Monday, November 23, 2015

Remote African woman to Janis: Looks as if not all whites are bad

Two women chatting in the Bedik village of Iwol, Senegal, Africa.

It’s time to leave. After more than a week of camping in the remote Puel village of Ibel, I’m hiking out towards the road, the car and the beginning of my journey home. Thoughts and emotions wash over me as I reflect on all that I have experienced in this village and the neighboring Bedik tribe.

This is the Puel tribe village of Ibel, where I stayed for more than a week while visiting the neighboring Bedik tribe, Senegal, Africa.

My translator/guide Pacoo and my host Omar Ba walk in the lead with a tail of kids laughing and following behind me. Totally absorbed in my thoughts, suddenly I hear a woman’s voice.  At the entrance of her family compound she saying something loud enough for us to hear. And she’s pointing her head towards me.

Janis: “Pacoo, what did she say?”

Pacoo replies: “She say, it looks as if not all whites are bad.”

Wow. I teared up. At first I felt honored, special. Was that a sign of acceptance?

But as I continued to trudge along the grassy path, wave after wave of thoughts washed over my mind.

What made this grandmother-aged woman in this remote pocket of Senegal first classify whites as bad? It was us versus whites, us versus them?

I even thought, oh what a cruel hoax God played on us by painting humans different colors. Was it a test to teach us lessons?

Here I am surrounded by Konso tribe women in Ethiopia, Africa.

And what had I done to change her mind about whites? Was it playing with the kids each morning, taking notes as elders talked, instigating a meeting of chiefs to talk about how tourism could bring money to pay their taxes or …?

Traveling by myself, I think a lot about the importance of belonging to something bigger than myself.  The woman belongs to a tribe, kids belong to gangs, the Tambacounda shopkeeper who kicked me out because I wasn't Muslim belongs to a religion and I’m headed home to my family and my tribes.  But the older woman’s casual statement reveals a great divide between groups she has delineated, whites and her tribe.

How does this happen? The little children who greeted me each morning were curious, totally accepting. What changes these children? Is it our human craving to belong? 

This photograph of Konso children at the gate is a symbol of my hope for the future. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

And what is the secret to dissolving the calcified barriers we build as we age in place?

All photographs and text © 2015 Janis Miglavs

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