Sometimes I find myself wondering what life would have been like living and growing up in the 1800s before the Emancipation Proclamation, when slavery was still widely accepted. I like to think that, even then, I would have been the kind of person who was adamantly against that. I think (and hope) that most of us would probably have that same sentiment and claim, "Oh if I would have been alive then, I would have done something about it!" And to those people, I would like to pose a question, why aren't you doing anything now? Living in a developing country has obviously significantly altered my perspective but I like to think things were changing for me well before that. My whole life I have grown up believing that everyone, no matter their race, religion, gender, sexual preference, whatever, should be treated the same. This means that we should all be allowed the same basic, fundamental human rights.
I think that right now individuals of homosexual/bisexual preferences are the next human rights movement. The fact that this group of people largely aren't allowed to marry the one they love and are shown enormous amounts of hatred, discrimination and sometimes violent acts because of the way they were born?! Come on. That's horrifying. I think the United States is slowly making strides but overall and elsewhere in the world, the battle is just beginning.
Some of you may be wondering why I am writing about this. You may be thinking, wow this has nothing to do with living in Senegal; when, in fact, it does. Homosexuality is completely under wraps here. I don't think it's something I'm going to be able to change in my service here but it is an issue I care deeply about and since this is my blog, I do what I want! Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Senegal face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Senegal specifically out laws same-sex sexual acts, and has prosecuted men accused of homosexuality in the past. Homosexuals face routine discrimination in the society. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent of Senegalese residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept, which was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed. (go ahead, look it up if you don’t believe me, http://pewglobal.org/files/pdf/258.pdf)! This doesn’t have anything really to do with my Peace Corps work but it’s something I care strongly about and may even pursue a graduate degree in international policy with an emphasis on human rights.
As you may or may not know, back in college, I interned with a fantastic organization in Utah called the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. The mission of this organization is to promote respect and understanding between the people of Utah and other nations. The guiding principle being citizen diplomacy is the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations, “one handshake at a time.” (Yes, that was taken directly off their website, utahdiplomacy.org, checkitout).
All of that basically means that this organization would host international visitors from all over the world that were studying various topics. I’m sure you’re wondering why they would want to come to Utah of all places. The visitor that I was especially touched by came to Utah from Uganda because she wanted to study LGBTQ rights in a conservative community. Salt Lake City was the perfect place for that. I organized her entire program (meetings, hotel, meals, etc.) and even got to accompany her for her entire stay. She was an amazing woman and the fear with which she lived her life every day by simply being the person she was in her home country was appalling. She confided in me that she was terrified to go home, that one of her good friends had just been KILLED because there were suspicions that he was homosexual. In certain countries, you can be imprisoned by simply KNOWING someone is homosexual and not turning them in. Before this gets too intense or goes too far, I’ll wrap it up by saying that I just wanted to explain a little bit of my background working in this area. I also want to encourage anyone who actually reads this to do something if they are as frustrated and disgusted by how things are as I am. Join a support group, write a letter, support a friend. Even something that seems small can make a difference.
As usual, I feel that I should lighten things up a bit. My last post was about my apprehensions about coming home. As it gets closer, I’ve been thinking about the things that I’m really excited to come home to! Apart from seeing my family and some friends (that’s obviously first) there are some things that I simply can’t wait for. Things like food. Good food, available whenever I want. Good restaurants, even fast-food restaurants. Fast-food here is not exactly fast at all. Mexican food. Oh man all the cheese!!!! Café Rio. I miss Café Rio; Big, delicious, fresh salads that I don’t have to bleach all of the ingredients beforehand. I have to stop talking about food. I’m drooling all over the place.
Also, independence. I’m going to be able to drive myself wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go. I can go to a grocery store, a real grocery store with every ingredient I could imagine, also while understanding what everything is I'm buying. Here, we have some large supermarket type places but obviously everything is in French so sometimes I really am not quite sure what I’m buying, just hoping for the best. That was getting to food again… clearly it’s high on my list of things I’m excited for.
It will be nice to have the option to go to the movies. Probably won’t waste my time with that but just having the option of SO MANY THINGS TO DO will be awesome.
Good beer. Man I miss good beer. I guess I miss most alcoholic beverages that aren’t akin to lighter fluid. Not saying I indulge here often but when I do, it’s usually pretty nasty.
Hot showers erryday. Every day, I can go into a bathroom, that probably doesn’t have cockroaches a plenty, and take a hot shower, with real water pressure?! Can’t be true.
Blending in. I can’t wait to be able to walk down the streets and not get toubab, toubab, TOUBAB screamed at me. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post but toubab is the word for foreigner here and I hear it on a multiple times a day basis. It’s cool to feel sort of like a celebrity but you end up feeling like that celebrity that everyone kind of hates and wants to throw stuff at. Everywhere you go people notice you but it’s usually not good attention.
Air conditioning. Air conditioning. Air conditioning. I could say it 41943 more times. Sure, the summers in Utah can be brutal but there is repose from that. You walk outside and boy, is it hot, but then you usually get into your air-conditioned car. Then, that walk from your car to your house, office, supermarket is brutal until; again, you’re in the air-conditioning. Yeah, there’s none of that here. When we’re hot, another volunteer here has what she calls “wet noodling.” She strips down, bucket bathes in cold water, and then soaks her sheet in cold water, after she proceeds to wrap herself in the wet sheet and lie on the floor (often the coolest spot to be). This position works even better if you have a fan to lie in front of while you are “wet-noodling.” I guess that’s the Senegalese version of air-conditioning so yeah, I’m excited for the real thing.
I think that’s a good enough start to sum up what I’m excited for. Again, I’m not looking to offend anyone with this post. I’m just hoping to open a few minds and, as always, make you think.
Until next time,