Kevin Do - Senegal

March 6, 2013

I was on a high. Just coming  back from the first training seminar and seeing everyone again was awesome. Spending Thanksgiving on the beach and seeing how much we’ve changed only 7 weeks in. Sitting on the bus back I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’m a quarter of the way through. Time to kick thing up in the village.”

When I got back, there was a new person there with my family. When he saw me, he smiled and didn’t say anything. I asked my mom who he was. She told me, “He’s Ibrahim and he’s gonna be working in the gardern” I proceeded to greet him in Pulaar, the local languange of my village. He just smiled and stuttered in his speech. I didn’t understand a word he said. Concerned that my language skills had deteriorated to the point I didn’t understand greetings, I asked my mom what he said. She told me non chalantly that he didn’t speak Pulaar. He speaks Bambara because he’s from Mali and doesn’t speak French either. The fact that he was from Francophone Mali but didn’t speak French spoke volumes to me. At this point I was thinking “What the hell am I gonna do? How am I supposed to communicate?”

Turns out that I didn’t really need to. He did all the work, leaving me with none. I was essentially replaced in the garden. I was the victim of immigrant work displacement.

This was the kind of thing I learned about his history class. That Americans complain when foreigners come in and steal work, like the Irish and Chinese in New York and California respectively. A more relevant example would be the Mexicans crossing the border stealing rednecks’ jobs. But this happened to me. Here in Senegal.

Wasn’t just that he took my job either. I was angry at the whole situation. He got free housing and meals and got paid to work in the garden. I was paying for all of those things. I didn’t think it was fair.

Then my conscience kicked in.

Here was a roughly 27 year old uneducated African man who walked at least 42 kilometers looking for work in a foreign country where few people can understand him. No matter what he encountered here couldn’t possibly be worse than what he’d left behind. I on the other hand am a priviledged American who is ABLE to pay for this experience. Lucky enough to be born into a wealthy country and get an education. My mom was very nice to offer him room, board, and a job. He needed it way more than I do.

Fast forward two and a half months. Ibrahim doesn’t actually work in the garden anymore. He kinda gave up on it in favor of the traditional developing-country job for seasonally working men; masorny. Thus I have reclaimed my position in the garden. Thing is, I actually appreciate the fact that he displaced me. Because I couldn’t really work in the garden, I had to search for other work. I now work at the school. Ibrahim’s introduction into my life forced me to adapt and find something else to do. I saw it as a challenge life threw at me after awhile. It’s the difficult things in life that I think I learn and gain the most from.

Kevin Do