Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dear French People: Go Home.

The more time I spend in village, the more entrenched I get in my routine of waking up, pulling water, sitting around talking to people all day, going to bed soon after the sun goes down, and showering out of a bucket. It becomes easy to forget the fact that I live on the national road, and am only a 30 minute car ride away from a major tourist destination.

Enter tourist season. And the subsequent bursting of my happy village bubble. I sensed that my quiet life was about to change drastically when I saw the first unnaturally tanned woman fly by my site on an ATV wearing platform sandals and short shorts (keep in mind, this is a predominately Muslim country. The only short shorts here come directly from France).

As the days pass, more and more white people (toubabs) are popping up all over the place. When I go to check my mail in Mbour, I see carfulls of them in their safari hats and sweat wicking fabric. The most recent development has been the daily tour groups who get carted straight to my village where they get to see the "real" Senegal. They come in groups of 10-20 to hang out at the kindergarten, walk around the village, and stare at me (random toubab) doing weird things and speaking the local language.

The latest incident...I was planting a papaya tree with my headphones on, and back turned to the Kindergarten. When I looked up, there were 4 French families (kids and all) staring at me. I was wearing my typical Peace Corps uniform of dirty capri pants and the same shirt I've had on for the past few days. Needless to say, I felt awkward. Then, yesterday, I was hanging out with the kindergarten teachers, when the tourists showed up. They all stood around, dispensing random health advice in French (there are only like 5 people in the village who speak French btw) in condescending tones to the women who I have come to know as my friends. I know the tourists just see them as...you know...uneducated African villagers. Anyways, I was holding a baby, when it started spitting up on me. No big deal, except two of the French guys started videotaping it. Really?? One of the women in my village then asked me, in Serere, if babies in the US spit up too. I told her that all babies in the world spit up. She had a fit of giggles over that comment. There are some parts of Senegalese humor that I will just never understand. Somewhere in the world, that interaction is recorded on videotape for a guy's family to watch as he narrates his trip to Africa.

The worst, though, is their incessant need to hand out candy. This is why we volunteers get harassed by kids for gifts, candy, money, etc. You know those signs that say, "please don't feed the birds?" Same thing. Candy is bad for kids, who are generally malnourished anyways, and it makes my life significantly less pleasant. So, if you are a French tourist reading this, and you want to do some real good in Africa...search for the random dirty white person in the rural village you are visiting and give them copious amounts of nice French wine and cheese. It will go a long way. And we thank you.

Just for the record, I have nothing against the French. Just tourists. Even in Hawaii, the aloha shirt wearing tourists insisted on getting in the way of any and all work projects. I know you're on vacation, but the world is not your personal Disneyland. It may be hard to believe, but when you see a coned off area on the edge of a volcanic crater, with rappelling gear set up over the side of a 500 ft. cliff...the person dangling in the air below is NOT going to appreciate your walking into the whole operation, grabbing the rope and asking, "So! What are you guys doing?"

Jeez. I wish I had a camera. I would dearly love to take pictures back at them.