Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, September 1

Dissecting Agressive

The other day I was at the garage with some friends and the “head guy” pinched my friend’s chin like one would for an adorable baby or toddler. Except my friend is an adult, and he was clearly being condescending in the way he did it. Add to that he used his left hand to do it, which is horribly offensive around here. The situation escalated from there. We all got involved. I drew my fist back like I was going to throw a punch while saying “If you touch my friend one more time…” and he flinched. But when the other men started laughing, head honcho got uber upset and drew his fist back too. I took a few steps forward. He took some back. But then realized it, and took one forward. I’ve become Wolof as of late and no, I didn’t flinch.

This got me thinking about the typical aggressive Wolof characteristic. The Wolof people are aggressive all the time. When two people are talking, and you don’t speak the language, it’s hard NOT to assume they’re fighting about something in the “life or death” category of subjects. When I first got here, the most impressionable experience I had in this concept was the 30 minutes of crying and screaming I sat through at the Mayor’s office only to discover the woman doing these things was ticketed for not paying the tax on her space in the market. Huh.
They are not aggressive by nature, but by culture. They act that way to fit in, like the guy in the garage who wasn’t supposed to back down. Is this a survival tactic; a means of conquering land or acquiring food? I speculate that this goes all the way back to a time of “he who carries the biggest stick”… So is everyone carrying a stick these days?

Another form of stick measuring is in the way one drives. There are no traffic signs or formal rules of the road. What is discernable is that the most aggressive driver has the right of way. If two people pull up to an intersection, the one who guns it first and fastest wins, often narrowly missing the other vehicle’s bumper. If a driver wishes to change lanes he does so without notice to fellow drivers and whenever he so chooses. If you’re the other driver occupying that space you have two options: 1) You slam on your breaks and let the car in or 2) You speed up, honk the horn, and make hand gestures to make the competition aware of your presence in the coveted space. If you choose the later, you’ve just engaged in a game of chicken with the other driver… and best of luck with that.

But the longer I’m here the more I think that for most of them it’s a mere front. I’ve discovered this in a few Senegalese people I’ve observed or gotten to know. When they are tasked with continuing their line of aggression they don’t prevail. They relax and smile; they back down (macho head garage guy excluded). They are the type NOT go on blinding believing them self to be utterly correct in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary. This- this idea of being not always right, not shoving opinions down throats, of having an open mind- is a seemingly rare trait in my current life.

But, they do exist! These are the people I naturally gravitate towards working with. The ones that don’t bother me about whether or not I’m fasting and try to turn my response into a religious debate. The ones that don’t bug me to wear Senegalese cloths all the time only to harass me more when I actually do it. The people that take the time to ask me why I do the things I do, about my culture, and how I would change Senegal. People that treat me like an adult with valid opinions; these are my friends and colleagues. Is that really too much to ask for? It’s not like I didn’t have this problem in the States, which gets me thinking: does everyone have a little Wolof in them?

No comments:

Post a Comment