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What for Insa?
By Evelyn - 22 Jun, 1999

Page 4 of 4

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Around 10:00pm, we left Insa at the main gate where tickets were being checked. While we were waiting for the show to start, we saw our friend, Issa. I told him more about what I had learned about Insa and he said he wanted to meet the kid. So, at one point before the show, we ran outside to find Insa but he was nowhere to be seen. Baaba Maal didn't actually come on until after midnight. The show was fantastic once it got started. It was 4am when it ended, and when we emerged from the crowd at the exit Insa was waiting for us. He asked how we enjoyed the performance and escorted us back to our hotel. I was reminded of how badly I felt that we didn't bring him, which was compounded by the fact that we were going up to our rooms while Insa was to spend another night sleeping in the streets. I wondered if Insa would wake up the next morning without his new clothes.

Sunrise came a few hours later and it was time for us to pack up and leave St. Louis to meet our friend, Lisa, in Dakar. Insa was outside, as we knew he would be. I told him that though we couldn't promise anything, we would try again to reach Claudine. We climbed in the taxi and turned to wave goodbye to Insa.

Tanguy eventually did reach Claudine, but we never met up with her in Dakar. She was moving back to France and her flight was leaving in a few days. She seemed to genuinely care about Insa and did what she could, but what he really needed was something no one could provide without taking full-on responsibility for him. For us, by definition as travelers, we are passing through places, learning from our experiences. Meeting people is a fundamental part of this process, as is the giving back to those that you make a special connection with. But how, in this case, is it possible to do more than feed, clothe, and spend some time with Insa? There were obvious limits to our getting involved and trying to improve his situation—one that we didn’t fully understand. Tanguy had asked Insa to bring him to his marabout just so they could talk. Insa was fearful and hesitant, with every reason; how would a marabout, supposedly an esteemed individual in society, feel about a foreigner making judgements about his failure to fulfill his responsibilities? In the end, Insa would pay for any damage to the marabout's reputation. What Insa needed—a stable home environment—we could not provide for. The source of the problem was his parents' inability to provide and alternatively, a deteriorating tradition of marabouts as caregivers. Behind this were more problems.

As much as I knew all this, how could I feel decent saying "bonne nuit" to Insa when I knew he would be sleeping on a dirty concrete doorstep? How could I tell him he looked sharp in his new clothes when what I was really wondering was how long it would be before someone beat him up again? How could I look him in the eyes and tell him things were going to be all right when there was no forseeable end to his days on the streets?

Since leaving St. Louis, I have wondered about Insa. Will he grow up to be like these aggressive touts I keep turning away everywhere we go because I am not interested in buying whatever they're shoving in my face? Will he be like one of those guys who strikes up friendly conversation, then tirelessly promotes his services as a guide? Or will Insa be smarter and in the same way he is able to connect with people as a homeless 13 year-old? Will he prove to be resourceful and hardworking and do more than just make ends meet? Will the bigger problems of unemployment and lack of opportunity in Senegal improve in his lifetime?

Tanguy has in his sketchbook a watercolor of a traditional riverboat which Insa painted the day they walked around together in St. Louis. Inscribed below is Insa’s dream: 'One day when I am rich, I will buy a big house where all homeless children can come and live'.




  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
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    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

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-- T.S. Eliot
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