On Tattoos and Children

I had a quick, bizarre interaction with my middle host niece today. She’s three, and because she is little she has not quite realized that my inability to speak Wolof is indicative of a single missing skill, rather than general idiocy. (Her sister, who is five, has figured out that I understand her beginning French and most hand gestures. We work it out.)

She was sitting on the eating mat and looking at my feet. I figured she was checking out my shoes, since they’re gold. She said something to me in Wolof that I completely did not understand, both because it was exclusively composed of verbs I don’t know and because she’s three and kind of mumbles.

My host dad laughed at what it was that she said, and answered back. They chatted for a minute before he turned to me and (in French) said, “She likes your tattoo.”

My tattoo, for the three of you in Russia (hi!) that don’t actually know me, is a design on my left ankle. It comes from the Series of Unfortunate Events, because I’m the sort of cool cat that has children’s fiction references embedded on my person. (Fellas.)

Generally, people in Senegal don’t seem to care much one way or the other about the tattoo. No one’s asked me what it means, unlike in the US, and my host parents don’t look at it. Tattoos aren’t unknown here (many women have their gums and/or chins tattooed black as a traditional beauty practice), so I guess they just don’t care much about mine.

I asked him what the rest of what she had said was. He laughed. “She says that you shouldn’t ever remove it. It will bring evil.” I pointed out that it would also bring unpleasantness, given that it involves scar tissue being shot off with a laser. He conveyed this. She nodded seriously and responded (in Wolof), “That’s good.”

Thus ended the longest interaction I have yet had with my middle niece.

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