How strange it is to be caught between two worlds. I walk out into my town to see people scraping together coins to buy basic staples like rice and oil for lunch that day (just plain rice and oil is a common meal here for people who can’t afford fish or vegetables to go with it), while the TV in my favorite butik (Senegalese equivalent of a corner store) happens to be on the English channel with a story about how someone in New York bought an antique stamp for 9.5 million dollars.
Not to be a cliche Peace Corps Volunteer or anything, but I couldn’t help but think, how many people could that 9.5 million dollars feed? Of course I’ve known for a long time that things in the world aren’t equal, that there are people that are starving and there are people that have millions or even billions sitting in their bank accounts. It’s one thing to know it and it’s one thing to see the contrast for yourself.
I was thankful that the news story about the stamp was in English, and so there were probably only a couple people that could have really understood it. At the same time, it’s no secret that there’s money to spare in the States.
I can’t even begin to count how many people have told me that Senegal is bad and America is good. When I ask why they always say that there’s money in America. I can’t argue with that. In a place where every coin matters, even 25 cfa, (the equivalent of 5 cents) any amount of dollars would go a long way. I try to explain that things in America are expensive, and that life can be hard there too. That not everyone there has money, that we have problems with poverty too. But when there are news stories like the one about the stamp, and constant images of celebrities with their nice things and beautiful homes, how can I, with my (very) limited language skills explain away this perception?
It’s much easier to just agree, yes, America is good. But I always make a point of saying that Senegal is good too, and for things that are much realer than money — like the importance placed on community, family, and spending time together. People usually just brush my explanation off. I guess we all take things for granted.