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Gaya Morris

19 Aug 2010 A call from Sebi

Its 3 pm on Sunday and I’m in my usual spot behind the terracotta table in my mom’s gallery/showroom in the South End of Boston, dabbing at little tufts of oil paint on paper plates, breathing in those thick fumes of turpentine and liquin and humming along to the fast tune Nitti Nit by Yoro Ndiaye. Keeping one eye on the occasional customer browsing amongst the Italian ceramics, another on my canvas, and my third eye on the photo of Ami Diop displayed my computer screen, its a new kind of multi-tasking. That photo is one of my favorites. Her expression, so calm and confident with a touch of mirthful understanding at the corners of her eyes and lips as she stands in the “perombre” entrance way to her house, wearing a sky blue tshirt and a colorful headscarf knotted loosely to one side, is beautiful. It captures Ami Diop, my Senegalese best friend, at her simple fullest. I was kind of worried that working on this portrait series every day would be a little emotionally intense, like staring into the eyes of my past for five hours, but the truth is that 95 percent of the time my eyes blur the images into a maps of shapes and forms, patches of light and dark and layers of color, which I must translate onto my canvas. “Hello, how are you,” I say, all in one sentence, as another group of Sunday shoppers wanders in from the outdoor vintage market in the parking lot. Fine, thankyou, how are you? They usually answer. Pause. Is this your work? -- Honey, don’t touch that, it’s fragile! No, actually, the ceramics are all done by professional artisans in Italy, it’s all imported from Tuscany. I’m just working on some of my own stuff here in the back. Oh, well it’s all beautiful! Hmm isn’t it? Smile.
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29 Jun 2010 “Hingham student reaches out to Senegal”

This article originally appeared in the Hingham Journal HERE After deciding to take off a “gap year” between high school and college last summer, Gaya Morris, a Hingham resident, recently returned from a stay in a rural village in Senegal as a participant in the Global...

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10 Jun 2010 Dear Hassane

***I wrote this blog a few weeks ago in the midst of that overly observant readjustment period and I sincerely hope some of the generalizations I have made aren't offensive to anyone, because that's really all they are - superficial generalizations in which you may sometimes find a grain of truth.*** Dear Hassane, Remember that day back in January or February when you asked me about America? It was during one of our Saturday English club gatherings and as usual our discussions had turned to comparing Senegal and the United States: culture, schools, values and ways of life. Life in Senegal is difficult, you kept repeating. You told me the story of your family, and how you, already at the age of eighteen had been forced to spend your summers working for minimal wages on the grapefruit and mandarine plantations and in the green-bean factory, to support your brothers and sisters. You expressed your desire to one day go to America to find the well-paying work that is so scarce in Senegal. I tried to explain to you then, as I have attempted to do for so many others, that life in America really isn’t as “easy” or as perfect as everyone who has never been is convinced it must be. Why? you asked and I struggled then to put all the pieces into words, working off of memories and stumbling through wavering definitions of success and happiness. But now that I have arrived home in America I may be able to respond with greater clarity. For your question goes hand in hand with some of my recent foremost thoughts. For now I can say for sure that I understand how one could say that ‘life in America is easy.’ Stepping out of the airplane into the long, shining corridors of John F, Kennedy airport in New York, I had the impression of entering a sort of space world - ordered, sterilized and efficient. And indeed this description would fit pretty well the overall sum of the observations and impressions that I have been taking note of over the past few weeks of the landscape that is for me America and home - spaces indoor and outdoor, public and private (and please let me specify, this is an upper-class cross-section that I am describing, a section large enough yet to build up a world of its own). There was so much space, so much calm and quiet contained within the smooth and polished, glass and marble surfaces and contours of the airport building. Abundant would be another word that keeps surfacing in my mind to describe the sites around me. Like along the Route Nationale heading into Dakar there are so many things to buy, but no, this is different. Not just fruit and nuts and cookies, although we’ve got plenty of those too, but every good imaginable and others that you can’t imagine, all laid out on shelves and hanging from hooks; displayed in cases and under spot-lights to look pretty. Shoes, hats, candy, electronics, books, cds, medicine, tshirts, toys, games, magazines, newspapers and many varieties of each. And all of this the most blatant evidence of that essential underlying fact that separates America from the rest of the world, that elevates it in your mind into that realm of dreams and future, and in mine up with the space ships and pixar movies. Yes, Assane, there is a lot of money in America. It doesn’t grow from trees, as I’ve often heard people joke, but you can sense it, feel it all around you.  And this does in certain ways make life “easier.”
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06 May 2010 Conclusions of many sorts

Its not the first time I've remarked how hellos are much more important than goodbyes for the Senegalese. There is no question that greetings are of the utmost importance - to shake the person's hand and go through the usual series of inquiries about your friends family, health and happiness - but then its so funny how people can separate so abruptly, often without a word. Kids march into class in straight lines like little soldiers, but then pelt out in all random directions when the bell rings. My host mother will often simply hang up the phone without warning when she feels that a conversation has been sufficient. I would say that my culture (American culture?) on the other hand values endings more than beginnings. Or maybe its just me who thinks that those last words, last gestures, are important, to conclude a conversation on the right note, seal off a stage in your life or an experience properly. If ever I get cut off from a phone conversation with my parents back in the states right before we're about to hang up, we still have to call back to actually say goodbye. And so naturally I was worrying about how on earth I would find the right things to do and to say to conclude the past six months of my life: to show my immense gratitude, appreciation and hope for the relationships I had built with the people and places around me. All of which I had imagined taking place in those final moments at door steps and car windows. But instead, I felt as though my goodbyes were spread out over a gradual period of a few days, during which by simply spending time with friends and family, savoring last activities, I and they too were able to remark on the significance of our time spent together. The process was rather emotionally exhausting, and did feel a bit drawn out , but in the end I think I will always look back on those final days as some of my best in Sebikotane. The subject of my departure had been a looming shadow over discussions for several weeks already, despite my constant efforts to evade it, but it wasn't until my final Saturday with my host family that our activities seemed to reflect a sort of purposeful preparation for this fact. On Saturday morning I cooked my first and last very own ceebujeen, almost completely on my own. Kine got to gutting the fish before I could stop her, but after that my host mother made sure that I was the one to carry the calabash bowl to the corner market (although she came with me to assist with barging through the crowd of women to actually reach the table of veggies), to pound the stuffing, fry the fish, spice the sauce, peel the vegetables, sift  the rice, wash and pour and stir the rice, scrape the delicious sticky bits from the bottom of the pot, and divide the meal between the various bowls. I love the rawness of cooking in Senegal: its hard but satisfying work that requires strong, deft hands, agility and fearlessness of oil. I'm going to miss being able to just throw scraps on the kitchen floor.
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06 May 2010 A memory

Here is a blog post I meant to post a couple weeks ago but somehow never found the chance to. I guess now you could call it a memory. My alarm rings at quarter to seven (as I am unable to prevent it from doing every single day due to the broken screen) and I jolt awake to the dim bluish light and soft shuffling beginnings of morning traffic in Dakar. The five rectangular shadows of the other fellows and their mattresses are motionless, poor Mathew still with his backpack for a pillow. Fifteen minutes later I'm dressed in yesterday's outfit, damp from the humidity that the sea breeze brings to this northern part of the city, my hastily stuffed tote bag already cutting into the same old nook and in my shoulder, and I pause at the door wondering if I should wake somebody, feeling weird setting out alone. But I had told the kids that I would be at school at nine as usual - and besides, I had already decided. I take one last look at the large, emptied room, the site of so many monthly meeting memories, and then turn away. I let the door click closed behind me, and start trudging through the sandy roadsides of Yoff, up towards the highway. I stop to buy a pain au chocolat at the French bakery, full of warmth and delicious smells at this early fresh-bread hour, hurrying past the talibe, little boys barefoot and in tattered clothing stationed already at the threshold of the glass door, shaking their empty tomato cans already containing a few coins and sugar cubes. Saraxsi egg naa, I say under my breath. I've already saved my soul. At the highway I wait for the right moment to dart across, clamber over the concrete barrier in the middle and then hurry after an already stopped clando. A clando is like a public taxi that can take many passengers at once short distances for small fees. The only way to recognize them is to simply look for the smaller, older-looking, most battered up vehicles on the road; the ones emitting little spurts of brown exhaust and making the loudest clanking noises. Cracked windshields are almost always a given but these days even for the regular yellow taxis broken glass isn't that extravagant. Assalam Malekum I say as I climb in after the other two male passengers already seated. Patte d'oie. And nothing else. No one is talking at this time of morning. I fish around in my pocket for a 100 franc piece, not really sure whether it should be 50 or 100, and sometimes I get really hung up about not getting ripped off, but then I just think, really, does ten cents make that much of a difference?
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19 Apr 2010 Yama my shadow

Yama follows me absolutely everywhere. I might be in the school computer lab, out shopping at the épicerie, visiting a friend, or just out for a walk and someone will ask me 'who's the kid?' I'll suddenly remember she is there, clinging to my pinky or carrying my nalgene, or crouched over a little piece of paper she's found drawing apples and bananas and talking to herself all the while, and say 'oh that's just my little sister Yama. She refuses let me go anywhere alone.' Indeed, I usually try to convince her to stay home but it never works. For Yama does whatever she wants, especially if its something she's not supposed to. Answering the question, 'who has influenced you most during your bridge year?' for a GCY worksheet, I recently chose Yama as one of the people who as most impacted me. For she has given me insight into the issues of neglected children, into the depths to which a child can fall without parents, or without someone who acts like a parent. For it's not just the fact that Yama's mother has given up trying to control her or, or the fact that her father spends most of the year in the Casamance fighting 'the war,' it's more the combined effect of the very many people in the household who never open their mouths to her but to insult or tell her off. Considering the little girl's impossible attitude, I don't blame them for not liking her. But a child who is always treated like and animal will only ever learn to act like one. It's a downward cycle. Naturally, what Yama wants most is attention, and she has figured out that she can get this from me. I let her play with my cards, with my guitar, let her draw with my colored pencils and make her practice her letters and numbers at nighttime, and then let her draw all over my door with chalk. I've taught her to ask nicely and to say please. But when all of a sudden I don't give her what she wants and start ignoring her (when she forces me to take things away because she's being rude and stubborn), that's when she gets really angry. For the past few days for example, it would seem that her sole purpose in life has been to annoy me. And with such persistance. It took me an extra hour the other day to get to Victoria's house because she wouldn't stop following me and then I had to take her all the way home and sneak out the back way. When I tell her she can't come in the computer lab, she'll climb up on the bars of the windows and dangle there for hours until I let her in. And if I close the windows she'll bang on them. Once inside the computer lab she'll nag at me incessantly for paper and crayons and when I give her some to just get her to be quiet (so I can concentrate on my capstone worksheet) she'll tell me the crayons are the wrong colors, and then start chanting 'danga bon, danga naaw, danga soxor' (you're bad, ugly and mean) under her breath for hours on end.
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10 Apr 2010 Capstone Procrastination

Over the past week I've been coming up with all sorts of topics I could write blogs on instead of working on all the reflection essays we've been asked of us write, to conclude our experience and prepare for our reentry – all of them to be titled 'capstone procrastination.' Proof I suppose of the fact that I am in no way in conclusion-mode and still determined to be doing and learning as much as possible, despite the many hours I am now forced to spend cooped up in my room writing or typing in the computer lab.

For unexpected discoveries keep on popping up. The conversation I just had with my host mother the other day for example, about all the various 'groupements' that exist in Sebikotane and her involvement in them (I can't believe its taken me five months to finally have that conversation), or my interaction with a group of Senegalese camp councelors who are being trained in the classrooms at l'Ecole Sebiroute during the holidays, or my discovery of a local organization in Sebikotabe dedicated to the education of children. All of this begging the question why now?!!! But I try to tuck it all, all these knew possibilities and ideas, into a safe place, telling myself these are things I may come back to in the perhaps not so distant future.

But as for this evening... the best example yet... I was finally about to sit down to a computer to start typing away after having dismissed my small group of students in the library next door, when someone knocks on the door asking to 'connect' to the internet. I'm used to that, as the school director has instructed me to let people access the computers if they pay 100 fr per hour. He is wearing a long white tunic with an artsy tie-died pattern and has a colorfully woven pouch and painted sort of gourd hanging from his neck. He introduces himself and recites a rambling list of the many professions he considers his own (singer, dancer, reciter, educator, collective something or other...ecc.). That's quite a lot of work, I say, a little surprised but intrigued, as I busy myself with turning on the computer. And so what do you do? He asks me. Are you the one in charge of the 'salle'?

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