Full Circle; Making Tea & Going to Sleep in Niognani

By Ms. Brumfield

Going to sleep in Niognani
Under mosquito nets
Dog in the compound
Phil attempted to keep it out
Dog barks
Donkey speaks
Connor says, “that jaunt needs an inhaler”
We have the giggles
Under this thatch roof
Schaefer snores within minutes
Pillow talk, crickets, light on in the teacher’s hut
Babies finally all asleep
Tight braids in my hair
Thanks to my friend, Sirah

**********************************************

Mr. Schaefer came full circle today. One of his first memories of this village was three years ago, the group had just arrived, and it was about midnight. The compound was totally dark aside from the remnants of the evening’s cooking fire. He stood and observed his new surroundings. There was activity around the fire. Schaef was about to taste his first glass of attaya – Senegalese tea. Sirah, Kekuota’s wife handed him a the small glass of bitter green tea. The glass was hot, a little sticky from the sugar, foamy. Schaef sipped his first glass slowly. After what seemed to be a little too long, he noticed Sirah and Fanta standing next to him holding a small metal tray. He smiled and eventually realized that he needed to return the glass to the tray.

If you know Schaefer, you know that he felt this misunderstanding as something much more significant than just that. That moment became a challenge to get it, to connect with the community, to find his place here. If you know Schaefer, you know he’s thoughtful, perhaps so thoughtful that he disappears inside those thoughts. But not in this village, among these families. Here, he’s Bahna, Chief. Being the head soccer coach added to the respect he quickly earned. Everyone appreciates his soccer skills, but mostly they love his spirit, which is relentless. He plays with the kids, laughs and works with Kekuota and Keita.

But the place that Schaef is most at home is on a low stool, hot coals heating a small metal kettle.

He’s addicted to the tea. He’s addicted to the process. Finally, he’s not observing a skilled, 13 year old, Tamba making the tea. Finally, it’s his turn. He’s gathering the hot coals from the cooking fire on a tray, tapping tea leaves from a box into the pot, carefully settling the pot on the coals fanning and waiting.

There are many steps to make even the first two glasses of tea. Bahna didn’t want to disappoint anyone. His fingers carefully reached for the handle, protected by the thin cardboard of the tea box. The lid requires a bare fingered lift. There was fear, but only laughter when he quickly flipped the lid onto the ground. He then poured the tea into another pot, melting a handful of sugar cubes. He poured high, creating foam, reducing bitterness. He rinsed the glasses and pour another round. Connor sat by his side and fanned the coals. Schaefer worked and talked and enjoyed being in the process, even more than he had enjoyed his first glass of tea in the village.

The lesson wasn’t complete until he walked across the swept floor of the compound to Sirah and Fanta and offered them a glass from the pot of tea he made. The masters, the mothers happily drank the tea. They laughed and appreciated Schaef’s attempt. This was a moment of fulfillment for a man whose life is already pretty full.

It’s these seemingly insignificant moments that can alter one’s approach to life. Watching Mr. Schaefer struggle and laugh and succeed was a moment for us all. As he said himself: You can’t quantify moments in math. But moments are what make up life.

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