The things I will miss most

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Daily life in Senegal has often been frustrating, but it has also been full of blessings. As the day of our departure for home draws nearer, I have been thinking of all the good things I am going to miss about Senegal.

The children… Yes, I am going to miss all of the people, especially those at the Mission Center, but I think it is the smiling, laughing, snotty-nosed children that I will miss most. The children of Senegal have taught me that there is really no difference in children anywhere. When they are hungry, they cry. I pick one up, and she reaches for my glasses. A little boy sees a ball on the ground, and he begins to kick it. Leave two small children to play together, and one will soon be crying. I will take with me to the US many memories of happy Senegalese children, playing in the dusty sand of the streets, who have no idea that they have so little because no one they play with has more. I remember some of those days!

Slow mornings… All of you who really know me know I am not a morning person. I think Senegal must have been made for me, because it is not a morning country. Seldom have I arrived at work before 10:00 am, and still, most mornings, I am there before Pastor Joe. A typical morning for me is to wake around 8:00 am and drink a cup of tea while sitting in my “quiet” chair, checking e-mail and the Braves score from the night before. When that cup is gone, I fix another to drink while I am doing my devotional reading and praying “The Hours” with Phyllis Tickle’s little book. Then it is a shower, a third cup of tea as I think about the day and visit with Kittie, and then out the door. And that is just the week days!

On Saturdays, I forbid Kittie to speak to me before noon. I just sit in my chair, read, think, contemplate the world, and do a little writing. It has really been Sabbath and is the best medicine I have ever taken for my soul. It is what I fear I will miss the most back in Alabama.

A clean car in the morning… We live in a five-apartment complex where guards, and friends, usually sit outside the double garage door. Every afternoon, I pull up to those doors, the guard slowly swings them open, and I pull into my parking place at the head of the line, since I am usually the last to leave. When I come down in the morning, a strange thing has often occurred: my car has been washed. It is always done my Mam, the guard/apartment manager, who seems to consider it part of his job. For this service, I will usually slip him an extra $5 per month. It is well worth the money. Do you think I will be able to find anyone who will do this for me at Sumatanga? I’m not betting on it.

The $20 fix… One of the most amazing things about Senegal is that 10,000 cfa, or about $20 US, fixes most any kind of problem. Break down on the road in the wellness bus; $20 seems to always cover the mechanic, who comes to where you are, and the parts. Someone is sick, and $20 will pay for the doctor and medicine. A family is hungry; $20 will feed them for a week. The Mission has been doing a little better financially, so at Easter we gave all of the employees a $20 bonus. You would think I had given them a $1,000 by the smiles on their faces and the “Hallelujahs!” and raised arms. If only life was always this simple to fix.

Papa Paul… I grew up calling my Grandfather Wilson “Papa” and was very pleased when my children chose it as my grandfather name. Over here, age is really respected; it is very difficult for a younger man to be the supervisor of anyone who is older. The average male life expectancy in Senegal is fifty-seven, which just happens to be my age right now, so I am an “old” man here. Thus, most of the people in the church call me “Papa Paul.”

I’ve got some mixed feelings about that title. Although it is loving and respectful, it is also very paternalistic and promotes the image that I am the top-dog, man-in-charge to whom everyone must defer. Even more, it conveys the message – and they know this – that I am responsible for everyone as a father is responsible for his children.

In a recent meeting, one of the pastors attempted to express his appreciation for what I have done in Senegal, and, most importantly, send me the message that I must continue to help them.

He stood, looked at me and said, “Papa Paul!” Either a strange look crossed my face, or he was baiting the hook hoping I would grab it, because he then said/asked, “You are our Papa, aren’t you?” I must have got a little wisdom with all this white hair because I paused, looked down while I gathered my thoughts, and then replied, “No, Pastor Valentin, I am not your Papa. I love all of you. I care what happens to you in the future. I will help as I can. But I am not your Papa. I will not take responsibility for you.”

He is still calling me “Papa Paul” which I think proves that our children do not quit loving us when we tell them “No.” And I suspect it also expresses the persistence of Africans that keeps them alive.

I will not miss the power outages or the crazy traffic and taxi drivers in Senegal. I will not miss the young tallibe boys who always wait outside my favorite bakery begging for money when I walk out with my morning sweet roll. And I really won’t miss the long meetings that never start on time, and in which I never really know what is being said.

But I sure will miss all the love I have found here.


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