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What for Insa?
By Evelyn - 22 Jun, 1999

Page 2 of 4

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In fact, as badly as Insa had it, he was still better off than most other kids in his predicament. Insa was smart. He could speak Fula (Pulaar), Wolof, and French, and had a penchant for learning. He had tact and charm; he could get through to tourists who were hardened by incessant harrassment from touts and begging children. Insa knew he could get more by asking less.

One afternoon we saw Tanguy with Insa in tow, per usual. They had spent the day walking around town painting with watercolors and were sitting down for a late bite at the sandwich restaurant across the way from our hotel. Insa was wearing only a tattered, oversized T-shirt, munching his sandwich. He was beaming with happiness having spent the day with his new friend. Tanguy told us that Insa's jeans were stolen as he'd been sleeping—he'd taken them off to use as a pillow on the stoop of the restaurant. He didn’t know who had taken them—"un homme" was all he could describe. Why would a grown man want a kid's jeans?

Later that evening Gregg and I sat with Tanguy in the same sandwich joint having dinner. Midway through, Insa strolled in confidently, obviously happy to see his friends. He carried a notebook inside which he scribbled English phrases translated in Wolof and French. He said he wanted to learn conversational phrases, so I promised that I would teach him the next day. It was getting to be midnight when Gregg and I got up to leave. I handed Insa a little money in case he got hungry later, and told him we go with him to buy new pants the next day.

Early the next morning Gregg and I had plans to meet Issa, a St. Louis local whom we had befriended the day before at the cabine téléphonique. After going together to get Baaba Maal concert tickets, Issa would bring us to his alma matter--the university of St. Louis (one of two in all of Senegal). When we returned that afternoon, Insa was waiting for us in front of our hotel. He looked uncharacteristically unhappy. Were we late? We had told him that we would go shopping with him in the afternoon, but hadn’t established a firm time. Was he mad at us? It turns out that someone had taken the money we'd given Insa the night before and when he resisted, the man hit him in the mouth and ripped the collar of his shirt. Was it the same guy? Insa didn't know because it was dark—in the middle of the night—when it happened. To top it off, the French restaurant owner was yelling at him, warning him not to sleep in front of his restaurant anymore as it was bad for business. This is what had upset Insa.

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Insa was with a friend and we asked where we could buy the pants. They led us across the river to the peninsula side of St. Louis where most the local population lives. Tanguy, Gregg and I had walked there the evening before, rather put off by what we saw. Trash and rotten fish heads lined the riverbank and hundreds of children swam in the dirty water. Cats, goats, chickens and the occasional dead rat were strung along the road, across from the shanty residential quarters. Inside this maze of dilapidated buildings is a sprawl of markets. Insa and his friend seemed to know where things were. We found a few stalls selling jeans. Many items came from K-mart with the original price tag attached. All the jeans were too large for Insa by a good 10 inches around the waist. We went to another stall where Insa eventually picked out jeans and a new polo shirt. He needed a belt to hold up the jeans. We also found him a new pair of shoes to replace his thinned-out flip-flops. Insa did a good job bargaining, looking smart in his new outfit. His friend had on a ripped sweatshirt and worn shorts, so we asked if there was anything he needed. He shook his head no, mumbled that he unlike Insa, he had parents and didn't need anything.




  What am I doing here?
  The Nigerian's Road
What for Insa?

  New York
    New York City
West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"There are three wants which can never be satisfied: that of the rich, who wants something more; that of the sick, who wants something different; and that of the traveler, who says, 'Anywhere but here.'"
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
  © 1999/2000 ~ Call Me Disturbed.