dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

By Lisa Grzesiek - 5 Jul, 1999

Page 4 of 4

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On our second day in the village we walked to town and bought some provisions for the family - tea, sugar, coffee, candles, a ball and jump rope for the kids and some floor cushions for Delika. We made sure to make the presentations ourselves. On top of the other money and gifts we had already given, we thought these gestures would be appreciated. Instead, our perceptions were that they were seen as cheap, insignificant.

This aspect of our time in the village was very difficult. We jokingly likened the compound to prison and fantasized an early "escape." I was beginning to understand why Ebrima didn't come home very often. In our final hours the people of the village became desperate and saw it as their last opportunity to extract anything they could from the "wealthy foreigners." Even Ebrima pumped up the guilt factor. We heard, repeatedly, about this difficulties getting a passport and the only way to ensure that the papers don't get "lost" is to offer money to the administrators. He also cornered me at one point and told me that he had found many problems in the village. They need fertilizer, cement, a new horse. His father was asking him what he could do to help out. I just listened and said yes, it is very difficult in Africa.

As I was mentally preparing for my exile, Ebrima was making plans of his own for me. He has a brother that lives in Brikana, about 12 km out of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. He would meet me at the bus stop, let me stay in his compound, then the following day take me around the city to buy a plane ticket to Dakar, a drum for my dance teacher, and ultimately deposit me at the airport. It seemed like a big imposition to me, but Ebrima was insistent. I like to think that he had my best interest in mind, as traveling by myself could be challenging. It would have been rude to go it alone, and for the extra safety, I accepted the offer. I'm pretty sure that Ebrima also saw it as an opportunity for his brother to make some money. But after having met and stayed with Malamin, I'm sure he felt that his brother was doing him no favors. He was kind enough to pick me up at the bus stop and relinquish his bed but it was clear that he was definitely less than enthused to have me in is home, and certainly was not keen to chauffeur me around the next day. Nor was I looking forward to pay for his silent services, so I did us both favor, got up early and started the journey to Dakar over land; much easier for everyone.

Our last breakfast in the village was very intense. As I passed through the front door of Ebrima's fathers' home he said flat out "what are you leaving behind with us?" Family members were coming up to me asking when could Ebrima come to London. One woman thrust her small child at me, begging, take him with you.

Despite the emotionally taxing elements of the stay in the village and the fact that I can't say wholesale that I enjoyed those 83 hours, I was grateful for the opportunity, the education, and connections made with a few of the children. I was also concerned that Ebrima could pick-up on a bit of our despair, so before we left I took an opportunity to thank him for all he'd done for me. He reciprocated, telling me how much he enjoyed meeting me, that the people in the village thought I was so this, so that, being very complimentary. He then immediately followed it up with tales of village troubles that could be easily remedied by a little money. With that he negated everything he had just said and left me questioning if I was anything more to him than just another white person with supposedly lots of money and a debt to his society.

If I entered Africa naive and earnest, I certainly left jaded and cynical, less trusting of peoples' intentions, more skeptical of their motivations. And I'm definitely disturbed by that. We did encounter people who would help you without expecting anything in return, but for every one of them, there was someone else who would ask for your address just because you sat next to them on a bus or exchanged a few words.

I don't like not knowing who the real Ebrima is. What was his agenda? Were my initial impressions of him wrong? Or, is his situation so dire that the need to survive overshadows any interpersonal communication? Should I feel guilty because I was born into circumstances more fortunate than he? Did I give too little to someone from whom I learned so much? Why does it seem that it all comes down to money? Is it because I have it and they don't? What can I do to assuage the anguish? Questions now. Answers in time.





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