Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Couple of Conversations

Over the past couple of days I've been having some very interesting and very intense conversations. Everything started with Dioss a few days ago when we were talking about the Senegalese/ French educational system and then digressed into a discussion about the West and Africa and race. All of these conversations have been fascinating.

Conversation with Dioss

Fortunately, I feel like I can say pretty much everything with Dioss and he will either give me the time and the latitude to explain myself or realize that I have a fairly limited vocabulary and give me the time to use circumlocution. A fairly boring and ordinary discussion of the French/ Senegalese education system versus the American system started the conversation although he was shocked about how many arts and crafts American students usually do. From this point he asked me why I would ever go back to the US after living in Senegal, which he described as peaceful and calm. I explained that there are many (maybe several) aspects of Senegalese culture which I really enjoy (family meals, eating lots of mangoes, gossiping with my sister, etc), but that Senegal is not the calm oasis for me that it is for him. I told him that every time I walk out the door that people are screaming at me, asking me for money, and hurling racial slurs at me. I think this surprised him a little bit because I've walked around Thies with him and this obviously doesn't happen. When we walk around together I assume other people think that we are husband and wife and that he has a toubab (read sexy) white wife. All this aside, Dioss and I talked about how the he believes the Senegalese are very accepting. While there are ethnic groups they can all coexist.

The hard part about this for Americans to understand is that the ethnic groups in Senegal call each other out. They scream "hey, you pulaar," come here or "you're a Wolof, you eat a lot of rice (ha ha ha)." I've been thinking about this a lot since it's completely unacceptable to call out an Asian person on the streets of the US. I've been trying to come to terms with whether verbally stating someone's ethnicity is different than the non-verbal, socioeconomic, and defacto-discrimination and segregation that exists in the United States today. I know to me, it is very difficult being called different every day all day, but I'm also the majority at home.

Conversation at Peace Corps

I went to Peace Corps today to answer questions during the Islam discussion for the new stage. It was completely unnecessary that I be there, but it was fascinating listening to this discussion about being an outsider, being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, and being a woman after being here for the better part of 8 months. I now see all the s and nuance with which the Senegalese PC staff speak and how much different life is once a PCV is installed at site.

Conversation at the Post Office

I got a package today from Matt! Yay! Thank you Matt! And had to wait at the post office for forever and a half for the customs guy to show up so I was talking to one of my friends. Our conversation started off very similarly to the one I had with Dioss about why would I ever leave the calm of Senegal. I told him that it's not calm for me and he tried to explain that people just call me racial slurs and toubab because they think I'm French and he went into much greater detail that I had ever heard before. He makes a huge distinction between France and the rest of the West because he believes the French exploited the Senegalese more than anyone else and the sin of selling Africans into slavery is much greater than buying slaves, as the Americans did. He kept coming back around to how Americans and myself, not in a creepy way, are so much different. After 8 months in country I "speak" Wolof while he claims there are generations of French people who don't speak Wolof, live amongst Senegalese, or don't eat ceebu jenn (aka the ultimate sin). He really wanted me to believe that people call me terrible names on the street just because I'm white and therefore they think I'm French and that they wouldn't do this if they knew I'm American like he does. This doesn't make me feel any better.

All of these conversations were just exceedingly interesting. How the Senegalese perceive race is just so different from how American's deal with it and it's really hard for me to wrap my head around the difference and understand it when I feel like I'm being harassed. In this post I'm not making any conclusions, these are merely observations...

Things That Made Me Smile Today:

1. Khady has been wearing fake lashes for the past couple of days with huge rhinestones. When I say fake I mean I have no idea how she actually sees now because the lashes are so long. Today one of the pairs of lashes had fallen off. Therefore, she had one that was normal and one eye that sported huge fake lashes with even bigger fake rhinestones. LOVE.
2. A package from Matt!
3. Thinking I'm going to meet Kether and Emily at the bar and finding the a lot of the new stage sitting there as well.
4. Walking into Khady's room and catching her intently working on the Dora the Explorer puzzle I gave Ahmed a few days ago.
5. Coming home tonight to the smell of burnt weave. Delicious.

Sorry if this is disjointed! And I will be in Dakar tomorrow so no post! Until Thursday!

1 comment:

  1. Whoa what a fascinating day! One thing is certain ...your friends are becoming more comfortable with you. These kinds of conversations are only possible when there is trust in a relationship.
    I have to send another puzzle!