Senegalese just want to work – Alec Yeh

Alec Yeh - Senegal


December 17, 2009

This post by Fellow, Alec Yeh has been Cross-posted from the Current TV News blog.

Q: What are your first impressions?
Things here are incredibly different, even from Dakar [the capital]. Being in the village is just a lot more downtime. Things seem to move at a slower pace, and it isn’t a bad thing at all. People here genuinely seem so happy. But the weird thing is, they yearn to immigrate to a western country, where they can hope for a better life. It’s interesting that outwardly, they can be so happy, yet also want a better life. Everybody in the village is so incredibly nice. Nothing like Dakar. Dakar has that city feel to it, and you don’t get to know as many people, such as your neighbors. Here in the village, people know everybody, and upon my arrival, I already feel incorporated into the community. I stick out like a sore thumb, but nonetheless, they’ve been nothing but accommodating.

Q: How does your new home compare to where you live in the US?
Well, obviously it’s different. You don’t have the amenities that you had in the US. But it’s not necessarily worse. Somethings may be, but some things are better. For example, bugs fall from my ceiling. That’s something that doesn’t happen. I have a toilet at home, and a hole here. I have a shower at home, and a bucket here. But nonetheless, here, there’s camaraderie. Here, there’s this solidarity, this idea of “we’re in it all together.” That’s something I’ve never, and probably will ever, experience in the US.

Q: What are some of the local issues facing the community you’re in?
That’s easy. Unemployment. Everybody here wants a job. Yet there are so many young, able bodied men here, that simply can’t get a job. People just lounge here. They sit around and make tea and talk. And it’s not their fault at all. They’re so incredibly bored, and they yearn to do something. But with no jobs, they actually don’t have anything to do. I don’t think I will ever forget what my host brother said. I asked him “how many times a day to you make and drink attaya [tea]?” He answered, “sometimes three, sometimes ten. Who knows? You know, we come together to make attaya to talk and forget about our problems. We don’t have jobs here. There are no jobs. You know, I have my college degree, most of us do.”

Q: How are those issues indicative of bigger global challenges or trends?
I think it’s indicative in two ways. One, the fact that with globalization, with media, and with kids like me, people in third world countries sees how the other half lives. This gives them to desire, the want, the yearn to try and improve their position. Though they might never do that, it’s still there. That idea of wanting better is stronger than ever, which is why there’s so much immigration. The second way is that it challenges governments to be creative, and to create jobs and opportunities where you think there could be none. That’s what’s needed.

Q: How does what happens in this community affect the folks back home in the US? And the other way around – How do lives and decisions in the US affect the community you’re in now?
Well the first one for me, is just the fact that they’re making such an impact on foreigners. I’m going home, a changed person. And I can’t express my gratitude to them. It’s something thats invaluable. It’s irreplaceable. And I’m hopefully going to go back and do something about it. I think my answer to the second half is in answer number 4. They see how the other half lives. It gives them a new picture of what’s out there, and what could be achieved. It may be a bad thing, or it may be great. I don’t know. Only time can tell.

Alec Yeh