The other morning, one of the maids, Abi, knocked on my door and held out a piece of paper with someone’s name, phone number, etc., on it and handed me a shoddy-looking cell phone. Because her French is worse than my Wolof, it took kind of a while for me to figure out that she wanted me to dial the number for her. When I entered the digits and the call didn’t go through, she pointed to the person’s name and said to try that phone number instead.
Then it hit me: The reason she was having me make the call was because she 1) does not know the difference between numbers and letters and 2) does not even know how to match the numbers on her phone keypad to what is written on the paper.
Now, at home I work as a literacy tutor for kindergardeners, and when one of them cannot distinguish numbers from letters, they are pulled for testing and a lot of extra tutoring. Abi, my maid, is probably in her late twenties at least, and nobody has bothered to sit her down and even teach her what letters look like. It blew my mind that a woman who owns a cell phone and lives in the same house as I do is not only illiterate, but doesn’t know the difference between numbers and letters. I have my complaints about the American education system, but at least I can say that a basic level of primary education is guaranteed (and obligatory) for all children. Just goes to show that we live in a very lucky country if we can take universal literacy for granted.
On a happier note, yesterday some friends and I took a rickety pirogue to Île de la Madelaine, a former nature preserve that has since been abandoned, left an uninhabited island. The roundtrip cost $10, and, as one of my friends put it, “It’s like we just rented an island for ten bucks.” It’s true—we were literally the only people on the island.
In a lot of ways it was like everyone’s childhood daydreams of a world without adults and rules, where the rocks are pink and yellow and the trees are humongous and perfect for climbing, the ocean is bright green and blue and perfect for swimming, and you can yell and sing and gallivant as much as you want, without anyone to tell you otherwise.
We played in a natural baobab jungle gym, went swimming in the inlet, searched for seashells, and fell asleep on rocks in the sun. It was quite seriously the most magical place I’ve ever visited. It was so reminiscent of all the things I imagined as a kid that in a way it felt like this island had been waiting for me to visit there my whole life. All I could do was consider how lucky I was to see such a magical place with my own eyes; no pictures could do it justice, although I tried my best.
Finally, because I know everyone loves a Hilarious White Girl story: Today I went to the tailor to get some shorts made in a crazy African print, and when the tailor was taking my measurements, he pointed to right above my knee and said, “this is how long you want the shorts?” I said no and pointed way higher, the length of normal/maybe even conservative shorts in America, and he made a noise something along the lines of, “Ehhhaeeehehe?!” He verified the length with me like three times and then tut-tutted at me, even after I assured him that I would never wear them in Senegal. As I left, he informed me that he would be double-lining the shorts so that if they were going to be heinously short, at least they wouldn’t be see-through. There’s that Senegalese hospitality that I love.