Filed under: Village Life
I’m standing in a kitchen, waiting for the seconds to tick down on the humming microwave so I can pull out my handsome reward, a steaming bowl of oatmeal. My hip is leaning against the tiled countertop. My mind wanders as I passively note the magnets populating the refrigerator; it’s the run-of-the-mill kind with the smaller freezer door on top and a fake wood grain handle on its left side. It all seems so mundane, from the white silver-handled cabinets hiding nestled plates and bowls to the frosted light fixture gazing over the room from above. Then, the deep, throaty “BAH” of a ram tethered up outside brings me back to reality.
This non-traditional siren reminds me that I’m not in America. I’m not playing the role of America Renee, waking up from 8 hours of restful sleep in a temperature controlled room to a breakfast prepared by the magical zap of micro-waves. Nope. I’m now Senegal Renee. For the past year and a half, I’ve been sleeping on a 4 inch thick foam mattress, which lies on top of a woven plastic mat, which lies on top of the cement foundation next to my hut and only steps away from the pen where my family’s sheep stay the night. I bathe out of a bucket. I lounge under neem trees. Pillows are a luxury. Meals are prepared in a huge iron pot over a roaring open fire.
I’m just a visitor in this nice kitchen, like so many other kitchens across Dakar, Senegal’s relatively luxurious capital city (the word “relatively” is important here for those of you who have been to Dakar). How does one reconcile these different lifestyles? I could jump in a car right now and drive in almost any direction and find huts, the thatched roof kind, begging children with their skin diseases, traditional healers, herders staring towards their herds in the distance with tooth sticks protruding from their mouths. Dakar is like a different planet, because here the local flavor changes dramatically: here, there are Rich Senegalese People.
These curious specimens…Rich Senegalese Women actually wear high heels because there is actually pavement. The Men wear ties to work, with glasses so they can see clearly (almost unheard of in villages). They drive nice cars and go to dance clubs on Saturday nights. They eat their meals at kitchen tables with utensils, instead of out of a communal bowl on the ground with their hands. These Rich Senegalese People would probably relate much more to America Renee than to Senegal Renee. “Why would you want to live in the north where’s its hot?” they might ask, “Why would you want to live in a village where life is harder?”
Sometimes, when I see them in their natural habitat (eating pizza at a restaurant, standing in line at the bank) I wonder how they got there. They seem so removed from the new normal that I’ve become accustomed to in the villages. Did they go to university? Do they watch movies with friends? Have they seen how the majority in their country live? And what do they think about it? They are the privileged few.
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