Unemployment

Alec Yeh - Senegal


November 12, 2009

Imagine being the Minister of Health in a country like the United States. Your jobs pretty important right? You spent a long time acquiring the degrees and credentials to be the Minister of Health. Now imagine being paid a salary of 26,000 dollars a year. If a minister’s salary is that much, imagine what the average citizen would make.

However, you’re lucky enough to even be making anything in Senegal. Like so many young men, my host brother doesn’t have a job. It’s not because he doesn’t want one, and it’s not because he’s stupid. There simply aren’t enough jobs in Senegal. Without jobs, imagine how bored these men get. Imagine how unhappy they are.

All the unemployed young men here sit and make tea. They sometimes take the occasional nap. They sometimes change locations, but they are always doing the same thing; and that is lounging and making tea. They don’t want to be drinking and making tea all day, but they actually have nothing else to do. Attaya is also their socializing time, so often times I join them.

There are two things they talk about the most; that is politics and America. They really detest the government here. There is so much discontent. You can hear it in their tones; see it in their eyes. I can’t understand the language here, but I always know when they’re talking about their government. The incredible resentment and anger in their voices punches you right in the face. The biggest problems in their government, according to them, are corruption and unemployment. The President was allegedly “re-elected” in a fixed election. He decided to increase the numbers of years in a term to seven. President Wade is probably going to run for a third term in 2012. He’s already very old. Then there’s unemployment. Like I said, there are so many young men able to work. It’s ridiculous. But there are simply no jobs to work. No wonder they’re discontent. No wonder they’re bored. No wonder they talk about America so much.

They ask me so much about America. “What is like there? How much money do people make? How much is a car there? Can I buy a house there? How much does a hamburger cost? Don’t they have machines that do your laundry? Isn’t Obama great?” The questions go on and on. I developed some pictures of family, friends, and some of my cakes to show them. The reaction to my cakes was not what I expected. I thought it’d be great to start conversation. Instead, I heard, “Cakes made of ice cream whenever you want. That’s the American Dream.”

I don’t think I will ever forget what my host brother said. I asked him “How many times a day do you make and drink attaya?” 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.”

Alec Yeh