Woman of the Week: Mme. Genevieve

 Mme Genevieve in her courtyard

Mme Genevieve in her courtyard

Yet another fine Monday and yet another fine lady. Our woman of the week today is Mme. Genevieve, one of my very close friends here in Solenzo. Genevieve or ‘Yaba’ as her grandchildren call her, is 76 years old and lives about a 5 minute bike ride away from yours truly. She is a deeply Catholic woman with a love for Jesus and all things fermented and liquid based. Though Genevieve is nearly blind, she welcomes me with a toothy smile when I get close enough for her to see me and offers me the best available chair in the courtyard. In moments one of her grand children is running off to the bar to pick us up a couple of cold beers over which we discuss women’s rights, American politics or Genevieve’s luck in the fields that year. If I'm lucky, she shows off by popping off the bottle cap with her teeth.

Genevieve is the only surviving child of her mother, who gave birth upwards of 5 times. Despite having lost her husband 8 years ago, Genevieve still works in the fields every year to produce corn and millet, a pursuit she engages in largely alone. She keeps pigs in her family courtyard, which she sells to augment her meager earnings off season. Genevieve was a primary school teacher in her youth, but after marrying, her husband quickly shut down her career and they started moving all over Burkina before settling in Solenzo. She has four children and many grand children, the youngest of which live in her courtyard and pay rent by perpetrating all kinds of mischief. These two youngsters, 10 and 8 years old, greet me peevishly when I come over and rush to take my bike so that they can ring the bell, change my gears, and  drain the batteries on my bike light.

Despite not having much money to speak of, Genevieve always presents me with a beer when I arrive, a gesture that I thought would wear off in the first couple of months of our friendship but seems to be a ritual now. Sometimes, she will call me to come over because her daughter is preparing a special meal or slaughtering a chicken that night. Once, she biked all over Solenzo looking for me so she could deliver about two kilos of sugared peanuts that she had made for me. Mme. Genevieve gets a shout out this week not just because her generosity is unbounded, but also because she never let her husband’s death slow her down or stop her from supporting herself and her family. At the age of 76 she toils in the fields for up to 7 hours a day during the wet season, and can only be found sitting down when she has guests over. She speaks 4 languages and asks no apologies for spending time in bars and cabarets, spaces traditionally occupied and dominated by men. When I am with her, I see all the strength for which she has never been lauded, and it makes me happy even to sit beside her in silence.