Move Along, Just Another Vague Post Here

Could two men have been more polarizing?

Thanks to everyone who voted. To those who didn’t: really?

One time on facebook I posted a biased article about a politician who said a very dumb thing about the very serious subject of rape, and the writer presented the article such that the this politician’s philosophy represented his entire political party. We all say things we regret, and we all latch onto the mistakes of those we want to lose to feel a sense of winning, advantage. We stand on any defeat — at any cost — to gain even minimal height. Definitely, rape is serious, but I wonder just how seriously we should have taken one (or several) politician(s) with a relatively fringey opinion.

I should have been more thoughtful about posting that article.

It must be so, so hard to be the President of the United States. I was president of the Free Club with some of my college roommates, and it was hard. All we had to do was get things for free. We could go to grocery stores and try all the free samples, get rebates, win prizes. I didn’t know how much responsibility I had.

I was nervous for both men. I was ready to support both men. Throughout this election season, I thought secretly, if one wins, couldn’t he appoint the other to be an advisor or something? A member of the Cabinet? Wasn’t one’s healthcare plan modeled after the other? Wasn’t that earlier healthcare plan one of greatest achievements of the one candidate? Couldn’t one use his business expertise to advise the other about fixing the economy? If one wins, couldn’t one consult the other in foreign policy or legislation deadlocks? What would our divided Congress do if these two men actually worked together?

What if?

What the if?

That’s not how politics works.

But that’s how we can work.

If our nation continues to divide, I won’t have a choice but to run for president of my square block in Orem, Utah. I’d construct a soundproof highway barrier that would reduce freeway noise and would still let my citizens see the sunset. I’d also reduce rent.

If we can’t at least seek to understand other points of view and acknowledge when others try to understand ours, then our nation will continue its downward spiral into a pit of poop.

If we sidestep accountability and responsibility in our own lives, families will crumble, and entire communities will landslide into the pit of poop.

If we pray for our country but are unkind to one another: pit of poop.

Are these two men standing on opposite ends of this pit?

Or are a better state and happier times a happy medium of something less poopy?

States of America, we are supposed to be United.

Let us make that true.

I Should Love Abdoulaye Wade

This thought kept crossing my mind during church today, all three hours, in between wanting to pull my hair out and silently disagreeing with everything everyone was saying. And, in between texts. Yes, during church. Judge me already.

This thought surprised me, and I struggled with it.

I’m struggling with it.

From My Window Last Night

In Provo, we celebrated pretend 4th of July on the 2nd of July. I don’t feel like explaining why the big party couldn’t be on real 4th of July. There’s a big event called the Stadium of Fire, and big guest stars show up and sing then fireworks go boom in the sky and it’s apparently a lot of fun.

I think this is my first time in Provo during the 4th of July. Maybe I was here sometime in the 90s, but I honestly can’t remember that far back without pulling my cerebral cortex.

Anyway, everyone was off doing something, and I have a pretty good view from my bedroom window, so I turned off my light and waited for the show to begin. I didn’t get to hear any of the accompanying music – I do like patriotic music – but I also missed the performances of David Archuleta and Brad Paisley. I’m sort of bummed about Brad Paisley. Dude can play a guitar.

The fireworks lasted about 20 minutes, and here are the last 3 minutes or so. What I like about pretend 4th of July is that I get to see a lot more fireworks shows on real 4th of July. And I’ll keep remembering all the ways America is awesome before returning to feeling that a lot of Americans are not awesome. That kind of blind patriotism doesn’t only apply to America; I saw it in Africa, too, but mostly among the kids, but they were kids, and we don’t have any excuse, really, because it’s not just our kids who are acting like that. I’m not absolving the adults from being lousy examples to their kids, because they’re adults and they should understand their responsibility to bring up children to be healthy thinkers and honest and community members and not zealots who base their decisions on fallacy and ignorance. I’m not knocking gratitude or democracy or a lot of the things that make America a great country, because America is wonderful. Keep being grateful, but just stop being stupid. You know who you are.

“Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

We were maybe a little shy toward each other for a few minutes. But they looked at you and something touched your heart. Besides, they don’t really care if your French isn’t perfect.

At the Koranic school, the girls sat separate from the boys, and that one boy recited only some of the Koran but he had memorized the whole thing by the time he was 11 years old.

I looked around and wondered who to talk to, there were so many youth, and the room became very noisy quickly. I took a few pictures, smirking at the stark contrast between my fair-skinned classmates and the rich darkness of the young students. The smiles sparkled the same.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. A group of young women looked at me. Their leader asked me my name. We talked about school and what they might do when they grow up. They all say they’re going to university, and a lot of them want to be teachers. A few girls ask me to take pictures with their cell phones.

They wanted to teach me a dance.

Every girl wanted to teach that dance to all the Toubabs. And they laughed every time we did it.

That first evening in the village near Saint-Louis, the kids were all dressed in traditional clothes and makeup. One of the teachers played a metal bowl as a drum, and little ones took turns dancing in front of the crowd. A few of us danced, too. A bunch of us watched a little boy wearing a green boubou with a white turban. His eyebrows were painted white. He fought sleep while we laughed at him.

A young woman made eye contact with me and we smiled at each other and exchanged names. I asked her about school and what she did during the day. She told me that she helped her mom make dinner and take care of the siblings. We took pictures and we look like friends.

All the village kids sang and clapped, and the rest of us clapped along.

One day in Saint-Louis, Natalie and I were on an errand to buy some bug repellent, because mosquitoes had attacked me the week before in Dakar and it was only a matter of time before malaria ravaged my body. We stopped by a pharmacy that told us to come back in an hour because they didn’t have any in stock at the time and were ordering some from another store. That was convenient because we wanted to go exploring that day. We crossed a bridge onto the fisherman’s island, photographing just about everything we saw. It was a bright, sunny day, like most of the days there. We walked to a less busy part of the island toward some houses along the beach. As we neared the coast a group of kids saw us and we started playing with them. A family invited us into their yard within a wall, where we got to look at their water well and talk about what we were studying. For the most part, I avoided the adult conversation and continued taking pictures of the children. There was a little boy wearing a yellow shirt with a puppy on it, and he made angry-looking, monkey-froggie faces and somehow immediately became one of my favorites.

One day at the village we got to teach the students. I sat at a table of 10-to-11-year olds, and their teacher instructed them to draw a cylinder with a length of 5cm and a radius of 2cm. So, that’s what I taught them. I used a can to demonstrate the height and to show them that they needed to double the radius. Reaching back into my basic geometry days was hard enough, and having to do it in French was an especially fun challenge. But I repeated myself three times, and when I asked them if they understood, they said yes. So I believed them.

Whenever I asked the girls if they were married, they always giggled. Then I asked how old they were and some of them were 13 or 14, and maybe I met a 15-year old. They can get married at 16, and it’s no more being a kid after that.

After class at the village we were standing in the courtyard and some of us were swinging the kids around. Two little girls were hanging off the arms of one of my classmates, and we couldn’t explain that they needed to take turns. One of them didn’t talk, but I took her and swung her around in a circle until I got dizzy and let her land gently in the sand. She let me spin her about five times until it was time for us to leave. It was cool knowing what she wanted without her having to tell me with words. She just took my hands, and I whirled her around.

There was another day of teaching the kids and there was the best recess I’ve ever had, with relay races and balancing water on one’s head and potato-sack races and wrestling. They taught us a few things about running in the sand, but I think they taught us more about how to be gracious losers and entertainers at the same time. They made us laugh, and through our follies and falls and spilt water and goofs, we returned the favor.

Then there was the evening our guys (and Britt) played soccer against the village team and while the village kids chanted and clapped in solidarity for their team, we bit our nails and winced and cheered whenever we got even a little bit close to scoring a goal. We lost 4-1, but we sang and danced together afterward and maybe I taught some boys how to wink.

The last night at the village we watched all the boys strip down to their underwear and tie their t-shirts around their loins like a sumo diaper so they could show us wrestle. It happened so suddenly and it shocked us, but it was all business to them.

It was during this last night that I noticed more kids had runny noses; I noticed their clammy hands and remembered a few kids with conjunctivitis. There was talk of bedbugs and lice, but it seemed that those were the least of the problems they were better off not knowing. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know about them.

I cried on the way back to the bus that evening. A young lady walked with me, and we talked about her family, that her dad was working in the Ivory Coast. She was 14, and she didn’t have to say she missed her father; that she even talked about it was enough of an indication. I asked if he visited often, and she said every month.  We hugged goodbye, and I told her to go to university and become anything she wanted. I told her I’d miss her, and I thanked her for being friends.

It was sad to go, not so much because I didn’t know if I was ever going to see them again, but I wondered how many of those children would live to see the next year. What’s so inspiring is that they weren’t even worried about that. They gave us hugs and showed us how disciplined they were and sang anthems with great pride. They searched our souls with sincere eyes and reached out to us. They trusted us when we weren’t so sure about ourselves. I was so concerned about their future, the conditions of their country, but they focused on their present circumstances. If they could smile and laugh and cheer, so could we. They lived in the moment, and we were blessed enough to have them share that moment with us.

Senegal Sundays

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
or look at the blue, blue sky
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
or the wind as it rushes by
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
or walk by a lilac tree
I’m glad that I live in the beautiful world
Heavenly Father created for me.

He gave me my eyes that I might see
the color of butterfly wings
He gave me my ears that I might hear
the magical sound of things
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart
I thank him reverently
for all his creations of which I’m a part
Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me.

Someone played this song on the piano during church yesterday. I cried.

I can’t stop thinking about Senegal. Not that I would want to.

Sundays were special, because that’s when we held church. We were the only group of our kind holding the kind of service our church holds. It was us and a lone family who lives in Dakar, the Smylies. When we’re not there, it’s just the Smylies, in their home. We were glad to spend two Sundays together with them.

The first Sunday was our arrival in Dakar. We agreed to have church in the conference room of the hotel at 2pm, after getting some rest. It was also the first Sunday of the month, which means testimony meeting.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church meeting so small. We sang hymns in French, we prayed in French; we passed the sacrament around the conference table.

Church in French when one doesn’t know the language well takes extra concentration. The rest of the meeting was spent bearing testimonies. I listened hard. People got emotional, and perhaps the more intentional focus helped me to feel the Spirit. I wrote in my journal at the time that the Spirit is stronger in French. I know if I put as much mental and emotional effort into an English church meeting, I could have the same experience. As classmates bore their testimonies, I couldn’t contain my tears. I knew the next five weeks would change me.

We toured Dakar after church. Madame Thompson led us down city streets and past markets and various restaurants. We took pictures and wandered for two hours, dodging occasional vendors and walking through neighborhoods. A little boy gave me a tap cinq.

We ended up in a restaurant where the program paid for the meal. It was a strange meal with strangely plated foods with beef or fish and brown sauce with either rice or millet. It tasted fine, but other people were a little bit squeamish about the meal. I shared some of my rice with Sarah, because the millet with its strange sauce tasted like strangeness. The tv broadcasted lutte, which is a type of wrestling and the most popular sport in Senegal.

Then, the power went out.

The second Sunday was Mother’s Day. The Smylies invited us to their home for church and brunch. They have a piano and we sang hymns with accompaniment. There was a special musical number by Melanie and Stephanie. Stephanie and Spencer gave excellent talks. Brunch was amazing with quiche and scones and fresh fruit and cake and delicious juices. I had been looking forward to it all week. People gathered around the piano and sang hymns. I played with the Smylies’ toddler. Their home was beautiful and clean and they were gracious. I got to speak to them about a common NYC friend, Ned. They love Ned, as everyone does.

This would be last time we’d see the Smylies on our trip. After an hour or so, we shook hands and gave thanks and boarded our trusty white school bus.

We went to an orphanage.

It was Mother’s Day.

We waved and smiled at the kids, and they smiled as us. Sometimes they were shy. We walked through buildings where they slept. Sometimes kids peeked around corners and I waved. I tried to imagine my life without parents, and my heart became heavy.

We stood outside, and a group of children stood facing us, and they taught us a version of “If you’re happy and you know it.” Their rendition uses joy in one’s heart and then shouting “Merci, Dieu” on the last verse. Those children were happy, and they knew they didn’t have to be unhappy, and I wanted for them to have even more happiness. I prayed it for them as I whispered through a tight throat, “Merci, Dieu.”

The following Sunday, the 15th, was our first in Saint-Louis, an old town in northern Senegal. I said the opening prayer for sacrament meeting that day. Don’t ask if I wrote it down and memorized it, because I won’t answer you.

I wrote this in my journal that day, in actual English:

“I’m thinking about capitalism and governments and organizations that promote and educate and encourage. I wonder if any of these institutions wil ever synchronize. I saw a news headline that said that Mitt Romney thinks ‘Obamacare’ will result in a complete government takeover of healthcare. This is such a huge issue in the United States, and elsewhere in the world people struggle with clean water and good schools.

“Schools! Why aren’t all the kids in school and not off the streets? This is a problem everywhere, but when little beggar boys wander around at night asking me for money and/or food, it’s very disheartening.

“How is this trip strengthening my faith? How is it touching my heart? It certainly enrages me in several ways.

“Dinner was lovely. Conversation was fun, though we got gently chided for talking in English.

“I think I’m gaining weight, which is totally lame.

“Another week is over. That’s so hard to believe. Yet, in some ways, I can’t wait to go home.”

Then, in French:

“Where is my heart? What do I love? How do I understand people? How do I devote my life to God?

“I don’t know how to read more quickly. Continue. Persevere. My brain is broken. Please, help me to fix it.”

We spent another Sunday in Saint-Louis, the 22nd. Those in the loop know this date is my birthday. Before sacrament, Madame Thompson announced there would be a “surprise” after church. Professor Lee’s birthday was on the 2nd, and Andrew’s birthday was on the 20th, and there was talk about having a combined birthday party for the May birthdays.

After church we met downstairs in the lobby of the hotel, and Madame Thompson led us into the restaurant, where tables were decorated with confetti and stars and little angel figurines. There were delicious drinks that I know the names of but I do not know how to spell. And then, there was cake. And three candles. And “Joyeux Anniversaire” piped in frosting and Professor Lee, Andrew and I blowing out the candles.

And then the cake was something like tiramisu. I don’t want to say for certain.

After cake, everyone who bought a boubou posed for pictures.

Then we strolled the town for our last Sunday in Saint-Louis.

Also, there was studying for an Anthropology midterm, but we can gloss over that.

Sunday the 29th, we rode a fancy, air-conditioned charter bus from a nice hotel in the middle of nowhere to another nice hotel in Saly, Senegal. (I will tell you another time about the hell-hole hotel in the middle of nowhere prior to the nice hotel in the milieu de nulle part. It was so many types of awesome.)

I took a nap on the bus and woke up with the worst headache ever. I drank some water, and I tried going back to sleep. It hurt so bad I turned my head toward the window and away from my dear friend, Kylie, and cried. Probably for a solid twenty minutes. Then I calmed down and Kylie shared cartoons on her iPod with me.

We arrived at the nicest hotel I have ever, ever, ever, ever stayed. Church was going to be at 6pm, and since it was our last Sunday together, it was also going to be a testimony meeting, in addition to Andrew speaking. Since it was a testimony meeting, and since it was the last one, the culmination of all our experiences in the past month, and since I already had a headache, and since classmates were saying beautiful and touching things and men were crying and I knew them so much better than I did just a month before – their spirits and their hearts – I sobbed the entire meeting.

This did not make my head feel better. At all. However, I was sitting next to Andrew’s wife Rebecca, and I told her I had a headache. That was when she placed her fingers at the base of my skull and applied a moderate, massaging pressure, and I felt instant relief. I had given shoulder rubs to eight or so people on the trip (because that’s how I make friends), and thought nothing of being touched in return, because I know not everyone is touchy, but this was what I needed. Also, Excedrin.

Then Sunday, June 5, I didn’t go to church because I was too busy being on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean. So yesterday was my first Sunday at church back in the United States. I thought about the part of the world I’ve been blessed to see and experience in Senegal. I reflected on its beauty and richness of culture. I brought my French scriptures to church yesterday, and I thought especially of the children and how much God loves them. How they seem to know. I want to keep a deeper, more meaningful focus, and the eyes of the children are my lens. Their innocence, not just in French, not just in Africa. They are the difference I will never forget, happiness unrestrained and nondiscriminating. I spent five Sundays all over Senegal to realize, to see with utmost clarity, that God truly loves us all.

Merci, Dieu.