Takale mooy…. (Takale is…)

Soap Making in Kaffrine
By Kaylee Geier
Feb. 27, 2024

Finding something out of nothing.

Making it work.

Being innovative.

Being creative.

Working together

We are sitting outside the preschool where I meet monthly with women in my town and surrounding villages to make soap. We have just entered the dry season and the lush greenery is beginning to give way to the dry sepia colored sand found in this sub-Saharan region. Luckily with the oncoming of the dry season, it is not too hot, and we enjoy a gentle breeze. The beginnings of the soap making process are underway, with one batch poured into molds setting in the shade.

Sunu sabu am na jafe-jafe” (our soap has a problem) said Aida Sekk, head of women’s organization.

The soap is not solidifying.

What went wrong? We check over our measurements and nothing seems to be out of place. With money on the line, the women cannot afford to simply try a new batch, this one must work. We get our Borum Sabu Si (boss of the soap) on the line, the woman who had originally taught community members how to make soap and explain the situation. Her conclusion: too much water.

Ingredients to make soap with lye
Ingredients to make soap with Lye

As I watch the women converse, I think to myself, well how do we fix that? We premixed the water and heme (lye) solution the night before to allow the chemical reactions time to occur before adding the oils today. We can’t remove just water without also removing the oil and lye. All the while in our makeshift soap molds (cut in half cardboard boxes lined with repurposed plastic) sits the unsolidified soap.

What would you do? I surely had no idea. Luckily the women I am with always have a solution. As a group they came together, each posing various options, and ultimately it was decided the soap in the molds was going back into the bucket. We slowly added more of the heme and water solution to the bucket of our unsuccessful soap solution. Here in Senegal much of what we do is a waiting game - something I am still trying to get the hang of - but the women here are pros, and with some time the soap begins to solidify. Moving quickly, we remake the molds and pour the half solid soap solution in. Some more time passes as we sit and talk; politics, health, family, enjoying the company of one another, laughing, and smiling together.

Soap making

Something is still not right -- the consistency is off and it’s not solidifying as quick as it should. Aida Sekk calls our Borum Sabu Si once again, to identify the problem for us. Still too much water, we are told. Our only solution: more heme. However, it is a Sunday and heme isn’t an easy thing to come by. I personally had no idea where to purchase this product in the community where I serve. Here, many items, especially those more niche items, are not sold at the market, but by people out of their homes. You must know someone, who knows someone, who has what you need. Calls are made - people are out of heme. More calls are made, and we are directed to other sellers. Eventually we have found a seller and one of the women leaves to go pick it up. Upon her return we add the heme to our remaining mixture and have created the desired chemical change to ‘deferal sunu sabu’ (make our soap). We sit down for lunch around the bowl and enjoy delicious Chebujen (Rice and fish) -- everyone is at ease. Chatter remains light as our bellies begin to fill.

What inspires me most is that there were never any moments of doubt. Throughout the process, no one seemed to lose faith that what we came to accomplish, make soap, would falter. This is something I have noticed about Senegal, no one worries too much. Whether you are waiting for a person to show up to a meeting, a family member to return home from work outside the country, a car to pick you up on the side of the road, the fruits on your tree to flower, the belief is always that they will come. The common phrase “dina niew” (it will come) is often repeated to me when I question the absence of something, I believed should have been there by now based on my internal timeline. I observe faith in the belief that what is meant to be, will be. Too often in my culture if there is no immediate solution, we believe there is no solution at all. Patience allows the time for resources to be realized, contributing to the ability to ‘Takale’.

‘Nungi Takale’ (We use what we have).

women making soap with PCV
Some women working in soap making with PCV Kaylee

In addition to being creative with available resources (i.e.: our soap molds), no one person must work alone. The women are a team. Our Borum Sabu Si did not hesitate to offer her advice, despite what may be looked at as something that was ‘not her problem.’ You help one another as a family.

This is just one example of incredible problem solving achieved through working collaboratively and thinking together that I've seen here. However I see examples of Takale each and every day: the wife of my older brother feeding a family of 16 filling and delicious meals with very limited funds, my brothers finding sheets of scrap metal and wood from an old structure to build a new fence around our yard, my ambulance driver taking the donkey charrette and laying it flat over a large branch reaching out low over the ground to create a table to set up a remote vaccine clinic . Always and in every situation, somehow, against the odds, they are making it work.

I don’t believe this is unique to me or my community. Across my cohort, I have heard amazing examples of innovation and creativity. I would love to hear from other PCVs across Senegal, Africa, and the world, how their host families, work partners and host country nationals have expanded their mindset for problem solving, and how we support one another through these challenges.