Monday, January 30, 2012

More data points

I've just finished reading Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending.  While I'm still struggling with its larger provocations, I'm struck by the line, "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation"(18).  As I try to construct and share some understanding of what's happening here, I appreciate how provisionally Barnes defines history.  Of course I'm attempting something closer to journalism than history, but it still feels ragged and incomplete.  Beyond the things I saw Friday and Saturday, I've read local papers, tracked tweets about Senegal, and read a few blogs and newspaper articles.  The papers here go beyond sensational and the partisan.  You need to read a half dozen of them and create a sort of Venn diagram of reality. I guess we all do that on the web most the time now anyway.    In that spirit, I offer a few additional, documentary notes about what's happening here.

Today, two people were killed by police 300 km north of here at a protest against the government.   I saw another burned out car on my run this morning and street cleaners  removing the ashes of burned tires in a nearby traffic circle.  The papers, radio and TV cover the situation constantly, and even when the reporters are speaking Wolof, I repeatedly hear the name of the president, the opposition groups, and the word 'manifestation' (protest).  Saturday night there was a power outage from late afternoon until midnight.  Everyone believes it was an intentional attempt to prevent people from hearing more news about the protests.  The papers noted that several websites that provided news about the conflict have been hacked or shut down.  Tomorrow,  the opposition groups M23 and Y En a Marre plan more protests.  The papers suggest they'll barricade streets and try to shut down the city.  I'm scheduled to meet with both Mamadou's and Pape's students to work with them, but it all depends.  I'm supposed to work on video introductions for the high school students to their American counterparts, but the first part of exchange scheduled for March will likely be put off by the unrest (I'm coming to dislike that word).  All plans now end with the phrase, 'In'shallah' as they say here- God willing.

While I walking in St. Louis Saturday, a man came up to me and asked if I was looking for a hotel. (Yes, it's that obvious).  And while I usually  ignore these approaches, I indulged this older man.  He told me he worked at a nearby hotel and would take me there.  I knew the point was a tip or a cut, and I thought I had already passed this hotel, but I was tired after looking at four different places.  We talked on the way, and he noted that President Wade had done 'lots of good things' and that he didn't understand why people were so upset.  The graffiti in St. Louis offered a different view of the election as well.  The countryside is more traditional, respects age and authority more, and is expected to vote for Wade.  When we got to the hotel, the girl seemed to challenge his role and then ignored him.  He appealed to me, asked if he hadn't brought me there, and forgot about the fact that he obviously didn't work there.  While I knew the expectations, his sudden shift to anger made me unsympathetic.  As I started moving up the stairs following the girl to look at the room, he grabbed my arm, became agitated, and said I wasn't "gentil".  I too ignored him and the attempted implicit obligation.  No doubt his politics also changed my earlier willingness to indulge him.  And while I didn't take that room either, I did come away with a glimpse of the way rural Senegal views the political upheaval of Dakar.  No doubt President Wade understands this, too.

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