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Jan 1, 01:11 AM
Near the water’s edge children go through their daily activities… some being washed by their mother, others setting fishing lines to help their father. A village on the banks of the Niger River receives little to no attention from the outside world, except from those stopping along the way as they head to Timbuktu.
One unpaved rocky road can be found leading through the bush some two kilometers in the distance. The houses look like large intricate termite hills, shaped by dried mud mixed with sand.
Goats and chickens feast on whatever waste left by the villagers. The villagers feast on whatever materials are brought in from the outside. Plastic bags and food wrappers, all fraying and discolored, are scattered along the trails leading through the homes. Most of the debris is left by inconsiderate visitors; a.k.a. “tourists.”
Any boat with foreigners as passengers is waved to and yelled at by the villagers. “Sa Va!”
Children scream, “Sa Va!” All in different tones and accents. In their French it can be translated into “hello.” Their hands are held out in the air, expectantly hoping; they run near the waters’ edge. It is unlikely you will ever find someone not wave back to you on this river, friendly desires or motivated intentions?
Some tourist boats stop at these villages. A village may have one dock at its shore once every few days. The boat chartered by the French family stopped at different villages about twice a day. The guides let us walk around for about fifteen minutes; meanwhile, they would purchase food such as fish and chicken to cook for lunch and dinner.
Instantly, when villagers see your boat is stopping, a crowd gathers at the docking site. Children put out their hands and ask for an empty water bottle, a piece of chocolate, a “Bic” pen? Young girls ask the foreign females for make-up.
All over the world I have witnessed children transformed into beggars, tourists reinforcing their dependency by giving them handouts.
What can the indigenous people think? Where do these people come from, how come they have so many gadgets and personal accessories?
Unrecognized in your land here you are a celebrity.
Before the boat is pushed from the shores of the village, the girl on our boat goes into her bag and comes out with make-up. She comes back, stands on the plank leading to the boat and opens the case. Calf deep in water, girls from the village flock her. She is almost knocked off the two foot wide piece of wood. The village girls push and fight with one another to get closer, to put themselves in a better position to receive a piece of lipstick or eye shadow.
As we depart one of the son’s throws an empty plastic bottle into the river. The children scramble, dive, and fight for possession of the bottle. One child has grabbed it and another smacks him on the back, a third pulls at his hands to free the bottle from his grasp. The bottle falls back into the water, the children lunge after it again. Meanwhile, the other son throws a different empty bottle in the other direction. More children yell and scream and dive into the water after the second bottle.
There are now two fights. The largest boy of the first group has managed to secure the plastic container, the second bottle is thrown from one boy to another, and they escape to the shore. They must have been family… although before we arrived they were all family.
I look over to the three as we begin floating down the river. There is a look of satisfaction on their faces, a pleased grin. What are they thinking? Perhaps that they just made those children’s day. What if I’m the one who is making nothing into something? They can’t possibly think they were doing anything wrong, otherwise why would they do it?
Their mother was watching and didn’t do anything… I could talk with them but am a guest on their boat and don’t want to offend anyone. I look over to my sister and she shakes her head in disbelief.
-written by Rajeev R. Kasat (HawaH)
(excerpted from Trails: Trust Before Suspicion)
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