The Invisible Giants

When we look for them, we often find them … right under our nose. We see them without paying attention to them. Ndeye Seck, drum major, played the sabar around the world, a profession with few women. She is one among many other invisible giants. There are so many women like her who have broken out of cultural, religious, economic …frames which had already decided to limit their destiny.
Whenever I meet them and recognize them, I wonder what force enabled them to escape the spiral which was put into motion since their birth. How and where do they get the strength as well as the luck to survive?
First, I ask them the question: Who are you? Who are you to challenge the established norms?

For over twenty years, I have been collecting stories of invisible giants, true stories beyond fiction, stories of women who heal us from despair and cynicism.

Invisible Giants? I think of those who, like Wade Saly, use food to heal.

Saly Wade

She told me: “I am a geographer, but I joined the nutrition field through the door of disease. I needed care, I had tried everything, and nothing had worked. Over time, I searched for and found my own solutions through food. I used the same research techniques and methods I was using in my university work. Gradually, I discovered new things: it is possible to use certain foods to heal oneself, it is possible to change the rhythm; it is still possible, once a disease has taken hold, to support humans and help them regain their joy of life … “.

I love Saly! What she says makes sense. Eating, we need to do it to live. But we do not eat for the sake of “eating” to feed our bodies as if we were swallowing tablets. Eating is often a ritual. According to her, there is a psychological component to eating. When you are sick, and you are told not to eat certain foods (sugar, salt …) and in your own home a separate dish is prepared for you, while you were used to eating with the others, taste is lost, you feel like you don’t want to eat or you cheat. We often seek a particular taste; therefore, when that taste, such as a salty taste, is removed from a dish, it does not work. We need something else for us not to expect the same taste. Eating is also remembering people we shared meals with.

Among migrants, eating habits are the last things to disappear, over generations. We lose languages before losing dishes. The nostalgia of the place where we come from is very often associated with the taste of foods that we miss.
Eating is remembering what you ate, that you were sitting next to your mother, your grandmother, your father, your brothers, your sisters and your friends. When foods are associated with good memories or relationships, it is difficult to break away from these foods.

The Invisible Giants. There are those who are care professionals, like Khaira Thiam who is a psychotherapist, those who have learned to work with the mind, to refocus, to ask questions, to make people do some exercises to bring back those who have moved far from themselves. Those who carry and keep the heaviest secrets of rape, incest, pedophilia and domestic violence. Those that gradually bring back to themselves those who suffered shocks, accidents, violence on their minds. Oftentimes, they help women and girls, victims of violence by people who are close to them, sometimes too close to speak out against, too close to challenge; they help them piece their lives back together again.
And now someone must help them pick up the pieces, bring a semblance of balance. Of course, the scars remain, life is never the same again, but at least they can function. Somehow it is like an amputation. The only option left is to walk, with or without crutches.

The Invisible Giants like Adji Fatou and women who also provide care in a different way, who align rhythms. Do not ask me how since I do not know. The ndeupkat have this belief that human beings have a rhythm … That there are times, when a psychiatric illness comes as a result of the disruption of the rhythm and calls for a realignment. Women are priestesses and men who officiate are dressed like women and dance like women. Care is often a community affair; many family members must participate in it to make it work. During a therapy session, they play music: sabar, songs; they dance and turn around … They play many sounds until they find the rhythm which puts the patient in a trance. And in the trance, somehow mysteriously care happens. The person reveals her “medication” and asks for certain things (maybe not her, but her spiritual guides speak through her voice).

Sometimes it’s blood and they must sacrifice an animal, and sometimes it’s milk. Some other times it’s alcohol and so on. Anyway, the patient expresses requirements that could never have been brought up in a normal conversation.
If healing is possible, men and women come back to themselves, piece themselves back together again, remember who they are, who they were before their fragmentation.

Félicité Codjo

Khaira Thiam

Hadji Fatou Dramé

And there are those who heal by touch, those who do massage, energy healing; those who heal through art like Felicité Codjo or through theater like Nathalie Vairac … Of course the Cartesian wiring of my brain often resists, but my beliefs matter less so long as patients feel better. 
There are yet those who heal by listening and asking questions. Coaches like Patricia Sennequier and Fatime Faye or just women’s human rights defenders. Binta Sarr is gone, but she left attentive ears to women’s pain at APROFES. Oftentimes, the best care is listening; someone who agrees with you that you were treated with injustice. Oftentimes, the best caregiver is a lawyer, a gynecologist, a legal adviser or just a sister who accompanies you to the police station and testifies that you are not the one at fault, but the victim.

The Invisible Giants, the women that I share about, the women whose stories I tell, had to heal themselves. They had to walk the journey to their own healing, the journey to learning, sometimes informally, and then formally, how to find a solution for themselves, their families or their neighbors.

 Who heals the healers? Who takes care of the Invisible Giants and of those who give hope? There seems to be a vacuum. I often have no answers to my questions. At the Feminist Republiik convening in Kenya, organized by Urgent Action Fund, I saw the opportunity to give this moment to healers. Even though we do not have the means to organize an event of that magnitude, we must at a smaller scale find ways to provide a space for rest to our brave fighters.
The celebration of the Invisible Giants is an attempt to recognize and care for those who give so much to so many people in our communities.

Coumba Touré

She writes and publishes children’s books (see Facebook “Les livres et contes de Coumba” (Books and stories by Coumba))
She is one of the coordinators of the Africans Rising pan-african movement and chair of the boards of Trust Africa foundation and Baobab Center.

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