was serious. Of course, you don’t necessarily know everything about your friends’ health; in Africa you are always enquiring about people’s health as a matter of politeness but you don’t necessarily expect a straight answer. One can say “ça va” (it’s fine) even when one is quite unwell, and Pape was clearly unwell the last couple of times I saw him. But his death came as a shock, to me, and, I think, to his family and other friends as well.
Also, I think that this is a substantial disaster for his family in concrete terms as well as from the emotional standpoint. I’m not clear on the details, but I’m pretty sure that the sorts of safety-net programs that people in developed countries count on – like Social Security survivor benefits in the US – are not present or not nearly as effective in developing countries. Pape had four children, from mid-teens down to toddler. His business was apparently profitable, but without him to run it who knows if it will stay that way? In Africa, the extended family takes much of the responsibility for people who have troubles; I fear that the Diop and Thiam clans will now have greater responsibilities. They are kind and hard-working people, but I don’t envy them the job.
So anyway, adieu to a real kind and gentle man who made my life here easier and, from what I saw, the lives of plenty of his neighbors, co-workers, and relatives. And prayers for the continued health and good fortune of his family.