Hangin' Out in Karongue

Hangin' Out in Karongue

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Obama Underwear

Life in Africa can be hard; especially on your underwear.
We arrived in Senegal over two years ago with what could be described as a moderate supply of underwear for all members of the family. We even brought with us some “spares” that we kept tucked away knowing that we could not just run down to the local Wal-Mart to pick up our favorite Hanes and Fruit-of-the-Loom products.
But two years is a long time in the life of a pair of underwear. And after over two years of having our underwear washed by hand, then hung out to dry in the scorching heat and under the blazing sun of southern Senegal this has left a certain over-40 male member of our family with pressing needs in the “personal clothing” department. We are talking being down to a worn-out elastic waistband and not much else!
However, while in Senegal you cannot run down to the corner Super Center, you can find products here that are not available back home in the States. For instance, things like Barack Obama underwear.
So, we recently went to the market to do a little “male lingerie” shopping, hoping to pick up a few pair of Barack’s to make it through the year. Knowing that sizing is not exactly uniform everywhere in the world, and sensing that this would be a test run of sorts with the new Obama-of-the-Looms, we decided to get two pairs. Though in the real world this underwear client fits comfortably into a medium, here we settled on a large and an extra-large sensing that Mr. Obama may run a bit small. We were pleased with the color selection and chose a nice blue and copper color. The shop owner began by asking for around ninety cents for these new Obamas, but we were able to negotiate a price closer to seventy-five cents after I assured him that the fact that I was an American did not necessarily equate to a love for the man whose name would soon encircle my waistband.
Upon returning home the entire family was excited to see how Mr. President was going to help the leader of their family resist the urge to go commando for the foreseeable future. And I must admit, while I do not personally support Obama, I was hoping that Obama’s new product would support me!
Unfortunately, our initial foray into the seedy and mixed-up world of politics and undergarments proved to be a disaster. The package marked XL actually contained a pair of large underwear. Yet another example of a politician, in this case Mr. Obama, promising something that ultimately turned out to be a bait-and-switch. Then, as we tried on the now two pair of large underwear that we had, they were so small that Hosanna proved to be the only family member capable of wearing them. Truly, the Barack Obama underwear approval rating took a decided hit over this whole affair.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Never trust a politician. And if you ever decide to send us a care package, a few pairs of men’s medium Hanes would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

C’est comme ça

The phrase “c’est comme ça” in French literally translated means “it’s like that.” But when it is said with a shrug of the shoulders and a tilt of the head it conveys the idea: That’s just the way it is. Life is like that and we are powerless to change it. “C’est comme ça.”
Last night Abdoulaye came over to our house, as he does most every evening. And as he was recounting the events of his day he tells us about how the newborn son of one of our close mutual friends had died that morning. His young wife of less than a year had given birth to a son last Wednesday and the child was at the regional hospital in Ziguinchor. We knew that the child was “sick,” but everyone kept saying that it was nothing serious and the child would be back in the village in a day or two. But yesterday morning our friend’s wife called him to say that their five-day-old son was dead. Our friend had never even seen his son due to a traditional belief that says that Diola men cannot see a newborn child who is younger than a week old; even if it is their own child. They believe that if they see them the man will become sick and begin to swell up. After telling us the news about the child Abdoulaye shrugs his shoulders and says, “C’est comme ça.”
I went to see our friend this morning. I suspected that he was at his “shop” where he serves as one of the village barbers. I found him there and shared with him our condolences and the fact that our family had been and will be praying for him and his wife. He then called his wife, who is still in Ziguinchor, so that I could speak with her. She only speaks Wolof and Mandinka so our conversation was quite brief, but afterward I asked her husband how she was and he replied, “Oh, she is very good.” When I asked him what had happened he told me that the child was born “tired” and with some kind of sickness and that he just died. He told me that his son, the one he had never set eyes on, was buried yesterday afternoon in Ziguinchor at the hospital there. He then began to bemoan the fact that it cost over seven dollars to bury him there when they could have done it much cheaper in the village. He then said with a shrug of the shoulders, “Dieu sait. La vie est comme ça.” “God knows. Life is like that.”
Other than my friend being a little quieter than normal and the occasional woman stopping by to poke her head in the shop to say something to the effect of, “Hey I heard that your baby died yesterday. I am sorry. Life is like that,” life went on pretty much as normal. While I was there he washed a young woman’s hair and shaved an older man. Not much seemed to be different. It was just…comme ça.
When a newborn baby dies in our home culture we say, “What a tragedy.” Here we shrug and say, “Life is like that.” Here in Senegal death is not the stranger that it is back home in the States. Death, the thing that we run from and avoid at all costs back in our home culture, is accepted here as a reality of everyday life. People are born and people die. C’est comme ça. Death comes many times without much warning and when it comes it is accepted as just the way it is. To be born is to await death. There is a certain familiarity with death here that we do not share back where we come from.
There are some things about life here in Senegal that I will never get used to. C’est comme ça.