Whenever we arrived at a particular village, I'd always hang back a bit. I'm actually quite shy. (Stop laughing!) I'd kick my feet and look at everyone looking at me. I felt like I had to do something .. usually take their photo. Sometimes I'd say, "Hello!" And they would mimic my Aussie shrillness. I noticed young girls flirting with young boys, and wonder how they eventually hook up with each other. Some villages I saw were over a hundred years old, and I pictured the huts being passed down from generation to generation.
I actually went in a hut one day. It was immaculate ... cleaner than my own house. It smelt of earth, with a huge double-bunk in one room, and then a kind of kitchen on another. Dirt floors ... but a kind of sandy dirt. It reminded me of the cubby houses I would make as a child. When I asked Adel from World Vision West Africa if the people liked living here, she replied with, "I don't think they even think that way." Of course they wouldn't. To assume you have a choice .. is a privilege. I kept thinking, man if I lived here I'd just pack my stuff and leave. And that's what people do ... and how they become refugees.
They have no plane to jump on. No sister to call, for the airfare outta town. They stay and work the land and eke out an existence ... or they leave their security of being at home and try their luck somewhere else.
Zenouba with her brother and mum
Before I left for Africa, people would tell me, "You'll never be the same again!" "You will fall in love with the people!" When I was there I thought, ugh. This is horrible. This is so sad. This is ... not computing in my brain. West Africa has so much strife and struggle ... it was described to me as the "red-haired stepchild" of Africa.
Me and West Africa have something in common ... I *was* a red-haired stepchild.
I will never be the same again. I have fallen in love with the people. I wish I could go back there right now. Being privy to their lives was a huge privilege. A white western privilege .. I flew safely back home. I'm with my fancy dishwasher and car and cafes now. Most of all ... my choices. I have too many choices in my life. And some people have none ... it's a huge imbalance.
The other night after a hard day I went out to my back deck for some fresh air and the sky told me secrets. I listened .. it seemed the polite thing to do. For so many years, I have not listened to the cues and secrets, swirling all around me. (All around you.)
We all live under the same sky. Share the same moon and sun. Fellow occupants.
I wondered how the village was going, underneath that sky. The people. Last week I was asked if I had come back a broken woman and my answer was no.
Why should I be broken, when the people in West Africa are not?
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