Thursday, March 08, 2012

Happy International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day ---to celebrate, I thought I would feature a woman who inspires me daily: my sister Leah.

Leah making some new friends
Leah is a professor at Tyndale University with a phd in Global Governance. She has dedicated much of her adult life to campaigning for education as a universal right.  She is so well-beloved in Africa, a continent she has traversed across doing research, working for CIDA and infiltrating with her passion for its culture and people, she has been affectionately known as Mama Africa.  Leah speaks Swahili and makes friends everywhere---with everyone. I have never met anyone with such a genuine love and zest for humanitarianism than Leah. She evokes Gandhi's immortal statement that we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Recently, Leah was in Senegal under a taut political climate and there she was able to meet and befriend a Sengalese boy. She articulately recounted this experience.  Why Leah's experiences always stand out is that she goes expecting to be changed and allows it to happen. She does not approach a culture believing that she will be the change or inference it needs; rather, she becomes a vessel ready to be filled by the experience. If you go somewhere expecting to leave and indelible print, the result can be forced and can contradict the purest forms of  International Relationships in a developing world. If instead, you approach the situation as a blank, open page hoping to be intercepted by life-altering moments, then both parties will be positively effected by the ramification.

AMADOU  printed with permission by Leah McMillan
Yesterday I met Morninga on the street - a Senegalese man about my age who makes a living selling paintings, wood carvings, and various other artifacts.  His shop is directly across from the guesthouse where I'm staying, meaning that I was able to hang out in his shop for quite a while last night knowing that I could simply run back to my room when manifestations broke out (yes, it's more 'when' rather than 'if' right now).

Yes, he wants a white wife, but beyond that little barrier to our friendship, I really learned a lot from our chat.
Like all Senegalese at the moment, his shop was tuned into the radio.  It was blasting in Wolof (interspersed with the soundtrack from Chariots of Fire - no joke!) and he was able to translate for me the current tensions in the country.

In Senegalese culture, if you're talking with someone or a group of people for a while, you must take 'taya', small little cups of traditional tea.  So, as we were chatting away, his brother, about 12 years of age, came into the shop and offered me and Morninga the taya.  His brother, Amadou, only speaks Wolof, but I was able to say the few small words I now know.
He laughed at my butchering of his language, we became friends, and he left Morninga and I to continue our chatting.

This morning, Amadou was on the street and again I chatted with him - small greetings ('salaams') to start the day.

About an hour and a half ago, I was coming home when I ran into Morninga and Amadou again.  I entered Morninga's shop and again we began to chat, as I learned more about the political tensions in the country.
So, again, Amadou left and came back with the taya.

As I was getting ready to leave, Amadou began to say something to his brother in Wolof.  Morninga immediately began taking a painting off display and rolling it.  "Amadou wants to give this to you as a gift."
I quickly replied, " No, no, it's too much."  This painting was a fairly large size and could honestly get him quite a profit, especially living across from a guesthouse with so many tourists.

Morninga quickly interjected that this was a very special moment because it was the first painting Amadou had ever made.

In Senegalese culture it is rude to refuse a gift, but I felt very embarrassed, so I inquired further.
Why was he giving me such an honour with this special gift?!

Amadou, through Morninga's translation, began to explain that normally tourists simply walk by without greeting or stopping.  Amadou liked that I was kind to him, that I took time for the taya, and that I remembered him even the next day in the morning.  He saw me on the street playing soccer with other kids and talking to everyone and he could tell I had a kind heart that didn't care about the difference between black and white people.  I was so kind he wanted to do something special for me.  All this out of the mouth of a 12 year-old! 

Obviously I began to tear in the shop.
Then Amadou, a Muslim boy who has never in his life touched a woman outside his immediate family gave me another special honour - I got a hug :)  It was a VERY awkward hug...but a hug nonetheless.
I told Amadou that I will hang his painting in a special place in my home so I remember to pray for him everyday.

I'm not writing this story to brag about myself.  There are so many times when I rush through life too quickly, when I don't take time to greet people, to smile, to really get to know every person I meet.
But I do write this story to share with you about a little boy named Amadou.
A little boy who was wearing the same ratty t-shirt (labelled 'Burberry') two days in a row.  A little boy who probably owns nothing else to wear.

A little boy who found it in his heart to give me one of his most precious possessions - the very first painting he ever made.
Coming from an artisan family, this is probably his life's profession, especially given that he speaks only Wolof and no French (an indication that he doesn't go to school).  And I have the privilege of hanging his first painting in my home.

And you know what he wanted in return?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.
He didn't ask for money.  He didn't as for "un petit cadeau".  He didn't ask for a visa.  He didn't even ask for me to marry his brother.

I dropped down on this country for merely a week, taking away so much, and giving back so little.
If you read the media out of Senegal right now, you'd think that this was a chaotic country, with thousands of angry, conflict-causing, rioters.  Boistrous.  Hateful.  Violent.

But in the short time I've been here, the Senegal I know is the one displayed by Amadou.  Caring.  Generous.  Thoughtful.
As I hear of teargas and grenades, as I hold onto the backseat while my car departs from the burning wreckage of protester barricades, as I run from stones thrown by protesters...

As the media makes sure that all of the above is the only story out of Africa...

I clutch my painting, I tear over dinner, and I remember...
Africa is not just politics, war, famine or hardship.
Africa, in its purest form, at its very heart, is Amadou.


Jess said...

This makes me all warm and inspired inside. Your words and Leah's.

Gina said...

That was lovely. Your sister sounds amazing.