Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

I wanted to start this post by adding one final note on my last topic. I didn’t write that last entry to air my family’s dirty laundry or to make us look like any less of the loving family that we are. The best times I’ve ever had in my life are with my family and, as most of my friends can attest, we usually have a blast when we’re together. I adore my family. Every last person in it and that is exactly why I wrote what I did. When there are issues, it affects me deeply and I started this blog to write about what affects me. I wasn’t trying to offend or upset anyone. I was just maybe trying to make people think, as I always try to do with what I write. So, there ya go, that’s my last little blurb about that subject (for now… hehe).

Moving on… The other day while I was bumping around in the 3rd (very back) row of the sept-place (car), I found myself thinking about things in the states and also in life in general that I am very grateful for. These are things that are not necessarily obvious such as family and friends. I already had a post about those last year so this time I want to talk about the stuff that you may not really give much thought to.
  • I am super thankful for speed bumps. They may seem like an annoyance in the states but wow, thank god for those here. Often times the drivers are young, inexperienced and like to pretend that they are the only ones on the road/speed racers. Speed bumps luckily make them at least go a bit slower in overly populated areas. Speed limits are also something that I wish that Senegal would adopt for these same reasons.
  • Along those same lines of transportation. I am grateful for seat-belts. You rarely have a functioning one in the cars here and it’s very discomforting. I miss cars that have leg room (a plane seat felt roomy to me...) and air conditioning (or even just windows that roll down all the way) on long road trips or just life in general. Here, those things just don’t exist. They cram enough people in a car as possible and typically Senegalese people don’t like having the windows down. I guess it messes up their hair (or lack thereof) or something. This means that if you’re unlucky enough to be in the middle without access to a window or in the dreaded 3rd row, you’re most likely going to be sticking to the stranger next to you. Yummy.
  • Here, we are in dire need of garbage men, proper waste management systems and also proper sewage systems. There is simply trash everywhere and during rainy season, the “sewers” get backed up and so then there is also human/animal shit everywhere which is floating the trash along. Poop-trash rivers and lakes are a common sight in Senegal this time of year and I’m just very grateful for the systems that we have in the states in order to avoid this problem. As volunteers, it’s certainly something we’re working on but it’s about more than just providing a sanitary dump site for people, it’s changing their entire way of thinking which presents a whole other challenge. 
  • I am thankful for and really miss freshwater that is safe to swim in without catching odd parasites. Also, salt water that isn’t disgusting.
  • Veterinarians. The animal situation here is awful. I feel more sympathy for them than the humans sometimes. There are stray cats and dogs everywhere that are often rabid and are not fixed. The fact that there is no neutering here means the feral animals re-populate quickly and constantly. There is also definitely no form of PETA or anything like that so the donkeys that power (run, drive, lead?) the charettes (carts) are horribly abused. I have yelled at many a driver beating the donkeys with a club-like stick to get them to go faster but they usually don’t really pay my anger any attention. I’m just very grateful for the fact that animals are taken care of (for the most part) in the states and I wish there was more that I could do about it here. Veterinarians without borders… where you at?!
  • Crosswalks that people actually acknowledge as a crosswalk. There actually are crosswalks here but I’m not sure that Senegalese people know what they are there for or that they even notice them. Same with stoplights. Yes, they actually have stoplights in Dakar (I hope you know by now that's the capital of Senegal) but I’m not quite sure most people here know what they are supposed to do at said lights considering they drive right on through the reds.
  • The gym. Yeah yeah, you all gripe constantly about having to go to it but man do I miss having one! Working out, in air-conditioning, wearing shorts or actual comfortable work-out clothes, without getting harassed... sounds like bliss to me!
  • Organized activities for children. Sure, during the school year, most kids go and are occupied for some of the day but during summer vacation, all bets are off. The kids go wild. They literally Go. Freaking. Wild. They are running around all over the place, harassing me even more than usual, all hopped up on the enormous amounts of sugar you find in the diet here, completely unsupervised. This is why volunteers attempt to have activities such as summer camps and other organized events to try and give these children some kind of structure during the off-school months. Still, more needs to be done by the Senegalese adults.
  • I miss easier access to cold beverages and/or refrigerators. I suppose the two go hand in hand but you don’t appreciate the true value of a cold drink until you never really have one.  
  • Non-creepy males + respect for women. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, I’ll try not to elaborate too much. I basically just am grateful for men that are actually respectful of women instead of immediately making kissing noises at me and/or demanding that I become their wife.
I think that’s a pretty good list for now but along the lines of what the people from here want from me, I wanted to talk a little bit more about the expectations that Senegalese (and perhaps other African nations) have of us “aid workers” or foreigners in general. They want money. That’s about it. The idea of development here is often thought of as “getting more stuff.” I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but many NGOs and even just tourists come in here and literally just throw money at the problems. In the wise words of Biggie Smalls, "Mo’ money equals mo’ problems."

When I give my schpeel that I am here to teach and to offer my knowledge and not so much in the way of monetary incentives, I’m met with some pretty steely glares.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to help a promising project write a grant and search for funding that they deserve. The problem is that there are far too many hands out and not enough people thinking of truly great ideas. Before joining Peace Corps, I was under the impression that volunteers were brought into communities that already had motivated individuals with certain ideas about how to get their village or town further developed. I assumed that I would be bombarded with plans for what I could help them do. Instead, I find myself faced with the same, already present, idea being pitched to me time after time again. Everyone wants to raise chickens. There is no thought to the fact that there are already 91058 other groups already doing so, they all want to do it. There is no such thing as product specialization here and introducing a new, unique product to the population. This idea might work if there was any type of competitive advantage but not only does every person raise and sell the same thing, they all do it for the exact same price and quality. Along those lines, there is also no concept of problem solving. You would think that wading through poop lakes for the past cajillion years would encourage SOMEONE to build foot paths or some way of easier crossing during rainy season. But, no. They instead just throw rocks into the puddles and hope for the best when they have to just plunge on in.

This goes the same for constructing buildings. They would much rather economize on costs now by using mostly sand in their cement blocks rather than using only cement to build more efficiently. There is no thought process as to how much time and money they would save in the future if they just did it right the first time. The future is a distant and unattainable realm that is typically never given a second thought. This idea of not looking forward also applies to almost every aspect of life here. Family planning is not a real thing. Neither is savings. You just live day to day with what you have. This way of life can be beneficial in some instances but it's not a successful model for every single major decision.

A campement (small hotel) that I tried to work with in my old village told me that they refused to work with the other campements in the area. I tried to explain the idea that because one of them only offered horse-back riding and the other only offered kayaking, that they could refer customers to one another and ultimately gain much more business! They were not convinced. They told me they preferred to keep their customers at their respective campements and not participate in any sort of exchange. This is typically how my suggestions of innovation are met. Creativity is not something that is encouraged in this culture and tradition is the way they prefer to “progress.”

There are a number of things volunteers are trying to do in order to thwart this behavior. We hold seminars, training sessions, show videos of success stories and even involve local Senegalese who have managed to change their thought patterns. Unfortunately, for most of the people we work with, the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is more than applicable. This is why many of my projects focus on youth development. They are truly who we need to reach in order to facilitate real development here. Whether it is through the schools or through after-school activities, these children need to learn to be creative and to use their imagination. When I first heard that one of my program’s main goals was teaching the next generation of entrepreneurs, I thought that sounded a bit… ridiculous. Now, I realize the true importance of that statement, if not only to encourage innovation and new ideas, but also to inspire upon Senegalese youth that progress equals, to some extent, change.

Until the next time then,


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