Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, January 31

American Dream

Over the past few weeks I've been preparing for a speech I was to give at the local high school. The English classes were to have a special seminar with a few Western guest speakers about the American Dream. My Senegalese supervisor, also an English teacher at the school, asked me to prepare something as a guest speaker. I was asked to give my point of view as the sole American at the event in an inspiring way so that the Senegalese students would learn to dream, too.

I happily obliged. I wrote my own reflections, googled definitions and clichés, consulted family and friends, and even made notes on the perfect success story of a close friend making his dream come true. The gist of which was that "dream" is an outdated term because with hard work and dedication your dream is merely a goal yet to be achieved. And while I was working on this grand speech I was bombarded with examples of people who needed to hear it.

My brothers and their friends wanted me to do their English homework for them. One brother wants me to basically find and apply to a University in England (and accompanying scholarships) for him. Amazingly, they all seem to be so annoyed and frustrated when I tell them no. I explained that they could ask me questions and I'd explain when they don't understand. And, I would correct their English sentences or letters to University administrators. But still, they were appalled that I wouldn't just do it for them. They acted as though they didn't have the time to what's been asked of them, and it will never get done if I DON'T do it. Perhaps you can understand why I was tempted to invite them to this event.

The day before, however, when I call my supervisor to confirm place and time, he told me they were going to rest and NOT have the event on the scheduled day. What happened? Are we rescheduling? When were you going to tell me?

At this point, I reference Senegalese culture in the art of not answering a question. If one doesn't want to say, they will answer a different un-posed question or say they can't understand my French. I've tried to push before, but I find that when cornered, the Senegalese will lie, saying what they think you want to hear, to get you to drop the issue. In conclusion, I got no answers about what happened, only that I now have my Saturday afternoon free.

There's no saying whether or not I would've actually gotten my message across, but then I remember the fun quip "You never know until you try." Which in this case I take to mean, I can't just give in to the guilt trips and question dodging. I've got to stick it out for 2 years and try like hell to share with anyone who'll listen. At the very least, maybe I get my brother to get himself to England.

And so, when I think about why it is that I'm so upset this American Dream event got canceled, I have to admit to myself that it's not because of the time I've spent researching and writing my remarks, nor the shadiness of its' cancellation, it's because of the lost opportunity to share that part of my culture that explains to these young kids why Americans live by stupid clichés like "Nothing is free," "Time is money," "Life isn't fair," and "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need..."

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