Monday, September 28, 2009

The American Dream

September 27, 2009

We only had class in the morning today which left me with plenty of time to sit under a tree with my mom this afternoon. Since I now can hold a somewhat comprehensible conversation in Wolof, my mom is a lot nicer to me and potentially even wants to talk to me sometimes. Today she was telling me about the educational system here in Senegal. From what I understood public schools, the one’s the government pays for, is only offered for seven years and the kids only go to class in the morning. These are the schools my siblings go to. My mom told me herself that they are terrible schools, but that the family doesn’t have enough money to pay for the better private schools. It was actually really, really sad because she effectively told me that it will be impossible for my brothers to ever find meaningful or well paid work. She told me all of this very matter of factly.

While I wish that my siblings could go to the best schools Senegal had to offer, I also take offense that my family thinks American’s are spoon fed and have infinite amounts of cash. I’m not going to pretend that I can comprehend what growing up here, pretty much destitute, would be like, but it does amaze me that people don’t think American’s work. Here, people are resigned to never making any money or improving their station in life. They think The American Dream, that you can be successful, is just the reality and that hard work and perseverance isn’t involved. I have definitely grown up in a privileged house hold, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t work my ass off to get into a good school and that the rest of my life will be an easy path filled with money, candy, and rainbows.

A couple nights ago when I was sitting with my youngest brother and his friends, I tried to impress upon them the fact that yes, Americans do have to work very hard to get what we want and that everyone isn’t born rich and is best friends with Rihanna. I know it’s extremely difficult for them to look at me and not think the US if a magical playground of fun, but it’s also very frustrating. It’s frustrating that they get angry when I don’t understand Wolof. Sorry, I’ve been here for 6 weeks and you don’t speak any English.

It’s also amazing to me that I walk the same route everyday and still scare and amaze small children, adolescents, and adults alike. The same people scream Toubab, toubab, TOUBAB, Toubab, toubab, TOUBAB at me every single day. Yes, I am a toubab. Yes, I say hi to you everyday. Why do you still find it amazing that I’m a toubab? It barely registers in my mind when I see a person of another race in the US so it’s really interesting to me that after 6 weeks people aren’t used to my presence.

I wish that I could convey to my family that I’m living my American Dream. That you have to get out there and make things happen for yourself. I understand that most kids here can’t even image the world beyond their village and that they don’t get the same encouragement from their parents that many kids in the US have and that they don’t have the history of the US to look at… that people have brought themselves up from nothing. To people here, everyone in the US drinks a special KoolAid and then everything’s great.

I hope when I get to my post I can find people who are motivated and have faith that hard work will accomplish something. Unfortunately, too many people here are disillusioned…
Sorry for the blah post. Pictures are also updated and they are awesome!


  1. Alyssa, that fact that you left your "cushy life" should help your family realize the fact that you have to work hard in life. Why is it that they think you are there?

    Uncle Rich

  2. I am impressed that you said that you "are living my American dream" - the life you are describing is not what many people would call any kind of dream - well, maybe a bad dream.

    I thought of you today during Yom Kippur services. As I was thinking of the life we lead, of the advantages we have, and of being hungry, I wondered what you were doing and how you were feeling. I know you didn't fast or listen to the mournful Kol Nidre tune, but did you get to mark the day at all? I included you in my Mi Shabarach prayers. I hope you find ease in your decision to stay in Senegal and that you are able to work on the project you choose and that it is successful and satisfying.

  3. I know this is a very meaningful and insightful post. But all i can think right now is Don't drink the KoolAid!