I may have mentioned this before, but Dakar reminds me of the part in A Bee Movie where the two bees are standing in the middle of the road and everything goes on around them as usual making room for them. Dakar has a very natural flow to it. People stand on the median selling items. Horse carts pull a couple people with some building materials. Sometimes there is only room for one car to pass on the street. When you meet another car, you pull out of the way if possible or they do. It’s an extremely give and take society.
We went to the Dutch embassy first. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my passport with me so I stayed in the car for most of the day, but it was a blessing because it gave me lots of time to think, but I’ll get back to that later. Herma is always making new friends and contacts in different places. She is amazing because she spends much of her time in Dakar taking the products that the boys make and showing them to people.
After parking the car on the sidewalk, we walked to the post office, the bakery (which was heaven to breathe in), and the open air market. The market was almost like a circular stadium. It had a very high ceiling on it and there were concentric circles all leading to the center. You could walk in and out of the aisles trying to avoid running into the loads of people. The smell is somewhat indescribable. Probably because by today’s American standards we would use words like dirty, smelly, and possibly even revolting. However, when you experience the Senegal culture for a while and you walk in, there is something fresh about it too; earthy, strong, and maybe even masculine.
The food isn’t there to please your visual senses (although it certainly makes an impression) it is there more for the olfactory senses and possibly even textile. We walked by a vegetable stand and Herma bought a batch of cilantro. It still had the roots on it and probably even some dirt. But there was something inviting about it. You knew it was real. You knew that someone had taken care of it and pulled it up from the ground recently. Cilantro in our stores are normally cut off and sprayed constantly so it looks visually appealing, but here the value of it goes much deeper.
From the market we drove to another lady’s house that bought some pillows and wanted to see some of the other products that Herma had. I, again, stayed in the car for some time thinking about all I had seen (and smelled) that day. I started to wonder why I was so initially inclined to help these people change their lives to “bring them up to my level.” I see the images of kids playing in the dirt with a soccer ball that’s half full or a couple marbles and I immediately think how sad. I see the simple stove in the kitchen or the fridge that’s half the size of mine and I wonder how I can help.
Anthropologists call this concept “ethnocentrism”; judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. I am certainly proud to be live in America, and I enjoy the amenities that comes with it; the house, car, and technology. However, it struck me as very egocentric to think that my way of life is the “right” one. My good friend, Rick, tagged me in a post on Facebook with an article attached about this very thing. The gist of the article was that instead of swooping into a culture and thinking you know what’s best, try listening for a change and involving the community about decisions to make life better.
There is much to say about the entrepreneurial spirit here in Dakar. You don’t see many large buildings with lots of employees. Actually, the biggest buildings I saw the whole day were the embassies throughout the city; especially the American embassy. Most of the businesses that are run are small sidewalk shops of fruit or other goods. There are lots of people selling items on the sides of the street too and they openly welcome traffic jams too so the cars will slow down and hopefully sell an item to them. ( I quickly learned the word ‘bah-na’ which is a polite form of no thank you in Wolof ) On a side note, we drove down a long street and on one side, there was an entire row of furniture from cabinets to lounge chairs to bed frames.
One part of me sees the luxuries of living in America and thinks that is how everyone should live. Another part wonders if these people want a change. Do they enjoy living in economical poverty? Do they strive to be rich? What is their driving force? In America we live in straight lines and staying within the borders. Here it is much more organic. Cars, people, bikes, and horse carts all fit on the side of the same road without accidents. The right of way is not given to the pedestrian but to whoever has the biggest vehicle.
Even as I talk about poverty, my mind immediately races to think of money and how much do we have … or not have. I look at the people here and I see that perhaps they don’t live in monetary riches, they certainly don’t live in relational poverty. You constantly get a sense that they have friendships around every corner. They eat and play together. The kids play together with what they can find and they enjoy it.
I wonder many times what a missionary from Senegal to Hermann, MO could teach us. How should we change our way of thinking? How would they pity us? How would they integrate themselves into our society to make the biggest impact? How long would it take us Americans to accept someone else from a different culture and learn from them to make a better society? Of course cultures are different and we, as Americans shouldn’t try to copy their society anymore than they should copy ours, but we are all human and that gives us a common bond. Our goal should be to live and learn with each other to make the world what Christ came for; a world where our primary goal is to love God and love others.