Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, May 19


This past Saturday, I went to an event where I served no purpose. This isn’t new. I’m fairly certain I am invited to these things as both a courtesy to myself and to act as the token white person (somewhere between the “token black guy” made fun of in movies and a trophy wife.) But this isn’t really the point.

I was originally told about an event involving women’s groups and food security projects. The 3rd counselor to the mayor told me about the event, as she is in charge of women’s groups in town. It was supposed to be the previous weekend, but somehow got pushed back to this one. Then I heard people were coming from Dakar. I was in the office when people began toting in mass amounts of fruits and vegetables… “For display?”

I was told to come back Saturday morning before 8a and to be dressed in my nice Senegalese cloths. I did this… all the way to the office I was harassed because of my dress. It’s semi normal to see a white person in my town. It’s not normal to see them dressed like Africans. Cat calls, derogatory slurs, and full body checks. Great start to my day. As if things could get better, when I got to the office people found the most impolite ways of ordering me around, do something for them in preparation. In typical Senegalese fashion, no one was prepared and everyone was running around printing last minute signs, setting up breakfast tables, and organizing food preparation.

The men sat around doing nothing, also typical, while the women did the heavy lifting, literally. After shuffling down stairs with a rather large heavy box, getting laughed at for my lack of grace, I couldn’t take it and spoke up. “You’re sitting only.” Yes. “This box is heavy, you should help me.” They laughed. I left the box sitting there. I figured if someone wanted to sit their ass down on that seat, then they can move it themselves. This is a fine example of typical lazy old man syndrome.

Anyway, things eventually got around to starting, once the caravan from Dakar arrived. Come to find out, our guests consisted of the entire mayor’s office of a city called Dalifort located just on the edge of Dakar. Newly separated from Dakar, this delegation was looking to Mboro to act as a sister to help them develop as a city; a twinning of the two cities, as they say in French. The event kicked off with introductions, photos, and prier. Followed was a tour of the mayor’s office and breakfast. At this point, only the top council to the mayor from my town stuck around. All the lazy old men left (thanks for nothing). Everyone else went on a tour of Mboro: see the different neighborhoods, the youth center, and the women’s group food transformation plant. I too ducked out of this, but only to head to other meetings I had scheduled for the day.

When I was available to join the party once more, I caught up with them at the country club lounge in the western neighborhood we have left over in town from the days of westerners running the factory. We’re talking air conditioning, white linens… the works. Apparently they’d split into groups to discuss the 3 different facets of the project proposal: health, education, and sports/culture (apparently this had nothing to do with women’s groups as I was originally told). I was starting to get the impression they had chosen these general areas at almost random (though they are important) as a method of developing committees to figure out how to work together.

When these sub committees had been formed, and topics discussed, we had lunch. This was done at my counterpart (according to Peace Corps)’s house also located in the same community. The food was amazing, yassa with mountains of vegetables and two whole chickens per bowl. I ate with our mayor, the mayor of Daliford, and two other men. There was so much food. Afterward we enjoyed pieces of cut fruit with cool lumpy sugar milk and guava juice. In an uncharacteristically Senegalese fashion, we did not sit around long after lunch- there was no siesta- but instead when back to the club room to continue meetings.

The afternoon session consisted of what started as a short summary of the committees’ progress given by one member from each team… but quickly turned into a debate. Anyone who wasn’t a part of the presenting committee had something to say about it. What was important, and what wasn’t. In the end, I’m fairly certain that this process took longer than the committees themselves had spent discussing their own topics. Interesting way of going about it, I suppose, but I can’t say I haven’t seen that in the corporate first world.

At some point, I was called aside and “dismissed.” We were wrapping up, I was told, and it wasn’t necessary for me to stay around anymore. What it ever necessary? And I thought to myself on the walk back to my own neighborhood that I don’t know how much was really going to be accomplished by this twinning of cities. By the end of the last discussion, everyone had seemed to come to the agreement that this year each city would continue its activities as normal; however the other city would be invited to attend and be privy to information concerning the management of those activities.

And this is how one describes a formal meeting to organize future formal meetings, or more concisely starting a project in Senegal.

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