Monday, April 18, 2011

T-minus 3 Weeks

Life has been busy the last several weeks as I’m wrapping up and I haven’t had a whole lot of time to reflect on what these eight months have meant.  Here’s a first attempt.

I’m pretty sure the work has been great.  I say ‘pretty sure’ because I don’t think I’ll know what I really have until I get back to the States and begin sifting through my data.  I think I’ve got the makings of a dissertation, though I’m sure I’ve missed some glaring issue.  Luckily, there’s a fabulous Peace Corps Volunteer in M’Bour who has agreed to help collect any missed information.

What is undoubtedly true, however, is that people here are engaged in a pretty heroic struggle to make ends meet, and very often, the ends don’t meet.  One woman in my study, who tells me she is 27, collects metal and then sells it for 100 cfa/kilogram.  Over a period of 2 to 3 days, she’ll collect 20 to 30 kilograms, and make 2000-3000 cfa.  That’s translates to 4 to 6 dollars for 3 days of heavy, dangerous work and miles of walking.  She estimates that they need, for their family of 6, at least 2000 cfa/day.  All of that is for food.  There’s a long back story about how she and her family have arrived in this place, but that’s not really what I want to highlight.  What strikes me about the people in my study, most of who face challenges that I will never experience, is how little they complain and how they walk into each day with graceful determination to provide for their families.  It seems to me that most people in America think of Africa as a continent of victims, but the people I know are not victims.  They don’t want handouts; they want a fair shake.  I don’t think they’ll get that fair shake as long as non-Africans keep setting the terms and creating the solutions. 

It is hard for me to express how proud I am of my children, and I’ll need to write a longer more reflective essay to dig into what they mean to me and how I see them emerging from this experience.  Suffice it to say, they are amazing people, and they rose to the challenge of being here, even though the rising was often accompanied by kicking and screaming and weeping.  They say they hate it here, though I wonder that they will miss it after a while.  I think they’ve each processed their experience in their own unique way, and they express their opinions in honest, sometimes brutal, ways.  They are both wonderfully loving and, luckily for me, very articulate about what they want from me.  They’ve both made their mark on the corner, and they will be missed.

As for me, I am, today, content.  I like being here and feel grateful for it.  I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do.  But, I also feel like I’ve aged here.  I look in the mirror and am surprised, sometimes, by what I see.  And then I look again, and am still surprised.  I guess this is what on-the-cusp-of-43 looks like, and sometimes I worry about my future of solitude except for the 10,000 cats.  I know that worrying away my days is not really the way I want to spend my life, though.  I’ve got a lot, and it’s high time I started appreciating it more.  If I’ve learned anything from the Senegalese and my children, it’s that worrying is a fruitless activity.  Better just to walk into the day, and do what I can do, knowing full well that it doesn’t matter all that much.  But, there’s no other choice except to do it, and to be grateful for the people I meet along the way.

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