A Travellerspoint blog

500 CFA for $1

To be honest, what I really want is a cold beer. Most likely I can get said cold beer, but I don’t have any Senagalese money, I am in a Muslim country, and I am not sure if they allow alcohol in the home where I am staying. So I haven’t asked for it yet.

I am finishing up Day 2 in Dakar. I got here around 10PM on Saturday night. My friend Ahmadou picked me up at the airport. Thank goodness. Whatever French I had has been completely paved over with Spanish. And most of what is around me is Woloff. Unless Ahmadou is talking to shopkeepers, many of whom are from Guinea, and they speak Fulani. So I am basically catching hello, good-bye, and a few numbers here and there. Every interaction - as in every interaction - requires negotiation. Every taxi ride, every snack bought. We sat in a restaurant today, and it is the only exchange so far that didn’t include a lot of back and forth.

Why don’t I have money? My ATM card doesn’t work here. We went to two of the largest banks in Africa, and my Fidelity VISA debit card (with Interlink, Star, and PLUS networks) doesn’t work. We took a taxi to an ATM, waited in a long line, then taxied to another ATM, waited in a line…you get the picture. We went inside a bank to change dollars into CFA, and were going to be in a line with 25 people in front of us. So we bailed, and Ahmadou continues to 100% bankroll me. (We also haven’t found a place that takes credit cards - even to buy a $385 airline ticket from Dakar to Conakry, Guinea.) Ahmadou keeps saying to me: Welcome Home! I keep thinking the Senagalese are crazy not to make it possible for me to spend my money here.

I am sitting on a small balcony on the second floor of the house I am staying in. There is a mosque up the street, and a call to prayer just started. A loud, crackly AP system. People are wandering into the mosque, though are not hurried. I think the only people who hurry here are cab drivers when they are behind the wheel. Though I think that might be sport more than it is about speed.

Dakar is home to a million people. There are no street names. I haven’t seen a stoplight or stop sign yet. Lots of roundabouts. The traffic is insane. I keep asking Ahmadou why people aren’t on bicycles, and he tells me he thinks it’s cultural. I think it is my latest piece of evidence that life is crazy and people are insane (hat tip to Langhorne Slim for that line). Seriously: why is so much of the planet wasting so much time stuck in traffic? It is mind boggling.

The people here are very handsome. Mostly tall and on the lean side; beautiful features. Many of the women wear long dresses in bright patterns with matching wraps around their heads. Many are almost mermaid shaped; fitted down to the knee, then flair out. The women are gorgeous - and in these long dresses, just hanging out. She might have a briefcase. Or a baby strapped to her back. Or both.

We are in a neighborhood that Ahmadou characterizes as low income. It’s pretty quiet (except at prayer time); there is very little car traffic down our little street. The street seems to be sand; there has to be something harder underneath, but all I can see is sand. Yesterday, I saw young men walking down the street, carrying sewing machines on their shoulders. Don’t know if they work in the street, or show up at a shop with their sewing machine. Some kind of portable tailor.

I met a woman named Coumba who sells clothing and jewelry on Goree Island, a place for tourists as well as beachgoers on Sundays. She had her young son, Bachir, with her. How did we strike up a chat? Because she spoke Spanish. (And Italian, German, English, French, and Woloff…and maybe more.) She told me her father has four wives and 30 children. Her mother is the 3rd wife, and has 8 children. No wonder there is so much traffic. I asked Ahmadou if that is current for his generation (he is not quite 30), and he said no. But when we talked more, I realized he was talking about the number of children, not the number of wives. Men still have multiple wives, but each wife has only 2-3 kids.

Today we visited the Monument to the African Renaissance, erected by the former president of Senegal in 2010. It is magnificent. It is right on the coast, and 150 meters high. It affords amazing views of the city and the sea, and is a truly striking sculpture of a dad, mom, and young child. It is pointed to the Statue of Liberty.

A national feast day is this Sunday, and it is a tradition to sacrifice a goat on this day (and eat it). There are goats *everywhere.* Honestly, I am sure I saw thousands of goats today all across the city - many in the center of those roundabouts I mentioned. LOTS of goats. I keep trying to imagine where this killing will happen and how. And then where do all the goat parts go? This place is dense! We won’t be here on the feast day, so I am free to let my imagination run wild and be unencumbered with the truth.

Senegal and Guinea are the last stops in the Tour de Sarah (at least the summer 2019 version). I came here to continue working with Ahmadou to support the school he and his dad started in Labe, Guinea. My job was to collect and organize a bunch of teacher training materials. He and I will use these materials to lead a four-day training for teachers next week. We will be in Dakar until we can get a flight to Conakry. We were aiming for Wednesday or Thursday, but the flights are unexpectedly booked, so we might have to wait until Friday. Or leave tomorrow. The plan is super tight. ;)

Bonne chance a moi parce que I need to dramatically increase my French by then! Mon dieu.

Will add photos when I figure out how to get my phone to connect to the network my computer is having no problem with.

Light and love,
s

Posted by sarahglover44 13:26 Comments (3)

Where's Walter?

My last day in the Rio Grande Valley was Sunday. My sister-friend, Lynn, came down on Saturday and worked two days with me before we drove back to Houston together early Monday morning. On Saturday, we worked all day in the Good Neighbor Settlement House (GNSH) respite center in Brownsville, and we served dinner in the bus station that evening. On Sunday, we went to church (Feliberto's services are not short. :) ) Then, delivered supplies to Iglesia Bautista in Brownsville and helped serve dinner across the bridge in Matamoros in th evening. (I will write about that in a later post.) In the midst of this were a series of good-byes for me that were very hard. I keep struggling to properly describe this experience, and I think I am going to go with "holy." New word for me, and feel vulnerable using it. But there truly were transcendent moments almost every day - with people, by myself, outside, inside, in English, in Spanish. There was a connection to the people and the action that was just happening on a different plane for me.

In the GNSH respite center, I was on the floor doing puzzles and playing Jenga with lovely kiddos. One young father was with us with his little boy, who delighted in throwing piles of puzzle pieces in the air. "Soy Sarah," I said to him. "Soy Walter; mucho gusto." "Walter es el nombre de mi padre!" I said in surprise (Walter is my father's name). Right next to this Dad-Walter, a 12-ish year old boy said "Soy Walter tambien." Again, I am totally surprised - two Walters? And then they tell me Walter is a very common name in Guatemala. Who knew? I also met two Darwin's and 1 Edwin from Guatemala. Women named Myra, Jennifer, Dixie...

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12-ish-year-old Walter is one of five, and his mother and siblings are on the road to join their father in Colorado. Two boys, and three girls. Their mom is a smiling, petite woman who braids her daughters' hair into works of art.
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The day Lynn and I were there, a Congressional delegation (and their very large staffs) were visiting. This mom asked me who those people were. In my passable, but not-nuanced Spanish, I told her they were people from the government who were visiting because they were interested in the experience of the immigrants. Fear gripped her face - of course. I started spitting out that they were totally safe, that there was no danger. I flagged over a native Spanish speaker who explained again that she and her children were safe. Her face released. Lynn hugged her, and this beautiful woman did not let go for several minutes. A massive sensitivity boost for me - and left me feeling very foolish for having stumbled into that. (Remember my prayer for one good humiliation a day? Presto.)

A little later, I introduced myself to one of the Congressional staffers. "Are you from here?" I asked. "No, Washington, DC." (As if it were a special place that required knowledge beyond anything that might be available in the Valley.) I told him a little about the respite center and introduced him to the five-kiddo family. He asked me to ask a couple of questions as he had no Spanish. Where were they from? Where were they going? Then he said "Ask her how old she is," referring to the mother. I turned my head to translate - and a prayer of thanks for all that is holy - I caught myself. What the actual fuck? Would he want to check her teeth next? Thank goodness my brain turned on, and I said to him "You don't ever ask a woman how old she is!" And he said to me, "I was going to ask you next." ?!?! Asking a white woman her age makes his faux-pas pass? Um, no. I said, "Whatever my age, I look damn good."

White, brainy, upper-middle Congressional staffer thinks it is ok to ask a poor Guatemalan woman who is petite and attractive - and the mother of five - how old she is? No. But it took me a second to catch myself. She is a caring and scared mama, walking her children to safety. Not an exhibit for the curious.

Thank you, thank you to every force that allowed this experience to happen for me. Some of you tell me I was brave. I wasn't. Some of you tell me what I did was great. It was good. And, I was shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side with so many wonderful people taking care of each other with love, dignity, humor, and sensitivity. The only relevant question was: what do you need?

Love and light,
sg

Posted by sarahglover44 06:28 Comments (1)

Blinding Flash of the Obvious: No Easy Answers

I got to talk with Feliberto’s (El Pastor's) daughter two days ago. She works in one of the detention centers for unaccompanied minors. She was eating lunch at his house, and graciously offered to chat even though she was on her lunch hour. She described a situation at her facility that is quite different from what we are seeing in the news. She described a pretty orderly, though maybe a bit of a sterile, situation. She is the medical coordinator, so interacts closely with doctors, nurses, and sick kiddos. I’m going to do a quick Q&A format here, putting in answers as if she is speaking, though admit these are not exact quotes.

1. How long are the kids in this facility?
It varies; usually at least a month. Some are there for several months. These are unaccompanied minors, meaning they are kids younger than 18 who cross the border without adults. We go through a careful vetting process of their sponsors. We don’t release them until we have learned as much as we can about the safety of their sponsor.

2. Are there very young children who are cared for by older children?
The very young children I know of are actually accompanied by their mothers, who are also very young. I have two young mothers with small babies right now.

3. How many children are in your facility?
350. I work for Comprehensive Health Services, a company based in Florida. We just got a contract to expand to over 600 children. I think the plan is to be able to have 650 children by the end of July. They put the new houses together incredibly quickly.

4. How do you know if a child is sick and needs medical attention?
Every child has 3 people following him or her: a case worker, someone who is investigating their sponsor, and (something else…which Glover is forgetting). We have a lot of contact with the kids. These kids come across the border, and many have been traveling for weeks. They have not been eating well - and may have been malnourished for most of their lives. I have an 8-year-old who is 48 pounds. They are also dehydrated. So, yes, the kids need help and they don’t improve right away. There is also a cultural barrier. We try to get those who are underweight on high-calorie drinks, but they don’t see this as normal food to eat or something they should be doing.

Right now, we also have teachers, but I heard those were going away and that we didn’t have the funding for that anymore. I am not sure about that.

5. Why do you think it is so different in other facilities? The NYT article about Clint, the recent report from the US Inspector General seems to confirm it is pretty bad in some places.
There are definitely differences across facilities. I can only tell you how things are working for me. My husband works in another detention center, and the way they distribute medicine is totally different. It matters who is running the particular facility.

She described - granted, in somewhat bureaucratic terms - a place that is well-run, carefully following these kids, and not much at all like what we are seeing in the news. I believe her. I think it is unquestionably warehousing children, which I think is wrong on its face. I think the Trump administration is deliberately making this a million times more awful than it should be - mostly by dehumanizing these brave, scared, and hungry people. I also see that the situation of so many children crossing the border without adults is challenging.

Some of you are asking me if my views on the issue of immigration are changing or my point of view about how to help is changing. I am trying to hold that at bay, actually. I still feel like I am learning so much, and also very clear that I am seeing a tiny little sliver. Here are a couple things that feel clear, though:

  • People need jobs that provide them enough income to live with dignity. One mother told me that her rent went up, and she had to start deciding whether to feed herself or her child. There simply was no way for her to stay afloat.
  • People need to live and work in a system of law that ensures they can be physically safe and keep and spend what they earn. The system of law has to make extortion a rarity rather than a norm. It has to ensure the government doesn’t steal from people or wreck the economy such that currency is destroyed.

Most of these people don’t want to leave their families or their homelands. They have relatives who are getting killed, their children are getting kidnapped, their wages are getting garnished by gangs.

What would you do if a gang leader told you you had to turn over 10% of your wages or he would kill your child? You would run. And do everything conceivable to protect your child.

Let us all be instruments of peace,
sg

Posted by sarahglover44 08:59 Comments (0)

Awesome ways to help

Stone soup - with chilies. Mas picoso, por favor

Popping this to the top, and making more concise. Thanks to all of you asking how to help! Donations and supplies are rolling in. :) :)

I suggest these 3 ways of helping:

Send money:
1. Where I am: Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries: http://swgsm.org/take-action/donate-now/
2. Team Brownsville: a volunteer-led group that provides meals to people daily: https://www.teambrownsville.org/
3. Good Neighbor Settlement House: a homeless shelter that has been expanded to serve as a respite center for people paroled from detention and with 6-24 hours before their bus leaves for their next destination. https://www.goodneighborsh.org/

Send supplies:
1. SWGSM: https://smile.amazon.com/hz/charitylist/ls/2NS529C97DIKK/ref=smi_se_spo_icl_lst_tgt
2. Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/JJVAJFS3VIIQ/

Go find some people who recently made their way to your city. Sponsoring legal fees for their asylum-seeking process would be a potent way to assist. Another would be finding a high school where these kids wind up, and ask what they need. Churches and synagogues are often on the front lines; you don't need to be a person of faith to join in their work! They will welcome anyone who wants to help.

Shout out to mi amiga Lynn who decided to hop in her car and drive down here! Yahoo - we will have a reunion, and she will bring a carload of stuff from her friends and colleagues in Houston. Shout out to Nechasek! Got your bags yesterday, and will deliver tomorrow. A little over $500 raised by you guys so far for SWGSM. I have 2 more dinners to deliver in Brownsville. You are with me!

Besos,
sg

Posted by sarahglover44 09:33 Comments (0)

Pretty sure Jesus likes his salsa hot

Guys, dinner was a success. Abuelito Jesse and I figured out a way to actually keep the hot dogs hot (ironic because laying them on the sidewalk would pretty much do that...) - and it worked!

A smaller crowd than Friday night. Which was a good thing, because I was flying solo. I served about 35 people. Same drill: people get dropped off at the bus station by Border Patrol from detention. The families either wait in the bus station for their bus, or, if they have a long wait, or have to stay the night, the city takes them in a van to a respite center. Most families were from Honduras. I met two families from Mexico - and one from Georgia (Eastern Europe!). I spoke Spanish to him, and he said: "No English." So, English and Spanish were both out, but happily, he took hot dogs for his family anyway.

Abuelito Jesse also clued me into the fact that no one south of the border puts ketchup or mustard on their hot dogs. "Ack, no!" he shakes his finger at me. Tomates, cebollas. "Pico de gallo?" I ask? "Oh, si." So, I made pico (my first time - yep, super-easy y muy buena) and served it on top of the hot dogs. It was a hit. I thought I was being uber-culturally aware and brought flour tortillas and limes (folks here seem to squeeze lime juice on almost anything). And not a single tortilla or lime was taken. I love it! In an earlier post, I shared that I will pray for one good humiliation a day - that one isn't too bad...but a bit humbling, nonetheless.

Two kiddos from Honduras attached themselves to me from the moment I go there and helped me pack up to leave, almost three hours later. I couldn't understand the sister very well (15 years old, named Saria), but could understand her brother (12, Danny). He was a sweetie - and started reading the English words on the packages I had on the table: "crayons, chewy, jumbo." He was awesome. They both were a big help and fun to hang out with, though I was super-frustrated not to understand Saria hardly at all. Also, as I get tired, I can barely speak in English, forget Spanish.
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Another volunteer who lives in Brownsville stopped by to check on me. She was alarmed that I was alone. While she was there, two dudes who are homeless and live in Brownsville came asking for food. As I had been told, I explained to them the food was for immigrants. They pleaded. I gave them 2 apples. Weird, right? They probably need the food, but if we started feeding homeless people, the line would grow fast. And Elisa, the volunteer, leaned in hard with me saying one of the guys was a really bad guy. She said several times that I needed to make sure he didn't see me leave alone. Awesome. It all worked out - but that was a not-so-fun-wrinkle.

One thing to pass along (which I assume most of you know, but given that this just happened, I will share): please don't pass along clothing that you wouldn't wear yourself. Not a single human wants to look like a dirtbag. Someone dropped off a small bag of clothes to hand out. They were crappy t-shirts, a couple of which even had ridiculous stains. I just threw this crap in the trash. Seriously? If you look at something and decide it is not in good shape enough for you or your children to wear, it is not good enough for your Guatemalan or Honduran sibling either.

I think I have to say again (and again and again) that the bravery of these mothers is breathtaking. Their love for their children is palpable.

Much love to you,
sg

Posted by sarahglover44 17:32 Comments (1)

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