Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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So many are coming

You can take the girl out of Africa, but you can never take the Africa out of the girl.

Just after I got back from Senegal, one of my girlfriends texted me, “Hey are you done with Africa?!”

I answered politely, “If you mean am I home from Senegal, yes I am.” But even though I knew what she meant, the question bothered me a little. I am never “done” with “Africa”.

In fact, every single day since I’ve been back (not even missing one!), I’ve been fortunate enough to still interact with Senegal on some level. There are countless and unbelievable examples of this.

Some of you know that one of my summer jobs is related to African immigration to Detroit. I’m hired by the University of Michigan Department of History and am involved in a large research project about recent African immigration in Detroit. We are specifically interested in learning about African spaces in Detroit economically and socially. Our method is to conduct interviews with African entrepreneurs and business owners. My main focus is on women African hair braiding salon owners, but I interview other people too.

Currently I’m sitting at a Barnes & Noble. I conducted an interview in Redford (just outside of Detroit), and couldn’t even wait to get home to start putting my thoughts into words. It will probably take me days to mentally process what happened this morning.

For his confidentiality, I won’t give too many details. However, I interviewed a man who inspired me, encouraged me, and ultimately reaffirmed that this passion I have for Africa is real and God-given. At the beginning of the interview I told him I had been to Ghana, his country of origin. His eyes lit up in excitement, because he could stop saying “Africa” when he referred to where he came from — I had heard of Ghana? I knew of Ghana? I had been there?! I had loved his home country.

He wanted to know all about me then. I told him that after the interview we could talk about me, but first, him. After the hour or so interview went past, he said “Okay, so what are you? Who? Tell me.” So I turned off the recorder and told him about myself.

I told him I was an International Studies and African Studies major. I told him that I spent time in Ghana last summer and then recently four months in Senegal. Then I started telling him why and when I knew my heart was for Africa. I told him about Foday. I told him that as a young, naive, innocent little girl, it was half interest and half frustration that started me on this Africa thing, and I haven’t once looked back.

I’ve left Africa and I’m still making grown men cry.

He just cried. They were silent but quick dripping tears. He didn’t wipe his eyes for awhile, just kept listening. After a few minutes he said “Oh you’ve made me cry”. He said that my story and my passion were beautiful. He said I was beautiful.

My favorite part of the whole thing came next. In all my life, I will never forget it. He was asking me about Senegalese love interests. He asked if there was any romance. I said:

“You know, yes. There is some romance. However, I am waiting. I fully trust that God will bring me a Christian man.”

“So many are coming,” he assured me.

At this, we were both beaming. Laughing, but mostly just looking at each other in the eyes with wide, sure grins. The moment was so full of sincerity and peace. Sometimes it’s so hard for me to believe that yes, God is bringing me a perfect Christian man. Not perfect in your definition of “the perfect Christian man”, but a Christian man who understands me and likes me and understands or wants to understand my passions and life goals.

But when this joyful, wise, Christian, loving, encouraging Ghanaian man looks at you with tear filled eyes and tells you that “so many are coming”, guys… you have no choice but to believe him.

We were blessings to each other. He encouraged me and influenced me in ways I would have never imagined as we sat down to the interview, him still being so skeptical of why I wanted to talk to him.

This is my life and my passion. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Learning Wolof: Jabar: dekel, dundal, dekoo. It is a husband’s responsibility to shelter, feed, and satisfy sexually his wife. (While reading a research report about Senegalese hair braiders in the U.S., I came across many interesting Wolof phrases relating to gender and equality both in society and in the household.)

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Empty Wallets, Full Hearts

Once a week I write and turn in an essay about my experiences here. Sometimes the essay topics are chosen for us, sometimes they just must relate to Senegal geography/history/culture, and sometimes they must be a personal reflection. I turn them in in French, but first I write in English in order to organize my thoughts and lay out a map. When I go to translate it into French, some of the sentences’ meanings change a little because of my limited French vocabulary or the non-existence of certain words. Also, when I write the first draft in English, I often choose my words based on what I know I can easily translate into French. Here is the most recent essay I wrote. It needed to be a personal reflection essay, but it’s always good when the essay relates to development which is the focus of the MSID program. The essay is the expansion of a journal entry I wrote near the beginning of my life in Dakar, but since that day I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot and forming an opinion. Here it is.


Empty wallets, full hearts

Since being in Senegal, my ideas and perceptions of many things have changed. My ideas about religion are being challenged, my ideas about myself are being challenged, and my ideas about poverty are being challenged greatly. “Poverty” is one of the first words the typical westerner thinks of when they think about Africa, and “development” is the most commonly proposed solution. Indeed, almost all development scholars include “reduction of poverty” in their definition of development. Since being here I find myself asking questions like, “What is poverty? Why is it an important topic?”

Some friends in the United States, upon hearing that I have a maid at my house here in Senegal, assume my family is rich. I’m not here to talk about my family’s income because truly I don’t know, but consider this scenario: if family A lives on $10 a day and woman B’s family lives on $1 a day, woman B might be willing to work for a wage well within the budget of a $10 a day family. Having a maid doesn’t mean you’re rich, but it means you’re wealthy when compared to someone else in your city. Maybe a family can’t afford a computer but they can afford a maid. Perhaps culturally maids are a higher priority when a family considers what they want to spend their money on.

Now yes, I know that I am in fact living in a relatively wealthy neighborhood in Dakar. But that’s just the thing: this neighborhood is relatively wealthy. Mermoz is wealthy when compared to other neighborhoods in Dakar, and Dakar is wealthy relative to other cities in Senegal. I would argue that relative wealth, and relative poverty, are the only values that are even relevant in a society. Absolute poverty, often expressed in American dollars as people living on less than $1.25 a day, seems almost entirely irrelevant to me. Although it might shed light on how Senegal as a nation compares to other nations in the world economically, it does nothing to talk about an individual’s daily life.

But even if relative poverty values are more relevant than absolute poverty values, I still find myself asking “What is poverty?” I think the more important questions to ask other than “Are these people poor?” are questions like: can they see a doctor if they want to? Can they go to school if they want to? Are they happy? If the answers to questions like these are “yes”, what does it matter how much money is in their bank account?

I’m not suggesting that the discussion of reducing poverty be taken off the table altogether. Surely reducing poverty will probably lend itself to giving people more access to medical treatment, schools, and happiness. However, what if putting more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t lend itself to better access or health? Maybe the infrastructure or the trained doctors aren’t there. What if more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t mean more access to education, if there isn’t a school within walking distance or the teachers are always on strike because of government corruption? What if money is in fact the root of all evil, and that simply more money won’t lead to more happiness? Have we ever seen that casual line between money and happiness proved?

I’m suggesting instead that we stop worrying so much about economic development, particularly on the individual level. Instead, we should ask questions about how many doctors there are, and how accessible clinics are. Are there adequate schools and supplies and are teachers treated well? Are people happy, do they feel empowered, are they free?

I think we are living in an interesting time in history, a time where there are the greatest wealth disparities in the world but the greatest awareness of what exists for the other half. With today’s media, Americans are aware, or at least think they are aware, of the poverty in Africa. Africans are aware of the wealth in the United States, even if the view gets skewed as it travels through the technology waves. But I think that it’s important to critically think about what poverty is so that when we as a world try to fight it, we build up healthier, smarter, and happier people, not bank accounts. Yes, I am living here comfortably. I think anyone could. But my family’s income and whether or not we have a maid does not define poverty. My family in Dakar is wealthy because we can see a doctor when we need to, go to school when we want to, and smile because we’re happy.


Learning French: passer la nuit à la belle étoile, to spend the night under the stars. (I wish.)


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Open air rooms & English schools

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In picture: Cat and I, standing at the western-most point of the African continent. Our professor Waly says if we want to swim home, this is where we jump in.

I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I’ve been in Senegal. So much has happened already that it’s hard to know where to begin!

After a tour of Dakar today, and one class about African economics, I met my host family! I also am fully moved into my new room. My house is beautiful. I had no idea what to expect but this house certainly exceeded any expectations I could have had. Like seemed common in Ghana, the central room of the house is open air. The sky is the ceiling. My family is even better than the house! Although my host mother speaks mostly only Wolof, her son, who is probably in his late twenties or early thirties, speaks French and is learning English. His name is pronounced “Baas”, although I’m unsure of the real spelling. My favorite part of living here so far is that Baas runs a school on the roof of my house! I met the children he teaches today, who were so polite and wonderful. I would say there are about 15 students, with various ages and academic levels. Baas teaches them English, and he is excited to be able to ask me questions when he is unsure about something. I adore small children. I’ve dreamt of teaching English abroad for as long as I can remember. I love open air rooms and beautiful homes. I love living a few houses down from the Atlantic, with sprawling, beautiful beaches. I love Senegal. All of my favorite things are merging and I can’t stop smiling.

Learning Wolof: Suur na, I’m full (when your host mother insists you eat more)