December 06, 2004

I'm back!

So I've been gone for a measly little week and all I hear from you people is "How come you didn't update your blog", "where are you, I miss your posts", "I'm near-suicidal from not having any news from you". Sheesh people, get a grip (actually no one noticed I was gone, sob...).

Where have I been you ask? I went to Mbour, a little resort town on the east Coast of Senegal full of tourists, resorts and artificial African dancing. Did I enjoy my time at the beach, by the palm trees, while being served fruit cocktails? Excellent question my friends. I didn't actually go for ENJOYMENT. Noooo. I went to participate in a workshop on the response of the Ministries of Education of 9 West African countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. So that must have been exciting huh? Nope, it was actually horrendous. OK so I'm exaggerating a little bit here. Basically, it was a week-long conference populated with professors who are used to being listened to.

Typical comment : "Well, honorable person A, respected person B, honorable person C, Ministry of health of countries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, organizers and fellow participants, if I may please humbly impart my opinion of this matter. When one considers the issues about the the teachers, and here I open a parenthesis to say that their job is a particularly hard one especially in the realm of..., are the key to..." on and on for ten minutes.

Translation of typical comment : "teachers have a hard job".

Jeeze! Did you really have to be so verbose to say that? Now imagine that typical comment X 150 participants X 5 days. Now you can begin to understand why I was considering driving nails through my eyes to alleviate the pain. Oh the insanity!

I did get to meet some great people though. The Mauritanians looked so smart and practical in their oxford shirts and overlapping long flowing and embroidered tops like herdsmen in the desert. They told us that scorpion bites were not fatal, just very painful (and they should know, they’ve been bitten 7 times) but that the desert hold spiders that are so deadly that one only has time to say “ouch!…”. They told me that tea should only be made on a traditional stove where the heat starts off high and gradually cools down.

I got a chance to discuss polygamy with women, after months of hearing its benefits from the men. And let me tell you men, women are not as enthused as you are about the notion of sharing their men with other wives. As a matter of fact, when it seems like your 3 wives are getting along, it’s probably because there are laughing and discussing how stoopid you are. Sorry to burst your bubble but women do not like polygamy. End of story.

Halfway through the week, I started feeling like men had joked way too often about the possibility of me becoming their second wife. Whereas I used to laugh at the notion and shrug it off, I now find myself answering, “sorry I can’t marry you, I’d love to but my parents would be upset if I became someone’s second wife”. If they insist, I have to remind them that my religion forbids it. I had to decline an invitation to walk along the beach with a middle-aged man. It's far from the first time.

On Thursday I saw a huge reptile scurrying along the road. And by huge, I mean huge. It was the size a small Alligator in Florida. No joke. I wonder what it eats to become so big. I hope it’s not white health workers.

Just as we left, 4 buses full of tourists (you can recognize them by their shorts, excruciatingly white hairy legs, baseball caps, bad hair dies and oh-so-cool-I-paid-more-for-these-than-your-annual-salary sunglasses). They were welcomed by cheers, drumming, “traditional” African dancing and a warm handshake from the organizers. I was actually jealous of this reception! Where was my “thanks for helping us prevent HIV/AIDS” handshake?

On the way back, I decided to take the communal participant bus back to Dakar. It’s a blessing I didn’t have a headache because the participants were loud, brash and in a joking mood (to tell you the truth, they were probably just relieved to be out of the conference). Our luggage was on top of the swaying bus and I was anxiously glaring at the people congregating around the bus each time it would stop. I had a long time to look at the scenery on the way back. Life here is really lived outside: it’s where people keep their goats, braid each other’s hair, carve wood to make pirogues, mend their fences to keep the goats out of the road, hang huge slabs of fly-covered meat (and then quickly paint the word “Butchers” on the hook next to it), chill out by a palm tree or a baobab, shine other people’s shoes and sell 3-day old newspapers. I also saw unnaturally bright orange termite mounds, white mountains of salt, telecenters (consisting of a chair and a telephone), Alimentation General stores (full of rickety shelves with cans of vegetables next to old batteries next to coca cola bottles, next to sacks of wheat).
I was actually relieved to smell the decomposing fish and open sewer odor that is Dakar.


Elza said...

I enjoyed reading your blogs, its informative. You are making such a contribution to the world and I wish you success.

007 in Africa said...

Thanks Elza! I'm not too sure that I'm making a positive contribution, which can be very frustating at times. But I'm enjoying myself while I'm here.