Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Market

A blog about "being where we are" when we're in Africa has to include something about the market.  The market is a reality of daily life throughout Africa.  I'm convinced you can learn all you need to know about a particular place in Africa just by hanging out at the market and asking the right questions.  It is chaotic, loud, smelly, sometimes dangerous, exhausting, colorful, dirty, surprising and just about any other interesting adjective you can think of.  You need the right frame of mind when you go to the market.  You need a 'water off a duck's back' frame of mind.  It is the center of economic activity of a place.  It is also the center of social activity.  Prices are never fixed, and white folks tend to pay more than locals (as they should, in my opinion).  Talk about free market and the invisible hand--though it sometimes feels as though that invisible hand is picking up the nearest stick and beating you like a stubborn donkey.

You can learn what's important to people here, not just by what they buy and sell, but also by how deals get done.  I do love the market, even if I tend to avoid it. 

Sorry for the vertigo in this next one. I thought about editing it out, but it kind of gives a sense of how chaotic the market can be...especially when trying to watch out for two kids who aren't all the familiar with the market.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The People in Our Neighborhood

I write this, in part, to try to pop myself out of this funk I am in.  The power and water situation is grating on me.  I didn’t realize how much it raised my stress level until we were at a hotel last weekend and we didn’t have to worry at all about the power going off.  Instead of writing a depressing entry about how, um…depressing it all is, I’m going to attempt to celebrate the people around us, who have given so much of themselves both to me and to my children. 

First off is Khady Faye.  I hired Khady as the maid, but she really has become part of our family.  I leave the kids with her when I scoot off to visit gardeners.  She cooks for us every day, does our laundry, and cleans our house.  But, more than that, she’s also become a trusted advisor.  When stuff happens, I go to Khady to ask her opinion about what I should do and how I should handle myself.  She counsels me with clear and practical advice, and I usually try to follow it as closely as a given situation allows.  She has become especially close to Grace, and though I worry that Khady is spoiling Grace, I worry more about how sad it will be for both of them when we leave.  When Khady goes to the market, she very often buys sweet things for Grace.  She is more tolerant of Grace’s antics then she should be, and finds ways to indulge her at every turn.  At this very moment, Grace is helping Khady in the kitchen.  They chatter at each other, understand each other more often than not, and laugh at the misunderstandings.  Khady is free and easy with her smiles and her laugh, and Grace really enjoys sitting with her and teasing her.  I think it took Khady more time to warm up to Eli, and they still don’t really hang out, but she has watched him closely and has sought to understand him.  What was a difficult relationship at first has evolved into one of mutual understanding and respect, and I am extremely appreciative of her loving ways with both my kids.  She understands them, and maybe even loves them, as very different people, and she treats them each in the way that they want to be treated.  I think she has made our house into a safe place to be, even when I’m not here, and for that I’m extremely appreciative.

Then there are “The Men” as we’ve come to refer to them.  Modou and Thierno are guardians in nearby houses.  Bouba is a friend of Modou and Theirno, as well as the kids’ tutor.  These men are the reason I feel comfortable letting my children hang out in the street.  They are men, of course, who live in a male-dominated society, so they sometimes say eyeroll-inducing things.  But, they always listen to my opinions, which probably very often seem downright scandalous. I think they have also gotten used to my delivery, which can seem rather emphatic.  We have talked about all sorts of stuff, including perceptions of men and women, culture, politics, and sex.  They, too, appreciate how different my children are from each other.  They assess each honestly, and what I might take as an insult in America, is said here more as an objective observation.  They play soccer with Elijah, and ooo and ahhhh over Grace’s new shoes, new dress, or new hairstyle.  They talk with my children; they are interested in them as people.  They are gentle and tolerant (sometimes too much so) with them.  One of my favorite ‘vignettes’ is seeing from a distance, upon my return home at around 6pm, the silhouettes of my kids and the men against the setting sun of the western sky as they play in the street.

What these people really make me realize is how important it is for children to have a wide swath of people in their lives to whom they can turn, whom they can observe, and with whom they can interact.  I know that I am not enough for my children.  I think they will be better -adjusted adults if they learn how to be with diverse personalities throughout their lives.  I also think we discover ourselves in other people, and I love that my kids are being challenged to do that here.  It can be bumpy and difficult, but it forces them to be different ways, to be flexible, and to see multiple facets of good.  It teaches them not only to be ‘tolerant’ but to be appreciative of people who have really different ideas and who have really different personalities.  It also teaches them, I think, that being who they are is just fine.