When I was “just a little” girl from Senegal; I asked my mother what I should be”? I felt I was different from what my two sisters Ndey and Mary Sow. My sisters were solely concerned into the latest European fashion trends and the latest hairdo sported by Coumba Gawlo (a Senegalese singer-songwriter and composer; she is the second best selling Senegalese singer in Senegal after Youssou N’Dour) and the other Youssou N’Dour’s choristers. They adored to be referred to as divas while I a Senegal girl enjoyed stopping at my brother’s Auguste’s garage thinking that I wanted to get on those motorbikes!
I wanted to ride’ em, wheeling around – going through villages sliding and scaring animals, and make them jump, like Dakar rider Peterhansel. Here though, it’s difficult to just own a motorbike- and for a girl, you know, people gossip. There’s no work here, and my brother has his garage but unlike my two sisters and their friends, who loved to stay around and show off I preferred to spend my time at the garage with Mbiou and Diedhiou. I spent the time and they taught me mechanics. They always teased me by saying that I never could learn, that at some point I would think more about hair and nails instead of spending time in the grease. And I’d get angry knowing of the many other boys who weren’t as smart as I was; who treated me like a fool.
Here though, it’s difficult to just own a motorbike- and for a girl, you know, people gossip.
By age fifteen, while spending time at the garage, no one realised I was a girl. I was filthy unkempt long hair, and you know how my hair is, I look like a Capoverdian, like a guy, not a girl. I was a late bloomer and until now I could simply go unnoticed. I was shorter, I looked like a rascal, remember the rascals?
The Risk, The Feeling of Power, The Wind, The Speed
At fifteen I had an affair with Diedhiou, who in the meantime went to work with a “white”, who rented bikes; his garage was not far from us. In the evenings I was always there. We had fun and it was crowded with motorbikes that actually ran including a 500cc cross bike which was used only by the “white”. Once though, Mbiou and Diop who wanted to show off – took the bike. When they returned, Diop, who was in the back couldn’t sit down due to the bruises on his bottom from the wheelie accident!
I don’t know what it was, the risk, the feeling of power, the wind, the speed, the sensation of being unreachable – or of going much further than with the cart and carriage to Dakar, Kaolak, Joal, Mauritania. I don’t know what it was, it was inside me, the desire to mount a motorbike, a real bike! To be quick, noisy…and one day the most powerful one.
My brothers, but mainly my mother, didn’t want me to learn how to ride; but I wanted to. It was only a question of finding a working bike, and someone who would spend time to train me. When I asked bike owners to teach me how to ride they laughed at me saying riding is not a girl’s thing. They said it needs strength, and they added- I didn’t have that.
One day, it was almost May, at the end of the dry and touristic season, I went, boldly to that “white” saying that I wanted to learn how to ride- and nobody else wanted to teach me. He was my last hope but, I knew he was also the best, so I pleaded with Diedhiou. He didn’t laugh at me, but smiled as if pleased. He asked me if I could ride a bicycle, but I couldn’t so he called Diop and asked him to get a bicycle from a boy who lived around the corner.
That afternoon on Route 44 everybody laughed while watching me repeatedly fall as I tried to learn to ride the bicycle. Even the beggar children (talibe), who had never seen a bicycle before, dared to laugh at me only because I was a girl trying to do men’s things. At which point the angry “white” told one of them to mount a bike and show us all how to ride- since he was acting as if he was the best rider! They all blushed as they were unable to ride, and not one of them stayed there one second more after the humiliation of being unable to match a girl. I felt very lucky to have found a “grand master” who was not just a bicycle expert.
Everybody Laughed While Watching Me The Senegal Girl – Repeatedly Fall
That day I fell down many more times, but I knew it was worthwhile. In the evening I went to see the “white” to show him that I had learned not to fall down, and he told me to keep riding the bicycle for two weeks, at which point he would let me try the motorcycle with no gear. After a while I was already quite good, so he arrived with a Honda XL250 and asked me if I had an hour to spare to go out of town. I couldn’t believe it, as I knew soon I would be able to ride! My dream was finally going to come true! I jumped around the house full of joy, while my mother shouted at me; my sisters laughed; the guys at the garage dying with envy. My mom arrived shouting out with a thousand recommendations, but since she trusted him she let me go- happy for me.
That day on that clay road by the sea, I was very anxious, excited, but he told me that I should neither be scared nor nervous- it would be like riding the bicycle but without pedalling. He gave me the switched-off bike and told me to turn it on, as I would not need any further explanations, clutch, acceleration and engine sound were things that I already knew by watching the movements of other riders. I asked him if he wanted to sit on the back with me, but he replied no, as it would have been much heavier and didn’t want fall with me. He was right; I fell down many times, hurting myself quite a bit; I didn’t care, as my dream was to be realised. I didn’t want to spoil everything just because of a weakness so I pushed myself on. That was one of the most important days of my life, and one of the most entertaining too! One I’ll never forget.
From that day three years have passed. I’m 18, and can no longer hide that I am a woman. People are always surprised to see a girl, in the heart of Africa, with the ability to ride. I’ve rode many and many miles with bikes, every kind even a road racing 1000cc and thanks to that day I now work for Hertz in Saly. I’m a guide for quad excursions and I escort tourists to the La Somone lagoon and to the Lac Rose. When they see me as I am, a woman, tall and nice, they always cuddle me a lot, pay many compliments, and make a lot of questions especially asking “how is it possible that a girl from this land can ride a bike”? When they see me getting off my motorcycle to repair another one they burst with marvel, they stare at each other. I say that in Africa things happen that are incomprehensible in Europe, even though most of the time I shut up and let them speak, as my French is poor.
The tourists always show their gratitude to me with nice presents, dresses and shoes. But the best gift yet came from a couple who drove a four by four from France- a tool box, complete with the 27 and 32 Allen keys and a tester, a very rare instrument around here.
It’s me, the girl mechanic- who possesses these tools – “mecanicièn bu djigeen”!
In the future I’d love to learn how to go fast, and to start racing for the Federations which organise but I’m not fast enough yet. My biggest dream is without a doubt to participate in the famed Dakar, and to arrive at the finish to see all my friends waiting on the highest dune- shouting my name aloud. We’d have a celebration together at Mbour, no – “a La Somone”!
Story by Christian Johnson
My friend Christian, during a return visit to Senegal, met up with former riding friends and became acquainted with the “little sister” of a famous motorcycle mechanic from Mbour (a city in the Thiès Region of Senegal). He was surprised and delighted to see that this young girl had learned to ride. Being the historian and journalist Christian decided to interview her. This was his story and her words.