Dallo Fall’s smile is broad and full of joy. And it is true, yet … There is a depth of story to her life, rooted in Senegal, West Africa, that she can only begin to share with us.
“I have a big life story,” she says. “You could write a book. Many, many books. I have a big book in my head about my whole life.”
When Dallo, 38, married Dgibril, an American, and moved to the U.S. 15 years ago, she brought with her the pulse of the culture she grew up in: drumming, dancing, singing, cooking. She brought her rich spirit of giving. She also holds pain that few know.
Dallo sat down with Humanitou and shared some of her story, of her resilience, of why she especially has extraordinary love for children and the elderly.
She tells how she continues to be a significant part of her Senegalese village, Thionck Essyl, even from thousands of miles away in a land so different. How she came from a place where she couldn’t afford a pencil for school as a child but owned a restaurant as a young woman — until it was attacked by rebels.
Meet Dallo Fall.
Humanitou: Your husband is American. How did you meet?
Dallo: We have a long story, my husband and I. It’s a beautiful story. I think it would take the whole day to explain it.
When my husband came to Africa, he came to be Baye Fall. Baye Fall is a kind of Sufi thing he practices. For me, I’m a Yaye Fall. Baye is for man. Yaye is for woman.
He was doing peace work in Senegal. He lived there for four years before we met.
I was a girl who grew up in a village, never traveled in my life. I just was in that village until one day I decide to get out of my village and go somewhere. On my way, that is where we met. And he brought me here.
Humanitou: Why did you decide to leave, having never left your village before?
Dallo: I didn’t grow up with my mom and dad. My grandmother who raised me passed away, so I was a lone girl in that village. No help. So, one day, I decided to leave the village, because I felt like I was lost.
Humanitou: How old were you when your grandmother died, and when you left?
Dallo: I was a teenager.
And I was the first woman to build a restaurant in my village. I tried to fight for my life. My restaurant was attacked by the rebels. I broke. That was when I decided to leave the village for the first time.
Humanitou: This clearly stirs emotion for you. I can’t imagine what you’ve experienced. I appreciate what you’re sharing.
Dallo: I left for three months and my people were looking for me. I can say, I was lost.
This year, I decided I am writing a book. I feel like I have so much in me. The people who see me here see me smiling and don’t know what I’m carrying inside. And I don’t want to carry it anymore.
Even my kids don’t know what I’m carrying. I’m trying to smile for them and to live with them, not telling them all the time what is behind me. I’m just hiding by myself and hurting.
Humanitou: You have two children?
Dallo: Two girls, 12 and nine.
Humanitou: Does your husband know your story?
Dallo: A little bit.
Humanitou: I appreciate that you’re sharing some of your story with me, and will look forward to knowing more when you’ve written it. Tell me about your African drumming group, Jamoral?
Dallo: Yes. The name Jamoral means, listening to each other.
When I came here I didn’t understand English, I didn’t know many people and I missed my home.
Drumming and dancing was a part of my life. Being a little girl in my village, hearing drumming and dancing everyday … I remember when I was three, I loved to dance. And I’m very, very good at it.
Growing up, I was shy, and there was too much going on for me. I decided not to dance anymore. When I came here, I didn’t understand English and dancing was what I could do to feel home.
Humanitou: What was going on that led you to stop dancing when you were young?
Dallo: My mom and dad did not raise me, I’d never been with them. My mom showed up one day and she’d heard I didn’t want to go to school anymore, because I wanted to stay with my grandmother and help her. My vision was to stay next to her, because she was the one I knew.
In Africa, they think going to school is where you can be someone someday. She came and told my grandmother she wanted me to go back to school. She wanted to move me away from my grandmother.
I went (to school) and tried to focus and to do what my mom wanted, but every weekend I needed to go back to visit my grandmother.
Humanitou: This is very emotional for you. I’m sorry to stir this up.
Dallo: It’s OK.
I stayed there for three weeks and I did not go to visit my grandmother. I had too much homework and an exam. I tried to focus to pass it … and she was sick and she passed away.
I wasn’t there to say goodbye. That day, in the house where I was, I was very happy. I don’t know where the happiness came from. I was dancing so high, and my grandmother was gone that day. It came back to me.
Humanitou: I got to see you and Jamoral perform in a backyard concert a while back. I got to see that expressive, smiling, exuberant Dallo. That joy feels authentic, not as if it’s a mask. Does that sound true?
Dallo: I’m a very open person, and happy. If you see me with these kids (where I teach preschool at E-11), that is the way I am. I like to laugh.
Sometimes … I hurt so much. It makes me not get all that out.
Humanitou: You return regularly to Senegal for visits. You want to wear traditional clothing from your home for the photographs today. … Home is important to you.
Dallo: It is very important to me. My people, when I first married my husband, they were scared they were never going to see me again.
They told him, “She is very, very important to us. Make sure anytime she wants to come home, bring her back.” I am very special to my family.
I can say that because, in the village where I was born and grew up, I was the girl who people were watching me since I was a little child. When I was nine years old, my people, every rainy season needed to go to the field to grow rice and make sure they have enough food for the whole year.
They would leave their kids behind, even three years old and younger. My job was to collect those kids in my house and make sure they eat and are safe. That was my job in that village.
Humanitou: Those kids now are grown. When you go visit, do they know who you are?
Dallo: They are married now.
They really do. When I go back, they are going to know I’m back.
When I go right now, my mother knows she needs to put a blanket outside, and when I wake up, I know I’m going to see kids outside. The whole village knows that. They know, don’t ever keep your child from Dallo’s house, because that is her life.
They know I’ve been doing that from when I was younger until now. Every year I go, I see many generations around me.
That is what I feel my relationship with kids is based on.
Humanitou: Why do you feel like serving children is at the heart of your life?
Dallo: Children mean so much to me, because I had no mom and no dad, and I was fighting alone. I don’t want any child to feel that. I say they need to have someone there for them.
Elders are something, too. I care about elders and kids, because of my grandmother.
Humanitou: Tell me more about your connection to music.
Dallo: At my home, we dance and drum for many reasons. Like naming ceremonies and weddings. We dance when our brothers go to the forest to become men.
And singing, we sing a lot. When we walk miles to go to the fields, sometimes it’s, like, three hours of walking. We don’t want it to be stressful and quiet. We prefer singing. It makes us happy. Sometimes we stop and dance just to keep not seeing how far we’re walking.
Sometimes, when we walk there, since it’s rainy season, it’s going to rain like crazy on us. All day. We don’t even see the sun. So not to be just carrying and crying, we sing and dance.
We dance for many things. There is too much going on in our home in Africa. We fight it to be happy and not hurt.
And, with dancing, no one is going to invite you. If you hear the drum, just go there and join the party with everybody.
Humanitou: It’s an uplifting, supportive community way to face life’s challenges.
Dallo: There are so many reasons. Sometimes the music we’re doing is part of our great-great-grandparents, and they don’t want that music to be gone. So we want every generation to hear the music, and to feel it.
Every song we sing, it has a meaning. It has a story. If I’m sad, there is a song for that. I’m going to sing it. In the song, it tells me you’re going to be OK. When I sing them, they make me feel happy, feel calm.
When you’ve done something to someone, we have a song for that. You don’t need to come and say, “Forgive me.” Sing that song, and that guy will hear it, and he will know, “She’s talking to me.” Not directly, but with that song.
Humanitou: It sounds like in your village, there is a lot of generosity, love, sharing. How do you express love here, in a big world that probably doesn’t have as much of it as you were used to in your village?
Dallo: The world needs more love to support each other. I came to this country with so much in my past. If I don’t have love, I’m still going to be hurting so much. I need love. I need people to support me the way I am and to care about me.
My heart is full of love. I care about people the way they are. Even here, in this country, when I see something happen, I want to be there and see what I can do. But it doesn’t go like that. It’s different here.
Humanitou: I’ve been thinking a lot about people being who they are, their authentic selves. You think it’s important for everyone to be able to do that.
Dallo: I do. My grandmother was important to me, and she’s gone. What she put on me, I want people to see it and feel it. She put that on me, to share, care and be open. To give.
I always show who I am. If you’re trying to change me, you can’t. Who I am is I’m an honest person. That is what my grandmother taught me. It’s very, very important.
Humanitou: You still give back to the people in your village. How?
Dallo: We built a nonprofit organization called Yermande. It means compassion in English. The way we do it, I pick a day for whoever comes. I’m going to make enough food for whoever comes.
I get up at 5 o’clock and start cooking dishes from my home and say, come over and hear my story. Come and eat and give, and you’ll watch a show. I’m going to dance for you. I’m going to make you happy.
I don’t say, “Hey, I need $25 from you.” I just tell you where I’m taking that money to. We have been doing that for seven years now.
I am changing so many things in my home now.
Humanitou: Like what? What are some of the projects or are the needs you’re helping people at home to meet?
Dallo: School supplies for kids. When I was a little girl, I had a problem having a pencil to go to school.
In Africa, they have to fight so much. When school starts and the parents need to buy one book or one pencil, and sometimes the child comes and asks them but they say, “I have to buy food today, so you’d better go figure out what to do.” Some kids give up on school.
Like me, I stopped school very early. That was the reason, the same reason. So I’m fighting for that. I can’t help all of them, but I know from my neighbors which family doesn’t have enough to help their kids.
I want those kids not to be down for that. It made me hurt so much when I went to school and I had a problem with not having a pencil. Kids would always look around and say, “You always don’t have a pencil.” It hurt.
I go every year and, if I plant a tree, I want to go see if that tree is growing or not. I’m growing so many trees in my village, too. I’m seeing so many things are changing, because when they cut a tree, they are not putting another back.
Another thing is how I can help women in Africa, how they can have a business to keep having for their family or themselves. I give them a little money and help them figure out how their money can grow. They are strong like me, but they need a little help.
Humanitou: Where does your strength come from?
Dallo: First of all, I see my grandmother. One day, I woke up very early and heard my grandmother putting a bucket of rice outside. I asked her what she was doing.
She said, “Oh, Dallo, I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I’m helping so many people who don’t have food. I want to do it early in the morning before the sun comes out, because I don’t want people to see them carrying food. They will know I am helping them.”
The village knew she liked to help people who didn’t have enough. So they would bring a bucket and put it there. My grandmother would open the door early and see if she had some buckets there, and she would know what it was for.
Watching her and learning how much she cares about people, that’s why I do it. That’s who I am. I don’t wait to have enough to share; I share what I have.
Humanitou: I love that spirit. I think a lot of American culture is built on a scarcity mindset, one of hoarding our resources, just in case. Most of us have relative abundance, yet still live in fear.
What don’t we understand about your grandmother’s spirit of giving?
Dallo: I see that sometimes here. A neighbor with an apple tree that has so many apples … If it’s me, I’m going to cut them and give them to the neighbors and the kids to eat them. But I can see the tree and the apples just fall down, and they are just gone.
What is it going to give you when you just watch your apples fall down and they are not good anymore, instead of picking them and giving them to a child? If you don’t give … I don’t know how. I can’t.
I can’t have and not share. I don’t know why people are afraid of giving? I think maybe they never try and don’t see what happens when you help.
Humanitou: You teach cooking, drumming, dance, hair braiding … many things from your home culture. How do your classes work, how can people join in?
Dallo: People can call me. I have taught at Colorado College for five years, twice a week in blocks. I am looking for a space and, when I have that, I am going to start teaching dancing and drumming every weekend.
Humanitou: It seems important to you to be able to share these things with people here, that you show who you are and where you come from.
Dallo: It’s very, very important.
For me, my grandmother who raised me always told me, “Anywhere you go, you’re going to be OK.” Because all the tests, I passed them. I’ve hurt enough. Nothing else can hurt me. I can resist that.
I’m so proud of myself. I’m so proud of who I am.
This Humanitou conversation is cross-posted at PeakRadar.com. PeakRadar.com is the Pikes Peak region’s cultural calendar and digital cultural center, connecting residents and tourists with our vibrant arts community. Your source for what’s happening is PeakRadar.com!