More Travelling and Frustrations
Trip Start Dec 28, 2007
6Trip End Jan 15, 2008
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We stopped on the way to look at one of the big mosques built by Amadou Bamba. This group of children surrounded us and wanted us to take their picture. While they ran around, my butt was touched for the 2nd time and I was unnerved for a bit. This began to fade as I interacted with them and how that they really enjoyed seeing the picture on the camera screen. They were fascinated by the technology and would try to jump into any picture we were taking.
We met with another religious leader who was very found of America. He repeated the same message of a common humanity, yet he also went so far as to say how he understood that the Americans were trying to help unite the Arabs in the Middle East. I questioned his logic, but as he showed us a picture of his son in the US military, I understood that perhaps this was his way of rationalizing his son's profession.
We got back on the bus and continued to Touba. We were planning on meeting with the great grandson of Amadou Bamba. (Here I should interject that the khalif has died and many were journeying to this holy city. We were originally going to cancel the trip, but went through with it, knowing that the city would be backed.) When we came to his compound we learned that he was visiting his father who was to become the next khalif. We were very excited and hoped that we would get to talk with both and express our condolences.
These hopes were quickly shattered as we approached the meeting place. The women were all sitting outside and though the group was allowed in, all the girls and Professor O'Donnell had to sit on another mat. We were so far away from the leader that we could not understand a word and could barely see because our male peers had to sit in front of us. (The hearing issue was consistent because of the quiet manner of the West Africans. I can see where the stereotype of the loud American comes in comparison. While it can be rude, projection is always helpful when traveling with such a large group.) the majority of the time we just sat there while Professor Roberts talked with him. The boys were given the opportunity to be introduced and shake his hand. Professor Roberts indicated that we would be allowed to approach for recognition, but somehow this was dropped as the leader quickly gave us a benediction. (Professor Roberts later explained that unlike our other discussions, the leader was simply receiving condolences on behalf of his grandfather.)
While we were standing around and waiting for Professor Roberts, the children would not stop asking us for money (a fact which seemed to undermine the pretense of holiness about the place). "Argent! Argent" they repeated incessantly. I was frustrated by my status as a second class citizen except when being solicited (for money). For a second I snapped, turning to the boy in front of me as a sharply said: "Nous n'avons pas d'argent. Arrêtez à demander... s'il vous plait." I'm not sure why, but it worked and the group left me alone (though they continued pestering my peers). I supposed there was some degree of authority in my voice and I took a little comfort in my victory.
We also got the opportunity to talk with a woman from an NGO who was currently focusing on environmental issues. It was nice to hear her perfect English and her optimism about the progress they are making in Senegal. She had worked with Professor Roberts when he was in the Peace Corps and had many connections among the various organizations in the area. Because of the time constraint, many of her response were overgeneralized and we did not get the chance to see how they were actually making a difference.
Because of the swarms of people we could not even stop the bus to take a picture of the grand mosque in Touba. Some tried to take a few from the back of the bus, but the greatness of the city was lost on me. I was frustrated by my experience, which was only some alleviated when a man let us use the bathrooms in his large house.
We remained on the bus until we stopped for gas and found a reasonably priced restaurant there. Being somewhat adventurous, I opted for the hamburger "complet" with a fried egg on it. What I didn't realize is that it would be covered in onions, French fries, ketchup and mayonnaise-all sandwiched between the buns. Yes, they do put French fries on their sandwiches. I supposed since they call them "chips" it might be considered some variation of putting actual potato chips on a sandwich, but with all the condiments they just add to the sogginess. So I ended up eating just the burger.
It is impossible to convey how long we were on the bus and my overall dissatisfaction with the trip at the time. It seemed as if we were always traveling or waiting and that nothing actually happened. I had been hoping to do something, make a difference, interact with people, yet my status as a female toubab presented more barriers than I had expected. We got to the hotel in the late afternoon and its luxuriousness somewhat made up for my mood. We were all excited to find that it had a pool (albeit with freezing cold water, but a pool nonetheless). We tossed the ball around, making fools of ourselves as we made up games and ended up in a cutthroat water polo game. Refreshed by both the cool water and the exercise, I took a quick shower before dinner. We were served steak and chips, and though the meat was a bit tough, I would soon miss such meals. Olivia explained (after getting the opportunity to talk with the cook) that the meat was first boiled in butter before being grilled with herbs.
At the time however, I was disappointed that this was our "buffet dinner" and that we could not even choose our meals for ourselves. I was missing the independence that I had in England and did not realize how necessary such arrangements were when serving a large group. (I wish some of my complaining customers could go to a restaurant in West Africa, then they would know the real meaning of a long wait. Dinner seems to go on for hours.)
Much of our time after dinner was spent trying to persuade Michael to talk to this supposedly Lebanese (but definitely French speaking) girl. We joked around giving him cheesy pick-up lines in French and persuading him to use the one line he knew in French from Muzzy-"je suis la jeune fille" (I am a young girl)- with his horrific accent. Ultimately we were unsuccessful. We all chipped in to split an hour of internet and I was able to send my first email (which reflected much of my frustration at the time). It was difficult to type because the keys were different and I often had to backtrack. I realized then that I had never used a computer when I went to France and so I had no experience whatsoever with a non-English keyboard.
We sat around for a while-our group slowly dwindling so that it became more intimate-talking about relationships, love, and opinions on a variety of subjects. It was truly fascinating. I have a hard time tearing myself away in order to get a chance to write, especially when I am forced to reflect on such frustrating events. If nothing else, the camaraderie of the group can somewhat compensate for the other slights I have experienced so far.