Maïmouna, Yémasõ, Benin, 1998
Maïmouna was the youngest daughter of my host mother, Tounkara, and the only daughter of four to attend school. As a general rule, girls did not attend school, especially the children of subsistence farmers. They helped out at home and in the field. Both demanded constant labor. All was done manually, from growing maize to drawing water, doing laundry, and trekking into the forest to gather wood for cooking. The only machine in town was the flourmill. Somehow, though, Maïmouna managed to attend school part time. She asked one day if I would take her picture and if she could pose beside my bicycle. In her village, only boys and men rode bikes, and I was exempt from this rule because I was a foreigner and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a village without any transport but my own two feet to get out and explore. I couldn’t help but think of what suffragist Susan B. Anthony said of bicycling, “It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” I couldn’t help but hope that one day Maïmouna would ride a bike and push the boundaries of her world into a space of greater mobility and freedom for women.