Great Expectations

Ananda Day - Senegal


November 10, 2009

Everywhere I go I meet people along with their expectations. With one exception, I am always greeted with the French “Ca Va” instead of the ritual “Assalam Alekum”. I have no qualms with being viewed French, as most toubabs here are. Where my uneasiness comes in is how along with the Ca Va comes the undertone that I, because I am a foreigner, don’t care enough to learn the local language and greeting. Then there is what I like to call Pere Noel Syndrome… When I meet some people they expect me to give out gifts and money like they come out of a bottomless red bag. Yesterday a fourteen year old girl who I met in the Village des Tortues calls me… and asks me to buy her credit for her phone. I greeted a respectable man today who was sitting outside of my house, and the first words he said after the greeting were “donnez-nous d’argent,” or give us money. Promptly following this was the “mais tous les autres americains nous donnent d’argent” or “but all the other Americans give money”. Noflaye is a town with a steady influx of tourists due to the Village des Tortues. Is this then the image they end up leaving? Tourism brings money into a country simply through the food, transportation, and lodging that is used. Maybe handouts should be added to this list? I used to absolutely loathe these moments. After all, who enjoys even seeing people who really are in need of help, but are stuck in a time and place where they can do nothing about it? I have grown to see these as an opportunity though. I meet these people and they have the expectation of ignorance, and by the end of the conversation money is the farthest thing from their mind, and the situations of Senegal and the world are closest to it. Is it wrong then that I get a thrill in showing these people how much I am not the token tourist or eco-volunteer? If anything, the problem lies in the fact that these expectations exist. Foreigners come in, give money in some form, and then leave. Whether they are aid volunteers or tourists, the expectations and most of the outcomes are the same. Experts say that the money is good for the economy, which is true. Yet, it makes you wonder, is the impact, the help that one actually wants to do, really achieved? Or is reliance just reinforced?

Ananda Day