Archive for the 'Women' Category

What’ve you got against cardboard boxes??

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Spontaneous laughter is embarrassing. Unfortunately, it is also a condition of which I am extreme prone. For example, right now in the middle of this crowded cybercafé while I read all the responses to my previous post. At least I’m not laughing at Absolutely Nothing, like I usually am. It’s terribly awkward and unfortunate.

The other day I cracked myself up in my courtyard, and laughed helplessly against the wall for about five minutes before I could explain that I was laughing at my mother’s response to my threat that I might live in a cardboard box outside the library. (For reference, all she did was make a disclaimer that I would NOT, in fact, be living in a box. Funny?? Uhm, not really.) My family already thinks I’m weird enough.

Actually, in a funny contrast to my last post, my family calls me jigéen (girl/woman) fairly frequently. The context of this is that I have good “womanly skills” and/or would “make a good wife”. There are many possible political explanations of this statement, but I’ll leave it at one comment for now.

My family is well-educated, particularly for Sénégal. There are at least three doctors in the family, and everyone gets a higher education. There is a daughter living in the states, and many of the grandchildren aspire to studying there through exchange programs. My mother has hosted students for more than ten years. Through pursuit of education and spending time with students, they have a better understanding of Western culture than many (example: Taxi Driver).

They also have a broader idea of the meaning of “women’s roles”. When my family makes this type of statement they do not mean for a moment that being a “good wife” should be a woman’s only aspiration in life. It is a comment on basic cultural values and an approval of my interest in fiber arts, personal values, and pursuit of education.

Does it send shivers of righteous indignation down my spine just the same?? Uhm, YES. After a Western feminist upbringing, you never *quite* get used to it.

Still here. Still alive. Still sunburnt.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

I spent the weekend with my program in Sokone (a small village near the Gambia), hence the lack of post-age.

We stayed in thatched-roof houses, although it was a “hotel” and therefore a little fancier than the compounds usually are.  Still, we visited a compound and had an excellent time.  The walls are made from a cement-like substance made from mud and crushed shells, which makes for a much cooler housing material than the cement ovens they like to bake us in here in Dakar.

We simply asked if they minded if we came in to look around, and the moment we entered the gate we were swarmed by urchins.  Mine was named Penda* and she somehow managed to cling to my hand even in the process of trying to retie her skirt (which fell off halfway through the visit and never quite got reattached).

We visited a few NGOs run by women (grains, jams/batiks), a honey business, and an eco-tourism site.  It was all pretty cool.  We took a pieroge (once again, small wooden boat and not Polish food item) to and from through the mangroves.  We didn’t see any manatees, but apparently there are some that live in that particular little ocean branch.

Finally, we spend a few hours talking to a group of 15-year-old girls.  It was interesting because they all know what they want to be, and half of us are still struggling.  Here?  You have to know.  If you don’t you’ll never break the cycle.

It was an excellent weekend in short, but it’s nice to be home in Dakar.  I missed my family.

* One of my favorite Sénégalese womens names, tied with Ramatoulaye and Aminata.