Every year on March 21 the United Nations has the UN Day Against Racism. I realize I am a few days late in posting this, but I can honestly blame lack of internet access. Plus, the day isn’t the important factor, but rather taking the initiative to start a discussion about the topic. Shedding light on something, sadly, we have all started to consider normal, and just accept.
The inspiration for this section comes from some recent reading I’ve done. The first quote comes from a TIME Magazine article in the October 23, 2017 edition. (Shout out to my aunts for sending me these!) The article was about Star War’s actor, Boyega. He stated,
“I embrace all people but I do not embrace racists. I despise racists. Do they know how dumb it is to waste brain cells on taking issue with the amount of melanin in someone’s skin?”
The more I am in Senegal, the more I realize that racism in the world is not yet extinguished. And, the more I am upset by this. The more irrational it seems.
Then, the topic was brought up again in the book I just finished, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. (This book is not a book about racism only. Its storyline is multifaceted and although written long ago, many lines in the book are more than relevant today. I HIGHLY recommend this book! And, would love to discuss it with anyone who reads it or has read it.) I am going to list some quotes that which I think are worth reading and thinking about.
“Racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men.” (Courtenay, 265)
“Silence breeds guilt in other people. That it is fun to persecute a pig because it squeals, no fun at all to beat an animal which does not cry out.” (Courtenay, 348)
“Racism does not diminish with brains. It’s a disease, a sickness. It may incubate in ignorance, but it doesn’t necessarily disappear with the gaining of wisdom!” (Courtenay, 456)
“Success of any sort seems to break down social barriers.” (Courtenay, 461)
“It is the human experience, particularly true of the young, that all routine, no matter how bizarre, soon becomes normal procedure.” (Courtenay, 493)
So, I am here in Senegal getting more and more used to this bizarre life.
Peace Corps Senegal has a group of volunteers that make up the SENEGAD organization which promotes Gender and Development. To celebrate March 8th’s International Women’s Day, they organized a competition amongst volunteers. We are challenged to spend the month thinking about and promoting Gender and Development and according to the organization, “to design, implement, and share gender and youth development activities.”
This challenge coincided with some activities I had planned prior to knowing about the competition. I have been working the past few months on starting youth groups. I have two groups currently, one comprised of teenage girls, the other of teenage boys. Each group has members 12+ in age. The girl’s group focuses on health topics and health education. The boys chose to learn about leadership.
I want to highlight one of the boys in my group. His name is Salute. For those who know French, Salute can be used as a greeting amongst friends. And, I must say he is quite welcoming- a perfectly named individual.
After my first meeting with my girls’ group, several young men approached me to inquire why only the girls got a group. Honestly, I didn’t have an answer. Personally, I wanted to see if the group would be successful and also thought a smaller number of people in the group would make it more manageable. But, the boys really seemed interested. Salute was persistent and I told him if he invited everyone and decided a time and date to meet, we could see about a group for boys. Not only did he do this, he has continued to rise above. He is a young teenager and more selfless and concerned about his community than anyone else I have ever met at his age.
After our meeting about SMART goals, he began frequently bringing me notebook pages filled with complex goals he has to fix problems he sees in our village. He asked me to save them for him and to help him decide on action plans. I could go on, but I am paying for every minute of internet I use currently so I should move on.
I leave you with a picture of his brilliant smile. His smile is honestly what first made me approach him and strike a conversation in village.
Next, I am going to highlight a few women who deserve the highest praise and recognition for many reasons. If you’ve been following along with my sporadic posts, you know I don’t speak about homesickness. I moved out of the United States over one year ago. I don’t write about homesickness because I don’t have it. Why? How? That seems bizarre! Well, these women are part of the reason, my village is the other part. I left my family in the states, and if I wasn’t embraced fully by my community, becoming an honorary member of every single household, I think I would be having a much more difficult time. These women in particular make my life every day better.
Meet Kollé, my host sister.
We share a house in village. She taught me a lot when I first came to site- let me tell you there are far more differences than similarities in how we clean bathrooms here. Above all, she is my friend.
This picture is the first day I came back to village after an extended amount of time away. She had saved me lunch and brought it to my room for me. Most recently, she helped me host a dinner party. Many friends who study in other towns came home for their Easter break. I hosted a dinner party and Kollé made it happen. She prepared a delicious meal for all 7 of us. Not to mention, she is a fashionista and sometimes after she gets a new outfit, I go to her tailor with my fabric and tell him to make me exactly what he made for Kollé.
She gave birth to my sidekick Ousmane, the adorable little boy featured in many pictures already and expected to be featured in many upcoming blog, Instagram, and Facebook posts. So, that basically makes her essential in my life because I don’t know what I would do without the daily ‘Adventures of Ousmane’ which never fail keep me laughing.
Meet Marème Thiam.
Just as Meredith had Christina and Batman had Robin, I have Marème Thiam. This woman is actually too remarkable for words. She is an actual angel sent from the heavens.
I almost feel bad for her children as they, by force, have to participate and attend every program I have in village. This, I think, shows her devotion to helping me with my work. If I am having any problem at all, she is there. Here is a picture she had me take because she wanted to be sure my mom in America saw how pretty my outfit was.
Not only is she my mentor, my person, and my family, she also is so admirable. Her children, boys and girls alike know how to cook and do their laundry. This is RARE. Men here do not typically know how to do laundry or cook. She is a wonder woman I tell you.
I had another visitor, but let us direct our attention to the lake in the background as it is pertinent to this next segment.
As hot season is starting, the lake in my backyard looks more and more tempting. I long to go for a good, long swim on a hot day. Especially as I watch so many children frolicking in the water.
To this day, I have yet to go in. Why? Well, the lake causes many cases of schistosomiasis so going in is just asking for a diagnosis. Further, I once saw a pretty scary, large snake skimming the surface. Alas, I have started researching just how bad schistosomiasis can be. I was reconsidering my decision to stay out of the lake. Then, a bunch of village children started asking me if I saw “lebear.” The what? I had never heard this word. I kept asking, then after some time, I finally pieced together what they were asking. The kids wanted to know if I had seen the hippopotamus?!?!?!? What!?!
Ok, decision re-solidified. I am staying out of that murky water. But, I do want to stay just near enough to the water’s edge to snag a snapshot of the gigantic animal if it reappears. (Did you know how fast these animals are on land? Or, that they kill more people than sharks?)
And, as we are talking about decisions and changed decisions, I feel compelled to admit a tremendous recent discovery. Quick refresher, I have a really hard time making simple decisions- blue pen or black pen, water or milk, this restaurant or that restaurant? Well, I just found out that one of the places I frequently go to has two popsicles in one. No more choosing which flavor I want, this has both! Now, my life is so much easier.
This week, I hosted a competition among children in my town. My objective was to clean bedongs. These are containers which we store water in. We use this water for cooking, cleaning, baithing, and drinking. I’ve noticed that often times that inside these containers, we are storing more than just water. We are providing a wonderful environment for multicolored algae, bacteria, mold. So, I hosted a week long competition among children 10+ for the first week of their two week Easter break from school. The turnout was huge! (Mostly because of the allure of a gift for the team of boys and girls that cleaned the most bedongs.)
In 5 days, we cleaned 225 bedongs. And let me tell you, it is not easy work.
I thought I would share some pictures of this project.
The inside of this should be off-white like the outside of the container. See that black and green sludge on inside? It has to be good for your health, right? By the time we used bleach, soap, leaves, sticks, water, rocks and shook it and shook it and shook it some more, the insides of each of these were all but sparkling.
I trusted a teenage boy with the task of taking photos of the event. The result: I got some great pictures of everyone working and also, a lot of pictures of the soccer game happening right next to where we were cleaning bedongs.
First, I would write down every person’s name that came to the event and which team they were on. Then, I would write down how many bedongs they brought and who owned each bedong. (Miraculously, we returned each identical-looking bedong to their correct homes!) After this, I would divvy out bleach and soap for each belong. (I am glad I waited until day three to look up the effects of bleach on your skin for prolonged periods of time… had I looked any earlier I may have cut this program short for the sake of my future hand modeling career.)
And this accurately depicts how the program actually went. See how many kids are touching me in this picture? Now there are about 5 kids not shown who are also yelling my name for me to come and check that their bedong is clean before they rinse out the soap. Then, there are the bedongs being thrust into my face to get soap and bleach. Not to dismiss that there is at least one person braiding or touching my hair throughout the whole event, too.