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What for Insa?
By Evelyn - 22 Jun, 1999

Page 3 of 4

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We returned from the market and sat outside our hotel, making holes with my Swiss-army knife in Insa's new belt so that it would actually fit his slender waist. He wanted me to translate some phrases into English in his exercise book. As I did this, a young French woman stopped in front of us and said hello to Insa. She asked after him and wanted to know if he had gone "home". I was confused by what she meant since he had no home, but she seemed to know something about his situation. Insa told me later that she comes to visit her mother every so often, and had promised to help him out. I was ready to go after her and see what exactly she had in mind, but Insa told me she was returning back to France in two days and besides, he didn’t think she really meant it.

Insa knew we were leaving for Dakar the next day and said he wished he could come along because there he had a friend who could help him. This friend was a French woman named Claudine, living in Dakar. Apparently she had paid for some of Insa's schooling and they would talk on the phone occasionally. Insa was waiting for a box of clothes and books that Claudine had packed for him; it was supposed to be delivered to the cybercafe by an acquaintance coming to St. Louis from Dakar. That was two weeks ago—the package still had not showed up. I wanted to know if this French woman was for real, but knew we couldn't bring Insa to St. Louis with us. So instead, I asked Insa for Claudine's phone number, and suggested we try to reach her and maybe meet in Dakar. Tanguy helped us call Claudine that night, but we only rang through to a fax machine.

That evening was the Baaba Maal concert, which Insa wanted badly to see. Baaba Maal is a great Senegalese musician, loved by his own people and well known internationally. We had found out in Nouakchott that he and his band, Dande Lenol, were celebrating their 10th anniversary with a show in St. Louis, in between stops on a world tour. Insa had dropped numerous hints about getting him a ticket. Apparently his father's friend was in the band and he would do anything to see him perform. Gregg, Tanguy and I each deliberated a long time over whether to get him a ticket, not because of what it cost, but the deeper implications involved in bringing him to a show. Bringing him would mean we were responsible for him and none of us knew what to expect from a Senegalese concert—were kids even allowed in? We had asked various locals for their opinion on the matter; the consensus seemed to be that Insa needed other things more and a concert wasn't the most appropriate place for a boy his age. And if we did bring him, what would that say to the dozens of other street kids who would also give anything for an opportunity like that?

Our decision bothered me, mainly because I was not clear myself where I stood on the matter. That morning I had told Insa that buying him a new pair of pants was a priority over getting him a ticket to the concert. In reality, given his ability to make contact with foreigners, he was bound to get a new pair of jeans before long. And how was that more important than an unforgettable night at a Baaba Maal concert he would maybe never get to see? Yet other factors were at hand. Every day that Insa was seen hanging out with us posed greater threat to his security. By developing a connection with him, he was becoming the envy among other street kids, not to mention already a target of a low-life twice his size already harrassing him at night. We would eventually leave St. Louis and Insa would continue to live on the streets.

Gregg, Tanguy and I had a bite to eat before heading out to the concert venue, Quai des Arts. It was only when Insa started pouting at the dinner table that I realized he really was just a kid. Forced to be smart on the streets, I had characterized him as an adult-kid. I didn't know how to react when he started crying. We all felt awkward about it. Tanguy tried to cheer him up as he followed us out to the venue, but Insa still hung his head and dragged his feet. Meanwhile, I went through the whole cycle again, rationalizing our decision not to bring him.



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


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