$2 a Day

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


December 13, 2010

The World Bank says 60% of the people in Senegal live on less than $2 a day. GCY host families must have running water and electricity to be considered for the program. With these stipulations, I felt certain we would be hosted by someone in the upper 40%.

Recently I began researching the true cost of living in Leona. Our meals are prepared in pots over burning wood. Breakfast for the whole family costs 500 CFA (about $1) for 2 baguettes, coffee, and sugar. We buy everything we need for lunch and dinner daily at the market – fish, some veggies, salt, spices, and oil, with 1,000 CFA – about $2. We have no food storage except for rice which we buy in large buckets, and beans and peanuts from our own fields. We use ALL the ingredients. Even the oil used to cook the veggies and fish is eventually soaked in the rice. Left overs are fed to the baby sheep.

We feed our family of nine for $3/day, about 33 cents per person.

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Note: Move your mouse over each photo to see the captions!

Of the 109 villages in our rural community, Leona is one of 5 that are connected to the electric grid. Electricity costs $7-$10 each month. It is used to light the four bedrooms and power the TV we pull out into the sand at night to watch one of the seven stations, sitting on four plastic chairs, a mat, or green water buckets.

Our one water tap opens randomly and sometimes delivers water. When it does we fill all our green water containers and hope they last until the next time the spigot chooses to cooperate. If not, we hitch our “carriage” (a wooden slab on wheels) to the horse, and fill up the containers at a neighbor’s compound.

Ibrahima (Johannes) bought a copy of the Economist in the airport two months ago.  It sported an ad for Sprint’s everything plan for only $69 a month. My father, Djiby, has the only cell phone in the family. We would be shocked if cost him more than 10,000 CFA ($20) a month.

I’ve been living on less than $2 a day for a month and didn’t even realize it.

My concept of $2 a day has been completely transformed. Yes, no laundry machine means once a week I scrub my clothes, and they are a bit stiff when I pull them off the line. After returning from the fields sometimes I want to feel water run down my back. But I feel refreshed after my bucket shower. Eating meals from one bowl means fewer dishes to clean, and is a tangible representation of the sharing that is so essential to this community.

We have a roof to sleep under. My family smiles and laughs together as we work in the fields. While sifting peanuts, one of my cousins shared her plans for after the harvest season. She plans to cook and drink attaya all day long with the family, who all live within a five minute walk of one another. This life is beautiful in its simplicity.

I think about my fridge full of food in the states, rooms full of unused “Stuff,” the distance from my parents’ house to the 3 different states my brothers are live in. Maybe we could turn the statistics. It’s so SAD that I can’t live on $2 a day in the states, that so much is needed, and wasted, and that families live so far apart. Perhaps we should consider De-Development.

Madeleine Balchan