To the generous donors (both named and anonymous) who made it possible for 4WI to launch it’s Young Leaders for Parity scholarship program, we say “THANK YOU!” We are so grateful for your generosity and your belief in 4WI’s work. We look forward to allocating the scholarships directly to the Scholars’ high schools in the Fall, and we are excited to begin building their leadership training program.
This evening I watched Le Fiance read a digest of the Trayvon Martin story and George Zimmerman’s acquittal in French. It was the first he was hearing of it, having had his interest piqued by my frantic warnings to him today to be careful in the streets.
I don’t know if he has yet heard of Amadou Diallo. I assume he’s still unfamiliar with Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Stephen Lawrence, Emmitt Till, and all of the countless others.
I let him read, and watched sadly as he clucked, hissed and gasped, not just at the story, but at the reality of what that meant for him, a Senegalese man who had now become a Black Man in America.
He was silent for a long time, as he often is. And then, finally:
“Avec les choses comme ca, eh…bon, ici, c’est pas sûr…on peut dire que c’est une catastrophe…yeah…”
Then there was more silence, silence with things left unsaid because they were, in fact, fears too horrible to articulate, ideas too depressing. It was not quite resignation, but there was little hope to be found in it.
Thank God for it.
I have never, ever said that, and it’s likely that I won’t say it too many times in the future. Writing, after all, is what I DO. It’s what I did to get into college, and then into law school. I hand-wrote my Masters’ of Laws exams in London. I wrote while on Wall Street, and post-Wall Street, for the gubment. I WRITE. I LOVE to write.
But, I am tired.
Dakar exhausted me in ways unimaginable. I worked harder there than I ever did while poring over endless doc review with the threat of being yelled at or fired by maniacal antitrust partners at 2am from 2009 until 2011–for free. But that wasn’t what truly gutted my mind, body, and little bits of my soul, because the work I did in Dakar was always thrilling, always fulfilling, always meaningful. Perhaps it was the endless meetings, the soul-wrenching networking that I have come to accept as a necessary evil…though I’m, perhaps, only slightly more refined/less awkward than I was 5 months ago, the frenzied cab rides from quartier to quartier, trying not to be too late for the Deputy Minister of this and the outgoing Secretary General of that only to have the person I was meeting not show up or be late or not have that much time to talk or whatever. More likely, however, it was the cultural shock and some of the really crazyawful things I experienced.
I went hungry, often, and as a result, was often ill. Not necessarily for any legitimate reason other than the fact that I had entrusted food preparations to people who at some ill-defined point in time decided to refuse to feed me well unless I started coughing over even more money every week. Even before I consciously realized what was going on, in between my sleep deprivation and harried work schedule, I’d subconsciously decided that no, I am not at all interested in being taken advantage of and would rather just wait and buy myself yogurt. Around that same time, I also decided that I would not be eating from people whom I did not trust, who insulted me in Wolof (having forgotten that I understood and now even spoke the language) who smiled on Mondays and gave stank face on Tuesdays. I chose to go hungry, knowing that I was too tired and too out of the loop to stock my own kitchen 3 months in to my stay and to prepare meals for myself, given my work schedule and my unfamiliarity with Senegalese cooking methods and aliments. I cooked for myself on only one occasion, and it was unjustifiably hard. If I had learned early on how to do it, I would have developed a system and a rhythm, but trying to figure out unnamed oils and light a gas burner without exploding my apartment in mid-April when I had hours of notes to prepare. No, ma’am. No, sir. I chose, against my will, to go hungry, and to become sick.
Being stolen from and having my life turned upside down for two months (I still have not recovered everything…it will take me until September, probably) made me tired. Subsequent petty thefts by the same people just pissed me off and made me weary of humanity.
Having my cat murdered by the same people…tiring.
Having my stepson-to-be confide in me that he and his cousin were often sent to bed without dinner just because (when there was food aplenty in the house), that he was often beaten and terrorized by his cousins, with the approval of his aunts and uncles, simply because they resented him pushing his American stepmom in their faces (what? he’s a tiny 8 year old)…yes, it made me a little sleepy.
Constantly fighting against people who wanted to use and exploit me, and then hated me for avoiding their various traps…it brought on a certain fatigue.
Making my actual job even harder by trying to discourage me and tell me my French was good enough, stealing my ideas, backbiting, straight up trying to sabotage me? Seriously? That will frustrate anyone.
Well, thank you, Jesus, I’m back in New York now, earlier than planned (thank you, thief). I feel both a sense of relief and loss. While I experienced great success with my work, I can’t help but feel that I failed by calling it in a month early, by being tired of the games and the foolishness, and the people who forget that I’m actually crazy smart and intuitive and can smell BS miles away but don’t say too much because I’m a born diplomat. I know in my heart that I’ve lost nothing and have actually gained a world of wisdom, but still…it’s frustrating. And now, I’m tired.
My thesis? My reports? The article on human rights and national security? I will write them, but for the first time ever in life, I will do them when I’m ready, and not with respect to anyone’s deadlines. Why? Because I have been through war, and while I was severely bruised, I won, and no one can tell me anything anymore. I managed to work with a law that everyone in Senegal said was useless and I managed to give it meaning–tangible, financial meaning to the people who need it most–despite being insulted and discouraged and starved and mistreated every single day, by supervisors, advisors, partners, idle men on the street who hate powerful women, and even my own future in-laws. I managed because Allahu Akbar (God is great) and Yalla bakna (God takes care of it), so Hallelujah. I won.
Winning takes a lot out of a person. And now my brain muscles hurt.
Dakar taught me that I am a very disciplined person when necessary, meticulous if not flawless, diligent to a fault, and committed. If I wanted to, I could force those papers out right now, along with a couple of essays. They might even be publication grade. Maybe. But WHY would I DO that to myself? Why not accept that the words are a little jumbled right now, and that my thoughts are weighed down by heavy emotions and some financial concerns (thieves, I salute you), that sometimes I don’t know who I am or what I stand for because I just escaped a war zone with enemies posing as family and friends.
Why not just appreciate the writer’s block, and use it as an excuse to REST?
This video is really just a poorly-edited photo collage I managed to put together, of 4th World Initiative’s first meeting with our first class of scholarship winners. The 7 scholarship recipients are a brilliant bunch of lovely children from the CM-2 (8th grade) class at Ecole Mour Diop, in Dakar’s gritty Medina neighborhood.
The day of this meeting will always mean a lot to me because the children were happy, but didn’t yet have a real understanding of what had just happened to them–it was, for them, part of an awakening that I am still unable to fully articulate. Some of their parents thought they had gotten into trouble and were surprised to hear that THEIR children had been selected for anything good! But by the end of the meeting, as you can see, everyone was beaming from ear to ear! They embody all the work and hustle and “sufferation” I experienced in Dakar and I’m grateful to have found them–and the opportunity to work with them throughout their high school careers. Fingers crossed for their high school entrance results!
For more information of 4th World Initiative, please visit my (other) website at http://www.fourthworldinitiative.org