Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Vignettes

The trash truck arrives about three times a week.  Dakar is one of those areas where you wouldn't dream of leaving your trash outside overnight, much less for a few hours in the day because of scavengers (both human and animal).  To be fair, the animals are just searching for food and are rather courteous while the humans will strew the trash all over the place looking for a broken cell phone. 

To alert the residents, the trash truck gives its signal when it arrives on the street:  multiple blasts on an air horn.  We're not talking a pleasant little honk; we're talking a driver laying on the horn for a count of five, followed by several repetitive blasts.  I'm not sure if you've ever been awakened by an air horn at 7:00 am, but it would seem to be a bit more user friendly if they just established something called "a schedule" for when they will pick up the trash.

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From a physical perspective, young Senegalese women are some of the most beautiful women in the world.  They dress well, have incredibly expressive eyes and are usually very physically fit.  Yet I have rarely seen a middle-aged Senegalese woman who might be considered physically beautiful.  It's almost as if they go from age 25 to age 50 immediately after having children and there are no women between at any ages in between.

Some women might find that comment offensive, but I mentioned it to a Senegalese woman who said, "It takes a lot of work to keep up appearances, so once the women get married they just sit around, get fat and have more babies."

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The Presidential motorcade often drives through Dakar.  Military men are stationed every 100 yards on both sides of the street for the entire length of the President's travels.  The motorcade is led by two Gendarme motorcyclists who make a first pass through the route in order to clear traffic.  Afterward, the motorcyclists circle back and join to other police motorcyles, four S.U.V.'s, two limosines, two vehicles with the President's license plate, an ambulance and a military vehicle - plus the official car of whatever dignatary they are escorting. 

The military men stand in place until the President's journey is complete.  They are then picked up one-by-one by a second military vehicle.  The Presidential vehicles have curtains on the windows, ostensibly so would-be assassins cannot tell which vehicle he is in, but it also has a not too subtle effect on eliminating any piece of reality that the President might actually see.  It makes me wonder how Obama, or any other head of state, can have any clue as to how the real people actually live - and what traffic in Washington, D.C. must look like.  It also makes me think that the President would probably be safer if he just hopped into a taxi - because no one would have any reason to search for him there. 

But, I give all this background information for a classic Senegalese juxtaposition: last week the Presidential motorcade was driving down a road where raw sewage was flowing like a river.  All the money spent on pomp and circumstance - yet the President is completely oblivious to the fact that people just want broken pipes fixed promptly.  At least the motorcylists leading the way now know about the issue...

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A friend logged onto the Internet and learned that one of her friends (age 33) died.  Besides the obvious condolences, I asked what anyone in America would have asked: "How did she die?"

My friend shrugged her shoulders and responded: "She got sick."

Imagine living in a country where death is so prevalent that people don't even know the cause of death, much less whether the illness could have been prevented or treated.  The deceased was married and left two children.  The youngest child is two years old.

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It was mid-week and a colleague wanted to introduce me to a nightclub/gambling casino because I casually mentioned that I had not had a chance to try all of the sins this fine Muslim nation had to offer.  Being mid-week, the club was fairly empty.  However, I clearly heard voices speaking my language - American English and discovered several active duty U.S. military personnel on a 48-hour leave.

People see the news and think they understand what our servicemen are doing.  We are peacekeeping in Iraq.  We are trying to make villages safer in Afghanistan.  We are trying to stop the Libyan army from killing its own citizens.  What they don't see are all the smaller missions that are being carried out in some of the most God-awful places in the world. 

The deserts of Mali are a training ground for Taliban.  The soldiers could not tell me anything of their mission, but I learned they had been in the desert without seeing a bottle of water for four days.  They asked if I was safe and one soldier even pulled me aside to ask if I had a weapon or if I needed anything for protection.

There is no better feeling than buying active duty infantry a round of drinks in a foreign land where no one knows anything about who, what or why they are fighting.  Our soldiers are the best. 
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Why do I have more compassion for stray cats than human beings when it comes to creatures begging me on the street?  I think it's because the cats show genuine appreciation when I help.

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Regular readers to this blog will note that I have been trying to learn French with little to moderate success.  Because I don't speak French, people - especially my African co-workers - mistakenly think I don't UNDERSTAND French.

This would be a big mistake.  An even bigger mistake would be to talk about me "behind my back" whilst riding in the same vehicle as me... especially if you are an African co-worker who is trying to earn a year-end bonus...

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My French tutor (who is actually of Russian descent) was mugged on the Ouest Corniche.  The Ouest Corniche is probably comparable to Central Park in New York: beautifult by day, but stay away at night.  The mugging occured at 8:00pm.  It was three grown men against one woman with a sprained ankle.  The criminals made away with a backpack that contained cheese, bread, cans of soup, a book on French verbs and - most important - a French language book written in Russian.

I can guarantee you the thiefs will earn exactly $0 from the sale of the French/Russian book and a book of French verbs.  But, to my friend, those are tools for employment.  Without them, she has nothing. 

There really ought to be a special place in hell for people who steal without having a clue as to the real value their "booty" has to the person who was attacked.  I know, I know... "Happy Easter" and "Go to Hell" don't usually appear in the same article, but it seems particularly fitting for this instance.

1 comment:

  1. Great snapshots of where you are. Thanks, buddy!

    ReplyDelete