A Travellerspoint blog

August 2019

Goat Brains

So the food situation has gotten a bit more interesting. So far, my gut is handling it relatively well…can’t say my nose or even my broken tastebuds are loving it. I went to sit with Haby Thiam at the fire where she was cooking. Once again a huge pot (20” in diameter, at least), along with a couple smaller pots simmering away on charcoal piles. I asked her what she was making, and 1 dish was plantains (yum!), another was rice (no meal gets consumed without lots of rice), and the huge pot was a corn stew…with the goat head in the middle of it. Maybe seasoning it like we would use a ham bone in split pea soup?

Then, at dinner time - again, me eating by myself in the dining room - I was faced with a large dish of the corn with lots of gray-ash bits that looked rubbery. The smell was…a lot to take. I ate the corn, but completely pushed aside the rubbery, gray-ish bits. One was kind of honeycombed. I don’t think I could have gotten that down for love or money.

I have been ridiculously blessed by the Plumbing God to have incredibly excellent toilets. I don’t know how that is happening, but, wow, am I thankful. No hot water in Dakar, hot water delivered in a bucket in Conakry and Labe - but amazing flushing toilets. A big exception was during our ride yesterday from Conakry to Labe. I knew that was going to be dicey and squirreled away napkins and toilet paper to prepare - and mostly didn’t eat or drink. Crossed my fingers and my legs hoping all would go well.

We left around 6AM (in the rain, of course) and arrived in Labe a little after 3, so pretty long drive. The road, which is a main “highway” connecting different parts of the country, is two-ish lanes, mostly asphalt (though not completely), and with pretty giant potholes throughout. Tons of speeding up, to slam on the brakes, to swerve around a pothole, and hopefully not take out a motorbike that is coming by on one side or the other. There were giant trucks on this road, huge semis delivering probably everything. Occasionally they were broken down; a couple had tipped on their sides, There were plenty of cars and buses along the way slightly pulled over (or not) with a crew of people looking under a hood or changing a tire.

The country is beautiful. It is wet season, so everything is green and growing like crazy. I was sharing the back seat with another person we were taking to Labe. Ilhagg lives in Dakar, but is from Labe - and he speaks English. I said to him when we went through one particularly beautiful spot that I had to keep reminding myself where I was, because looking at the land I kept thinking I might be in Vermont. His eyes lit up. “Yes, yes!” he said, “I spent time at Dartmouth and went hiking all around there. When I sent my friends photos of Vermont and New Hampshire, they didn’t even believe I was in the US. They thought it was Guinea.” Here we are on this hilarious “highway” between nowhere and nowhere, and I am in the back seat with this guy who did a 6-week fellowship at Dartmouth. I love it when the world gets small like that.

The living conditions are not beautiful; I don’t want to skim over that. People look healthy, but it is incredibly obvious they are scraping out a living. There are babies and little children everywhere. What is it with massive procreation accompanying subsistence living? A conundrum. There were tiny little kiosks, mostly made out of tree branches, all along the way selling nuts, soda, crackers, glass bottles of gasoline. There were huts where people were fixing motorbikes; lean-to’s that appeared to be cafes. People’s homes right on the road, with women cooking, men sitting, and little children running - they must teach these kids young not to go in the street because there were many 3-5 year olds along this road. I am not kidding when there were jaunts we were going 60 mph; I had to close my eyes at times.

Women carrying huge platters and baskets on their heads. Seven and eight year old girls with their baby siblings strapped to their backs. Many of the women are still in these brightly colored, long dresses. What I have to assume are traditional houses started appearing when we got far enough outside of Conakry - round buildings; about 15 feet in diameter; pointed, thatched roofs. A common set up would be a small concrete block building and two or three of these round houses. I wondered if one house could be for each wife? And everyone has a bit of corn planted near their homes.

We stopped at a very busy place to eat. By busy, I mean the “highway” was lined with open-air places to eat, parked cars, and the moving traffic wasn’t actually moving at all. Apparently, it is where people stop to eat when they are on that road. Everyone stops. There are giant pots of boiling who-knows-what; rice (of course); recently skinned goats (sheep? An assortment?) hanging, ready to be diced up and cooked over a grill. This stretch of busyness was probably 75 yards long - I mean, there were lots of people there. We went to one of the stands, looked at packets of raw meat, picked out the packets we liked, the man cooked them on a grill in front of us, wrapped them in tinfoil, and we went and sat in the back of one of the stands at a picnic table and ate. By “we” I mean Ahmadou and Ilhagg, and I just watched. Do you want some, they asked. What is it? I asked. Meat, they said. “Meat” covers everything, I think. I did have a couple pieces; it was tasty. There was a lot of bone in it, like the goat (or whatever it was) had just been chopped up vs. carved. Who knows. It was good.

And then I got to use the toilet. The toilets are right behind all these stands where they are preparing and cooking food. Awesome. They are stalls with doors that close and there are two holes in the ground. C’est tout. There are little plastic kettles of water (about 1” of water, so not a deluge) to take into the stall. Was one hole for #1 and the other for #2? How would you know? Do you use the water to wash your hands and/or rinse down the hole? Ugh, I didn’t know and Ahmadou only described the toilet as “less sanitary” than what I had seen before. I seriously would need a lesson on how to poop in that place. I didn’t. We were soon on our way - on the major highway where we would speed past motorbikes with families of four crammed onto them (family member #4 usually a baby strapped to mom’s back); come to almost a complete stop to traverse a big hole, and then scream up to 60 whenever there was a patch of asphalt that was smooth; and pass cars/trucks/motorbikes going uphill and around curves with no visibility. Praise be to God we got here in 1 piece.

To my mother who loves me: I have not sat down to a single meal in 12 days that is not served with lots of onions. OK, no onions for petit dejeuner - it's a very French breakfast - but literally everything else has loads of onions. In most cases, no other vegetables. Karma.

Love and light

Posted by sarahglover44 07:55 Comments (5)

On Jarama

(written Mon, Aug 12)

After I wrote yesterday, I took a nap and kind of hid away for a little while. I had more energy when I came down, and ended up having a really nice evening. Again, I mostly hung with the women while they were cooking. Haby Thiam is the leader of the pack; she is 23 though not yet married, which is pretty late. It is more typical to get married by late teens. She shouts at everyone and is talking all the time. It is clear from people’s faces that it is good-natured banter. I have no idea what she is saying, but based on people’s faces and how fast they move (not), I am guessing it is along the lines of “my love, go get me the slotted spoon! I need it, and you must eat! Look at you, you skinny little one - get me the spoon so I can cook for you!” She does it with a sharp tone and a scowl, and then she hugs someone or cracks a beautiful smile. I like her, can you tell?

Ahmadou took off in the evening (“I’m going to go see a friend for a few minutes”), and there I was with 15-ish people I can’t communicate with. For longer than a few minutes, by my standards - but we are in Guinea. I played some hand games with the girls, and they started teaching me a song which I think is the Fulani version of “eenie-meenie-mini-mo.” I got some of it, but not all of it so I asked them to write the words so I could learn it all. Three girls, 12, 12 and 8. None of them could write it. One of the older, male cousins took the pen to write the words for us. And then we sang and sang.

Haby Thiam then invited me into the home to the inside living room - heavily draped; a heavy, ornate living room suite, including 2 couches, matching chairs, and coffee table, a decent sized flat-screened TV on the wall. She started flipping channels, and I shit you not, the Kardashians show up. The cable connection kept breaking because of the rain, though. Thank heavens I didn’t spend the evening watching the Kardashians with Haby Thiam in a place where we had just cooked on charcoal, washed dishes in buckets, and I washed my hands in the inside bathroom from a spigot. I think my head would have exploded.

I figured out that one of the men who picked us up at the airport was one of Ahmadou’s brothers - and who had lived in Boston for nearly 10 years and speaks perfect English! Good gravy, I could have used that helping hand earlier in the day. Let’s just say he is very reserved.

The young men who live here hang out. They hang out in the pavilion and at least one gets up for prayers. They are healthy and handsome young men - who don’t seem to do anything. It is a little hard to figure out because this is a holiday. So I don’t know what is normal, but Ahmadou confirms they don’t really do much. The men sit and stare; scroll their phones, and lay around. Occasionally, a hot topic will spring up, and there will be lots of fast talking about I have no idea what. Ahmadou tells me it is idle chatter. It is hard to figure out how they don’t just do something out of complete boredom - play a game? Play an instrument? Go exercise? (This was an obsession in Dakar.) Ahmadou’s father built this house and made his money through building, selling and renting buildings. He “made it,” and now the extended family lives in this house - and others of his homes.

The women, including girls down to 8 years old, are working constantly. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, washing dishes. Clothes washing is by hand, in the same tubs they wash dishes in, complete with a washboard. The washed clothes are hanging all over the place, on lines, on railings. It has rained twice today already, but all the clothes stay out.

I keep getting challenged with what I feels to me like things that oddly co-exist. Maybe they are not odd; maybe that is my judgement. Last night, I shared my Instagram and Facebook names with Haby Thiam while she was cooking dinner for 20ish in large pots over bits of charcoal. She would toss the charcoal occasionally and wave a fan at it to get it burning, and charcoal bits would float around us. I told her it was like snow. The little girls were right by us, doing chores and excitedly looking at the phones Haby Thiam and I were sharing with each other. I went through all my photos with Hadiatou, an 8-year-old who can’t stop looking at me and then darts her eyes down and covers her smile with her hand when I look back. The little girls finally asked to touch my hair. We were squatting on little plastic stools under an alcove while it rained and rained, and while Haby Thiam stirred, poured, yelled, directed, and scrolled her phone.

On jarama - Fulani for hello, good morning, or thank you. The “on” confers respect. I learned this and then heard it when people greeted each other. And then I started saying it, and now I can greet people.

We leave for Labe as soon as I get registered as a visitor with the US Embassy and we visit a security office to convert my paper visa into a page in my passport. Ahmadou says each thing should take about 10 minutes, but we should plan a day. It is a 6-8 hour drive to Labe.

Love and light,

Posted by sarahglover44 07:17 Comments (3)

Time to build the ark?

(written Sunday, Aug 11)


We flew from Guinea to Conakry this morning - early. Woke up at 4AM, took a 5AM bus to the airport. Short flight (a little over 1 hour), but complete breakfast. A throwback to flights in the US from 30-40 years ago, though, happily, the plane was brand new. We arrived here about 10AM, and two men picked us up at the airport - one of whom was past security and the Customs folks allowed to hand me my visa.

The drive to the house was about a half hour. Not many cars out; a couple places where the street had crumbled and there were huge holes. Several places where water several inches deep was flowing across the road. It is a total downpour, though there is no wind, no lightning or thunder. Just an unbelievably steady downpour. A few people have umbrellas; many others are wearing light rain ponchos. No one is hurrying. There are clothes out on lines everywhere.

Everything is different. There are both buildings that are more modern that what I saw in Dakar (including an absolutely enormous US embassy….I can’t imagine why) as well as LOTS more people clearly living in little open shacks lining the streets. I have seen only between the airport and Ahmadou’s family home, so obviously have lots more to observe.

Not everyone speaks French, so while I was struggling with French in Senegal…it gave me something. For Fulani: I have nothing. There is not electricity all the time; Ahmadou says it comes and goes. They cannot rely on the government to ensure there is running water, so anyone who can afford it has their own well. Someone went to the store after I arrived to get toilet paper for me. Only for me? Do they not use toilet paper?

We are in the home where Ahmadou grew up until he went to Senegal. Hard to describe. There is a wall around it and a metal gate for both walkers and cars to go through. It is several buildings around a courtyard; there is a small round little “pavilion” in the center that he says is like the living room. It is almost like a stand alone porch; it is open to the air - no windows or a door. It is fitted with vinyl couches, that line the perimeter. I sat there for a little while with the men, then joined the women cooking.

Ahmadou’s mother is not here; I believe she is in Canada. His father is in Labe. He has a brother and sister-in-law who live here, and there are loads of other people whom he loosely calls “cousins.” The sister-in-law and one of the cousins did the cooking; a huge pot of rice and a huge pot of this soup with goat and potatoes in it. They cook over charcoal, squatting on the ground next to the pots resting on little frames that are filled with charcoal. (In Dakar, they cooked over a propane burner on the floor.) There is a rimmed patio adjacent to where they cook. I think this might be the rest of the “kitchen” in some respects because two younger girls started washing dishes in large tubs that were on this patio, catching rain water. The washing was kind of like we do when camping; one tub was to get most of the yuck food off; another tub was for rinsing. Because of the constant rain, this patio had about 2 inches of water in it, which was always flowing out a little downspout in the floor. One of the women cooking, threw bits of trash into this flow, and who knows where that trash went.

It is hours after we arrived and still raining so hard I am wondering if the streets will start crumbling.

There is so much to describe…. Today is a huge holiday, across all Muslim countries, I think. In Senegal, there were sheep all over the place, and here they use goats. Every family sacrifices one of these animals and prepares dinner with the meat. We got here in time to see them kill the goat. I did not stand very close because I am pretty sure I would have tossed my airplane breakfast if I actually watched. About an hour later, I was eating soup that had goat in it. I ate with Ahmadou and one of his cousins, Sulemon. We ate in a dining room, and out of one plate. I don’t know why we didn’t eat with everyone else. Ahmadou said it was because the food wasn’t ready, but I am betting it was more to not have me with them right away. The food was delicious and Sulemon speaks perfect French that I could understand pretty well. He runs a school in a town between here and Labe.

Ahmadou and I talked about whether I would stay in a hotel or stay at the house. His brother was urging a hotel; Ahmadou was confident I would be fine here. I was, too, of course - and happily agreed to come here. It is harder than I thought it would be. I had no idea how many people would be here, and I can’t really communicate with anyone. There is lots of coming and going and lots of movement - and people are changing clothes constantly because of the rain - but I am guessing there are 15 or so people here. There are 3 little girls who are very sweet and like to look at me and shyly smile. We did some counting together - 1-10 in French and 1-10 in English. Their French is very limited and my Fulani is zero…so I couldn’t think of anything else to do with them. I gave the little girls each one of my bracelets - I thought I was just showing it to the first one, then she said “merci.” Oops - so I gave a bracelet to the other girl so she wasn’t left out.

This is really different than home. Everything Ahmadou said earlier about Senegal being a mid-way point makes sense to me now. This life is hard to understand and feels very foreign. Today, I started counting the days to go home.

Love and light

Posted by sarahglover44 07:12 Comments (1)

I didn’t know a lion was so tall

I realized I jumped into describing the now without providing any context for why I am here, exactly where I am, who these characters are who are showing up in my stories. Two seconds on context, and then a story of our day.

I am in Senegal with Ahmadou Balde, whom I met last winter when he interviewed at Panorama. He didn’t want the Panorama job, but I followed up with him because his story was so interesting. We had coffee, and I got to learn more about what he was doing and more about him. He is from Labe, Guinea where he and his father built and started a school. Ahmadou ran the school for its first year last year. Ahmadou’s early schooling was in Guinea, but at age 11, he moved to a boarding school in Dakar. The school caters to the elite not only of Senegal, but of many countries in Africa. (We actually visited the school yesterday, and it is amazing - an oasis. A large, gorgeous campus. No kids were there because they are on the same academic year as we are.). At 15, he moved to the United States with his brother. He entered Lynn High School and so went from an extremely high-performing school in Dakar with high expectations to a low performing public high school in Massachusetts. He thinks it is this transition that has made him committed to building the school in Labe - his intense personal experience with how education changes trajectories. He went on to get a BA and an MBA. I think Ahmadou is about 28.

Soon after I met Ahmadou, I left Panorama. Early on I had a goal to spend the summer getting proximate…to things I had not been proximate to before and to people I hadn’t ever known before. I offered to help Ahmadou with the school; he took me up on it. I spent the spring pulling together teacher training materials, learning more from Ahmadou, and partnering with another couple who is also helping him. By late spring, we decided to plan a visit for me. Et maintenont, je suis ici!

Right now, we are staying in a house his family maintains in Dakar. We started in Dakar, instead of directly in Guinea partly for me to be able to visit, partly because it is not so easy to fly directly to Conakry (the capital of Guinea). We will fly to Guinea on Sunday. A young man named Abdulramen lives in the house in Dakar full time to maintain it and prepare it for anyone who is staying here. He is delightful; he works full time and goes to school. He is an accountant and working toward a PhD. He is keen to improve his English, has a quick and warm laugh, and takes care of me without hovering. I have my own room on the second floor; Ahmadou’s room is also on the second floor along with a bathroom and sitting area. So far, I have not discovered hot water, but that is ok - it is hot here, and I take 2-3 showers a day to cool off. :) Right now, there are also three other people in the house - 2 of Ahmadou’s aunts on his mother’s side, and 1 cousin (son to one of the aunts). They are here because 1 of the aunts had to have surgery on her foot as a result of diabetes. She had a poorly executed surgery in Guinea, and came to Dakar to fix it. They had to amputate her foot. Her son and sister are here to care for her as she convalesces. The aunts speak Fulani only. Doga, the cousin, speaks French, though I can’t really understand him. The full extent of my Fulani: Ja ra ma (which means “thank you” or “good morning” depending on when you say it.). Noweli (“that tastes good”). Noweli fota (“that tastes very good!”). One of the aunts cooks much of the food we eat.

And with that, I will pick up with our day.

Ahmadou’s aunt made a dish she wanted to share with me, so we waited for that to be ready before leaving the house. It got delivered to me upstairs. I had asked Ahmadou if we could all eat together, but he said they might be shy. When they eat, they eat with their hands all out of one dish. I don’t know how they do it! This was fish on a bed of rice with some onions and peppers - again, the flavor and spices were wonderful. I was terrified of choking on a fish bone, but all went well. It was delicious; and I ate by myself. That was ok. I wasn’t actually feeling too great. I feel much better now, and this spicy fish dish actually seemed to settle my stomach.

Around 2, Ahmadou, Doga and I went to a “park” that was also a zoo. The entrance was wonderful; incredible tree canopy, wide walking boulevard. And then we discovered it to be Exhibit F in something that was designed really well, has tons of potential, and seems to be in near total decline. Not total - there were people visiting and people working there. But it was moving toward ragged. A very pretty set of gardens, mostly with potential. We went through an amphibian house, complete with a guided tour. He seemed to like the animals, but it was also clear that the animals were only there for our pleasure and entertainment. Tortoises, lots of snakes, crocodiles. The guy who took us around was quite nice. We went onto the major part of the zoo. This was a like a zoo in the US from 40 years ago. Cages way too small. Animals almost always separated from each other - 1 warthog, 1 camel. Except the lion cage - very small, but with 5-6 lions. Laying on concrete. Surely bored out of their minds.

Monkeys and chimps in cages that were too small. People feeding the chimps and interacting to get the chimps to perform. That was crazy - we saw one man engage two chimps for quite awhile. He was feeding them popcorn. The man gave the chimp a full water bottle; the chimp drank some, laid down and poured it on his stomach and haded the bottle back. He gave the chimp a tissue, and the chimp wiped his forehead and his chest with it. The man gave the empty bottle to his son who ran to re-fill it. And the whole thing happened again. The man was putting the popcorn and tissues in the chimp’s hand; he was not throwing these things into the cage. A third chimp hammed it up for another group by walking with a funny gait and doing a somersault; they gave him a banana. Not kidding. The chimps, the lions. I know it is not slavery, but caging these beings is hard to look at.

We walked a ton, which I enjoyed. We went to Ahmadou’s school - a stunningly beautiful and impressive campus. Then we went to a collection of art studios called the Village des Artes. It is rows of little studios, occupied by individual artists. Mostly painters, though a couple of sculptors. Not so many were open when we got there, and there was no one else wandering around - just one crazy white lady with two Africans. Ahmadou super-interested and asking tons of questions; Doga humoring us and being patient. I bought one small piece from the artist I liked the most, Serge. Originally from Congo, but living in Senegal for many years. His work is bold! Dark black lines, vibrant colors; heads, eyes, hands. Really beautiful. Wild and fun sculptures out of every material imaginable dotted this "village;" artists transforming their specific space and the common space.

On the way home, Ahmadou said more than once: I didn’t know a lion was so tall. The lions in this pretty wretched zoo were the first lions he had ever seen. The guy from Guinea, who lived part of his life in Senegal, had never seen lions. How does that make sense? Does it make better sense that I have seen many lions - all in zoos? And even in circuses when I was young?

Call to prayer happening right now. Sun is setting. Light pink clouds have lost their pink, the sky is slowly getting darker.

My progress with French is glacial. Ugh, it is so hard.

Light and love; luz y amor; la lumiere (??) at l'amour,

Posted by sarahglover44 03:40 Comments (2)

Dreaming in Dakar

I sleep late and wake up to breakfast being delivered. What is not to love about that? Ahmadou got croissants today, and they were every bit as good as in Paris. We don't leave the house until early afternoon - a combo of the heat, the traffic, and needing to finalize the teacher training plan we are working on. Today, we left at about 1:30 for the Museum of Black Civilization. Doga, Ahmadou's cousin, came with us. It was impressive; very large - maybe as large as the High Museum in Atlanta or 1/2 the size of the MFA in Boston. The exhibits were really good, including a fantastic contemporary art collection - the work would have been right at home in Mass MoCA. Wonderful history of the discovery of early homo erectus and pre homo erectus, and the evolution of humans and how early humans started making tools and how the tools got better and better over time. No museum store. No way to buy tickets with a credit card. Maybe 25 people in the museum. The admission was 2000 CFA each…or about $1.

Across from the museum is the National Grand Theatre. It took awhile to find a door that was open, and when we went in we found a single piece of paper tacked to a board with the monthly schedule. There were about 5 events, one of which is not a performance, but a festival of Cote d’Ivoire culture - mostly selling things. No website. This place is HUGE - think Lincoln Center. And modern. Ahmadou was disgusted that it is not booked with something everyday. There is a huge plaza connecting these two buildings, that is mostly concrete and tile, and kind of falling apart. A large outdoor stage, but no events - at least none that we could learn about.

These large, modern buildings are mostly empty of people. It doesn't seem to add up. Why make the investment?

We walked to a restaurant, and hit the jackpot. We were looking for local food, and found this broken down looking restaurant that turned out to be fabulous. Ahmadou and I had a great time talking to the owner, a young woman named Brita. She spent most of her life in France, and bought that restaurant 6 months ago to try to make a go of it. We shared a bunch of ideas with her about how she might increase traffic. She was fun - and at the end of our conversation, I learned that she spoke Spanish! I gave her my email and phone number. She asked if I wanted to stay and work there since I am looking for a job. Ha! That really would be a change, wouldn't it? Slinging coffee and doing business development for a cafe in Dakar? Maybe not this year. :)

Then we walked to the Plaza de Independence. Wow, this was one run-down plaza. Homeless people sleeping on the ground. Many flagpoles, but no flags. Scrubby ground, bits of grass, no water in the fountain. (No water in any fountains. Big fountains at the Sea Plaza, and Plaza de Independence - no water. Maybe because of a shortage?) This was another thing that really surprised Ahmadou. It is clearly the center of downtown. It is opposite a beautiful and gleaming building for the Chamber of Commerce. And has been left to deteriorate. So weird. I started thinking of the Monument of African Renaissance, the Musee de Civilization et Le Grand Theatre differently. Were these monuments to the former president’s ego more than they were contributing to building the culture and fabric of the country? Why not keep this downtown, central plaza - in honor of Senegal’s break from being a colony - beautiful? I have not yet seen a public space that is beautiful.

The museum and theater were huge, beautiful, empty, and on the edge of town. The Plaza de Independence was run-down, full of people, and a central place in downtown. My western mind, my need for efficiency getting turned upside down.

We walked around downtown a little bit - lots of hustle-bustle. Then caught a cab back to the house. Rather than go inside, I walked up to the main road to watch pick-up soccer games. My first time out on my own. :) I watched for 45 minutes or so. Very fun to watch. There are three soccer "fields" in a row; the games are divided by age. The men play really hard. They run hard, move the game along as quickly as possible with every throw-in or corner kick, and go after the ball with their whole bodies. They play in sand. This space is played on all day, every day (I think...) - and there is trash surrounding it. They don’t see the trash? They just don’t care about it? It isn’t ugly or a sign of neglect? That is a difficult one to understand.

The traffic also. Fucking nuts. And the cars and buses are so smelly. A 4-lane highway is adjacent to the soccer fields, and I saw men and boys run into the road multiple times to retrieve errant soccer balls.

Lots of beautiful parts! The food - yum. All of it. Everything I have had at home or in restaurants has been wonderful. I have had Yassa twice now, both times with chicken. It is with cooked and spiced onions that are served in a side bowl and rice. The onions are almost like those you find in French onion soup - soft, cooked for a long time, a little sweet. I don’t know what the spices are, but the food is delicious. I also like buye - a drink made from Baobaob tree (fruit? Have no idea how they get this juice out of that tree). It is sweet, but not too sweet. Kind of gooey. For breakfast and snacks, we have a sweet porridge, usually it is served cold. I have had it with two different kinds of grains; it is kind of like rice pudding. Yummy. And fresh mangoes, which are amazingly plump and delicious.

The safety - wow, I have not once felt ill at ease. Completely amazing. I don’t know how these people aren’t robbing each other and/or on drugs like in so many other parts of the world...like Boston. It is more pleasant to walk around here than Downtown Crossing. There is plenty of poverty; people clearly barely scraping out a living. But I don’t see anger or aggression. The only anger flare up I have seen between two people was today, at the boys’ soccer game, when the ref called a shot beyond the goal (too high; the goal is just two posts parallel to one another without a crossbar). The kids freaked out. Lots of yelling, getting in his face, jabbing their fingers in his face to make their point. Side note: totally interesting that there even was a ref! This had all the markings of pick-up soccer, but I watched a shoot-out when the game was over. The ref carefully drew a scoreboard in the sand, and there was much cheering and moaning for making or missing shots. The rules were not in question.

What accounts for this ease? Is it Islam? There isn’t much drinking; maybe that is why there aren’t drugs? Is there public assistance that keeps people floating just above desperation?

A few other observations: People’s teeth are beautiful. This is a huge change from the people coming from Central America, where the tooth decay was intense. There are lots of people here who are too skinny. They are not lean; they are not eating enough (is my guess). Everyone has shoes - many are flip flops, but I literally have not seen anyone without shoes. They don’t greet each other on the street or exchange pleasantries. Though Ahmadou flags anyone down for a question, and people respond as if this is perfectly normal. “Mon frere!” he shouts (even when we are in the middle of a street, crossing amid traffic). So, it is a combination of not acknowledging much when you walk down the street, but if someone asks you something, there is instant response and conversation.

Some of you have reached out to me about the mass shooting in El Paso. I think of how many times I was in Walmart while in Los Fresnos and Brownsville. I think of a time when I was serving dinner in the bus station, and some asshole had his daughter or little sister ask for food and then whispered something to her when I said the food was for immigrants. I think of our completely insane elected officials for not making us safer from these weapons. I think of El Pastor and how he forges ahead with a broken heart, and how he continues to believe so clearly in the face of such terror.

Love and light to you; I can't wait to figure out how to share photos. So many colors and shapes.

Posted by sarahglover44 10:06 Comments (2)

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