With unfortunate circumstances in my apprenticeship and in my home stay, it was time for me to get out of Joal for a bit. Thanks to the generosity of our country director, Nicole, she allowed me to work at some land that she owns with her husband where they are using unique agriculture techniques as well as planting trees with long term goals of turning their property into a sort of Eco-Lodge/Center. I left Joal for a temporary stay on her land in the outskirts of a surrounding village, MBodiene.
As an outdoorsman, I was living the dream. I was sleeping in a tent, walking distance from the ocean, working on a garden, watering trees, playing with three dogs, and able to see visible product from the work of my hands. I was so happy to be out of my normal life and to be out in the country allowing my inner wanna-be-farmer to manifest itself. I was working alongside two other Senegalese guys, Demba and Djiber, doing the day-to-day maintenance and management. Apart from this, however, I was given the grand task by Nicole to buy a donkey.
To do so, I had to go to a big weekly market in NGueniene, a village not too far from MBodiene. Admittedly, I was somewhat unprepared because even though my Wolof is coming along, NGueniene is a primarily Sereer Village. Thankfully, though, I met up with Saliou—a friend of Nicole—who is originally from NGueniene and who speaks Sereer to help guide the process along. And that process was a lot more difficult than I thought. The hot West African sun didn’t make the situation any easier either. When we arrived, I was surprised to find myself to not be the only tubaab at the market. Many tourists from resorts had come in giant off-roading trucks unloading with their safari jackets and large cameras to the organized chaos of the Senegalese market. This situation turned out to hamper my ability to buy the donkey because, when I began speaking in Wolof and saying that I wanted to buy a donkey, they all just laughed and seemed confused asking, “Why the heck do you want a donkey? What are YOU going to do with a donkey?” I don’t know what took everyone back more—my ability to speak in broken Wolof or to be the first tubaab that actually wanted to buy a donkey.
The setting of the scene was priceless. I think even the tourists were confused. Both groups didn’t know what to think of me! Looking back, I was an alien—trapped in a sort of no man’s land. I wasn’t able to truly to identify with the tubaabs, but I wasn’t really able to truly identify with the Senegalese. Maybe that’s what it means to be a Global Citizen…sandwiched in-between foreign borders with our identity in the bridge that links the two groups.
Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand the entire situation. Even the actions in which the donkey was sold confused me. The first time Saliou and I went to the donkey traders, we had to give a lecture because they saw me as a tubaab and tried to rip us off. From there, we needed some outside aid because the traders only saw white skin which to them meant money. Saliou got his father who was nearby with the goat traders. After sitting for some time holding goats for Mr. Faye while he attended to other business, we explained our predicament. He agreed to help us. He told us to go and sit behind some trees away from the sight of the traders.
After about three hours had passed since the first time we engaged the dealers, Mr. Faye finally came to me in order to get my approval of the donkey for which he had bargained; he had haggled the traders down to 40,000CFA which equates to about 80USD. I gave the sum to Saliou who then gave it to his father. Counting the four 10,000CFA bills as a bank teller would, Mr. Faye then gave it to a man with whom I was unfamiliar. From there, that man gave it to another man counting the money in the same manner. Some men were given small amounts of coinage and others shook hands, then I was told the transaction was complete. Needless to say, this was a day that will be encapsulated in my memory as nothing but bewildering. So this is my account of buying a donkey who we ended up naming, “Democrat.”