Along the winding path, women and children follow us. Our single file line, joyous and colorful, continues its procession toward the trees. As we approach a giant mango tree, I am reminded of a story Haidar once told me, of a village, not too far from where we walk, called Hatioune, that refused to cut its trees.
Many years ago, the story goes, the elders of Hatioune gathered the people of the village together around a large tree. The subject of their meeting was important: the population of their village had grown these last years and the village needed more space. For a long time they discussed the best ways to grow their village: either they cut the fruit trees that encircled their village, or else they moved the village entirely. After much discussion, a decision was come to by all: nobody could agree to cut the trees that provided so much to the village – fruits, wood, shade – so one by one, each home in the village was moved.
We arrive at the entrance of the plant nursery Abdou has created with the women of the Bignona neighborhood. Carrots, parsley, onions, tomatoes, pineapples... everything grows wondrously in this fertile earth. The women and children rejoin us. They want their picture taken next to these small plots of garden green. More meetings, a final word under another enormous mango tree, the last applause of the women, last words of encouragement from Haidar, and we are back on the campaign trail.
What will happen to Casamance and its rainforests and mangroves, I wonder, if its secular custodians disappear?