Chapters 16–17

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Last Updated on February 12, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1281

Chapter 16: From Thiès to Dakar: The March of the Women

On the evening after the failed meeting at the railroad office, the union delegates hold a public meeting to announce what has occurred in the conference room. Penda asks if she can speak to the crowd, and Bakayoko encourages her to do so. Penda announces that the women have decided to march to Dakar in support of the strike. This shocks the crowd, who are mostly uncomfortable with the idea of the women embarking on such a journey.

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Bakayoko and the other delegates discuss this plan with Penda at the union office. They arrange a team of men to accompany the women, devise a plan to care for any abandoned children, and make an agreement that some of the delegates will travel to Dakar before the women will arrive there.

Just after the march commences, with Penda at its helm, Lahbib arranges transportation for Bakayoko, who must retrieve his pack at Penda’s hut before he departs. When the two arrive at Dieynaba’s compound, the lone woman is crying alone. She says that Gorgui, her son who was shot in the leg during the apprentices’ killing, has died from his infected bullet wound. Lahbib bids Bakayoko farewell, staying with Dieynaba to arrange for her son’s burial.

The women march across a landscape ravaged from the dry season, yet they are in good spirits. The women continually sing and chant, and their escorts—among them Boubacar and Samba—ride bicycles with water containers strapped onto them. Penda walks in front with other notable women from Thiès, including Maïmouna, who slipped into the procession with her baby strapped to her back. On the first night of the march, the women stop at an isolated village, where they receive warm hospitality and encouragement in their mission.

By the third day of marching, however, this morale had begun to fade. No longer singing or even talking much, the women walk in separate islands instead of altogether. Just as Maïmouna remarks that she doesn’t hear the chanting, Boubacar on his bicycle comes alongside Penda. He tells Penda that a large group of women at the rear of the march are refusing to go any farther. Penda instructs the other escorts to wait under shady trees ahead with water to encourage the women to keep going.

Penda sits astride Boubacar’s bicycle, and they ride to the end of the march. Along the way, Penda shouts words of encouragement to the small straggling groups. An hour has passed before the bicycle reaches the end of the column, where Penda sees one hundred women motionless by the roadside underneath makeshift shelters. When a woman named Awa says Penda is a whore to whom the others do not have to listen, Penda destroys their shelters and begins “counting them out.” This practice is a bad omen, and soon the women move back into the road, albeit grudgingly.

Beneath the sparse shade of the trees, the marchers lie down for an hour’s rest. Maïmouna and Penda lie next to each other; after Penda tells Boubacar to stop bothering her, Maïmouna tells Penda that she is the one who is blind. Maïmouna says that Penda is in love with Bakayoko despite her not knowing him; as a result, Penda is unaware of Boubacar’s love for her.

Although the women grumble at having to resume walking, the marchers experience a new sense of hope. Now united in a single column, the marchers are easier for Penda to patrol, and Penda encourages the old or feeble and teases the young. At the rear of the column, Awa engenders suspicion about Penda, causing those around her to worry that evil spirits lurk nearby.

Suddenly, a piercing scream draws the attention of Penda, Awa, and the women at the back of the column. An older woman, having cut her toe open, is writhing in pain in the road, while another woman tries to stop the bleeding by sucking on the wound. In...

(The entire section contains 1281 words.)

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Chapters 13–15

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Chapters 18–19 and Epilogue