It would be very difficult for me...

to describe what being in Africa meant to me. All my life I have felt like an alien in this culture that I was born into. When I went to Africa I had the feeling that I was going home. I was completly comfortable...a feeling i have never experienced here in America or in any other "western" culture. Maybe part of it was the fact that I was in a Muslim culture...to stop and pray five times a day was just normal whereas here in America somehow it feels disingenuine. Part of it was the people themselves...most of them thought I was a rich Arab...since I have light skin ([light skinned people are called anasara and black are called borobi]and all they could see was the skin of my hands since I was at most times except in our ABIS encampment wearing a boubou and covered by a tagilmoust with sunglasses covering my eyes.) I had been gifted a very beautiful and expensive sword called an iziguiz...and this added to the impression that I had money (which I didn't!). Part of it is the similarity of Sahelian etiquette to the etiquette of my Georgian culture. People in both cultures are above all else polite. They may never tell you the truth...but they are polite! For example the first thing you ask someone when you see them (assuming it is in the morning) is "how did you sleep?" and the response is bansame, al hamdullilah (very well, thanks to God) and they ask you the same question. Then you ask "and how is your family?" and they respond bansame, al hamdullilah, and ask you the same. Then you ask "and how are your children?" and they respond bansame, al hamdullilah, and ask you the same....and it goes on and on and on...the ritual greetings and questions.....very Sahelian and very Georgia. I will add more later...got to go to town...Insh'Allah...photo is of me heading to the souk (arabic for market) at the time of salat az-zhukr (afternoon prayer).

1 comment:

Brian Reiter said...

Funny that you were mistaken for an Arab. I had something similar in Gambia. The main campus for the Gambia College is in Brikama but the school of nursing is in Banjul, near the main colonial hospital.

I used to have to travel from Brikama to Banjul to teach classes in anatomy and physiology or computer stuff. Because I was working, I dressed in my reasonably good clothes which was khaki trousers and a tan or green Royal Robbins expedition-type shirt and I carried an olive green rucksack. (Those Royal Robbins shirts were nearly indestructible. Despite being washed repeatedly in Omo and it being 12 years later, I still have two of them.)

Anyway, I must have looked vaguely military. with the tan clothes and the rucksack. I was constantly mistaken for a Libyan army officer. Not once did anyone think I was American. Generally Libyan. Sometimes Belgian or French.

I suppose that worked to my advantage, really, because I was never robbed. In order to get from Brikama to Banjul by "public" transport, you have to take a bush taxi from the Brikama taxi park to Serrekunda and then get out and get another taxi to Banjul. Serrekunda is kind of a tough place. There is no etiquette at the taxi park. The whole concept of queuing up and taking turns is utterly alien. You generally have to fight to get a spot on the decrepit old Mercedes van.

One time someone stole Christie's watch off of her arm, but nobody ever gave me a hassle. (Well, except one time we had to get someone to ritually cleanse our dog before they would let her onto the taxi.) Now that I think about it, they were probably worried that if they messed with me I'd come back with a bunch of soldiers and rough them up.