On Bad Conscience
The net effect of the heat, elasticity of time, and lack of anything stimulating to do left us each with a bad conscience. We lamented our discomfort and boredom—half-seriously, half-jokingly—and if only to fill the time. But that we even harboured negative feelings in a place where people seemed sincerely happy that we had come to their village made us feel like bad people.
Though we paid Ebrima for his "guide services" in addition to our provisions and the extra work we caused to his sister to accommodate us, we had no idea if she actually saw any of that money. We were staying in her compound, she fetched our water, cooked and served our meals... we even broke the latch on the door of the room we were staying in (accident, of course!). Meanwhile, we sat about and pondered things we could do to pass the time. Even worse, we yearned for a quiet place to go where we could be left alone for just a moment... bad, bad people!
Actually, we did spend a good amount of time talking with some of the older village kids who learned English at school, and through them, superficially with Ebrima's elders. We got a sense of what things mattered to them—getting an education, finding a job, going abroad for greater opportunity... We learned about how the village was socially and politically structured, and how that was beginning to change with many young people, like Ebrima, leaving their village.
Often, the nature of conversations took on undertones of our assumed ability to provide for their needs. Sometimes we got outright requests for things. The money we paid to stay in the village was expected; gestural gifts we bought were nice. But what they really wanted was money for a book bag, new shoes, school fees, bribe money to expedite getting a passport, concrete for a new building, fertilizer for the village...
This was awkward for us and I can't help but think that we were made to feel a little bad about not satisfying all their resource needs. But I know that it is not what they intended to make us feel. It is the reality. We can't get away from what we represent to them. We travel. We have money. We are a possible means to specific ends they are unable to fulfill themselves. We just weren't prepared for what the experience actually meant.
For what it's worth, village life was a lesson for us. It exposed our attitudes, habits, and expectations; it showed us where we come from. I'd be lying if I said we enjoyed ourselves as guests to Dampha Kunda, but as travelling does, it gave us a chance to see our reflection in a different kind of mirror. I'm no better for it, but I am humbled.